Monday, 27 February 2012

27th February 1812: Huddersfield Manufacturers & Merchants form 'Committee for Suppressing the Outrages'

Following the Luddite attack on the premises of William Hinchliffe in the early hours of Wednesday 27th February 1812, Merchants and Manufacturers in Huddersfield convened a meeting later the same day at the George Inn in Huddersfield to discuss what their response should be. The resolutions of this 'Committee for Suppressing the Outrages' and the rewards they offered for information were formally published two days later. The meeting itself was chaired by John Horsfall, the brother of William Horsfall, the manufacturer who had a factory at Marsden that utilised shearing frames. Huddersfield historian Alan Brooke has written a short piece about the 'Huddersfield Elite' manufacturers and merchants at the heart of the opposition to the Luddites in the West Riding:

There were meetings of merchants and manufacturers held as early as 1800 to deal with trade questions, including, no doubt, the machinery question and the Parliamentary enquiries thereinto. For example, a meeting was held in April 1800 in the George to oppose the repeal of the prohibition of wool exports to Ireland.

In response to the growth of the Clothdressers Institution and other clandestine unions, in 1805 a meeting of woollen manufacturers resolved to resist ‘unlawful combinations of workmen ... by all legal means’, in effect agreeing on a blacklist of any workers striking for ‘an advance of wages, or for attempting to enforce regulations contrary to law.’

Among the backers of these meetings occur many of the names who appear later as supporters of Henry Lascelles (see clipping from the Leeds Intelligencer, 24th August 1807, opposite), the Tory candidate in the 1807 County Election, including the Atkinsons (Bradley Mill), the Horsfalls and J Harrop of Dobcross, as well as Whitacre, Jos Scott, Jos Radcliffe, the landowner R H Beaumont and other names too common to be certain they are the same persons, such as the various Brooks and Armitages. These people were also either in the forefront of promoting machinery or in their capacity as magistrates , repressing the Luddite movement.

Lascelles was on the 1806 Inquiry into the Woollen Trade when he made his hostility to the clothiers attempts to limit machinery and retain apprenticeships according to the ancient statutes quite clear. He also attempted to implicate the clothiers Institution with that of the croppers and, by association, with the West of England disturbances of 1802. The machinery question was consequently one of the main issues in the 1807 election, particularly among the Leeds clothiers.

The merchants, manufacturers and magistrates who met in 1812 to repress the Luddites had behind them over a decade of efforts to introduce machinery, lobby parliament to repeal the laws protecting domestic industry and actively suppress working class organisation. The class and political element in the polarisation of local society must have been evident to the participants, even if it is not to some historians.

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