Saturday, 14 April 2012

14th April 1812: Rioting, loom-breaking, arson & 'General Ludd's Wives' in Stockport

After the isolated incidents of the past few days in Stockport, Tuesday 14th April 1812 saw sustained disturbances in the town, with thousands of people taking part. The targets on this day were the ringleaders of bourgeois opposition to weavers demands for a minimum wage over the previous decade (Glen, p.177).

By 8.00 a.m., large crowds of people were seen collected on the outskirts of the town. The first target was the largest commercial concern in the area - the Mansion of Peter 'the Great' Marsland on Eaton Lane had all of its windows smashed by a mob. At Underbank, another house was attacked (possibly that belonging to John Bentley), and the crowd then proceeded up Hillgate, smashing the windows of a house belonging to a Mr Hindley of Hindley & Bradshaws. Next came the factory belonging to William Radcliffe, which had been subject to an arson attack only a few weeks before: this time, the crowd smashed all of the windows there.

In the midst of all this was Thomas Garside, a local Mill owner. Displaying a combination of vanity, foolhardiness & stupidity, he left his house to remonstrate with the crowd in front of a factory. Someone pointed him out and said loudly "kill him, he is a spy" and the crowd set about him, throwing stones at him en masse. Garside knew his days were numbered if he remained in front of the crowd, and on the end of the stones raining down - he ran into the crowd, using his stick to land blows and fight his way through. Eventually, he managed to get away, and headed for some cottages in the hope of finding sanctuary, but many shut their doors in his face or simply refused to open them. Eventually, Garside found a woman in one of the cottages was willing to shelter him, and he had time to catch his breath, being covered in blood and without his hat (which he later considered the be the greatest indignity). But the crowd had followed Garside, and now started to gather outside the cottages. According to Garside, he left the cottage because he feared for his Samaritan's life in sheltering him there, but whatever actually happened, Garside was soon outside again, exposed to the wrath of the crowd, who now surged forward towards him. Garside was on the on the verge of being lynched when an authoritative figure in the crowd came forward, raised his hand and ordered the crowd to stop. They obeyed, many of them copying his stance, and the man came forward to Garside telling him he must go, and that no-one would harm him. The crowd was now silent and parted to allow him through and to escape.

Garside was clear when he later reflected that the Stopfordian working class were overwhelmingly behind what had taken place in Stockport that day. He rewarded the crowd's granting of mercy by writing to the government, hinting at the need for martial law, strong reprisals and summary justice.

But now at nearby Edgeley, the home to many Irish handloom weavers, the properties and dwellings of other mill owners came under attack. Earlier in the day, at 9 o'clock that morning, a crowd had assembled there outside the gates of the factory belonging to John Goodair. Goodair himself was away in London, having possibly fled after being shot at in his house 10 days before, but his wife was at the family home at Edgeley and watched what was occurring with horror - the crowd jeered at her, shouting at her to open the windows, and throwing stones. Unlike Garside, she had the sense to not engage and remained behind locked doors. After an hour, the crowd moved away to join the rioting in Stockport.

But later, she observed from her window that the crowd were returning. She later estimated that around 3000 people were headed towards Edgeley. As they drew closer, she observed something strange - at the head of the crowd were 2 men dressed in women's clothing, whom she later heard being called General Ludd's Wives.

Mrs Goodair knew that she had to flee with her family. She closed all the windows and locked the doors, and was gathering her children in the parlour with the family nurse when her gardener rushed in, urging them all to flee now to avoid the crowd. They just managed to slip away from the gates before the crowd arrived. The crowd set about the Goodair's cottage, with many of them carrying away belongings of all kinds, and as Mrs Goodair drove away to the home of Edmund Sykes, who owned a large bleach works in Edgeley. She glanced back to see flames coming from her house and the crowd giving three cheers.

Goodair's mill was next: part of the crowd smashed all the windows, while others went inside and broke all the Steam Looms, with the semi-completed cloth in them being cut to pieces. Another 3 cheers broke out, and some in the crowd shouted out "now for Sykes", venturing to where Mrs Goodair had just fled.

By now, the military had started to arrive, and prevented the crowd from doing any damage at Sykes'. Mrs Goodair was whisked away to the Buckley Arms in Stockport, her carriage escorted by four Scotch Greys.

Later in the day, the local Magistrates ordered all public houses in the area to be closed.

This has been compiled from reports in the Chester Courant of 21st April 1812 & the Leeds Mercury of 18th April 1812; a letter from Thomas Garside to the Home Office of 21st April 1812, which can be found at HO 40/1/1; Mrs Goodair's letter appeared in the Times of 17th April 1812.

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