Fletcher was born into a wealthy Lancashire coal-mining family. He used his role as a magistrate to suppress political activism in north-west cotton towns. In 1812, Luddites attacked Lancashire mills in reaction to the introduction of automated textile equipment and burned Westhoughton Mill to the ground along with its 200 steam-powered looms.
Fletcher was suspected to have spies who incited violence, but the reprisals he coordinated had four men hanged and nine transported. He was voted to receive this cup on July 12, 1812, in a meeting chaired by a fellow magistrate.
Now offered for £22,500, it was made by Peter and William Bateman and is inscribed by his Townsmen & Neighbours as a small expression of their Gratitude for manly, loyal & unwearied exertions in times of public Commotion & amidst the Obloquy of Faction.
Fletcher received a similar cup several years later in response to his efforts in repressing the demonstrations on St Peter’s Field in 1819. Manchester Patriotic Union organised a political protest which local magistrates, including Fletcher, attempted to subdue with arrests.
When this failed they summoned the cavalry but the local, inexperienced yeomanry started cutting down the crowd. When hussars arrived, more tumult followed with at least 11 killed and 600 wounded.
During the chaos, Fletcher was seen beating demonstrators with his stick. Following his exoneration from the government and congratulation from the Prince Regent, he received a similar cup for his services in 1822, this time from the people of Bury.
Fletcher is portrayed in Mike Leigh’s 2018 film Peterloo, the events of which have their bicentenary this week.