In January 1813, sixty-four men, mostly from the West Riding of Yorkshire around Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield, were brought before a ‘Special Commission’ at York Assizes. This was a show trial, conducted with the North of England under army occupation, designed to put fear and terror into those working people who had been organising against the introduction of mass production machinery into the cloth-finishing industry, and anyone who might sympathize.
On 8 January, three men were hung at York Castle, their bodies dissected at York County Hospital and the parts dispersed so that there could be no funerals. On 16 January, fourteen more were strung up in a public execution, in two batches, going to their deaths singing the Methodist hymn, ‘Behold the Saviour of Mankind’. A few days later their bodies were carried on carts in procession back to their home towns, where most were buried in unmarked graves, their burials unregistered by hostile priests.
Seven more were transported to Australia for having ‘administered oaths’, effectively for belonging to a union. Seventeen were bailed on conditional discharge, and fifteen more were discharged. Only seven were acquitted, largely because the court chose to believe their alibis or because the evidence simply did not exist. One was convicted later on a lesser charge. Scores more went on the run or escaped overseas to avoid retribution.
We in York owe it to the memory of these men to commemorate their lives. If you would like to help create an event or series of events in January 2013, please get in touch.
These are some of the thoughts so far for a proposed ‘Luddite Week’:
Commemoration event outside the Castle followed by procession to Monkgate (and onwards…)
Coffins on carts – people in black with white arm bands (Goths?)
Puppet shows; street theatre events around the city; exhibition with stalls and craft goods
Public debates and meetings on related issues like control of technology, the meaning of democracy, skills and quality then and now
History pamphlet to ‘put the record straight’ on what Luddism was about and research their family backgrounds and descendants
For more information about the events of 1811-13, follow this link: https://yorkalternativehistory.wordpress.com/write-it/york-and-the-luddites-1813/