My intention with this post is to follow the likely route of the “luddite” march and assault on William Cartwright’s mill, which was located in the Spen Valley area of West Yorkshire . We will follow the route, take a few pictures , and discuss it on the way – it is not my intention to give a full history of the Luddite rebellion, better writers than me have already done that; in a few cases expressing their own political leanings which usually, spoils a publication that could have been a very informative piece of writing. I will give the facts as I find them, and let the reader form their own opinions . The first question of course will be ” Who or what were The luddites ? “; and the throwback answer, though only partially correct would be – ” They were people who broke machines that they thought were taking their work “. The question should be ” Why were the luddites ? ” – Poor grammar but a better question , and there is no simple answer to that question. Britain was at war with Napoleon , who had basically taken control over most of Europe. All countries or states that Napoleon had influence over were banned from trading with Britain . The outcome of this was that trade was very depressed , and Britain could barely feed herself. Making a protest by machine breaking erupted in Notinghamshire in 1811, though this was not the first time machines had been broken in protest – but the Luddite term was born. The new large stocking frames ( for the manufacture of Knitted material – often for stockings) were broken in anger, for they were seen as taking work from people who used the smaller frames . The people using the larger frames had to rent the frames from the person who owned the frame, and was paid a pittance for the cloth he produced.
(click on pictures to enlarge if required)
This is a small frame that people would use in their house. Below is an example of one of the larger frames that the people would have to rent .
The term Luddite supposedly arose because a rather ” simple” young man called Ned Ludlam was learning from his father how to use a stocking frame, he was scolded and told to straighten the pins – which he did – with a hammer ! Which of course damaged the frame . Good story, and even if it’s not true, it caught the imagination and the term Luddite was born along with its variations.
In the year 1812, in the West Riding of Yorkshire , there was a lot of bad feeling in the communities; people were near starvation, there was very little work , and what work there was , was very poorly paid. A large part of the West Riding was of course a textile area , a woollen area to be more precise. The textile industry at this time was going through a great changes, it was evolving from a ” cottage industry ” to a factory industry, and the last throwback to the cottage industry was that they turned out pieces of cloth that needed “finishing”. One of the final part of the “finishing ” processes was “cropping” the nap on the cloth. The nap being the stray wool fibres on the cloth; these fibres were “teazed ” up off the cloth, then cropped off to provide a nice smooth finish. The cropping could make or break a peace of cloth, ergo a cropper was a very important person in the finishing process. The cropping was done in small independent buildings all around the district known as ” Cropping Shops.” The men cropping the cloth used large hand shears weighing over 40 lbs (18kg).
The croppers developed a large callus on their forearm ( called a saddle) after using the shears for several years, and it was said at the time that “you could tell a cropper by his saddle”.
Saturday the 11th of April 1812, a large group of men, that we now refer to as Luddites, began to gather in a field by the obelisk known as The Dumb Steeple. They started arriving in twos and threes from about 10pm, onwards. This was not by chance of course, this was a well organised rendezvous. The Luddite movement was almost like a secret army, where each member took an oath of loyalty and secrecy when they were “Twisted in” i.e joined the luddite movement , it would seem that some of the luddites joined through fear, or just to keep on the right side of their friends and neighbours, and it must be pointed out that NOT everyone in the luddite movement was in the textile industry.
This is the Dumb Steeple where they met in the field belonging to Sir George Armytage, it is at an important road junction at Cooper Bridge, with roads leading to Brighouse, Huddersfield, and Leeds with all the other towns in-between like Mirfield, Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, etc. Approximately 150 men arrived , mainly from The towns of Huddersfield, and Halifax, the target was a Gig mill at Cleckheaton owned by a Mr William Cartwright, who I believe was actually a native of Halifax. The mill was at a place known as Rawfolds, it was a mill powered by water, so stood right by the river Spen, and the gig mill held machines for raising the nap on the cloth, with each machine replacing several men. The men gathered at the Dumb Steeple were marshalled , it seems by a young man called George Mellor, who was a very active member of the luddite movement, he was a cropper by trade and worked at John Woods cropping shop at Longroyd Bridge, Huddersfield, John Wood was his step father.
Above is picture of John Woods cropping shop, prior to demolition in the late 19th century, it stood by the river Colne, at Longroyd Bridge , I believe there is a fireplace showroom there at the minute. The luddite army were put into ranks by numbers – no names were used, they were put into ranks by what weapons they had – yes many of them were armed. they were put into musket, pistol, hatchet, hammer ranks,and unarmed ranks, ten people across and two deep, Mellor then placed one of his trusted compatriots at the rear to ensure that people didn’t drift away into the darkness to avoid the conflict as they marched to Rawfolds Mill. They marched onto Hartshead common, where a couple of months earlier, some shearing frames , being delivered to Rawfolds mill , had been broken to pieces with large hammers by the luddites, the hammers being referred to as ” Enochs”, after their maker Enoch Taylor of Marsden, who also made shearing frames.
Above is a shearing frame that was taking work from the croppers, similar to the frames broken on Hartshead common. Onto Hartshead common they strode, heading towards Rawfolds mill ,passing Hartshead church where Patrick Bronte was appointed curate in 1811.
Hartshead common is now farmland, fields and walled, but at the time of the luddites, it was mainly common land where the people could graze their animals, collect firewood etc. There is an information board at the side of the road placed by The Spen Valley Civic Society covering the history of the land and the luddite link.
Above is a picture of farmland which was formally common land. Below is the information board at the side of the road.
As stated earlier Patrick Bronte had been appointed curate to Hartshead church in 1811 , and it is stated that in later life he recalled the tale of the luddites marching past his lodgings in 1812, his lodgings being Thornbush Farm , or Lousy farm as it was then known, with Charlotte making a referance to it in her novel ” Shirley” published in 1849,
The Luddites pressed on towards William Cartwright’s mill, mainly in silence, but the odd whispered few words here and there, maybe passing “Walton’s Cross ” at the side of the track.
Over the common and quietly passing the farm buildings, through the scattered pieces of woodland towards the mill.
William Cartwright was well aware of the threat of a Luddite attack, in fact it was a common practice of the Luddites to make sure that the mill owners , or “Small Manufacturers” , as they were known as at the time, heard a whisper, or rumour of an attack.- just to make them nervous. The troubles over the previous year or so had forced the government billet soldiers around the towns and villages, so that they were available to protect the factories and machinery. The government had also decided to make machine breaking a capital offence . William Cartwright had fortified his factory, all entries were well fortified, he had a spiked roller at the top of the stairs , to roll down on any intruders, and he made it so that the stone flags (paving stones) on the upper floor could be lifted and acid tipped onto protruders below, as well as shots fired and large rocks thrown/dropped . William Cartwright had been sleeping in the mill for several weeks – in the counting house, and had beds there for five soldiers and six workmen ( yes he still had some workmen – though plenty had been laid off) . On he night of the 11th of April 1812, two of the soldiers were watching outside, three were inside, two of the workers were sick ( had they heard about the attack and decided to become unwell?) – just a question !. William Cartwright went to bed at twenty five minutes past twelve, the Luddites were very close – coming down the hill today this is what we see.
In the early 19th century they would have seen a two story water mill, I cannot find a picture of that mill , but here is a picture of a larger mill built slightly later on the same site.
This is obviously a later mill as a water mill does not need a chimney, and William Cartwright, giving evidence in court refers to ” The upper storey ” not the upper storeys . here is a Google Earth shot of the approximate location of the mill.
At about twenty to one in the morning, a dog that was on the ground floor of the mill, acting as a guard dog, started to bark. William Cartwright, thinking it was probably a false alarm from the dog, expecting any alarm to be from the soldiers outside, went down to the ground floor. As he opened the door, he was astonished to hear the sound of muskets being fired,along with the violent breaking of windows and tremendous hammering on the door. All the people in the mill, eight in total, dashed to get their own arms, which had been piled up the night before, they did not even think to dress themselves, and commenced a brisk firing. A bell had previously been placed on the roof to be rung to alert a small detachment of cavalry that were billeted in the neighbourhood, but on commencing to ring the bell the rope broke ( or came detached); William Cartwright ordered two of his men onto the roof to continue ringing the bell to try and alert the cavalry. The people inside the mill kept firing outwards through “loop-holes” which commanded the front of the building, and the people outside the building were firing back and still hammering at the doors. One of the soldiers inside the building was failing to fulfill his duties – taking an age to reload his weapon, then firing where he knew nobody would be hit. This did not go unnoticed by William Cartwright at the time, but protecting his building was more important.The battle went on for about fifteen or twenty minutes, before the firing outside began to die down, the men inside the mill heard a confused movement outside, as if the attackers were trying to carry off their wounded. here is an illustration from The Leeds Mercury published at the time.
With the shooting stopped, those inside the mill watched the attackers dispersing into the night, taking different routes but heading in the direction of Huddersfield, the cries of wounded men was heard outside, but fearing a further attack, they did not leave the mill until a local inhabitant ( a Mr Cockell) approached the mill to investigate the disturbance. Mr Cockell advising that the luddites had dispersed, the people inside the mill felt it was safe to come out. Outside they found two men lying wounded one was John Booth – a tinners apprentice from Huddersfield ( a tinner being a sheet metal worker or tinsmith), and Samuel Hartley a cropper also from Huddersfield, Hartley was a former employee of Cartwright, but lost his job to a shearing frame. William Cartwright was at first very reluctant to offer the wounded men any assistance, unless they revealed the names of their fellow Luddites, but with the arrival of The Queen’s Bays billeted nearby , he relented and they were first of all taken to The Old Yew Tree Inn – now called Headlands Hall.
A sizeable crowd of people , who were sympathetic with the Luddite movement, as a lot of local people were, began to gather outside the inn; the authorities found this unnerving, so decided to move the men to another inn – The Star at Robertown, this is only about a mile away, but they felt it was a safer option.
John Booth had been shot in the leg which was ” shattered to atoms”, he died of blood loss and shock at about six o’clock Sunday morning while having the leg amputated, Samuel Hartley was shot in the left breast, with the ball passing through his body and coming to rest under the skin in his left shoulder, from where it was removed, with a portion of bone, Hartley died three o’ clock Monday morning. In the light of day Mr Cartwright examined his mill – “ The windows on the ground floor were entirely broken with the exception of nine panes of glass out of three hundred, and the woodwork of the windows was damaged so much as to be entirely useless. One of the doors was almost literally chopped to pieces, and holes made in it that a man might put his hand through; in striking the door, they sometimes appeared to have struck the stonework about the door. The other door had suffered no injury. the windows in the upper storey had also suffered considerable damage. The building which is stone had received a number of shots, the marks of which were visible.” Searching the area around the they found hatchets, mauls, hammers, masks, a butt end of a musket, and other items used to implement destruction . Patches of blood and gore was found in the surrounding fields, suggesting that more men Booth and Hartley, had received wounds, and it was said that even a detached finger was found. Following the attack on Rawfolds Mill, Cartwright reported the reluctant soldier to higher authorities – The soldier said that he did not want to fire on his brothers. The soldier faced a court martial and was sentenced to 300 lashes in public in front of Rawfolds Mill .That is like a death sentence 300 as lashes would certainly kill a man. William Cartwright was not making himself popular with the local people, a few days after the attack on Rawfolds Mill he was passing by Bradley wood in Huddersfield, when somebody fired a shot at him – it missed of course but it certainly made him fear for his life, then 300 lashes for the soldier, no wonder that the local people ostracized him. When the soldier was receiving his punishment in front of the mill , William Cartwright intervened, after he had received 25 lashes and said that 25 was sufficient punishment – it still didn’t make him popular, and fearing for his life, he stopped going to church on a Sunday, and had the priest come to his house on a Sunday to give a service there to his family and staff. The failure of the attack on Rawfolds Mill made the Luddites rethink their tactics, and actually was probably the first nail in the coffin for the west Yorkshire Luddites. I may follow this piece with another Luddite piece in the near future, as there are plenty of snippets that I have missed out, some intentionally and some not. It is worth pointing out that 20 years after the attack on Rawfolds Mill there were no more croppers left it was all done by machines. They were not fighting progress they were fighting to feed their family
“I break the machines that take my bread !”