Wednesday, 28 March 2012

28th March 1812: West Riding manufacturers turn their Mills into fortresses following warnings

On Saturday 28th March 1812, William Cartwright received a warning from a man called Abraham Pule. Pule was a cropper who had formerly worked for Cartwright before he automated his factory, and had in between times become a dealer in pigs, but was now back working as cropper at Halifax.

Pule told Cartwright that two days earlier at the place where he now worked, Waterhouse's factory, he had been party to a private conversation: the workers there said that they had heard from Huddersfield Luddites, who were planning to attack Rawfolds within the next four nights, unless they determined that Cartwright was "on his guard": if the latter, then the attack would be deferred for between 2 to 3 weeks.

Pule promised to alert Cartwright as soon as he knew the date of the attack. But Cartwright did not trust him, viewing Pule's friendly approaches as "affected motives". In any event, he had been preparing the Mill at Rawfolds for all possible eventualities.

The Mill had a certain built-in defensive nature, in the sense that it was surrounded on one side by the Spen Beck, which effectively acted as a moat. Cartwright had replaced the main door with a more substantial one reinforced with studded iron. Although the ground floor was left unprotected, he intended to use the first floor as his firing platform: the flagstones nearest the windows had been propped up against them to form embrasures, a robust defence for a defender with a musket. Cartwright planned to arm a small number of his workforce when they were needed. Later, he would apply to the Cumberland Militia to station soldiers at Rawfolds.

Cartwright had also planned to raise the alarm, by fitting a bell to the roof with a rope than ran all the way down to the ground floor to allow it to be pealed by those inside. Cartwright later estimated he had spent £80 on his preparations, equivalent to more than £53,000 at today's prices.

Ottiwells Mill (since demolished). The remains of the defensive wall & gun loops can be seen bottom left.

Another manufacturer who had an aggressive & defensive mentality was William Horsfall. Over the hills at Marsden lay the 'manufactory' of his family, Ottiwells Mill. He he had built a stone wall to surround the front of the Mill facing the road, complete with gun loops which could be used by those of his employees he had armed with muskets. Like Cartwright, he had started a night watch at Ottiwells.
A view of William Horsfall's House, Ottiwells House, showing the defensive wall, from the Huddersfield Weekly News, 27th November 1880

One thing that was clear was that any Luddite attacks on such premises would not be the one-sided affairs they had experienced thus far in the West Riding.

The preparations Cartwright and Horsfall had made at their respective Mills are described in 'State Trials' (Howell, 1813, p.959 et seq) We know about Pule's warning from a letter from Cartwright to Acland, which can be found at HO 40/2/3.

The journalist and folklorist Frank Peel (1968, p.84) alleged that Cartwright had other secret weapons kept in reserve for the veritable last ditch. He said that the staircase at Rawfolds had been fitted with rollers with 16 inch-long spikes to impale any ascending intruders, and that he had obtained carboys of Vitriol (sulphuric acid) that he planned to tip onto anyone who got too close. Peel is the only source for this information, and neither Cartwright nor anyone else mentions it in any of the contemporary sources. Nevertheless, many historians have repeated this as fact, with Robert Reid citing the account of the York Special Commission by Howell as his source, although that account does not contain this information. What it does contain is a hint from the prosecuting barrister, James Parke, that Cartwright had prepared something more than the embrasures "I will not go through all that he did with his mill. It seemed almost impossible for any, but a most active military force, to destroy the works that he erected there" (1823, p.1094).

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