On the 6th of April 1820, during the course of Scotland’s brief but intense Radical War, a small army of weavers clashed with troops from the regular army and the local Stirlingshire Yeomanry, one of the many volunteer government militias of the time. The Radicals were led by Andrew Hardie of Townhead in Glasgow and John Baird of Condorrat at Cumbernauld. Almost certainly lured into it by government agents provocateurs, Hardie and Baird were heading for the Carron Iron Works at Falkirk, aiming to seize cannons. Realizing before they got there that the promised recruits to their band were not going to turn up, they went up onto a grassy hill near Bonnybridge, west of Falkirk. Although they had a few guns, most of the Radicals were armed with pikes, the easiest and cheapest weapons for working men to make.
The Radicals had walked through a rainy night from Glasgow and Condorrat and as they were resting, sitting and lying on the grass, they spotted hussars riding towards them. The soldiers clearly knew where to find them. A skirmish ensued. The little Radical army fought bravely, the action taking place around a dry stone wall known ever since as the Radical Dyke. Defeated, they were taken to imprisonment at Stirling Castle.
Retaliation was brutal. Later that year, Andrew Hardie and John Baird were tried and found guilty of high treason, for ‘levying war against the king.’ They were hanged and then beheaded in public in Broad Street in Stirling. Nineteen of the men and boys who had marched with them were transported to Australia. A memorial, placed there in recent years by the 1820 Society, marks the site of the battle.
My history of the events, One Week in April, the Scottish Radical Rising of 1820, has now been published by Birlinn. It is available to buy from them and from online and High Street booksellers. The striking cover illustration is by Astrid Jaekel and depicts the hussars at the top and the pikes and the hands of the Radicals at the bottom.
The book has garnered quite a lot of press coverage over the last few day, including this excellent article in the Sunday Post, published on the bicentenary of the Battle of Bonnymuir.