Saturday, 14 July 2012

14th July 1812: Extensive arms raid at Clifton, West Yorkshire

The former Black Bull Inn, Towngate, Clifton, today (as seen on Google Street View)
In the early hours of Tuesday 14th July 1812, a group of up to 30 Luddites conducted a number of raids for arms in the village of Clifton in West Yorkshire. The raid was particularly audacious, as Clifton was the home of Sir George Armytage.

It seemed the Luddites had left behind a sledgehammer (or 'Enoch') on a previous visit, and one of their first actions was to procure another from the shop of a local blacksmith.

The Luddites chose to start their raids at one of the ends of the village, at the home of Abraham Fairburn, a cardmaker. Fairburn was knocked up and he stood behind his door asking what they wanted: the men on the other side demanded his gun - he denied having one, but they didn't believe him, and growing impatient threatened to blow his brains out. He then heard a hammer smashing on his door and he shouted for them to stop - he would open the door. As he opened it, a pistol was put to his head and his gun demanded again - this time, he agreed to find it. The Luddites wished him 'good night', and fired a gun into the air.

The Luddites next appeared at the home of Joshua Goldthorpe, another cardmaker. Joshua senior was in bed, and was woken by shouting and banging on his front door. He got out of bed, went to his window and pulled the curtain and shouted "what do you want?" - he peered out to see 14 or 15 guns pointing up at him - the men demanded his 2 guns - he said he hadn't any in the house, and shouted for his family. The men outside levelled more threats. Joshua senior went back to the window, but was warned if he peeped again, they would fire, and followed this up with a shot in the air. While this was going on, Goldthorpe's son, Joshua junior, had gone downstairs and opened the front door: he explained the family's guns were at their workshop, a quarter of a mile away. Undaunted, the Luddites posted a guard at the Goldthorpe house and took him to the shop to procure the weapons. When they returned, they noticed a light at the nearby Black Bull Inn which annoyed the Luddites: Joshua junior was brought to the front door of his house, but found it locked - one of the Luddites said "damn you, open the door", and when it eventually was, the family were warned to re-lock the door and not to open it again for at least two hours.

At the Black Bull Inn, the inkeeper George Pratt was asleep. He was brought sharply out of his slumbers by a number of shots from pistols outside. He went downstairs to the parlour to see what the fuss was and heard angry voices "put that light out". He had left a candle burning inside and went to snuff it out. Returning, the voices demanded his gun: Pratt protested he not dressed and he could not see in the dark - a voice said "no clothes, no light, fetch your gun". Pratt complied, and opening the front door was ordered to deliver the gun up to the men butt-end first. One of the men said that he would get it back - Pratt asked "when?", and the reply came "very soon". After wishing him good night, one of the men went to the window of the parlour, where Pratt's wife and child were, and asked them if they were alright, apologising for the shots fired earlier.

The Luddites also appeared at the home of William Armitage, another cardmaker. Armitage told them his gun was in his workshop, and the Luddites went with him to fetch it. They knew he had had two guns, which startled Armitage, and he said one belonged to his uncle and it had been returned. Armitage was ordered back into his house, and one of the Luddites asked him if he had got the Enoch and the gun which had been found nearby recently - he said he had not, and the men wished him good night and left.

On the same evening, the Luddites also raided the homes of John Wilkinson, William Earnshaw & Crispin Wilkinson in a similar manner, procuring a gun from each of them.

This has been compiled from the depositions of the men, which can be found at HO 42/125, as well as the Leeds Mercury of 18th July 1812, and the Leeds Intelligencer of 20th July 1812.

According to Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion, the Black Bull Inn is today Black Bull Farm on Towngate in Clifton. The pub closed in 1933.

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