Execution & Beheading on Glasgow Green

Mary McCabe, of Greater Glasgow P4Indy, writes:

On 30th August 200 years ago James ‘Purlie’ Wilson was hanged and beheaded on Glasgow Green for High Treason. A rebellious crowd of 20,000, held back by soldiers, watched him die. He gave an impassioned speech on the gallows. Did the Press report on what he said? No.

By Elliott Simpson, CC BY-SA 2.0, WikiCommons

“Scotland Free or a Desart”

Wilson was a 63-year-old weaver. He had long been involved in organisations seeking such political reform as votes for all men and the independence of Scotland. 

He had taken part in non-violent demonstrations and carried a banner proclaiming “Scotland Free or a Desart” (sic). And his home in Strathaven was a rendezvous point for those who wished to debate topical issues such as the abolition of slavery.

In the April of 1820, Government undercover agents persuaded Wilson to lead twenty-five men towards Cathkin to join in an uprising. However long before they arrived they thought the better of it and returned home without striking a blow. But it was already too late. They had now been identified. Soldiers burst into their homes and arrested them. 

The Radical Wars involved thousands of people across Central Scotland. By the end eighty-eight men were charged with High Treason. Yet the events of those years are shrouded in secrecy to this day.

Bi-Centary Commemoration

Tomorrow (Sunday 30th August) from about 2.45 there will be a Commemoration on Glasgow Green beside the Arch near the High Court – attended physically, with social distancing – to mark the bicentenary of Wilson’s execution at that exact time and place, 200 years ago.

Postscript by Marlene Halliday:

I’m sure there are honourable exceptions, but for many of us who went to school in Scotland in the 50s and 60s, the 1820 Rebellion was likely never mentioned in any history class. I am currently reading an account of the Rebellion by Murray Armstrong entitled ” The Fight for Scottish Democracy: Rebellion & Reform in 1820“.

You can listen to Murray talking on the subject here:

And find out even more in these videos: