Friday, 30 November 2012

Alan Brooke on the intended recipient of George Mellor's letter - Thomas Ellis

George Mellor’s letter from York Castle was addressed to Thomas Ellis, a woolstapler, of Lockwood. Whether the survival of only copies indicates that the original was allowed to reach its destination is not known. The Home Office copy also names the intended recipient as ‘Hellice’. This spelling may have been used on the original if, as seems likely, the letter was passed by Mellor to someone on the outside with verbal instructions as to the address.

Ellis’s role is highly significant. He was regarded by the magistrate Joseph Radcliffe of being so deeply implicated in Luddism that he was suspected of firing the shot at Joseph Mellor (in December 1812), intended, if not to kill, at least to intimidate him into making sure that members of his household did not appear as prosecution witnesses. George Mellor clearly saw Ellis as someone to be relied on to help organise the Luddite defence and not just with regard to Joseph Mellor. Ellis himself appeared as a witness in the trial of those accused of the Rawfolds attack, testifying that he had seen James Brook in Lockwood at quarter to twelve on the night in question. He also gave an excellent character reference for all the Lockwood Brooks who had been charged. George Armitage, a Lockwood blacksmith, (who also appeared as a defence witness for Mellor), corroborated Ellis’s evidence and it is clear that they were well known to each other. James and John Brook were acquitted, while Thomas was found guilty and subsequently hanged.

Not only was Ellis not a cropper he was a woolstapler, a dealer in wool, and therefore of a ‘respectable’ profession. It was not an occupation which would have brought him into direct contact with cloth finishers and therefore his relationship with Mellor and the Brooks was of choice, even though he must have known of their sympathy and perhaps even involvement in Luddism. Ellis is an example of the broad community support that Luddism enjoyed. Most of the other defence witnesses, like Armitage, were artisans or tradesmen not confined to cloth dressing.

Mellor’s letter also refers to Ellis’s involvement in collecting signatures for (Major) John Cartwright’s petition for parliamentary reform. This underlines the fact that there was no political compartmentalisation of Luddism. Luddites, even those who perhaps had insurrectionary inclinations, saw no paradox in supporting parliamentary reform. The following eight years, in the Huddersfield area more than anywhere else, showed how easily people could swing from mass agitation for reform to insurrectionary conspiracy and back again as the waves of repression dictated.

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As a coda to Alan's comments, our own research has brought up a curious figure seemingly forgotten by historians of Luddism who may have connections with Thomas Ellis. John Ellis, a 22 year-old Tailor & member of the Huddersfield Local Militia was convicted at the Chester Special Commission in May 1812 of breaking 7 shearing-frames at Tintwistle (then in Cheshire) belonging to Thomas Rhodes on 21st April 1812. Aside from what he was convicted of, it's not clear what else he was doing in Tintwistle, and it may be that there was nothing remarkable about him, as he doesn't appear to be mentioned in any of the Home Office correspondence around this time. But whilst a common surname does not necessarily indicate a direct connection, the link with Huddersfield is clear and the fact that these were the only shearing-frames broken outside of West Yorkshire is also remarkable. John Ellis was sentenced to death at the Special Commission, but had this sentence respited, meaning he was transported for life. Was he a Luddite 'on the run' and hiding in Cheshire who was subsequently caught up in popular disturbances in April of 1812? Was he a delegate between Luddite organisations across the Pennines? Whoever he was, he is an interesting figure who demands further research.

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