Eulogy for the Luddites

A Shame on the City of York

From 2 January to 16 January 1813 at York Castle, there took place a most shameful episode in the history of the City of York since the massacre of the Jews in Clifford’s Tower. It was one of a whole series of mass executions that took place in York up to this time.
In all, 64 men, alleged to be Luddites, were brought to the Castle for trial.There were two judges from London and 23 jurymen selected from the ranks of the Yorkshire landed gentry for the duration of the trial. Among them was Joseph Radcliffe, Justice of the Peace, of Milnes Bridge who had led the hunt to capture the accused men. He was effectively sitting in judgement on the evidence he himself had collected!

On Wednesday 6 January three men were convicted for the murder of William Horsfall. He was a mill-owner who had threatened to ride up to his stirrups in Luddite blood. They were allowed no right of appeal and were hung two days later on Friday 8 January 1813 on this spot.

A contemporary report describes the events:
“The Execution of these unhappy men took place on Friday, at nine o’clock, at the usual place behind the Castle, at York. Every precaution had been taken to render every idea of a rescue impracticable. Two troops of cavalry were drawn up at the front of the drop, and the avenues to the castle were guarded by infantry.”

“Some alteration had been made in the drop, so that all the whole body was visible when they were suspended; in former executions only the feet and head had been seen by the spectators. They were executed in their irons. They appeared slightly convulsed for a few moments.”

“The number of people assembled, was much greater than is usual in this city, on these melancholy occasions, but not the slightest indication of tumult prevailed, and the greatest silence reigned during the whole of this solemn and painful scene.”

“The bodies were taken to the County Hospital at York, for dissection, and a strong military guard was placed there several nights, to prevent any attempts to rescue the bodies.”

LET US REMEMBER:
George Mellor, aged 22, Cloth-dresser from Longroyd Bridge
Thomas Smith, aged 22, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield
William Thorpe, aged 23, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield

Fifteen more were condemned to death for an attack on Cartwright’s Mill at Rawfolds on 11 April 1812 and for various acts of robbery while gathering arms and ammunition from houses in the locality. One of these was commuted to transportation for life. Five more, all radicals and republicans, were transported for seven years for administering oaths – in other words for holding illegal political meetings.
On Saturday 16 January 1813, the fourteen men remaining to be executed were hung in two batches. That was 200 years ago on this very spot. Imagine a huge scaffold with seven ropes ready dangling. The area was surrounded by mounted dragoons and infantrymen.

A contemporary account tells the story:
“On the morning before the execution, the eldest daughter of [William] Hartley obtained permission to visit her wretched parent, when a scene took place which we will not attempt to describe. The heart-broken father wished to have been spared the anguish of this parting interview, but the importunate intreaties of his child at last prevailed, and they met to take a long farewell, never again to be repeated in this world.”

The first batch of seven men were brought out at 11.30 am. “The executioner then proceeded to the discharge of his duty, and the falling of the platform soon after, forced an involuntary shriek from the vast concourse of spectators assembled to witness this tremendous sacrifice to the injured laws of the country”

LET US REMEMBER:
Thomas Brook, aged 32, Cloth-dresser from Lockwood, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
Joseph Crowther, aged 31, Cotton spinner from Sowerby, for robbery
Jonathan Dean, aged 28, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
Nathan Hoyle, aged 45, Weaver from Skircoat, for burglaries
John Ogden, aged 23, Cloth-dresser from Huddersfield, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
John Swallow, aged 37, Coal-miner from Briestwhistle, for burglaries
John Walker, aged 31, Cloth-dresser from Longroyd Bridge, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill

Their bodies were left to hang for more than an hour before they were cut down, to make way for a repeat performance of this grizzly act of judicial mass murder.

At 1.30 pm, seven more men made their dignified way to the scaffold, as their comrades before, intoning the Methodist hymn ‘Behold the Saviour of Mankind’ to bolster their courage. The bodies were left hanging for over an hour before they too were cut down.

LET US REMEMBER:
John Batley, aged 31, Clothier from Thornhill, for stealing sundry goods
Joseph Fisher, aged 33, Coal-miner from Thornhill, for stealing sundry goods
William Hartley, aged 41, Tailor from Warley, for stealing sundry items
James Haigh, aged 28, Cloth-dresser from Dalton, for the attack on Cartwright’s Mill
James Hey, aged 25, Woollen-spinner from Skircoat, for robbery
Job Hey, aged 40, Waterman from Greetland, for burglaries
John Hill, aged 36, Cotton-spinner from Greetland, for burglaries

After these terrible events, the bodies of the fourteen men were released to their families and friends. A long and sad procession formed, with the mourners, as today, wearing white crepe armbands. They began the long, slow walk back to the West Riding to bury their men, back in their home communities.

LET US ALSO REMEMBER:
John Booth of Huddersfield and Samuel Hartley of Halifax, who died from wounds received at the attack on Cartwright’s Mill without giving away any information about their comrades.

John Baines senior, John Baines junior, William Blakeborough, George Duckworth, and Charles Milnes, transported for seven years for swearing illegal oaths – and John Lumb, transported for life for burglary.

And the 34 men who were discharged without trial, on licence, because the judges felt they had shed enough blood and hung enough people to send a message of fear into the heart of the West Riding.
[Minute’s silence]
[Three Cheers for the Luddites!]
[Thanks to everyone who came and everyone who has helped out.]

[This is the full text of the eulogy read by Martin Bashforth at the memorial event at York Castle on 19 January 2013]

Remember the Luddites!

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/

The General Strike in York, 1926

This pamphlet was produced by the Borthwick Institute at York Uni and describes the general strike in 1926 and its effect in York, discussing not only the strike itself but also the wider political context and the local politics involved.

The pamphlet itself can be obtained from the university; an online preview, however, is available via Google Books.