Tuesday, 20 March 2012

20th March 1812: William Radcliffe's factory set alight in Stockport

William Radcliffe of Stockport was the inventor of a dressing machine which had served to facilitate the smoother working of power looms, which up until that point had proved to be a machine too problematic for general use. It was then arguably not coincidental that an attack on his business premises should herald the brief but spectacular course of Luddism in the North-west of England.

Radcliffe's factory-cum-warehouse stood on Higher Hillgate Street in the centre of Stockport. Between 2 and 3.00 a.m. on Friday 20th March, a large crowd of around 500 people had gathered outside it. Windows were smashed and 5 torches were thrown in in an attempt to burn down the premises. The crowd then dispersed.

At the same time as the windows were smashed, a woman who lived opposite was getting out of bed. She observed the torches being thrown into the building and wasted no time in raising the alarm, waking Radcliffe who lived in a house adjoining his factory. He summoned help and was able to extinguish the fire before it got out of control.Three large club-like sticks were found lying outside the building.

The following day, handbills offering a £200 reward were posted by Radcliffe, and with the help of a local (and soon to be notorious) solicitor John Lloyd and the Rector of Stockport, Charles Prescot (also a JP and Clerk to the Magistrates) Radcliffe sent a memorial to the Home Office requesting the issuing of a royal pardon for informants. Lloyds' covering letter dripped with the contempt he held for the situation of working people when he stated "every proper attention has been paid to the distresses of the weavers and measures taken for their alleviation - I did not expect gratitude neither could I anticipate violence."

This has been composed from Radcliffe's memorial to the Home Secretary and Lloyd's covering letter, both of which are at HO 40/1/1.

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