Wednesday, 10 October 2012

10th October 1812: The Huddersfield manufacturer Francis Vickerman gives information to the Stockport solicitor, John Lloyd

By Saturday 10th October Francis Vickerman, the Huddersfield manufacturer who lived at Taylor Hill, had already sent 2 letters to General Acland (here and here), offering information about and making suggestions on how to deal with the Luddites in the area.

Some time before this date, he had spoken to the authorities, most likely the Stockport solicitor, John Lloyd. Notes taken either at or after that interview survive in the Home Office archives. We cannot be sure of the date, since the notes are not dated, but they are in the distinctive handwriting of Lloyd. The fact that Lloyd wrote from Congleton on the 9th October, where he stated he planned to return to Stockport the same evening, means that the interview may have taken place the next day - or that Vickerman visited Lloyd whilst he was in Cheshire: Brooke & Kipling (1993, p.30) note that he had done so earlier in the year when he had spoken to Lloyd at Chester, and was anxious to avoid anyone knowing he had done so.

It's strange then that no other documents in the Home Office archive seem to corroborate that any such meeting took place: be it a letter from Lloyd, Joseph Radcliffe, General Acland or the Huddersfield solicitor John Allison, there is nothing which confirms or acknowledge the important contribution the interview made to cracking open the Huddersfield Luddites. However, the information in these notes does appear, alongside much other information, in a notebook kept by General Acland, suggesting he had read the notes.

Vickerman is referred to in the notes as 'Mr V', the same term used to denote the authorship of his second letter to General Acland, from which the signature has been removed. Robert Reid has perversely decided that 'Mr V' was James Varley, a cropper, although Brooke & Kipling confirm it is Vickerman because he refers to a family member: this is further confirmed by a discovery made in our trawling of the Home Office papers.

Vickerman started by suggesting to Lloyd that planting informers would be the best way to pursue the Luddites, in particular at 3 public houses in Lockwood (The White Horse, The Red Lion and one belonging to William Haslem) and others in Huddersfield and at Longroyd Bridge.

Vickerman told Lloyd that a master cropper at Longroyd Bridge named John Wood had a house and workshop where meetings were held. He also suggested that Wood was a 'leading man' amongst the Luddites. The notes mention that Wood's name had already been suggested by a woman at Edgeley, and that cyphers had been found at Wood's house.

Most importantly, Vickerman went on to reveal information about people he believed were connected with the assassination of William Horsfall (having already tried to tempt Acland to meet him by promising information about this in his first letter to him). He stated that his own nephew, also called Francis Vickerman, was an apprentice to a clothdresser called Joseph Mellor, who had a home and workshop at Dungeon Wood, a mile from where Horsfall was shot. A servant girl at Mellor's had told Vickerman junior that on the evening of Horsfall's assassination, two men came to the workshop and undressed themselves, putting on fresh clothes and leaving for an hour before returning and then putting their own clothes back on. An apprentice at Mellor's - John Kinder - could not subsequently find his black handkerchief, and Joseph Mellor had offered him his.

Vickerman went on to say that 2 of those who shot Horsfall were the brother of Joseph Mellor, a cropper from Huddersfield, and another 'young man' who lived with the aforementioned 'leading man' John Wood, Wood being married to the young man's mother. Although names are not mentioned, either Vickerman or the note-taker seem to have confused the same person as 2 different people: a cropper called George Mellor was the cousin of Joseph Mellor, and the same George worked at John Wood's cropping shop, Wood being married to his mother, Mary Greenwood, who had previously been married to George's father William Mellor. However, Brooke & Kipling (1993, p.49) point out that Joseph Mellor did have a brother called John, who was around a year younger than George, and could have been involved in Luddism, although if he did, nothing is known about him.

Vickerman went on to name several 'principal people' among the Luddites: Joseph Beaumont & William Hargreaves, both master clothdressers from Lockwood. Also Thomas Shaw, Joseph Shaw and Luke Bradley of Taylor Hill.

At the end of the notes, Vickerman outlines his views on those amongst the authorities and manufacturers who could be 'depended upon': Thomas and Joseph Atkinson of Bradley Mills; Abraham and John Horsfall, the father and brother of the late William; Thomas Allen & Joseph Hague; Joseph Radcliffe 'the life of all'. Vickerman felt that Sir George Armitage was 'not to be depended upon owing to his timidity'.

Robert Reid has mistakenly called these notes an anonymous letter, despite the fact they contain neither a date, salutation nor a signature and are written very much as notes, and not in flowing paragraphs. The fact he attributed them to Varley indicates sloppy research: as pointed out Brooke & Kipling, this theory falls down on the fact that Varley did not have a nephew who was an apprentice to Joseph Mellor, like Vickerman did (1993, p.104 fn54). He also seems to have missed the fact that the handwriting is John Lloyd's. But a new discovery of ours indicates beyond doubt that Vickerman was the man being interviewed, and that Lloyd was the interviewer. In a separate division of the Home Office archives is a stray page in the same handwriting which begins 'Mr V says'. In it, Vickerman states that the Luddites had continuity with the jacobinical United Britons - a 'gentleman' had told him that 'the system has existed from the time of Colonel Despard' and that he himself had found cards 'about his shear frames' marked with the words 'Liberty Equality & Humanity' and '1st West York' printed in red ink on the reverse. The emblem of the United Britons contained the phrase 'Liberty Justice & Humanity', an error on the part of either Vickerman or Lloyd, but proof of the continuity of the revolutionary designs amongst the West Riding Luddites. Also proof that 'Mr V' was a manufacturer who owned shearing-frames, as was Vickerman.

Any final doubts about who the interviewer and interviewee are is removed by what is written on the reverse of this page: 'Lloyd & V.—Informations'. Frustratingly, there is no date.

The events that were to follow over the next 2 days are inextricably linked to the information provided by Vickerman.

The 'Mr V' notes can be found at HO 40/2/2 & HO 40/2/4. Acland's notebook can be found at HO 40/2/5.

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