Monday, 23 January 2012

23rd January 1812: Luddites make audacious attack at Lenton

On the evening of Thursday 23rd January, a mass Luddite attack took place on stocking frames in multiple locations at Lenton, which in 1812 was a village just a mile outside the Town of Nottingham. The village had become a target because of the widespread use there of wide frames, used to make 'cut-up' rather than 'full-fashioned' stockings.

50 armed men entered the village that night, with many of them stationing themselves in the streets and alleyways, keeping watch. A man who was passing by was pressed into service by the Luddites - given an iron bar and tasked with standing sentry.

The Luddites then proceeded to denude Lenton of 22 stocking frames, including the following: 5 at the house of George Ball (of which 4 belonged to Ball himself), 8 at the house of Thomas Selby, 1 at the house of William Selby, with another machine disabled there by removing the jack wires, 2 at Joseph Shepherd, 1 at a Mr Taylor, 1 at John Barnes, 1 at Ann Taylor & 2 at the house of William Burton.

During the action, William Selby ran away to raise the alarm, and was pursued by a Luddite threatening vengeance. The attack was extremely audacious because the main Barracks lay only a quarter of a mile from Lenton, which Selby eventually reached at around 10.30 p.m. and tried to get the military to intervene. However, the officer in charge at the Barracks, a Lieutenant Booth of the 15th Hussars, would not order his men without direct orders from either the Magistrates or a Special Constable from Lenton making a complaint to him, neither of which happened. According to Selby, the frame-breaking could clearly be heard from the barracks, but Booth subsequently disputed this.

Back in Lenton, a volley of shots from 3 pistols signalled the end of the Luddite action that evening, and they escaped into the night.

The incident subsequently became the source of a bitter dispute between the Magistrates and the military. The latter believed the military should have acted with more initiative, with their being effectively only 100 yards away from the frame-breaking when it was taking place. For their part, the military took the view that action would have been illegal without receiving instructions from the Civil authorities.

As reported in the Derby Mercury of 30th January 1812 (quoting the Nottingham Journal of 25th January 1812). Various letters between the parties and the deposition of William Selby can be found at HO 42/119.

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