Monday, 31 December 2012

31st December 1812: An informer, 'A friend to peace', sends an anonymous letter to the magistrate, Joseph Radcliffe

On the last day of 1812, an anonymous writer penned a letter containing information about Luddites in the Huddersfield area to the West Riding magistrate Joseph Radcliffe. Signed only as 'A friend to peace', the letter was well-written and offered information about names that would not be unfamiliar to Radcliffe or any of the authorities hunting Luddites.

The letter started out by stating that Luddites were recruiting large numbers of people to act as witnesses and to give false evidence at the forthcoming Special Commission so as to 'Contradict the real truth'. In particular, it singled out James Brook, a Lockwood cropper on trial for being involved in the attack on Rawfolds Mill, and said a witness would say Brook was with them that night.

The writer said that Brook's brother, John, was one of the 'most ... desperate characters amongst the Luddites': that he had joined with George Mellor's cousin, Joseph, to shoot at the windows of George Armitage; that he had been involved in almost every incident of frame-breaking in the West Riding except two of the initial attacks on Hirst and Balderstone. The writer stated that John Brook had even acted further afield in the attacks at Gildersome and Southowram, as well as participating in an arms raid. The informer also accused Brook of being the second man that was involved in the shooting of John Hinchliffe.

The informer went on to name 'principal schemers and planners' amongst the Luddites. Three of them were master cloth-dressers from Salford in the West Riding: William Hargreaves, Joseph Beaumont and George Richardson. Beaumont and Hargreaves had also been named as 'principal people' by Francis Vickerman when he was interviewed by John Lloyd in October. The writer also named Thomas Ellis, the woolstapler that George Mellor had written to from York Castle, and Mellor's step-father and employer, John Wood as key men. The writer also said that John Brook  had been involved in an arms raid with a man called Luke Bradley of Armitage Fold. Vickerman had similarly named Wood & Bradley as 'leading' men.

However, the writer was concerned to put boundaries around the extent of their future involvement in providing information: they plainly stated that they did not want to become a witness for the prosecution, and since the information had been obtained 'second hand' they could not stand as such anyway. The writer's stated motivation for providing information perhaps indicated that they were a person familiar with Luddism, even if at one remove - they described 'the late atrocious attempt on Joseph Mellor at Dungeon Bottom' as a key factor, even though they had just named him as a Luddite involved in direct action.

The writer ended their letter with a tentative postscript: "if circumstances require you may perhaps hear from me again".

The anonymous letter can be found in the Radcliffe MSS, reference 126/113.

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