Rights were won in Bonnybridge field

The Radical Pend named to commemorate the Battle of Bonnyfield
The Radical Pend named to commemorate the Battle of Bonnyfield

Today is the anniversary of the celebrated Battle of Bonnymuir when a small band of radical weavers armed with a few old guns and home-made pikes faced dragoons on the fields above Bonnybridge.

In 1820 the living and working conditions of the population were very poor and the complete lack of political power meant they had no way of bringing about change.

But the example of the French Revolution encouraged some brave men to believe that they could challenge the Government by taking up arms, and all over the country, groups were formed and plans laid.

The weavers in the west of Scotland decided to seize Glasgow and planned to bring cannons from Carron Iron Works to Cathkin Braes overlooking the city.

In the small hours of April 5, 1820, a group of about 25 men set off for Falkirk led by Andrew Hardie, a former soldier who had fought at Waterloo five years before.

At Condorrat they were joined by a handful of local radicals under the command of John Baird and together they marched eastwards to Castlecary where they followed the Forth and Clyde Canal to Bonnybridge.

At this stage their plan was to meet up with the nailers of Camelon and advance to Carron where they thought the workers were sympathetic and ready to hand over the weapons required.

When they reached Bonnybridge they split into two groups with Baird’s men following the canal towpath and Hardie taking what is still the main road to Falkirk.

At West Carmuirs Loan they returned to the canal via the old drove road, and the whole group climbed south-west up towards Bonnymuir.

Why they made this move is not certain but it may be that they had decided to abandon the march and make their way back to Glasgow.

More likely it was part of the web of deception which had brought them here in the first place.

We now know that Government agents were not only aware of the plan but that the men were being deliberately led into a trap. Later it was claimed that one of their number named as John King had suggested they wait on the muir while he collected the Camelon men. Instead he set off for Kilsyth to inform the 10th Hussars and the Stirlingshire Yeoman Cavalry who were waiting for the signal.

Using the so-called Radical Pend in Bonnybridge about 40 mounted and well-armed soldiers rode under the canal and located the radicals waiting on the muir.

The clash was short and fierce with the ill-equipped weavers holding their line behind a five foot stone dyke against the guns and sabres of the cavalry.

They fought hard and well but it was an unequal struggle. Twenty men were arrested on the field and taken to Stirling for trial.

In September Baird and Hardie, found guilty of treason, were executed and the others were transported to Australia.

Although they were certainly deceived and misguided these brave men struck an early blow against oppression and signalled to those in power that working people would no longer accept a world in which they were excluded from all political power.

The reforms that followed owed much to their inspiration and their heroic sacrifice should never be forgotten.

Today a fine memorial stone stands on the B816, Bonnyhill Road close to the site of the battle as a reminder of the price our forefathers paid for rights that we so often take for granted.