William Hulton, the son of William and Jane Hulton, was born on 23rd October 1787. William Hulton, the High Sheriff of Lancashire, was a substantial landowner. The family lived at Hulton Park, a large estate twelve miles outside Manchester. The family also owned land in Harpurhey and Denton. William Hulton died in 1799. William was only twelve at the time and had to wait until 1808 before he could inherit the family estate.
William Hulton won a place at Brasenose College, Cambridge. After university he returned to Hulton Park to marry his cousin, Maria Ford, and to manage his large estates and a coal-mine at Westhoughton. Maria had thirteen children, of these, ten survived into adulthood.
At the age of twenty-four William Hulton became High Sheriff of Lancashire. This was a time when workers were rebelling against the building of textile factories. In 1812 Hulton arrested twelve men for setting fire to a weaving mill in Westhoughton. Four of the accused, Abraham Charlston, Job Fletcher, Thomas Kerfoot, and James Smith, were executed. Abraham Charlston's family claimed he was only twelve years old but he was not reprieved. It was reported that Abraham cried for his mother on the scaffold.
William Hulton was also kept busy with local attempts to form trade unions. One worker at Thomas Rowe's Westhoughton factory was found guilty of "administering unlawful oaths" and was transported to Australia for seven years.
By 1819 William Hulton had obtained a reputation as a man who could be relied upon to deal severely with working class people arguing for political reform. It was therefore no surprise when Hulton was appointed as chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates in July 1819. This was a special committee set up to deal with the social unrest that was taking place in the new industrial towns.
At about 10.30 a.m. on 16th July, 1819 William Hulton and nine other magistrates met at a house in Mount Street, to discuss what they should do about the planned meeting at St. Peter's Field that day. Hulton had already arranged for a military force to be in Manchester to deal with the large number of people expected to arrive to hear Henry Hunt speak on parliamentary reform. This included the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, the Cheshire Yeomanry and the 15th Hussars.
The house in Mount Street overlooked St. Peter's Field and the magistrates could see the large crowd assembling below. After watching events for a couple of hours, Hulton came to the conclusion that "the town was in great danger". Hulton therefore decided to read the Riot Act and instructed Joseph Nadin, Deputy Constable of Manchester, to arrest Henry Hunt and the other leaders of the demonstration. Nadin replied that this could not be done without the help of the military. Hulton then wrote two letters and sent them to Lieutenant Colonel L'Estrange, the commander of the military forces in Manchester and Major Trafford, the commander of the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry. It was while the military attempted to make these arrests that eleven people were killed and over four hundred were injured.
After the Peterloo Massacre William Hulton was severely criticised for the way he dealt with the situation. John Hobhouse, the radical M.P. for Westminster, accused him of lying about what had taken place. Hulton popularity was not improved when he claimed that the "16th August 1819 was the proudest day in my life." Hulton also insisted that only two people had been killed in St. Peter's Field and that one of these was a special constable.
William Hulton continued to develop his business interests after the Peterloo Massacre. Between 1824 and 1828 he was involved in the planning and construction of the Bolton & Leigh Railway. Hulton's main objective was to get his coal to a wider market and to enable the industrialists in Bolton to find a shorter and cheaper route to the port of Liverpool. In 1830 the line was linked to the Manchester & Liverpool Railway at Kenyon Junction.
In March 1831 Hulton's miners at Westhoughton went on strike. Hulton was furious and argued that they had betrayed him: "I have amply rewarded you for your labour relieving your families in sickness or distress and educated your children. What has been your conduct towards me? You have wantonly injured me in my purse and wounded my feelings." Hulton told his workers that unions "disunited masters and men" and that he would never again employ a member of the Collier's Union. This was a threat he was unable to carry out.
In 1820 William Hulton had been offered a safe Tory seat in the House of Commons, he refused it, complaining he would be a target of abuse during the campaign. Hulton hoped that eventually he would be forgiven for his role in the Peterloo Massacre but whenever he was recognised by working class people they would chant 'Peterloo'. While campaigning in Bolton for the Conservative candidate in the 1841 election, Hulton was physically attacked by a crowd shouting Peterloo and had to be rescued by local party members.
Although deeply hurt by the way people blamed him for the Peterloo Massacre, William Hulton continued to play an active way in public life.
William Hulton died in 1864.