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West Riding Luddites bicentenary to be remembered across Huddersfield

AS British rebel movements go, few have spread their legacy as far as the Luddites.

AS British rebel movements go, few have spread their legacy as far as the Luddites.

The very word, which has come to mean someone who is opposed to change, is used across the English speaking world.

And the epicentre of Luddite activity, some would argue, was in Huddersfield in 1812.

That’s why a host of events are planned for the next few weeks to mark the 200th anniversary of the movement.

The West Riding Luddites, led by George Mellor, a cropper from Longroyd Bridge, caused destruction and even death, for mill owners whose adoption of labour saving machinery was destroying their employees’ livelihoods.

On April 28, 1812, the campaign came to an infamous climax when a gang of Luddites murdered factory owner William Horsfall, at Crosland Moor.

Two hundred years later the Luddite epicentre is preparing a wealth of events to remember one of Britain’s most controversial movements.

Janette Martin, a history lecturer at Huddersfield University, has been co-ordinating Luddite Link (ludditelink.org.uk), a website with a history of the Luddite movement and details of commemorative events around the area.

Ms Martin said: “We wanted the website to be a one-stop shop and to build an historical resource.

“The Luddites are really important. It was more dramatic in Huddersfield than anywhere else.

“It’s interesting that the term is understood the world over. We’ve had emails from all over the place, even Brazil.

“The term ‘Luddite’ today is used quite differently to how the Luddites themselves would have used it. It was much more about protecting their own communities.

“It’s very hard to tell if they were romantic revolutionaries. You wonder how much of it was bravado.”

So what was the Luddite movement?

Skilled workers had been breaking machinery, which threatened their livelihoods, since the late 17th century.

The practice however gained momentum during the late 18th and early 19th century. The advent of machinery meant factory owners, who previously relied on skilled labour, could pay their employees far less.

Framework knitters in Nottingham, faced with wage cuts, began smashing the machines which performed their jobs. They took their name from a Leicestershire weaver, known as Ned Ludd (possibly called Edward Ludlam) who reputedly trashed a machine in a fit of rage.

While the Luddite movement took place in parts of Lancashire and Cheshire, in the West Riding it escalated into a series of violent events and deaths.

Around Huddersfield croppers – skilled, burly tradesmen who smoothed the surface of woollen cloth using giant sheers – became concerned about a machine which performed their job more efficiently.

In 1812, rather than loose their high wages and status, the croppers took severe action.

A mill in Leeds was set alight and shearing frames bound for Rawfolds Mills, near Cleckheaton, were smashed.

Around Huddersfield 13 machine smashing raids were carried out by large mobs, many thought to be from the John Wood cropping shop, in Longroyd Bridge.

On March 15, 1812, men with blackened faces attacked Francis Vickerman’s factory at Taylor Hill.

Cropping frames made by the Marsden company run by Enoch Taylor were broken during a raid on a factory in Horbury, Wakefield.

The mill owners started battling back and during an attack on William Cartwright’s mill at Rawfolds, Cleckheaton, two Luddites were killed by soldiers hired to protect to the factory.

The Luddites started fighting fire with fire, by raiding homes, and on April 28, 1812, factory owner and outspoken anti-Luddite, William Horsfall, was shot dead in an ambush at Crosland Moor as he rode back from Huddersfield to Marsden.

Huddersfield magistrate Joseph Radcliffe launched an intense search to find Horsfall’s killers.

Eventually a man called Benjamin Walker confessed to his part in the murder, along with William Thorpe, Thomas Smith and George Mellor.

Thorpe, Smith and Mellor were tried and hanged at York, in January 1813.

Eight days later, 14 other men were hanged for their part in the Rawfolds Mill raids.

What is your organisation doing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Luddite revolt? Give us a call: 01484 437774.

 

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