The Luddite attack on Cartwright's Mill

On the evening of 11th April 1812, the mill of William Cartwright at Rawfolds, near Liversedge, was attacked by a Luddite mob of about 150 men led by George Mellor, who were intent on smashing the newly installed machinery.

The meeting had been planned at the Crispin Inn, Halifax.

The Luddites came from many parts of the district, and assembled at the Dumb Steeple.

In February 1812, a delivery of shearing frames destined for Cartwright's mill had been attacked and destroyed by Luddites as it crossed Hartshead Moor, and Cartwright and other mill-owners had been expecting trouble as weapons were stolen in various parts of the parish.

Cartwright had made careful plans to defend the mill – there was a guard dog, the main door was studded with iron, spiked rollers were ready for throwing down the stairs, and sulphuric acid was also at hand. Cartwright planned to sleep in the counting-house at the mill, as he had done for several weeks. With the aid of 6 workmen and 5 soldiers from the local militia, he defended the mill with such force that the attackers were driven back. A bell was installed on the roof to alert local militia of the attack, but the rope broke when it was rung. Cartwright ordered the men to ring the bell by hand.

The attack lasted about 20 minutes before the mob was driven back and ran away leaving the injured behind. None of the defenders was harmed, although it was said that Cartwright was injured by one of his spiked rollers.

Two of the mob – John Booth and Samuel Hartley – were badly injured, and were taken to the Star Inn, Roberttown, but died later. Many of the other injured men were sheltered by local people.

One of the militiamen defending the mill – a soldier of the Cumberland Militia – refused to fire on the attackers. He was court martialled and sentenced to 300 lashes. On the 21st April 1812, the flogging was carried out outside the mill, but Cartwright interceded on the man's behalf and the punishment was stopped after 25 lashes.

The trial of eight men who had been involved in the attack began at York on January 2nd 1813.

The prosecution tried to prove that an attempt had been made to demolish the mill, not simply to damage it, since the death penalty could not be given for damage alone.

The verdicts were:

On Saturday, 16th January 1813, the five guilty men – together with a further 9 – went to the gallows at Tyburn singing Methodist hymns, including

Behold the Saviour of mankind, nailed to the shameful tree

- and saying their prayers. They were executed on the same day as the Luddite murderers of George Haigh in Halifax.

A Rastrick man, Mr Gaynor, was involved in the incident but contrived an alibi which saved him.

A Halifax man, Jesse Ratcliffe, was involved, but was an informer.

In Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley, the character Robert Moore is said to represent Cartwright, and Rawfolds Mill is a model for Hollow's Mill.

The mill has gone, although the beck – the River Spen – now heavily formalised – still flows alongside the site

Fourteen Malefactors

The following is an official report of these and other executions at Tyburn

Saturday, January 16th, 1813 The following fourteen malefactors were executed for various burglaries, felonies and tumultuously assembling in the night-time, to destroy shearing frames, machinery, to collect fire-arms and to demolish mills, particularly that of Mr William Cartwright at Rawfolds, in Liversedge, near Birstall.

  • John Swallow [aged 37] late of Briestwhistle, near Wakefield, coal-miner
  • John Balley [31] late of Thornhill, near Wakefield, clothier, etc
  • Joseph Fisher [33] late of Briestwhistle aforesaid, coal-miner

The above three unhappy men were convicted (together with John Lamb, who was afterwards reprieved), of a burglary in the house of Samuel Moxon, of Upper Whilley, in the West Riding in the county of York. They went armed and in disguise to the said Samuel Moxon's house on the night of the 3rd of July last, and feloniously entered the place and by threats of violence obtained several notes, some silver, a quantity of butter and wearing apparel.

John Hey, John Hill and William Hartley were executed for stealing fire-arms in the night-time out of the house of George Haigh, of Copley Gate, Halifax.

James Hey [25], Joseph Crowther [31], and Matthew Boyle [46] were convicted of robbery in the house of James Brook, of Fair Town (Fartown?), in the parish of Huddersfield, on the 29th day of November last and stealing a one-pound note, a three-shilling piece and putting the persons therein in bodily fear. These three men were mere robbers, and do not appear to have any other object in view but the obtaining of plunder. In the course of the same night they plundered several other houses in the neighbourhood of Fair Town, in the said West Riding, and at the close of their wicked expedition the shared profits amounting to £15 each.

  • James Haigh [28] late of Dalton, clothier
  • Jonathan Dean, [30] late of Huddersfield, cloth-dresser
  • John Ogden [28] late of the same place
  • John Walker [31] late of the same place
  • Thomas Brook [31] late of Lockwood, near Huddersfield

The five culprits, after a trial which lasted the whole day, were convicted on a statute of the 9th of George III, which made it a capital felony to demolish or to begin to demolish, any mill of any description whatsoever.

It appears that these deluded men, in company with George Mellor and William Thorp, who commanded on that occasion, and upwards of one hundred other persons, marched in military order and array, being armed with guns and pistol, axes, hammers, etc, such as are used for breaking stones on the highways, and attacked the mill of Mr Cartwright of Rawfolds (about six miles from Huddersfield), who used machinery obnoxious to the people employed in the dressing of cloth, and which they unhappily conceived to be destructive to their regular work. The attack was made on the night of the 11th of April last and commenced with a discharge of guns and pistols. They were resisted with great spirit by Mr Cartwright and two of the assailants were mortally wounded and died soon after. Great numbers of these misguided men were afterwards apprehended, but only eight were brought to trial. The above five were convicted, three acquitted and the rest discharged by proclamation, or on bail. The whole of the unhappy men were truly penitent when they ascended the scaffold and all joined in singing that beautiful hymn in the Wesleyan Hymn Book – Behold the Saviour of Mankind, etc

At eleven o'clock in the morning the following were executed

  • Joseph Crowther [31] for burglary, leaving a wife and four children
  • Nathan Hoyle [46] for burglary, leaving a wife and seven children

Crowther and Hoyle were interred in the hoppet at the back of the Castle.

The bodies of the following five, all executed for burglary, connected with the Luddites, were taken home by their friends

  • John Hill [36] leaving a wife and two children
  • Jonathan Dean [30] leaving a wife and seven children
  • John Ogden [28] leaving a wife and two children
  • John Walker [31] leaving a wife and five children
  • Thomas Brook [32] leaving a wife and three children

and at two o'clock on the same day

  • John Swallow [37] leaving a wife and six children
  • John Batley [31] leaving a wife and one child
  • Joseph Fisher [33] leaving a wife and three children
  • Toby Hey [40] leaving a wife and seven children
  • William Hartley [41] leaving a wife and eight children
  • James Hey [25] leaving a wife but no children. Hey was the son of a Methodist preacher
  • James Haigh [28] leaving a wife and two children

Their bodies were received for interment by their friends.

By this severe judicial visitation, fourteen wives were made widows, fifty-seven children became fatherless and eight were turned upon the world helpless.

Thus ended the executions of this most terrible day. Baron Thompson passed sentence of death upon them

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 18:38 / 12th April 2021 / 12346

Page Ref: QQ_10

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