Thursday 22 December 2011

22nd December 1811: Burglaries by "Lud's Men" in Derbyshire

In the week prior to the evening of Sunday 22nd December 1811, there had a been a raid on a farmhouse at Stanley in Derbyshire by a group of armed men. They took all the money in the property, as well all the linen they could carry.

The same pattern would be followed that night, and in the same neighbourhood, but with an increased level of violence.

By 8 p.m. that night, the family of a farmer, John Brentnall, at Locko Grange had retired for bed, all except their son, when two men with blackened faces and armed with pistols broke in. Outside were at least eight other men, keeping watch. One of the men pointed his pistol at the head of Brentnall's son who reacted quickly and snatched the barrel - the other man also aimed his pistol at the son, but pulling the trigger only resulted in a mis-fire. A general brawl ensued between the three, and by this time, the farmer Brentnall himself had got out of bed and rushed down the stairs, and even the serving maid now pitched into the tussle. A savage fight ensued, with one of the raiders taking wounds to his head, face and neck, and the other being wounded by a Billhook. Being outnumbered, the raiders eventually fled.

Five hours later, at 3 a.m. the following morning, at least 20 armed men gathered at the farmhouse of a Mr Hunt at Ockbrook, near to Hopwell Hall. Hunt was a Miller as well as a farmer, and the men knocked on his door, asking him to come downstairs to address their concerns about the price of his corn. They seemed to want him to sign an agreement to lower the price since their families were starving, but Hunt refused to come out. Growing increasingly frustrated, the men forced the door open. Hunt used a gun to fire down the staircase, while his wife tried to raise the alarm from an upstairs window. Some of the men outside threw stones at Hunt's wife, and one caught her in the face. Between reloading his weapons, Hunt was overpowered by some of the men, who were inclined to kill him, but they eventually agreed to spare him. The rest of the men searched the house for all the money they could find - £37 in notes, some copper coins, two ruffled shirts, a loaded gun and a gunpowder flask. The men called themselves "Lud's men", and promised that what had taken place that night "was only a beginning".

These accounts are compiled from a report in the Nottingham Review of 27th December 1811 (a duplicate of which appears in the Nottingham Journal of 28th December 1811, and a truncated report appears in the Derby Mercury of 26th December 1811), and reward notices in the Derby Mercury of 26th December 1811. Various authors contend that criminal gangs were adopting the name of the Luddites to cover for their robberies. This could well be the case, but it fails to recognise the tactics being used - striking terror into the hearts of the bourgeoisie and expropriation to fund a, by now, prolonged dispute.

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