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The Bold Defiance

March 11, 2024
by Rupert Cole

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Rupert Cole tells how he uncovered the story of John Doyle and John Valloine, protagonists of  the ‘Bold Defiance,’ who advocated for the rights of journeymen weavers in the eighteenth century and were executed in Bethnal Green for their endeavours.

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‘Excavate the dust under your floor, the future needs our story to be found’  – this is the message I received from Doyle and Valloine this morning. I now have my arm between two joists under the floorboards. My hand is submerged deep in some ancient filthy grey dust. I cannot see anything in the darkness, the excavation is done by feel. As I fumble along the lath and plaster, every so often I come across a loose object. I can usually tell if it is just another wood shaving or something more significant that I need to bring up for further inspection. Today’s find is only a button and a piece of lead gas pipe. I will have another rummage tomorrow.

I am in the Dolphin, a former public house at 85 Redchurch St. I moved here twenty-seven years ago. It had been an Irish pub, its Irish connection dating back to when Irish and Huguenot silk weavers lived and worked around Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. In 1996, the pub was closed down and sold by the Truman Brewery after the company went into receivership.

When I first moved in, the interior still had the remains of a rotten, beer-soaked seventies chipboard bar and a disintegrating, sticky fag-burnt fitted carpet. With my friends, we set about a clear-up which revealed that some parts of the building were eighteenth-century.

Our first discovery was situated at the back of the yard. Concealed under a mass of asphalt roofing was a little single-storey brick building that had been converted for use as the pub’s toilet. We were curious as to why such a small building had two chimney flues and why in the attic there was a large timber trough with two connected chutes. So we asked Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society to visit. Between us, we deduced the building was an eighteenth-century brewhouse. The trough was probably where barley was kept and lowered via the chutes into a masher, and heated using one of the two flues. The other flue was likely for toasting hops or heating a fermentation vessel.

Nearly every day brought discoveries at the Dolphin. Under stone slabs in the yard, we found broken pottery, oyster shells, and clay pipes – one was decorated with dolphins. In the cellar, were bricked-up vaults which ran under the pavement that had not seen the light of day for a century or more. We found gin and port bottles buried under the cellar floor. And upstairs, there was a seemingly endless trove of objects, playing cards, buttons, and little folded paper pouches of tobacco in the dust under the floorboards. Hidden in one corner was an eighteenth-century glass bottle with liquid remnants at the bottom. When I removed the cork, it still had a faint scent. I think it was laudanum.

I started researching the building’s history which led me to a file held at the London Metropolitan Archives that had not yet been digitised. It was difficult to decipher the handwriting. The file contained the ‘Middlesex Sessions’ trial documents detailing a raid by thirty troops on ‘the Dolphin Alehouse’ on the night of Saturday 30th September 1769, in which four people were killed – Adam McCoy, Thomas Cartwright, Adam Haselden, and James Briggs. The documents included statements by surgeons, soldiers, the pub’s landlord, lodgers, and silk weavers. They described a horrific battle scene, a pistol shot fired through a head, a body found at the foot of the stairs, another in the taproom with his jaw blown apart, blunderbusses and cutlasses, and weavers fleeing out of windows and over roofs.

The location of this Dolphin Alehouse was described as the corner of Turville St and New Cock Lane (today the short stretch of Redchurch St between Club Row and Swanfield St).

Before long, I found the link between this raid and a group of revolutionary journeyman silk weavers who called themselves the ‘Bold Defiance,’ led by an Irishman John Doyle, and a Huguenot, John Valloine. Their headquarters was the club room on the first floor of the Dolphin Alehouse.

There are history books that explain the Bold Defiance, the context and complexity of all the silk-weaving industrial disputes, and what follows here is my summary.

The master silk weavers’ introduction of mechanised looms and the breaking down of established piece-work rates in the late eighteenth century severely impacted journeyman weavers’ pay. As a matter of survival, the Bold Defiance organised resistance. This was similar to the Luddite movement forty years later and it was a sort of proto-trade union, except they extorted subscriptions directly from employers not workers. They set a levy per loom and then sent demands to the master weavers, ‘You are desired to send the full donation of all your looms to the Dolphin in Cock Lane.’ If they refused to pay, then the Bold Defiance would cut their precious silks or sabotage their looms.

Lewis Chauvet, one of Spitalfield’s major silk manufacturers, refused to pay the levy and seventy or more of his looms were destroyed. As a consequence, Chauvet offered £500 reward for the capture of the Bold Defiance ringleaders, Doyle and Valloine. The raid on the Dolphin was based on a tip-off and they were tried at the Old Bailey on the 18th October 1769. Despite pleading their innocence, the pair were convicted on spurious evidence and sentenced to death.

With the endorsement of King George III, they were hung outside the Salmon & Ball in Bethnal Green, in the heart of the weavers’ neighbourhood rather than at Tyburn Tree. The intention was to intimidate the weavers from attempting any more rebellions, ‘to strike Terror into the Rioters.’ Yet thousands of weavers rioted as a consequence of these and scores of other ‘state-endorsed-executions.’ The rebellions continued until 1773 when the Spitalfields Act of Parliament legislated for a process of wage regulation through arbitration between the government, the master weavers, and the journeyman weavers. This was an important step towards the inception of trade unions, which to a considerable degree can be attributed to the influence of the Bold Defiance. It also marked the demise of the local artisan hand-loom weaver and the beginning of industrial capitalism.

I was excited to realise I was living in the former headquarters of the Bold Defiance. Details in the building suddenly seemed even more curious. Was the round hole in the cracked pane of glass left by one of the pistol shots during the raid? Was the chunk of torn wood, the result of where a musket ball had struck it when the soldiers fired into the cellar? Was the curious cut-out panel in the door on the first-floor club room, the hatch where the master weavers’ contributions were handed to the Bold Defiance? Perhaps Doyle had drunk from that very same bottle of laudanum? Could Valloine have smoked from that dolphin-decorated clay pipe? They surely had both drunk ale from the brewhouse.

My conversations with Doyle and Valloine continue. I would like to believe their voices are geologically recorded as ‘word fossils’ in the Dolphin walls and that one day acoustic phonon-archaeology will permit us to ‘playback’ their conversations. But, until then, I shall make do with imagining their words.

‘Dear Rupert, We are pleased you found us! Continue dust-larking under your floors, there is more to discover. Memories of the past are imaginings for the future. We shall send you instructions on how to start a ‘cash-back’ revolution soon. Thank you for telling our story. Yours, the Bold Defiance, Doyle and Valloine.’

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The Dolphin in the early twentieth century

The Dolphin sign

Door to headquarters of the Bold Defiance

Staircase leading to the headquarters of the Bold Defiance

The former brewhouse to the rear of the Dolphin

Objects discovered by the author under the floorbooards at the Dolphin

The fragment of clay pipe with dolphins

The author’s museum of Bold Defiance artefacts

Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Saturday October 7th 1769

Bath & Bristol Chronicle, 14th December 1769

Location of the Dolphin marked on John Roque’s map


Click on this image to enlarge

‘The Weavers in an Uproar or a Quartern Loaf cheap at Twelve Pence’ – satire on the industrial unrest in the silk-weaving trade in the 1760s (courtesy British Museum)

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Rupert Cole will be hosting a series of Bold Defiance re-enactment art events in collaboration with the House of Annetta this summer and a small museum of artefacts found at the Bold Defiance headquarters opens at the Dolphin soon. This article is an extract from a pamphlet to be published later this year which will include other stories from the Dolphin Alehouse. Thanks to historian Peter Guillery.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 11, 2024

    What a fascinating story; but how sad to know of Lewis Chauvet, silk manufacturer, when all his looms, 70 or more of them, were destroyed.

  2. Mark Byfield permalink
    March 11, 2024

    I really enjoyed this fascinating account of times gone by, a lovely bit of dusty history.
    I have always been interested in old pubs and buildings and have over the years done my share of ruminating in the dust and grime.
    A great read and some interesting history and lovely photos.
    Thanks for another great post.

    Mark

  3. March 11, 2024

    What a great article. Absolutely fascinating. But I’m not sure I want phonon-archeology to be discovered. I imgane all those voices… It send shivers down my spine.

  4. Peter Holford permalink
    March 11, 2024

    Very thought provoking. It’s a historical event that I had never heard of, thinking that the strife of the silk weavers came later with industrialisation. My Holford ancestors were silk weavers in Spitalfields at that time. It would be interesting to know how they fitted in to this series of events. At least I know they weren’t hanged!

  5. March 11, 2024

    Thank you Rupert, and the GA, for this absolutely fascinating post. My silk weaving ancestors appeared to be active later (about 1824), but still angry at the state of the industry.
    What an amazing set of artifacts and what a tale the Dolphin has to tell! I look forward to future events and articles being announced.

  6. March 11, 2024

    https://brightonlives.org.uk/?p=105
    Thank you for your very interesting post on ‘The Bold Defiance’. They were indeed brutal times. The above is a link to my article on Ann Wilds aka ‘Mother H’ who was I believe, the daughter of William Horsford, an Irish cutter at the same period.

  7. Robin permalink
    March 11, 2024

    What a powerful story! Reminds me of the struggles documented in EP Thompson’s magnificent book, The Making of the English Working Class. He has a whole chapter on ‘The Weavers.’

    Thank you, Rupert for rescuing The Dolphin pub and rescuing this history; thank you GA for publishing Rupert’s story.

  8. Akkers permalink
    March 11, 2024

    Another really interesting article.

  9. March 12, 2024

    I love your research. How wonderful that you are bringing this story to life.

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