Saturday, 21 March 2015

21st March 1815: The trial of James Towle, for framebreaking, at Nottingham Lent Assizes

On Tuesday 21st March 1815, perhaps the most notorious Luddite in the Midlands - James Towle - took his trial at Nottingham Lent Assizes, charged with burglary and framebreaking. The offence had taken place the previous September, and Towle's arrest had led to a chain of events which included the attempt on the life of the prosecutor, Thomas Garton, and the actual death of a Luddite, Samuel Bamford, as well as a bystander, William Kilby, several weeks later.

The Judge in this trial, Sir John Bayley, had presided over the trials of the Nottinghamshire Luddites tried 3 years before at the Lent 1812 Assizes, where his sentencing had been considered lenient by many in the establishment.

The following account of the trial is from the Nottingham Review of 24th March 1815. Interesting details seem to have been omitted, but were included in an account from the Derby Mercury of 30th March, which follows:
James Towle of Basford, stood indicted for burglariously entering the dwelling house of Thomas Garton, of the said village on the 5th of September, and stealing thereout a quantity of metal (pewter,) three starbrasses, a number of needles, and three pair of stockings and an odd one. He stood further indicted for entering the said house, and feloniously breaking six stocking frames, the consent of the owners thereof not having been previously given.

Thomas Garton deposed, that he fastened his doors by ten o'clock, on the night named in the indictment, when himself and wife went to bed—that, between one and two o'clock he was disturbed by a number of persons knocking at the street door, when he got up and asked who was there, and was answered by James Towle, whom he had known seven years, "it is Ned,"—that the door then flew open, and a number of men rushed up stairs, and the same voice which had answered "Ned" called twice for lights, while the person so calling stood on the stairs, whom he was confident was Towle—that the greater part of them proceeded into the work shop, where they continued half an hour breaking frames, while a person stood on the stairs calling out, at intervals, "Ned do your duty, all’s well." Witness stated further, that he got while the men were in the premises—that three men who worked with him, lay in a room adjoining to his bed room—that as soon as the frame-breakers were gone he went to the house of Hemsley Dunn, constable of New Basford, who went with him to Towle’s house with a view to apprehend him, under a conviction on his part, that he, Towle, was one of the depredators; but, when they got there, Dunn refused to break into Towle’s house.—Witness then obtained the assistance of John Seymour, constable of Old Basford, who searched prisoner’s house, but did not find him there; they then, from information received, supposed Towle might be at Papplewick, about four miles off, whither they went, but did not find the object of their pursuit. They then went to the house of John Bamford of Old Basford, where they took prisoner into custody, about six o'clock in the morning. On his cross-examination, witness stated, that he did not know that Towle worked at Bamford’s, though he lived within an hundred yards of him—that he did not know the number of his children, nor that such children were ill at the time of the measles—and that he never said to Reuben Kilder, John Torr, or Andrew Pearson, that if he had any more frames broken within five years, he would make Towle suffer for it, or words to that effect. Of this he was quite sure, and would swear it.

John Seymour deposed to the above, as far as his name was connected with the circumstance; and further stated, that as he passed by Bamford's house on his way to New Basford, about three in the morning, he saw a light and a man therein. He further deposed, that when he had conducted Towle to Nottingham, who surrendered and came with him without opposition, he told witness he wished to speak with him in Private—that, when thus alone, prisoner asked him if he had found a sword and a chisel at his house, to which he answered "yes," though he knew he had not found such implements—that prisoner then said "don't say any thing about them"—that he afterwards searched Towle’s house, and found a chisel, but no sword; and that he went to Garton's house, and found the chisel to fit the indent in his door, which had been made in the act of forcing it open. He endeavoured to state, that he had found the same indent upon several other doors near to Garton’s, but the Judge and Counsel refused to hear him. On his cross-examination he admitted, that prisoner’s children were ill at the time.

Edward Hawke worked with Garton at the time his frames were broken—saw prisoner the previous evening at the Three Crowns, in Parliament-street, Nottingham, when prisoner said to him, "don't you work with Garton?"—A. Yes. "Then I suppose you receive tup mutton for your work!"—A, "I have no occasion to receive mutton, if I don't like it—I receive the same as other folks."—"Are you not abated in your price?"—A. "Yes, we are abated."—"Then your frame shall be broke." Witness stated this conversation to have taken place in an open kitchen, and before an indiscriminate company; and further, that prisoner asked him where his frame stood, and, after having described the place, prisoner said to him, "I know where it stands—it is a 35 gauge." Hawke said he communicated the substance of this conversation to Garton the next day. On his cross-examination he denied having received any subsistence money from Garton since he left him—stated he had worked at Mansfield; and that he had been in the house of correction for personal safety.

John Sutton said, he worked with Growcock, a smith, at Basford, at the time Gaton’s frames were broke—that he went to bed, in Growcock’s house, at nine o'clock that night, it being Sunday—that Towle came in half an hour, and asked his master to lend him an iron crow—that his master replied, "Towle, if you don't leave off frame-breaking you’ll be taken and hanged;" that Towle said, "I'll be damned if I don't reinforce,"—that Growcock said he would not lend the crow, for fear it should be left, and be noticed; but he would lend him a bar. Witness, in his cross-examination, admitted that he was in bed all the time and this conversation took place—that they were out of doors; that he did not see Towle on the occasion; and that he was not much acquainted with him, yet he would swear to his voice. The Judge remarked, on summing up this part of the evidence, that it was singular that Growcock had not been brought into Court, by one or both of the parties.

On the part of the prisoner following witnesses were called, to wit:—

John Bamford, a framework-knitter, of Old Basford, stated that Towle set his frame in his shop—that at the time named in the indictment, Towle had an order of broad shammies to make in a hurry, the completion of which would occupy all his time and attention—that his children were ill of the measles, which very much broke his rest, which, if not guarded against, might, very possibly, prevent his completion of the order, and disappoint his employer, which would have been an improvident circumstance, considering the critical state of the trade at that time. Witness went on to state, that a person of the name of Lowe, worked and lodged with him at the time, whose family resided in Nottingham, that in consequence thereof his bed was generally unoccupied on Saturday nights, Sunday nights, and Monday nights—that he understood Lowe had [persuaded] Towle to sleep in his bed, while his children were so ill, to which he, witness, gave his consent—the Towle came accordingly on the Sunday night, named in the indictment, and went to bed about half-past ten, saying he must rise early in the morning, on account of his order—that he locked the door, and himself and wife went to bed before eleven—that they slept in a small parlour, the door of which is near the house door, and also near the foot of the stairs—that having left the key in the door, contrary to his usual custom, his wife got up and fetched it into the parlour—that Towle rose at three in the morning to go to work—and that he, witness, struck, and gave him a light, which accounted for the light and man being seen in witness’s house by the Constable Seymore, as he was going to the assistance of Garton. From the description which witness gave of the interior and situation of the house, he endeavoured to make it manifest, that no one could get out, or come in, in the night, without his knowledge; and he believed on his oath, the Towle had not been out during the night.

Reuben Kilder worked and lodged with Garton at the time the frames were broken, and slept in a room near to Mr Garton’s—heard the frame-breakers doing the mischief—heard one of them say, "All’ well, Ned do your duty:" but did not hear Garton ask, "Who’s there;" nor did he hear any one answer, "Ned." Witness said, that Garton said to him, a short time before last Nottingham races, "If ever I have any more frames broke in my shop, I will make James Towle suffer for it!" This he said was spoken in the presence of John Torr and Mrs. Garton, the latter of whom swore positively to the contrary.

John Torr was next sworn, and he stated that Towle went with him some time ago to take a frame of Garton, on which account the latter said to him shortly after, "You are to blame for bringing Towle with you, for he is a frame-breaker." And in a conversation about Christmas, 1813, Garton said, "If I have any more frames broken within five years, I will have him taken up." Witness stated that Reuben Kilder was not present when any conversation of this nature took place with Garton.

Andrew Pearson had worked with Garton, who said to him one day as prisoner was passing by in their presence, "Do you know Towle? That's him: and, if I have any more frames broken, I will have him taken up."

On the flat contradiction given by Torr to part of Kinder’s testimony, the Judge remarked in his summing up, that though a person might remember the import of any particular conversation, it did not follow that he must always be correct as to the persons who were present; a circumstance which was frequently proved to most men of observation; and, if confidence could be placed in the testimony of the last three witnesses, it would most materially affect that of Garton's.

Mr Mason, warehouseman to Towle’s employer, was now called to prove that he had the particular order of broad shammies at the time previously named; but the Judge thought his testimony unnecessary.

Sarah Saxon, a neighbour to Towle, proved that his three children were ill of the measles at the time named in the indictment; and that there was but one bed for the whole family.

John Lowe, named in Bamford's evidence, proved Towle’s having applied to him for permission to sleep in his bed, on account of his work and his being disturbed so in the night.

Here the evidence closed; and it may be necessary, for the information of many of our readers, to state the following, as a few of the Judge's remarks in his summing up, in addition to what we have necessarily given in detailing the evidence. His Lordship said, that there was no evidence to fix the guilt upon the prisoner, but the testimonies of Garton and Sutton, and that was wholly upon swearing to his voice, a species of testimony always to be received with extreme caution and doubt; except the evidence of Hawke, which, if true, prove the prisoner to be one of the most indiscreet men on earth, if he was really serious in what he said; and the circumstance of the chisel, which Towle might have lent the frame-breakers, which, if true, did not affix the actual guilt upon him, because he was not charged as being accessary to the perpetration of the crime, but as a positive committer of it. Had this chisel been the bar named by Sutton, it would have been a strong circumstance in proof of his guilt. Upon the whole, said his Lordship, if the Jury are of opinion that Garton and Sutton's testimonies are to be depended upon, respecting their swearing to the prisoner's voice, in opposition to the opposing witnesses, they will then find the prisoner guilty; but, if a doubt remain their minds, they ought to give the benefit of that doubt the prisoner, and acquit him.

The Jury consulted about half an hour, and gave a verdict of Not Guilty.

Counsel for the Prosecution, Mr. Serjeant Vaughan and Mr. Reader—Attorneys, Messrs Coldham and Enfield, Nottingham. Counsel for the Prisoner, Mr. Serjeant Copley and Mr. Denman—Attorney, Mr. Henry Wilkinson, Nottingham.
In their more brief coverage of the trial, the Derby Mercury of 30th March mentioned that the trial lasted 4 hours, and the following passage provides details that the Nottingham Review seemed to have omitted:
[When the Jury gave the verdict] The words were scarcely uttered, when an instantaneous shout was set up by a crowd pressing round the outer doors of the Court, anxious to hear the result. The Judge, in conclusion, admonished the prisoner against the continuance of practices, which had that day placed his life in such imminent peril; and assured him, that however individuals, might, for a time, elude the just vengeance of the law, it would eventually be found strong enough to punish and crash all violaters and disturbers of the public peace.—On the Court breaking up, the crowd out of doors testified their satisfaction at the verdict by repeatedly cheering the Judge, Counsel, &c.

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