Monday, 10 March 2014

Saved from destruction - the last resting place of the Luddite John Hill - and plans for his re-burial!

A view of Greetland Methodist Chapel, and graveyard, from Google Street View
It's now more than a year since I wrote this blog about the last resting places of the 14 Luddites hanged at York in January 1813. At that time, it was not at all clear if it would be possible to learn where any of the burials were located, despite clues in the primary sources - at least not without extensive & time-consuming research.

Fourteen months ago, we quoted a letter from the military commander in the area of Elland, a Lieutenant Cooper, who reported that the Luddite John Hill had been buried at 'in the neighbourhood of Elland' within a few days of his execution at York. Cooper reported that the local parson had refused to read the service over  the burial, and that this had caused some ill-feeling amongst those gathered. Cooper intimated however, that this atmosphere was nowhere near as poisonous as that of previous burials, like that of Samuel Hartley at Halifax, which had almost turned into a riot.

Since then, with the research conducted by one particular reader of this website, a local historian and genealogist Andrew Howson, the last resting place of John Hill has been located for certain at the graveyard of Greetland Methodist Chapel, near Halifax. Andrew had located the burial register of the Chapel in both the national archive and the west yorkshire archive, and it  showed that a 27 year-old man from North Dean called John Hill was buried there on 20th January 1813.

Unfortunately, the research was made particularly urgent when Andrew discovered that the graveyard was due to be built upon - and most of the burials obliterated - by a housing development. There were plans to remove a limited number of burials from the graveyard, and re-inter them in a memorial garden in another local church. But of John Hill, there was no information (despite a previous press release by the church which had been published acknowledging that 'Luddites' were buried there).

Officials at the church proved difficult to contact initially, perhaps because they had been told by a well-known local academic that no Luddites were buried at Greetland. The academic based this statement on comments in the biography of a Thomas Jackson, the local parson at the time, that he had actively prevented burials of Luddites at Greetland. Fortunately, our presentation of the primary sources indicating the truth to the church does seem to have won out over a secondary source containing the bitter lies of a member of the church hierarchy written decades after the event. The modern church officials confirmed the name and date of the burial in another version of the register, and that there was a small headstone marked 'JH' as well.

The latest news is that, after our intervention, the Church intends to exhume the remains of John Hill and re-inter them at the memorial garden, and also preserve the headstone  on this site.

As far as we're concerned, the icing on the cake would be for there to be a plaque remembering John Hill accompanying the re-burial - and perhaps his name attached to any new road on the development, as with 'John Booth Close' at Roberttown.

NB - for the latest news on John Hill's grave, read this blog post.

The calendar of the prisoners tried at York Special Commission recorded that John Hill was 36 and from Greetland. However, at least 2 other sources confirm that Hill was from North Dean (and can be read on this label here). The age could simply have been recorded incorrectly in the trial publication.

Contrary to local legend, Andrew Howson's research indicates that there are no other Luddite burials at Greetland.

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