Thursday, 15 March 2012

15th March 1812: Attack on the home and workshop of Francis Vickerman

Up until Sunday 15th March, Luddite attacks in the Huddersfield area had been limited to the workshops of small master clothdressers who had installed relatively few shearing frames in their premises. But at 8.30 p.m. that night, an audacious attack was launched against a well-known merchant manufacturer, and a large business concern in Huddersfield, Francis Vickerman. Vickerman was on the 'Committee for Suppressing the Outrages' that had recently formed in Huddersfield, and had received a threatening letter prior to the attack. Furthermore, being so influential his premises were guarded at night by some of the Dragoons stationed in Huddersfield. They usually arrived at his home in Taylor Hill, Almondbury by 9.00 p.m., so by undertaking an attack earlier than than that time meant that the Luddites were breaking the pattern of attacks in the small hours and taking much more risks. The attack had to have been planned with military efficiency.

The group of Luddites had posted lookouts at Brooks Corner, close to where the Dragoons assembled to leave for Taylor Hill. Their job was to fire pistol shots to alert the Luddites to the progress of the military. In addition, 3 young men who served as bell ringers at Huddersfield Church were persuaded to ring the bells when alerted so that the Luddites would know the troops were on their way.

By 8.30, the main group of at least 50 Luddites had reached Vickerman's and announced their arrival with a gunshot. 2 Luddites entered the family home, demanding to know where Vickerman was. When he appeared one of them announced "Ned Ludd of Nottingham has ordered me to break this clock" and promptly smashed a nearby clock with the muzzle of his blunderbuss. Vickerman fled back upstairs into his room and did not emerge until the Luddites had gone. Meanwhile, more Luddites were placed to guard Vickerman's family.

By now, the rest of the Luddites had begun to smash open the doors of Vickerman's warehouse with hammers. They eventually gained access to the dressing shop, and set about destroying the 10 shearing frames and 30 pairs of hand shears that were kept there. Others set about breaking the windows of the warehouse and dwelling house.

By now, the lookouts had noticed that the Dragoons had assembled, and the church bells in Huddersfield began to ring. The Luddites knew time was short, but they completed their work, and when the machinery was smashed several of them shouted "Out! out!" In the warehouse, they had left 2 pieces of cloth and some wool on stove, in an attempt to start a fire, although this never took hold and was later extinguished without doing any damage.

Before leaving, some of them emptied their weapons into Vickerman's house, though other Luddites inside protested loudly about this and no one was harmed. The Luddites were summoned by their leader that night to a nearby field, and the roll was called to make sure all were present.

The lookouts now fired a shot to alert the Luddites that the Dragoons had reached Chapel Hill, and soon after one from Knowle Hill. But the Luddites had left Vickerman's and were making their way home. They had wrought complete destruction within the 30 minutes they had allotted themselves an struck a blow at the heart of one of their main capitalist enemies.

This has been compiled from a report in the Leeds Mercury of 21st March 1812, Vickerman's deposition (which can be found at HO 40/121) as well as Brooke & Kipling (1993, pp. 18-19).

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