Thursday 12 April 2012

12th April 1812: Rawfolds aftermath - the wounded, the dying (known and unknown) and secrets taken to the grave

The Star Inn, Roberttown. Image copyright Humphrey Bolton. (geograph profile)
For what occurred after the Luddite raid at Rawfolds Mill, we can only rely on one or two contemporary documentary sources. The rest is folklore, recorded and probably embellished over 66 years later by the local journalist Frank Peel, and arguably embroidered further still by many other authors since.

The facts documented at the time tell us that an hour elapsed between the commencement of the attack on Rawfolds and a detachment of Queen's Bays arriving, by then too late to intervene. Why they did not arrive sooner given that they were only stationed but a mile away is not known, but a clue may be found in the reluctance of two of the soldiers of the Cumberland Militia to take part in the defence of Rawfolds.

William Cartwright did not emerge from the Mill until he was sure it was safe, and the familiar face of Mr Cockhill appeared outside. His attitude and actions towards the two mortally wounded men lying in the Mill yard are not recorded for posterity, but Frank Peel decided that he failed to do anything to help them, and has a cast of other colourful characters appearing and doing their bit to soothe and comfort the wounded instead, or not as the case may be.

We do know the identities of the two wounded men. One of them was a 24 year-old cropper, a bachelor called Samuel Hartley who had once worked for Cartwright before he had mechanised Rawfolds. He was also a private in the Halifax Local Militia of which Cartwright was a Captain. Because of his familiarity, it is likely that Cartwright felt particularly sourly towards him, but if so, he did not write of it in the letters that have survived. Hartley had been wounded by a musket-ball passing through his left breast, and the ball was lodged beneath the skin under the left shoulder.

The other man was 19 year-old called John Woodhead Booth. Booth was the son of a clergyman, the Reverend Booth of Kirkby-Malhamdale at Craven, who was also master of the Free Grammar School there. John Booth was an apprentice to a Mr Wright, a tinner at Huddersfield. Booth was wounded in one of his legs, which had apparently been shattered by a musket ball.

One can only imagine the agony these men must have been in.

They were eventually transported by litters to the Star Inn at Roberttown (the folklore has it that they were conveyed to the Yew Tree Inn first, but crowds appearing there led to them being moved). Once there, surgery was attempted on both of them.

Booth has lost copious amounts of blood before the surgeons had arrived. A decision was made to amputate his wounded leg, but he died after going into convulsions during the operation at 6.00 a.m. on the 12th April, 6 hours after the attack had begun.

(Frank Peel has the dying Booth playing a trick on the Reverend Hammond Roberson, giving him the impression he is about to disclose some information before quietly slipping into death. But this directly contradicts the report in the Leeds Mercury which clearly states that Booth died in convulsions. The latter is clearly the most likely story, despite reputable historians like EP Thompson repeating Peel's fiction, given his horrendous wounds and the equally horrendous operation being attempted upon him. Bizarrely, the journalist Robert Reid has it that both versions of the tale happened!)

John Booth has a road named after him in Roberttown, near to where he died.

The musket ball was extracted from beneath Hartley's shoulder, along with a fragment of bone. But like Booth, he too was very weak from blood loss. He died at 3.00 a.m. on the 13th April, 27 hours after the attack at Rawfolds had commenced.

The folklore says that the men were tortured, but as the Hammonds (1979, p.250) point out, the screams and cries that must have emerged from their surgery would have sounded not dissimilar. In a tight-knit community that overwhelmingly sided with the Luddites, the loss of two youthful men would have been difficult enough to bear.

What is true is that, despite their anguish, the men did not give away any of their comrades. The Leeds Mercury has one of them crying out in the Mill yard "help! help!—I know all, and I will tell all." But even if this was the case, in a letter written 11 days later, Cartwright admitted to his friend Robert Rayner that the two men "however from untoward circumstances made no Disclosure of their associates."

In most of the literature, Booth and Hartley are presented as the only fatal casualties of Rawfolds, and whilst it is true that they are the only people whose names we know, there are clues about others who may have died later and whose names may yet be discovered with more applied research.

In 1979, Lock & Dixon in their biography of Patrick Brontë, who was the priest at Hartshead Church at the time, alleged that Luddites had secretly buried un-named Rawfolds dead in an unmarked grave at the south-east corner of the graveyard, which Brontë observed but did not prevent. The story is essentially make-believe as they presented no sources for this information.

More real is the letter from a pseudonymous 'John Bull' at Wakefield to the Home Office written on the 15th April 1812, who states that two more men had died by then, and neither of them Croppers - one of them being a tradesman, the other a grocer.

A day later, Colonel Campbell at Leeds wrote to his Commanding Officer General Grey saying that two men had died at their homes after being carried there wounded from Rawfolds, one from 'Hatchet Bar', the other from Birstall. It's not clear if these are the same men mentioned by 'John Bull', or if Campbell was merely repeating rumours.

A month later, the Lancaster Gazette of 16th May 1812 reported that an un-named man had died in Halifax on 7th May from wounds received at Rawfolds. He had apparently not ventured home since, nor sought any medical advice.

The Leeds Mercury of 18th April 1812 has details of the aftermath of the attack and the fate of Hartley and Booth. Cartwright's letter to Robert Rayner of 23rd April 1812 can be found at HO 42/122. The 'John Bull' letter can be found at HO 42/122. Campbell's letter to Grey can be found at HO 42/122. Biographical details of John Booth and his father are from Booth's death notice, which appeared in the Leeds Mercury of 2nd May 1812.

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