Colonel Ralph Fletcher JP of Bolton

1757 - 1832

Bolton Coat of Arms - Col Ralph Fletcher

The first Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of England was Ralph Fletcher of Bolton. He was born in 1757, the son of John and Mary Fletcher.  The family had investments in several coalmines around Atherton.  He was colonel of the Bolton Volunteers and became a Justice of the peace in 1797. He was a devoted Anglican and a member of the Bolton Church and King Club.  As a magistrate, he was very severe on anyone he thought had been subverting the constitution.
 Major James Watkins of Bolton, a magistrate and close friend of Fletcher’s, was also a prominent Orangeman from the beginning of the English Order. During Luddite troubles in 1812, Fletcher was active against those causing disorder in his capacity as a magistrate and many Orangemen were sworn in as special constables.

In November 1819 the Loyal Orange Institution held a party at the Kings Head Inn in the Old Shambles, Manchester to celebrate the birthday of William of Orange.  Ralph Fletcher presided, assisted by James Watkins.  On 10 February 1820 the Grand Lodge of England meeting held at the King’s Head Tavern in Manchester sent a message of condolence to the new King following the death of King George III.  The following year the Grand Lodge’s request for a place in the Manchester Coronation Procession was declined but Orangemen took part in the processions in Chowbent, Heywood, Middleton, Burnley, Mottram, Stockport, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bury, Rochdale and Bolton where Fletcher led several hundred Orangemen.
Fletcher was the Grand Treasurer until his death in 1832 and James Watkins was Deputy Grand Treasurer and then Grand Treasurer until 1833.   Fletcher’s son, John Fletcher was also an Orangeman who, in 1829, was a member of the Grand Committee.

The following obituary appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine:  ‘Ralph Fletcher Esq. February 22 at his house, the Hollins, near Bolton, aged 74.  His death has occasioned the deepest grief to an affectionate family; the most unfeigned regret to a numerous circle of friends and acquaintances; and a severe loss to the public, for whose benefit his valuable life was principally spent.  In 1797 he undertook the arduous situation of a magistrate.  In times of difficulty and danger, he was always at his post, and mainly contributed, by his foresight and firmness, to the repression of violence, and the preservation of the public peace.  Nor did he, while protecting the privileges and property of the rich, overlook the claims of the poor, but lent to them, at all times, a ready and indulgent ear; exerting himself for the promotion of their interests to the best of his judgement and ability.  For several years he was a Captain in the Bolton Volunteers , and in 1798, he accepted the commission of Major in that regiment, then under the command of Colonel Rosbotham, at whose resignation in 1803 he was appointed Colonel-Commandant; and in 1808 he was appointed to the command of the Bolton regiment of Local Militia.  As a testimony to his zeal and efficiency as a military officer, and of the personal regard in which he was held by these corps, he was presented on three separate occasions, with a cup, a sword, and two pieces of silver plate.  He received also, in 1812, a gold cup from the inhabitants of Bolton and the neighbourhood, as a mark of their approbation of his general services; and another in 1822, from Bury, for the same purpose.  In addition to these tokens of esteem, a liberal subscription was raised, in the town and vicinity of Bolton, for the painting of his portrait, which was executed in a masterly style, by Mr Allen, of Manchester.

The inscription on the last gold cup is as follows: -

‘Presented to Ralph Fletcher, Esquire, one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, for the county palatine of Lancaster, and Colonel-Commandant of the Bolton Regiment of Local Militia, by the gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood of Bury; who thus respectfully and affectionately testify their sense of his invaluable services for twenty-five years, in various capacities of public life, and particularly in times and circumstances of commotion and great peril, his integrity and unwearied assiduity, his mild and equitable spirit as a magistrate, his promptitude, discipline, and eminent efficiency as a military officer, and his devoted vigilance in support of the best interests of the British Empire, of its laws and constitution, its throne and its altar’.

Manchester Orange

"The Protestant Religion and Liberties of England I will Maintain", 
William III, Prince of Orange

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