One of the spectators called out in an affectionate Dawley manner, “Ow bist Tom?”. The executioner lifted the cape which he had already drawn over Tom’s eyes who turned towards the place where the shout had come from, recognising the person in the crowd he nodded. After a few seconds, the drop fell. Tom suffered intensely being seen to struggle for the space of five minutes and after hanging the body was cut down and given to his friends.
Tom Palin was tried and hung for riotous assembly and remaining after the riot act was read following the ‘Cinderloo riots’ that took place at Old Park, near where Sainsburys is now located on the Forge retail park, on 1st February 1821. Little is known of Tom who appears to have played a major role in organising and standing up to the mine and furnace owners who were trying to reduce the wages of the miners at a time of severe hardship and poverty for the working-class communities of the Dawley coal fields.
But nearly 200 years on it feels like a good time to try and find out more about Tom and what lead to his execution at the hands of the local establishment. It is a tale explaining the relationship between capital and labour and the punishments that faced those who stood up for their class and the powers that the ruling class have at their disposal to deal with those that challenged injustice.
The story is taken up by a Mr William Turner, clerk to the magistrates who said he accompanied the magistrates and Shropshire Yeomanry to Cinder-hill, where he saw about 500 men on the hills and 1500 men and women supporters gathered beneath them. Along with Messers Eyton, Cludde, Edward Cludde, Charlton and Childe of Wrockwardine all of them magistrates and 2 of them officers in the Cavalry they spent about a quarter of an hour remonstrating with the crowd on their conduct.
As they didn’t disperse silence was called for so that the riot act could be read by Mr Eyton. This only led to the crowd becoming angrier. The crowd had armed themselves with a variety of weapons – sticks, bludgeons and the raw materials of the cinder hills themselves and had the temporary advantage of elevation. They were agitated, angry and threatening, shouting ‘We will have our wages.’
After the hour had passed the leader of the Yeomanry, Lieutenant Colonel Cludde, commanded the cavalry to advance to break up the crowd and ordered that the ringleaders and any rowdy protesters be arrested. The constables arrested two men Hayward and Hassall, and others were taken into custody by the constables who attempted to transport them to the lock-up at Wellington. This was the catalyst for violence. The colliers on the cinder hills nearest the road rained down stones, heavy lumps of slag and anything else that came to hand, showering the troops below. Several of the crowd shouted “Yonder they are, let us get together. If we are to fight for it, let’s all get together”
Tom Palin successfully led a group to free the arrested strikers. This seemed to create panic in the ranks of the Yeomanry, who were unable to pursue them up the steep, treacherous slag heaps. Lieutenant Colonel Cludde ordered his men to open fire. The consequences were serious. One miner, 18-year-old William Bird, was killed outright. Another, Thomas Gittins, was mortally wounded. Tom Palin received a gunshot wound, as did several other strikers and spectators.
Although it was said that many of the Yeomanry were also injured from flying debris from the cinder hills, it seemed from later testaments that most of their wounds were insignificant.
On the 6th February, an inquest into the deaths of Bird and Gittins returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and more protesters were arrested in the days and weeks that followed the battle. Nine of the prisoners were tried before Salop Assizes on 25 March 1821: Christopher North, John Payne, James Eccleshall, John Grainger, Robert Wheeler, John Amies, and John Wilcox pleaded guilty to the minor charge of common law riot, and were sentenced each to nine months imprisonment, with hard labour.
Tom Palin and Sam Hayward were condemned at the Shrewsbury Assizes for riotous assembly, remaining after the riot act was read and injuring the iron works and were found guilty of felonious riot and condemned for execution. Hayward was subsequently reprieved.
The proprietor of the Old Park furnace works William Botfield , and other local dignitaries attempted to have the sentence rescinded but Tom’s fate was deemed necessary to make him an example of the consequences of standing up for workers’ rights.
On 7th April Tom Palin mounted the scaffold in what was described as an ‘intrepid manner’, sat himself down for a few moments and appeared to gaze unconsciously at the dreadful apparatus of death in front of him. He rose and resigned himself into the hands of the executioner.
Piecing together the story of Tom Palin you are struck by the lack of detail recorded of the events leading up to cinder hill and the personality and motivation of Tom and his fellow workers that lead them to attempt to take on the local mine and furnace owners.
Whilst the family back grounds of the other participants like the Cluddes, Foresters and the Charlton’s, the industrialists like Thomas Botfield have memorials and records of their ancestry going back generations. Tom Palin has no painting, no statue or even a written acknowledgement for the ultimate sacrifice he made fighting for the rights of the common people of the Dawley coalfield.
We are calling on the High Sherriff of Shropshire whose processors over saw the hanging to grant a posthumous pardon to Tom as a gesture to recognise the role that he played in standing up for workers’ rights 200 years ago.
Pete Jackson – Chair Cinderloo 1821 2nd April 2021