Thursday, 14 June 2012

14th June 1812: Luddites drill in the daytime near Ashton-under-Lyne

Although Luddites were well-known for conducting meetings and drilling under the cover of darkness in the night-time, on Sunday 14th June 1812, they demonstrated their audacity and confidence by drilling during the daytime on the borders of Lancashire and Cheshire near to the town of Ashton-under-Lyne.

Whilst Sunday morning church services were taking place nearby, a group of  around 500 people assembled on a hillside near the town at 11.00 a.m. and, at the signal of a gunshot, a flag was raised, and then drilling commenced, with the group forming themselves into a line. After 20 minutes the whole group dispersed (again at the signal of a gun) before any military could arrive (one account has repeated assemblies and dispersals at the signals).

There were rumours that another assembly would take place the following day, and the general feeling was that the area was 'on the eve of rising'.

There are several accounts of this extraordinary event in the Home Office papers. It is mentioned by those more distant, like Colonel Ralph Fletcher, in a letter to the Home Office of 16th June 1812 which can be found at HO 40/1/1. He mentions the numbers of those assembled as being between '3 to 400' and also the repeated manoeuvres. The Cheshire magistrates, Broughton & Tatton, also mention the meeting in their letter to the Home Office of 17th June 1812, also at HO 40/1/1.

The best account is from a letter from Captain John Norris, stationed at Ashton, who informed General Acland the same day that his men were in Church when the event happened and gives numbers of 'more than 500', and also the length of time of the event. The quote is from this letter and it can be found at HO 40/2/2.

The hill is unidentified, but Norris gave it as being between Ashton and Mottram, and it is likely it was Buckton Castle, which had been a gathering place for radical meetings on previous occasions.

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