Monday, 23 July 2012

23rd July 1812: The trial of William Sykes at York Summer Assizes

The Leeds Mercury of 25th July 1812, carried the details of the trial of William Sykes, who was accused of raiding for arms in Meltham on 9th May 1812. The trial took place on Thursday 23rd July 1812.

The Counsel for the Crown called William Wady, a private in the West Kent Militia, to prove a conversation in which the prisoner admitted that he was free, able, and willing to serve General Ludd. But the Learned Judge said, he could not admit such irrelevant matter to be given in evidence.

James Kershaw knows the prisoner; saw him on the night of Saturday, the 9th of May, about eleven o'clock—he had a gun in his hand, and his face blacked. Prisoner said to him, “Well, my lad, will you go with me a little journey?” Witness said, “No.” But he followed him at a short distance, to see what he was about. He went to the house of John Marsh, of Meltham, about a quarter of a mile, and having roused them by knocking at the door, said, “I am informed you have a gun here; General Ludd has sent me for it, and if you do not deliver it up I will blow the door open.” Witness heard the gun fired. The Prisoner was much intoxicated, and staggered in his walk.

Thomas Whiteley stated, that the Prisoner made the same proposal to him as to the last Witness, and said, he was going to get John Marsh and Jonas Beardsley’s guns. Witness went about forty yards with him, and turn back on the Prisoner, saying, “Luddites never speak.” Witness in a short time heard the report of a gun, which appeared to be in the direction of Mr. Marsh's house. Witness did not observe that the Prisoner was intoxicated; did not think he was.

John Creaser, apprentice to Mr. Marsh, stated, that he was awaked by the report of a gun; he got up, and having received the gun which his master had given to him from the lodger, he delivered it to the person at the door. Being asked the reason of his readily giving it up, he said, there were so many reports about the Luddites, and he had been informed that they would not be denied. The firing of the gun had also made him afraid. When he delivered the gun, he said, “It has no lock;” on which the person at the door said, “It is well; it shall be well repaired, and brought back in open day.” Witness said the gun was brought back on the Monday following, but it was not repaired.

Mr. John Marsh, the master of the house, stated more precisely the terms in which the gun was demanded. After he had answered to the knocking at the door, a person from without said, “We are informed you have a gun, and we are come for it.”—Witness told them (for he supposed there were a number, though he heard only one voice) he had not a gun, and called to his apprentice not to give it up; but he supposes the boy did not hear him, as he gave them the gun. The gun was brought back on Monday night, by Joseph Whiteley. During the time the person was at the door, he heard him call out two numbers, as if calling to somebody, but the witness only heard the voice of one person.

Philip Earnshaw lent the prisoner a gun belonging to his master, on the night in question; he told them it was for a bit of fun, and wished the Witness to go with him. Witness went a short distance with him, but he left him, because he had some mischief in his head, he laughed so. Witness then went to the Prisoner’s house, who returned in about half an hour, and brought back another gun with him. Witness did not examine the gun of his master, to see whether it had been recently discharged.

Joseph Whiteley stated, that he carried the gun back to Mr. Marsh, on Monday, the 11th of May.

This finished the case on the part of the Prosecution.

His Lordship said, he thought it unnecessary to call upon the Prisoner for his defence. There did not appear to have been any design to steal the gun—no bad use had been made of it—and it was returned to its owner before any search been made for arms in the house of the Prisoner. It appeared to have been an idle, but most dangerous frolic, and for which he had been deservedly imprisoned. The Jury concurring in this opinion, found the Prisoner—Not Guilty.

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