Tuesday, 8 May 2012

8th May 1812: William Cartwright's shears stolen from grinder & destroyed near Wakefield

William Cartwright had sent 11 pairs of shears, used in his shearing frames, to be sharpened at a grinders in Wakefield. On Friday 8th May 1812, they were taken to a field at a distance, along with 2 pairs belonging to someone else, and broken.

This was reported in the Leeds Mercury of 16th May 1812.

According to Frank Peel, some of Cartwright's shearing frames were destroyed as they were being transported across Hartshead Moor in February 1812, presaging the commencement of direct action by Luddites in the West Riding. This has been accepted as fact by many historians, even those as eminent as E.P. Thompson, despite the fact that there is no evidence this ever took place - there are no contemporary reports in newspapers, and the incident is not mentioned in any correspondence that has survived in the National Archive. The lack of any corroborating evidence is is why this incident has not been recorded on this website.

In 1976, Herbert Rosengarten convincingly posited* that Peel had altered the chronology of the events, to move the May incident and change the details slightly, being influenced by Charlotte Brontë's 'Shirley' which also uses the February incident as a narrative device to presage the commencement of wholesale machine-breaking. It's even possible that Brontë's fiction had subsequently influenced the folklore that Peel recorded decades later.

* Rosengarten, H, 'Charlotte Brontë's Shirley and the Leeds Mercury' in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 16, No.4 (Autumn 1976), pp.591-600.

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