Wednesday 29 June 2016

29th June 1816: Mass Luddite attack on Heathcoat & Boden's factory at Loughborough

The former factory that belonged to Heathcoat & Boden, in an image from the 20th Century. The building has since been demolished, and an Iceland supermarket stands on the site on Market Street (formerly Mill Lane) (image: Anthony Jarram)
In the early hours of Saturday 29th June 1816, a large group of Luddites undertook a large-scale frame-breaking operation against the Loughborough factory belonging to Heathcoat & Boden. It was the largest operation undertaken in the midlands counties, and the events of that night & the attendant consequences would reverberate throughout the coming months. The Nottingham Review's extensive report of what took place (carried in the Leicester Chronicle of Saturday 6th July 1816) is carried below:


We have this week the painful task of recording an outrage of the frame-breakers, which, very far, exceeds any thing of the kind that has ever before happened, since enormities of this description first spread terror amongst us in March, 1811; and being well aware, from the rumours that have been afloat for several days, that our readers would feel the utmost anxiety to learn the particulars of this deplorable catastrophe, we have spared no pains in endeavouring to satisfy them as much as we possibly could, "neither extenuating, nor setting down aught in malice." About a quarter-past twelve o'clock, on Friday night, or rather on Saturday morning last, a number of men, perhaps about thirty, some of whom were armed and disguised entered a small room, called the casting shop, immediately attached to the rear part of Messrs Heathcoat and Boden's lace factory, (formerly Mr. Douglass's worsted factory,) situate directly at the entrance into the town of Loughborough from Ashby-de-la-Zouch. In this small room were John Asher, Thomas Hyman, and John Webster, three of the men belonging to the factory, the former of whom snatched up a pistol, (kept in the room for the purpose of defence,) and pointed it at the Luddites, as they were coming in at the door, but it did not go off. Some of them, in return, instantly fired at Asher, apparently with a blunderbuss, and wounded him in the back of his head, which either caused him to fall, or he was otherwise knocked down. Hyman, being also at the same moment laid prostrate by his side, and Webster, who got out of doors, in the confusion, to try to escape, was quickly brought back again and placed along-side of his two companions. Sufficient guards were then put over the three, and the residue of the gang, with lights in their hands, proceeded, without loss of time, through the large room, called the setting up room, to the bottom of the stair-case, where meeting with a youth named Ambrose Woodford, they knocked down, placed a guard over him, as they had done to the others and then rushed up stairs into the first floor, which is divided into three parts, or shops, containing altogether twenty-three frames, the whole whereof they broke to pieces, having previously secured, in one of the said three shops, James Powel, (commonly called uncle,) William Soars, and John North, in the same manner as their companions below. Ned’s band then directed their attention to the large room above, in which were thirty frames and five men, viz. Joseph Sherwin, Samuel Street, William Squires, John Langham, and Thomas Smith, the first of whom expressed to his associates, a determination to resist the entrance of the invaders into their room, which determination was properly overheard by the latter, for they advanced to the foot of the stairs with terrific boldness, a stern voice calling out, "advance with the blunderbusses—more blunderbusses here." Sherwin's comrades, now fearing that his opposition might endanger the lives of the whole five, prevailed upon him to change his intention, and let them come up quietly, which they then did without delay. No sooner was this accomplished, than the said five were imperiously commanded to prostrate themselves with their faces to the floor, and not to look about them lest death should be their portion, and at the same time guards were fixed over them, as in the former instances of the like nature. This preliminary being settled, demolition itself was then let loose, until to it went the furies. 
After toiling for the space of perhaps seven or eight minutes, they all stopped on a sudden, as if to listen whether all was right below,—the strictest silence reigned for a few seconds: and afterwards one of them vociferated, "All is well, Ned Ludd do your duty well—it's a Waterloo job by God," when instantly they renewed the work of havoc as before, and continued it for almost the same space of time, thus finishing the destructive scene, except their breaking two incomplete frames, in the setting-up room, as they returned through it upon their retreat. Just before quitting the upper room, one of the Luddites said aloud to his comrades, "Ned go round and see that you have done your duty well," and almost immediately afterwards, the prostrate five were thus addressed, "Now men, if you can tell us of any machines that are working under price if it be one or two hundred miles off, we will go and break them." Receiving a negative to this question, they directly quitted the factory, enjoining the men belonging to it, with terrible threats, not to stir for the space of ten minutes, and offering to shake hands with Asher, the wounded man; telling him withal that they hoped he would soon get better, or words to that effect; and we are happy to inform the public that he is now quite out of danger, and fast approaching complete recovery. They have not only thus destroyed the machines, but even the lace that happened to be upon the respective rollers is mostly hacked to pieces. In one instance they tore it away and set fire to it upon the floor, the flames whereof coming near to Street, he shifted a little; whereupon one of them gave him a kick, and bid him lie still as the fire would not hurt him; Squires too, who once rather changed his position to avoid danger, received a violent blow near his left eye; and Langham, and North were likewise struck from somewhat similar motives. In fact, it seemed a particular maxim with them, as we have before remarked, the deterring as much as possible any one from having a glimpse of their proceedings. Independent of the supposed number of nearly thirty who were actively concerned in committing these excesses in the interior of the factory, it is confidently believed that there were not less than fifty or sixty others stationed on the outside in the manner of sentinels or patroles, in every direction, and even along the Mill-street, to within a few yards of the very Market place of the town. Some of these patroles called aloud, warning the inhabitants to keep in their beds, and not to exhibit any lights; in disobedience of which, one person, who endeavoured to go out amongst them, had eight panes directly broken, in one of his windows, and was threatened with death if he did not keep within. About a dozen panes were also broken in the windows of the factory. 
According to the best information we can collect, this daring outrage occupied the space of about forty minutes, and some of the neighbours go so far as to say that the posse were headed by a man on horseback, who halted his men, and called over his numerical list, when they had quitted the premises about 200 yards, as if to ascertain if any were missing; and that shortly afterwards several shots were fired; either denoting triumph, or by way of defiance as they eventually marched away. We have not heard of any thing having been carried off except some fire arms belonging to the factory. On the other hand, we understand, they left two of their own ramrods behind them. It is very difficult, at present, to form any estimate of the amount of the damages, even by the proprietors themselves; we have however been told, by an experienced workman, that he thinks each of the fifty-three complete frames will require, on an average, 80l. to put them in the same state again; this, of course, would make 4240l.—to which if we add, 60l. more, for the injury to the two incomplete frames to make round numbers, the account would then stand at 4300l. Thus, even admitting it to be any thing near the truth, is a serious sum; and yet, it is scarcely worth mentioning in comparison with the general loss: in the first place to the firm by the great delay to their business, whilst the frames are repairing; and in the next place, to near four hundred men, women, and children, thrown out of employ. It may not be amiss to add, that about two months ago, the workmen at the factory received notice that their wages would all be lowered, which caused, what is called, a general turn-out.—Some of them however soon relented this, and went in again at the reduced prices, whilst others were not permitted that privilege. These proceedings had engendered considerable discontent, and it is not improbable, but they may have had some influence with the perpetrators of the deed in question. Certain it is that until this circumstance very few manufacturers, of an equal extent, were carried on, in this part of the kingdom, where the masters, and men more cordially accorded that they did at this. The Magistrates of the division have almost incessantly been since occupied investigating the affair, and endeavouring to bring to justice the authors of it. The town crier even went round with his bell on Sunday morning warning the inn-keepers against keeping their homes open, later than nine o'clock in the evening. Six men, have at different intervals, been taken up, on suspicion, one of whom has since been set at liberty; three remain in custody at Loughborough, & the other two were yesterday at noon sent under an escort from that town to Leicester. Some implements supposed to be used in destroying the machines, have been seized, and are likewise in the possession of the constables employed by the Magistrates in this business. The Magistrates and police-officers in Nottingham, have also been very active, and many houses in this town have been searched on the occasion. A reward of five hundred guineas is offered in the London Gazette, for such information as will lead to the conviction of the perpetrators.—Nottingham Review.

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