William Hay, was born in 1761. His education included Westminster School and Oxford University. Hay qualified as a barrister but after a moderate legal career he entered the church. In 1802 he became rector of Ackworth Church, near Pontefract, and Chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions.
William Hay was one of the ten magistrates on duty at St. Peter's Field on 16th August, 1819. He agreed with William Hulton and the rest of the magistrates that Henry Hunt, John Knight, Joseph Johnson and Joseph Moorhouse should be arrested.
After the Peterloo Massacre Hay was given the task of writing the report for the government on what had happened. Two days later, Hay went to London to give a first-hand account to Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary in the Earl of Liverpool's government.
In January 1820, the Government appointed Hay to the rectorship of Rochdale, which was one of the richest livings in England.
William Hay died in 1839.
The area of St. Peter's is computed to be 14,000 square yards. This space was occupied very closely near the hustings, and in other parts more or less so. We compute the numbers of those collected who took part in the meeting to be about 30,000, of these at least 20,000 were strangers to Manchester. We saw five or six columns march in - there were from 2,000 to 5,000 each, if not more; they marched in quick time, with martial music, banners and ensigns. Each column as it came marched directly to the Hustings, as they came up were received with three cheers - their banners were arranged in front, and they were cheered again. This took place in every instance. After the others had arrived Hunt came with his party and the same reception took place.
Prior to Hunt's appearing on the ground, Owen came to us and gave information as the parties in Hunt's company. His information was taken and a warrant filled up in consequence and signed by ten magistrates. Before this, magistrates had as long been in their own view convinced that the meeting was in terror of his Majesty's subjects, but they had also taken confirmation of about fifty inhabitants who swore to the same effect. In addition to this the shops at the lower part of the town at a quarter of a mile from St. Peter's had been shut all morning, and but a very few could be prevailed in the afternoon to take down the shutters.
The arrest warrant was filled up about the time of Hunt's arrival. Mr. Andrews one of the town's constables came into the Magistrates' Room, and told Mr. Hulton that it could not be served without military aid. Nadin was in the room. Mr. Hulton laid hold of Nadin by the arm and asked him whether it was not possible for the police aided by the special constables to execute that warrant. Nadin replied neither with these special constables in England. Mr. Hulton asked him, cannot it be executed without military force. Nadin answered it cannot. Mr. Hulton said then you shall have military power and for God's sake don't sacrifice the lives of special constables. The warrant was delivered into the hands of Mr. Moore, the town's constable - he delivered it over to Nadin the deputy constable.
He read it with his head very far out of the window. He leant so far out, that I stood behind him, ready to catch his skirts for fear he might fall over. Mr. Ethelston is a gentleman who I have occasionally heard sing, and he has a remarkably powerful voice. When he drew his head back into the room after reading the proclamation, I observed to him, "Mr. Ethelston. I never heard your voice so powerful.
The Reverend W. R. Hay, the chairman of the quarter sessions, who had commanded the military attack on a peaceable and defenceless multitude on the 16th of August, 1819, and had been rewarded by being presented to the rich living of Rochdale, told the jury they had only to ask themselves whether the assembling of 200 or 300 persons in the public streets, was or was not a nuisance. Christianity, he said, had nothing to do with the question.