Sunday, 13 April 2014

13th April 1814: George Coldham tells Lord Sidmouth the stockingers Union is in league with Luddites

My Lord

I am very sorry that I am compelled to report to your Lordship that the men employed in endeavouring to discover the persons engaged in the very scandalous attack upon the Frames of Messrs Needham and Nixon at Kimberly have been totally unsuccessful, and that there does not appear at this time any chance of coming at the Principals in this daring outrage.—

I am sorry to say, that the mischief appears to be spreading and taking a wider direction.—I have received a report, which I know to have come thro’ only one intermediate Channel from one of those who has been in the very Cabinet of the Luddites. He is sick of his connection with them, and I hope I may continue to hear useful Information problem. I learn however from him that there is a System of Union of great extent which raises a very large Fund from weekly contributions upon every individual Frame. He says that the Committee of this Society directs the movements of the inferior bodies, and is capable of supporting without work any of the Leaders who may be desirous of existing without laborious employment.—I am endeavouring to get this person to communicate distinctly with me, but if I do I am sure it can only be accomplished by engaging not to permit his name to appear and never to suffer him to be appealed to as a Witness. This man I have little doubt was wholly maintained for a considerable time out of this Fund but he is now able to maintain himself with the utmost ease out of his own labours and therefore the natural honesty of his principles will not permit him to be supported by the means of a Society whose Leaders he can't admire. If I can get at more detail your Lordship may depend upon hearing from me. In the mean time I am desired by the Magistrates here to state to your Lordship that there is every appearance of the system of Framebreaking recommencing with more than its former activity in this Town, and there is great reason to fear that very many of the Swords before alluded to have been purchased by the active Partizans of this system as they have been brought into Action and placed in the very front of the means adopted to incite terror. On Monday night the House of George Bateman, South Street, Meadow Platts at the outskirts of the Town, inhabited by the Commonest people, was entered by 3 or 4 men, who called George Bateman by his name and asked him how he did, and went up Stairs. Bateman having been making merry and thinking they were only some Companions of his Sons. He soon however saw some other persons come into his House, and heard a noise from above stairs like breaking Frames from which he cried out and seized upon one of the men below who drew out their Swords, threw him down and threatened to kill him. His Wife however continued to cry out Murder and the men almost immediately came down Stairs, and left the House having considerably damaged 5 Frames therein, which were of the description of Frames called Independent, that is, not belonging to any Hosier. It was about 9 o'Clock when this happened and there were only the man and his Wife and his Wife's sister in the house.—He offered to follow them but they presented a pistol and said they would shoot him on which he turned back.—They all deny knowing anything of the men and protest most solemnly that they would inform the Magistrates, if they could. Bateman gave Information of the fact at the Police Office on the night it happened.—The men had crapes or Handkerchiefs over part of their faces.—Bateman confesses belonging to the Union Club and was working at full prices therefore he can't think why he was obnoxious but George Bateman seemed to think it was owing to a supposition that he was working for a man of the name of Galloway, to whom he did work some little time back who was particularly obnoxious on Account of getting work done at the low prices. As soon as the Mayor learnt this attack had been made he summoned all the parties in the House and two or three Magistrates entered into the most strict Examination of the Case 12 o'Clock till about ½ past three yesterday.—In the mean time they gave directions for summoning 12 or 14 of their most trusty Constables to attend them at 6 o'Clock in the evening and these they charged to patrole the Town during the whole night to prevent as much as possible the occurrence of similar attempts to enable the Magistrates by actual inspection to appreciate the real State of the Town and the degree of apprehension that they have a right to entertain as to its future Tranquillity. There is no reason from the report of the Constables to consider ourselves, in a state of security. The Constables were probably the means of preventing one or more similar attempts last night. One party of them were attacked by a much more numerous detachment of these men and were very roughly handled. The Magistrates have this night summoned a more numerous body of Constables and given them charge to patrole the town, in every direction during the night and to make a faithful and very particular report of the result of their watchings. In the mean time the Magistrates have everything to fear from present appearances.—The most effectual means of guarding from actual attacks upon Property within the Town has been proved to us by experience was derived from the vigilant execution of the Watch and Ward Act aided by the Military.—This Act expired on the first of March last.—We have great reason to fear that a knowledge of this fact has actuated these men, to seize the present opportunity to be active in mischief under a notion that there is no law to reach them. I do not shrink the opinion I expressed at the moment, but it was impolitic to impose the Penalty of death upon this Offence, altho’ the present expiration of the Law and the consequences that have followed seem at first sight to contradict my judgement.—At first Transportation would have been a Punishment sufficient, I think, to terrify the Offenders if the means of Conviction had been rendered more easy, and the aiders and accessaries had been rendered punishable and responsible in the manner provided in the Act of the 52d of the King, and if the Punishment had not been increased to death I apprehend the Law would have been rendered perpetual in the first instance.—I am aware that by an Act of the present Session this Punishment is repealed and Transportation for life, or for a smaller term not less than 7 years is substituted for it. Still we are deprived of the Clauses in the prior Act which affect Accessaries.—There was much good in the Watch and Ward Act but I apprehend that if the Magistrates within their Jurisdiction had power to appoint a greater number of Special Constables and to pay them and combine their Surveilance with a Military Guard after a Special General Sessions at which all the Magistrates or a given and respectable number of them should concur in the necessity of adopting such measures it would be much better answer the purpose intended in such a place as this.—But the source of the present evil rests with the Societies of the Workmen and their combinations to regulate and influence the mode of conducting the Trade of their masters. If the Magistrates who could see their way, they would gladly seize the Papers of the present Society’s and endeavour to come at the root of the Evil, but not being political or connected with any political purpose I cannot see that they come under the 39th G. 3d that we have any evidence to proceed against them under the Combination Act.—It seems to me that some Act of Parliament should be framed which would oblige every Society to Register with the Clerk of the Peace of the Town District &c their Rules and Constitution to be approved of by the Magistrates and any alterations therein, together with the names, Occupations and place of abode of the members and Officers, an Account of their Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Society, of the money received and disbursed and the persons by whom received and paid for the purposes for which the same were received and applied, should be quarterly given in the same persons, which Acts and Proceedings should be open to the Inspection of the Secretary of State of the Home Department or any person appointed by him.—I am aware that these Provisions would contain very considerable Incroachments upon the Liberty of the Subject, and I state them to your Lordship, for the consideration of yourself and Persons of much maturer Judgement than I can pretend to, in entire confidence that you will duly appreciate my motive for making the Suggestion.

The Magistrates will be glad to have some more Foot Soldiers in the Town.—They have been already compelled to apply to the General of the District for the immediate return of the Cavalry removed during the County Election.

I have [etc]

Geo Coldham
Town Clerk

13th April, 1814

This letter can be found at HO 42/138.

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