Wednesday, 22 February 2012

22nd February 1812: Attacks on shearing frames at Marsh & Crosland Moor, near Huddersfield

Saturday night the 22nd February was to herald the commencement proper of Luddism in the West Riding of Yorkshire. From this night onwards and for several weeks, night-time raids would be made on shearing frames in 'cropping shops' around the areas of the Spen Valley & Huddersfield, the heartland of the West Yorkshire cloth finishing industry.

The Luddites initially assembled in a field at Rashcliffe at around 11 p.m., waiting until midnight to see who else had decided to take part in the raid that evening, with around 45 men eventually assembling. There was some debate about which nearby targets to select, with the large local establishment at Bradley Mills being rejected in favour of smaller workshops. The men were drilled, forming into three companies, with each man being given a number. Each man was disguised and some had brought firearms.

At Joseph Hirst's cropping shop at Marsh, work was still taking place when the Luddite vanguard arrived. Those in the front of the attack carried fire-arms and demanded entry. This being given, some of the group kept watch whilst those with hammers set about destroying 7 shearing frames and 24 pairs of conventional cropping shears. It was hard work and 2 attempts had to be made to ensure the destruction was fully complete.

The Luddites were in high spirits, with shots being fired and eventually windows broken although the leadership of the group quickly moved to put a stop to both. Some made threats against Hirst, but the leaders promised that no violence against his person would occur on this occasion, but if it were necessary for the Luddites to return, they would finish the job.

The party then moved off via Longroyd Bridge towards Crosland Moor and the premises of James Balderstone, whose business was a smaller affair, employing only one shearing frame. The house was in darkness, with Balderstone having retired to bed, so the Luddites had to force entry, which promptly awakened him. Balderstone threatened to shoot the intruders, but shortly afterwards, the Luddites broke the door down. Posting sentries outside whilst others held Balderstone and his wife at gunpoint, the remaining Luddites went upstairs to where the single shearing frame was located and smashed it to pieces. As with the raid on Hirst, 8 pairs of conventional cropping shears were also destroyed.

By 2.00 a.m. on the 23rd, the Luddites work was complete and they left, one of them firing a shot into the air.

This has been compiled from a report in the Leeds Mercury of 29th February 1812 and Brooke & Kipling (1993, pp.16-17).

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