Cheshire Against Napoleon

The following is a partial transcription of an article by Arthur J. Gautrey called “Cheshire against Napoleon”, which details how the inhabitants of Warford might play their part in the wake of a Napoleonic invasion:


“The Parish Constables elected to serve at Great Warford in 1803, William Hunt and Thomas Withington, felt entitled to grumble.  None of their predecessors had had much to do apart from locking up the occasional drunk and attending the Sessions at Macclesfield once or twice a year to hear the Magistrates laying down the law but now, quite suddenly, in their year of office, all hell seemed to be let loose.  They knew that Napoleon had been rampaging about Europe for years, but the battles had always seemed to be at a safe distance from Cheshire.  The war was supposed to be over, anyway, by the Treaty of Amiens signed in 1802 but now, out of the blue, it all started up again in June 1803.  The Parish Constables’ accounts for the period are on microfilm at Manchester Central Library, part of Alan Dale’s manuscripts.

First, orders came from the Lord Lieutenant of the County that they, and all the other Constables in the Prestbury Division, were to go to Macclesfield on the 4th July when a ballot was to be held for men to serve for three years in the Militia.  The total number of men required in the whole country was 51,500, of which number Warford was being asked to supply only one, and the name that came out of the hat was Joseph Mottershead.  The next day the two Constables made their leisurely way to Joseph’s house to serve on him the notice telling him that he had been balloted to serve, but the news had travelled quicker than the Constables and Joseph had disappeared.

His wife denied all knowledge of his whereabouts, but the Constables knew that Joseph’s father lived at Wilmslow so off they went to see if he was there, or if his father knew where he was, but without success.  Then someone said he had heard that Joseph had been seen in Salford, so the Constables went to see if they could find him there, but they failed once again.  So the day came on the 14th July, when Joseph Mottershead should have gone to Macclesfield to be sworn in with the rest of the Division’s Militia, but instead the two Constables had to go and confess that they had not been able to find him to serve the notice on him.

They were told that, in that case, the parish would have to find and pay a substitute, and eventually they persuaded John Smith to take Joseph’s place , paying him £10 to do so.  £10 does not sound much to us today, but it would have taken John Smith, who was a farm labourer, more than twenty weeks to earn as much, so it was the equivalent of nearly £1000 in today’s money.  They had got him cheaply, if only they had known it, as substitute’s in the south frequently demanded £20 or £30.

The Constables took John Smith to Squire Clegg’s at Chelford to be sworn in before he could change his mind, and in a few days he was marched off to the south coast with the rest  of the Cheshire Militia to counter Napoleon’s threat of invasion.

If the Constables hoped that that was to be the end of their troubles they were disappointed.  The very next day came orders that were to make two more lists of the inhabitants of Warford, one of all able-bodied men between ages of 17 and 30 whose names were to go into a ballot for the Army of Reserve, and the other of men above the age of 30, with a note of the services that each man could be expected to perform in the event of invasion.  On August 1st they took both of these returns to Macclesfield.  The name that came out of the hat for the Army of Reserve for Warford was that of Thomas Higginson, but he had a large family to support and the Constables knew that the parish would have to look after them if Thomas went away, so they found another substitute, Joseph Adshead, to whom they paid £5, more than enough, they thought, for a man who never be more than a part-time soldier…

…The Parish Constables at Warford had no idea what to do with the men who had volunteered there until the Lord Lieutenant gave orders that all the volunteers were to be assembled at Alderley one Sunday morning in September for drill on the village green but, as one of them said afterwards, they had no weapons so all they had learned was how to “stand easy”…

…This was still not the end for the Parish Constables in Warford, who had next to list every person who possessed guns, swords or pistols, and take this list to Macclesfield.  This was followed by a list of all the horses, carts and wagons in the township which might be used, if necessary, to evacuate the old, the sick, the women and children if and when Napoleon’s army ever got within striking distance of Cheshire…

…Towards the end of the year in which William Hunt and Thomas Withington were Parish Constables, Joseph Mottershead came back to the village, but as he had never been served with the notice requiring him to serve in the Militia, they could do nothing but tell him what they thought about him.  Their successor’s did not, in fact, had much easier a time.  They soon had to go to Macclesfield to the ballot for that year’s Militia,and when they hired Randle Hallworth to take the place of the man whose name had been drawn, they had to pay him £25, as Cheshire had by then caught up with the morning rate.  They also had to pay 2/6 to have him “searched” by a doctor as so many of the previous year’s substitute’s  had turned out to be unfit.”

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