Friday, 19 October 2012

19th October 1812: The cropper, William Thorpe, is examined by Joseph Radcliffe


On Monday 19th October 1812, another West Riding cropper swore a statement before Joseph Radcliffe.

William Thorpe had already been put into the frame as being involved in the assassination of William Horsfall at least 9 days ago, when some of Joseph Mellor's household were clearly being asked questions about him, and whether or not he was the 'stranger' who accompanied George Mellor to the house. The only statements sworn that day that mention Thorpe are those of the apprentice John Kinder - who said he 'does not know William Thorpe' - and Joseph Mellor - who says that the cropper James Varley had called on 29th April and asked for a Blue Jacket which 'belonged to Thorpe', which Mellor said he gave him. This suggests that Thorpe's name was being put forward by someone else, but who is not clear. We do know that Thorpe's name appears in Francis Vickerman's first letter to General Acland on 28th August, and Thorpe's own statement reveals that he had been taken up for questioning before on at least one occasion.

Thorpe began his statement by making it clear that he remembered the day Horsfall was shot: he worked at the time for a Mr Fisher of Longroyd Bridge, and said he remained at work that day until 8 or 9 p.m. in the evening before going home. He had been in the dressing shop at work when someone came in and told him the news about Horsfall. Thorpe said that the men he was working with thought the news 'shocking and sudden'.

Thorpe admitted to owning a Blue Jacket, but only in June, several weeks after the assassination. His father had bought the cloth, and he used a Tailor to make it for him. He also denied seeing James Varley on the day of the assassination - in his statement, Joseph Mellor had said Varley had called at his house the day after the assassination to retrieve Thorpe's Blue Jacket, whereas Varley's statement never mentioned Thorpe or the Blue Jacket at all. Thorpe said he received the bill for the Jacket 2 months after it was made, and the statement suggests he produced it as proof at the examination (having looked for and found it 'since I was last in custody', indicating he had been asked about this on a previous occasion). He sold the Jacket in the same week as the York Summer Assizes, saying it did not fit him properly: a man called Samuel Booth of Huddersfield bought it from him for £1, 1s. Thorpe also denied lending the Jacket to anyone else at any time.

Names were then mentioned to Thorpe: he said he knew Benjamin Walker, but counted him as 'no particular acquaintance' and said the last time he was in company with him was 'last week when we were in custody together'. He also admitted to knowing Thomas Smith, a former apprentice to John Wood, for whom George Mellor worked. Thorpe also said he knew George & Joseph Mellor, & James Varley. He denied being in their company in the days surrounding the assassination of Horsfall. He went on to say he had met Joseph Mellor with a fellow cropper William Brooke the Sunday after Horsfall was shot (3rd May 1812), but they did not talk about the assassination and Thorpe was adamant he had not borrowed 'either gun or pistol' from Joseph. Thorpe & Brooke had walked that day to the house of a man called Luke Bradley, by whom Thorpe had been promised some Butter. Bradley was not in and they called at Mellor's on the way back. This revelation could only have made Radcliffe more suspicious, for Bradley had been named by Francis Vickerman as being a 'leading man' among the local Luddites.


The statement is relatively mundane, as it deals exclusively with such domestic details, and is an effort by Thorpe to prove he was elsewhere at the time of Horsfall's shooting and deny parts of the statements put forward by others.

Unlike with William Thorpe, there is no evidence that either Thomas Smith or George Mellor even so much as opened their mouths to say one word to either Radcliffe, Lloyd, Acland or Allison. Unlike Thorpe, they did not even seek to deny the claims put to them: for them the Luddites Oath was, as they had sworn, inviolate - this Omertà was absolute.

William Thorpe's statement can be found at HO 42/129.

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