Thursday, 11 October 2012

11th October 1812: Joseph Radcliffe questions the household of Joseph Mellor about suspects in the assassination of William Horsfall

A Caucasian Horse Pistol, likely to be similar to the one George Mellor reputedly brought back from Russia
Joseph Mellor, a master clothdresser from Dungeon Wood, and almost all those who lived with him and worked for him were brought before the West Riding magistrate Joseph Radcliffe by Sunday 11th October 1812. It is possible they were brought in the day before, since information they yielded to Radcliffe could have led to the issuing of warrants for the arrests of four suspects the evening before. Their statements however, were sworn on the Sunday.

The largest statement was given by Joseph Mellor, the owner of the cropping shop. Statements were also given by his wife, Martha Mellor, and two apprentices, Thomas Durrance and John Kinder. A cropper who worked for the master clothdresser John Wood, called James Varley, also gave a statement. No statement was taken from another apprentice, Frank Vickerman (the nephew of the manufacturer, Luddite target and informer Francis Vickerman) either at this time or in future.

In looking at the statements alongside each other, I have highlighted points of interest or apparent contradictions.

In his statement, Thomas Durrance, an apprentice, said that the cropper George Mellor had arrived at the workshop declaring it to be a hot day, and promptly took off his dark-coloured topcoat and placed it on the brushing stone in the workshop. Durrance said he saw ‘no other man’ with Mellor. He said that George Mellor then asked for his help to hide 2 pistols, which they did upstairs in the house. Durrance said that he didn’t know who Mellor was until his fellow apprentice John Kinder saw them coming down the stairs and told him. Durrance later told another apprentice, Joseph Oldham about the pistols and what had happened.

John Kinder’s statement says that he was in the workshop with George Mellor for 5 minutes only. Like Durrance, Kinder at first says that no other man was there, but later mentions ‘the other man’ in the same statement. Kinder doesn’t mention what Durrance had said, about his only seeing Mellor when he came downstairs after hiding the pistols. He stresses – presumably because he was asked – that George Mellor had no blood on his hand, the only statement to mention this, and seemingly as a denial to a question. Kinder also says he ‘does not know William Thorpe’, as if the name was put to him: along with that of Joseph Mellor, this is the only statement that mentions Thorpe’s name. It’s not clear where the information about injuries to Mellor or the stranger has come from.

In her statement, Martha Mellor said George Mellor arrived with another man she didn’t know and enquired if there was any work for the stranger there. He had asked permission for the stranger to wash himself, and she had agreed. George asked if he could lend a coat and a silk handkerchief, and that she provided them with a black silk handkerchief, and George took a drab topcoat. John Kinder said that Martha had given George his black silk handkerchief, and that Joseph Mellor gave it him back 2 weeks later. Martha also pointed out that the two men had come into the house through the workshop and left the house back into that room again.

In his statement, Joseph Mellor said that on the evening Horsfall was shot, he had been at Huddersfield market, and had returned about 7.00 p.m. He said that when he arrived, his wife Martha told him that his cousin George Mellor had only left 15 minutes ago; that he had brought a stranger with him who wanted work; that the stranger had hurt his cheek (In her statement, Martha does not mention any apparent injury to the stranger’s cheek). He said Martha told him George Mellor had asked if the stranger could wash himself, which he did and she had given him a black handkerchief to cover his wounded cheek. Joseph also said that Martha told him that George and the stranger appeared to be in a hurry (which is not repeated by Martha in her statement), and that the stranger wore a drab topcoat.

The timings in Martha Mellor’s statement are interesting. She said that George Mellor and the stranger stayed for half an hour in total. Joseph said that Martha had told him when he arrived at 7.00 p.m., that the pair had left 15 minutes ago. With precise timings, this means they would have come to the house at 6.15 p.m. – which, according to the trial report, is within 5 minutes of the time that the Crown said that Horsfall was shot a mile away. The Crown relied on these timings given by the household at Dungeon, and the witnesses to the shooting to make their case. But more than anything else, these very timings prove that it was impossible that George Mellor & the stranger could have been involved in the shooting of Horsfall: Kipling & Hall (1984, p.43) estimate the route from the site of the shooting to Joseph’s house was a 20 minute journey. If George Mellor & the stranger were in the plantation on Crosland Moor, they would have had to have set off for Joseph’s 10 minutes before Horsfall left the Warren House to meet his doom in order for them to get to Joseph’s house in time. Essentially, the Crown were to claim that George Mellor had been in two different places a mile apart at the same time.

Joseph stated that later, whilst he was eating his supper, his apprentice Thomas Durrance asked him if they could speak in the workshop. Durrance told him how George Mellor and another man had called and had left two pistols which they had hidden in the presence of two other apprentices, Joseph Oldham & John Kinder. Durrance showed him the pistols' hiding place - Joseph was shocked, and he recognised one of the weapons, a brass-mounted horse pistol with a wide bore and a foot-long barrel. He remembered that his cousin George had told him that he had brought a pistol such as this from Russia. Inspecting the weapons, Joseph could see they were not loaded. He went back to finish his supper.

Joseph stated that afterwards he called on his neighbour, William Spencer, feeling uneasy about the pistols in his house. Spencer told him that William Horsfall had been shot that day and that soldiers had been searching for a young man they had come across in Dungeon Wood. Despite the risk of running into the patrol, Joseph left to go home, and did meet some mounted soldiers in the Wood who asked him if he had seen strangers - he told them he was returning from market. When Joseph got home, he told everyone present the news. They all felt uneasy, and decided to hide the two pistols somewhere else. In his statement, Thomas Durrance said this took place at 8.00 p.m., only an hour after Joseph said he had arrived home from Huddersfield. Martha Mellor stated that Joseph brought the news about Horsfall back from Spencer’s house an hour after he had arrived home from Huddersfield.

Joseph Mellor stated that they all sat up in the house, waiting for George Mellor and the stranger to return, as they had promised, but they never came that night.

According to Joseph Mellor, at 4.00 a.m. the next morning, Joseph was awoken by a fellow cropper, James Varley from Lockwood. In his statement taken the same day, Varley says it was actually between 5 and 6.00 a.m. Joseph said Varley asked if George Mellor and another man had called and left two topcoats. He also asked if a blue jacket belonging to a cropper called William Thorpe was there. In his statement, Varley denies enquiring about the coats, saying he had been sent to Joseph’s by his master, John Wood, to borrow Joseph’s horse. Joseph said he fetched all the coats from about the house and workshop, informing Varley that the coat in the workshop had 2 ball cartridges in the pocket. Varley asked Joseph to check the bottle-green coat that had been hung up behind his door in the house, and he wanted to know if there was blood on the cuffs - Joseph said there was none, and Varley asked him to keep the coat there. In his statement, Varley says the coat he retrieved was a brown Duffield coat that he had left behind the door on a visit a fortnight before. Joseph stated that he had never seen the green coat since, and didn't know when it had left the house. Joseph said Varley asked after the two pistols left by George Mellor and the stranger: Joseph admitted to hiding them, but Varley didn't want to take them there and then. Joseph said that Varley could return at any time to fetch them, but wanted them out of his house as soon as possible. In his statement, Varley denied enquiring after any pistols. Joseph stated that he had gone to the hiding place a week later to look for the pistols, but they had gone: his wife told him that Varley had called the day before when he was not in, and assumed Varley had taken them then.

Joseph stated that some time afterwards a man called William told him that he had bought a Russian pistol from George Mellor, with George telling him it had 'done execution'. The man said the pistol had been sent to Leeds in order to 'boast' about this.

Joseph ends his statement by saying that a month after the day he had last seen him, James Varley returned to Joseph's house and asked him if he would help him to find two loaded pistols that had been hidden in an anthill in Dungeon Wood. They both went to look, but could not find them. Joseph said that Varley later told him that one of the pistols was lost, but the other had turned up, and that one of them belonged to a cropper called Ben of Bucks (aka Benjamin Walker, a person named by Vickerman in his first letter to General Acland) and that the other belonged to a man called Tom, who was an apprentice to the master clothdresser John Wood of Longroyd Bridge. In his statement, James Varley said they had searched for pistols in the Wood, but that this was Joseph’s idea.

The statements sworn by the Joseph Mellor household can be found at HO 42/129.

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