Luddite anniversary approaches
Walks, exhibitions and plays are planned to mark this year’s bicentennial anniversary
of the Luddite uprising in Huddersfield and nearby Spen Valley. The Local History Society is also publishing a revised version of a book written by two local historians nearly twenty years ago.
The Luddites were early 19th century English textile artisans opposed to changes produced by the Industrial Revolution. In Huddersfield, Luddites, taking their name from a mythical leader, General Ludd, sought to prevent the introduction of cropping machines, which were throwing the elite of cloth finishers out of work in large numbers.
Centuries-old law that since Tudor times had made it illegal to use a machine to replace people had been repealed in 1806. A new breed of capitalist entrepreneurs seized their chance to break the stranglehold of the skilled craftsman over the pace, control and location of production. Workers, industrial and agricultural, were to be forced to work in factories or, in the absence of a social security system, starve.
Petitions to Parliament to prevent the cropping machines’ introduction were ignored. With it being illegal to be a member of a trade union, secret meetings of angry people were organised where under oath it was agreed that if the manufacturers could not be persuaded to voluntarily abandon their plans then the new machines had to be smashed.
This made it inevitable that the self-proclaimed ‘army of redressers’ came into conflict with employers, police and the military. On the night of 11 April 1812 an attack on Cartwright’s mill at Rawfolds, Liversedge - just outside Huddersfield - left two of the attackers dead and many injured and wounded.
On 12 April this year a 5-mile walk will visit the locations involved in the planning and execution of the attack, as well as the subsequent retributions taken against many of those involved. Following a series of trials in York, seventeen were hanged in January 1813 and a further seven transported to Australia - despite the Luddites having killed just one employer – William Horsfall of Ottiwells Mile at Crosland Moor – during their uprising in the area. .
Such ruthless acts had the effect of suppressing the Luddites and following which for many years’ historians portrayed the Luddites as poor folk, acting irrationally against the “forces of progress.”
As such it wasn’t until 1963, and the release of Halifax lecturer E P Thompson’s book The Making of the English Working Class, that a thorough re-assessment of the Luddites
in the context of there times was undertaken. Liberty or Death – Radicals, Republicans and Luddites, a sell-out book written by Lesley Kipling and Alan Brooke in 1993 added to E.P. Thompson’s work.
“We are delighted to be reprinting the book as the Luddites were an important part of the struggle for economic and political participation by the working class,” says John Rawlinson, chair of Huddersfield Local History Society.
Brooke believes the historical events covered in the book, which is set firmly in the tradition of British social and political radicalism of the early 19th century, “has parallels today, with an economic slump throwing thousands out of work and creating resistance in the form of demonstrations and riots.”
For more information see :-
The book costs £9.95 including postage
Orders can be sent by post to HLHS, 24 Sunnybank Rd, Huddersfield HD3 3DE, with a cheque or via the Society’s website, www.huddersfieldhistory.org.uk
Elsewhere – Westhoughton
Westhoughton (located half way between Wigan and Bolton) Local History Group has also published a book on the historic events that took place in this small town in 1812. The Burning of Westhoughton Mill 1812 costs £3 – see www.theluddites.org.uk
For more details on this and the events that are to be organised over the weekend of April 21/22nd, including the unveiling of a bi-centenary plaque and a symbolic ‘torching’ of a replica mill. Four men – Abraham Charlson, Job Fletcher, Thomas Kerfoot and James Smith were executed for their parts in destroying the weaving-mill, warehouse and loom-shop at the Mill, with a further seven transported for seven years.