Sunday 20 November 2016

20th November 1816: James Towle makes a confession prior to his execution

Unlike most of the Luddites (or alleged Luddites) held prisoner, the notorious Nottinghamshire Luddite James Towle gave a confession prior to his execution. Of course, it is impossible to know the circumstances under which it was given and, at this point, Towle had been imprisoned for several months and had had his hopes raised and dashed by an unsuccessful appeal. E.P. Thompson considered that this confession 'may have been designed to throw his questioners off the scent' (1991; p.627), but it does contain names of men who were subsequently tried for Luddism. Either way, it is fascinating reading.

The end of the document also contains a commentary about Towle's behaviour before he was executed.

Statement made by Jas. Towle on the morning of his execution namely the 20th of November 1816 to Mr. Pochin, the High Sheriff and Mr C.G. Mundy.—

Towle said that he knew nothing of any plan to destroy Heathcoates Lace Factory at Loughbro’ until a few days or a week before it took place—that what he had said to Kilbourn, that something would take place on Friday night alluded to something that had been talked of among the Luddites to be done at Nottm but which did not take place.—That the first he heard of an intended Job at Loughbro’ was  from Mitchell who came to him a few days previous to the above Job & told him it was intended to go to Loughbro’ & to destroy Heathcoates Factory & that he, Towle, must make one of the party; Towle replied he thought he could not go as he had some work in his Frame to finish—Mitchell [said] he must go as it might be a strong Job & they were afraid of [being] short of hands & could not do without him—Towle then consented to go—Towle came by himself from Basford by way of Leek to Loughbro’—He did not stop at any house on the way, or meet any body he knew; he only [arrived] at Loughbro’ just before the attack on the Factory commenced—does not know whether the Gang assembled in Morley’s Barn or not; they were all in the Street [going] down to the Factory when he [arrived]—Towle knows none of the Loughbro’ men; but understood that Badder had been over to Loughbro’ to settle the [business] with some of Heathcoate’s hands & collect money & that all Lacey’s hands subscribed—Knows one Pounder a Lace hand of Heathcoates by sight, understood he was there, but did not see him—Saw Mitchell, Savage, Slater, Peter Green, two Blackburns, Hill, Amos Crowder, Wm. Towle, a man who goes by the name of Sheepshead Joe & a man who has been a Soldier & goes by the name of the Dragoon, neither of whose real names he knows—all these persons came the neighbourhood of Nottm—Slater carried an Axe—As the party entered the Gates of the Factory a large Dog barked—He (Towle) fired his Pistol at the Dog—That they made their way to the Casting house where the Factory Watch was.—He was not one of the Foremost of the Gang at entering the Casting house—A Pistol went off in the Casting House before he entered—that when he entered three or four men were lying in a heap under the Workbench with their faces close to the Ground & two of the Gang he does not know which standing guard & pointing their Pistols at them—He went on with the greater part of the Gang into the Ground floor or Setting up Shop and from thence up the Stairs to the next Story but positively declares he never went up to the top Shop at all—Says he saw Mitchell with a Gun and fixed Bayonet in his hand & that Slater has told him with while in Gaol that the Witnesses had mistaken Joss (meaning Mitchell) for him (Towle) as it was Joss that went first up the Staircase with the Gun and Bayonet, Towle says he thinks Slater said it was the Dragoon that went up next with 2 Pistols; Slater himself with his Axe was the third—Towle thinks it must have been one of the Blackburns that fired the Pistol in the Casting house & wounded Asher as he heard some of the Gang on their road home saying they should have nobody to thank but Blackburn if any of them got hanged—Some of the Gang wanted to carry the two fire locks that they found at the Factory home with them but that others said it might cause them to be discovered—one of the Firelocks was thrown into a Pond that is close to the Factory he cannot say whereabouts but he heard it all into the Water—Sheepshead Joe guided the party on their return from over the fields by Garrington Park—the other Firelock was thrown away somewhere in the fields—they crossed the Derby Road & made the best of their way, some walking some running to Aram’s ferry—The persons above named & 2 or 3 more besides himself crossed the Trent in Aram’s Boat—He heard one of the Gang (he thinks Savage) say the Boatman was to have 10 [shillings] to hold his Tongue—On getting out of the Boat he saw Morris (a Butcher of Chilwell) & another man waiting for the Boat, Morris could not know him as he had a handkerchief all over his face—He knows Morris.—He, Mitchell, Wm. Towle and one other, he is not sure which stopped for some refreshment at Chilwell at the house of a man who married Wm. Towle’s Sister does not know his name, after they had had some ale, they all set off together on their way home—that he being tired and lame owing to a pair of tight shoes which had pinched him the whole Journey, the other 3 outwalked him, which caused it to be alone when Barnes met him—Says he is sure Barnes must know Mitchell as well as he knew him, but that there is not a Police officer in Nottm that dare bring Mitchell into trouble as he is so great a favorite amongst the Luddites—That the Police Officer who appeared at Leicester Assizes to give evidence for Slater is connected with the Luddites; that one Lowater is an advice man among the Luddites—that Gladwin of New Basford is a thief but not a Luddite—that he and Lowater make it their business to loiter about the Police Office & to dodge the officers at public Houses & Buzz them with false tales—Towle is quite sure that if the Police Officers of Nottm chose they might detect the Luddites very shortly but that they know that if Ludding were put down there would be no occasion for so many of them—Says that they consider Barnes as their greatest enemy & he thinks he will be murdered, says that the conversation, which was overheard in Gaol between Slater, Badder & himself was misunderstood it was not as reported "We must remember the old Barn & get them out please God we get at liberty again" it was "We must remember old Barnes & get him out."—Says that Mitchell and Savage [appeared] to be the head men of the Loughbro’ Job—believes that Savage had been over to Loughbro’ as well as Badder to settle about it—the gang came in separate small parties into the neighbourhood of Loughbro’ in the course of the day preceding the Attack—Some came by the Coaches from Nottm—others took a large circuit and came into Loughbro’ on the Leicester side to avoid suspicion; heard some of them say that they had waited till dark at Needleys Inn which the public House about a mile out of Loughbro’ on the Leicester Road—Says Mitchell has been a leading man among the Luddites ever since the Ludding Business began which is about 5 years ago—that Slater & Savage have also been old hands at it—Believes that Slater has broke more frames in his time than any man in the County of Nottm—that if the hammer which was produced in Court could speak he would tell horrible tales—Slater told him in Gaol he thought he broke more than 20 of Heathcoates machines himself—that a worse man than Slater cannot exist—that he talks with the greatest pleasure of ale the mischief he has ever done and, Towle said "If you 2 Gentlemen who have never kept bad company could hear how Slater goes on in his talk it would make your hair stand on an end, he neither fears God nor Devil"—A few days before the Loughbro’ Job took place Mitchell & Towle went together to one Diggle a young man about 3 or 4 & 20 years of age then living at Basford to get him to join in the Job—Towle thinks Hill, went with them but is not sure—Diggle refused to join them saying he would have nothing more to do with them as they had only paid half what they had promised for the Radford Job—On taking leave and shaking hands with Mr. Mundy immediately before he was turned off Towle said "I have not told you a word of a lie it would be of no use to me now"—

The following is what Mr. Pochin has related to Mr. Mundy as substance of what has fallen from Towle, in various conversations he has had with him in addition to the above.—Mr. Pochin has Memorandums of it in writing with which he has promised to furnish Mr. Mundy.—

Towle never took an oath of secrecy or indeed of any kind nor ever heard of any being made use of among the Gang—that they have no particular fund of money for that when any Job is intended or wanted for any purpose—It is collected among the Stockingers or Lace hands who happen to be in work at the time, that the sum required of each is so small it is never refused—the Frames would be sure to be soon broken if it were refused—they have no Depot of Arms that many of the Gang have a Pistol or 2 concealed in their houses & that when a Job is intended they borrow them of each other—He believes Savage bought a Brace of Pistols at Derby on purpose for the Loughbro’ Job—He knows of no persons in the higher ranks of life that are connected with them—That when any Job is intended 3 or 4 of the principal people go about to collect hands for it among those who they know to be well inclined to Ludding—Mr. P. understood him to say that tho’ Badder had had a great hand in planning the Loughbro’ Job he was not himself at it—Towle said that it was the Dragoon that fired so random in the Street at Loughbro’—thinks Sheepshead Joe has lived at Lambley no long time since—as the Gang returned from Loughbro’ towards Aram’s ferry they passed a man in a white smock Frock with a Cart—Some of the Gang abused him & threatened to shoot him—this is the only person besides Morris the Butcher of Chilwell and his man that Towle remembers Meeting—Says that there are plenty of people in & about Nottm that know of their goings on that some are friendly towards them & others are afraid to speak—That generally speaking the Hosiers & master Manufacturers are so much disliked among the Common people that they would sooner see their property destroyed than not—That if any of the Stockeners are suspected of not being friendly to the Luddites they take every means of injuring them & plaguing them by destroying their Potatoe and Onion Beds in the night cutting up their Gooseberry & Currant bushes (in the night) if they have any and soforth—A very handsome Powder Flask was taken from Heathcoate’s Factory—Mr. P. has a [memorandum] of who took it—he could not recollect the name of the man who took it but will inform Mr. Mundy—Towle says that the Luddites have had no hand in any thing that he knows of beyond destroying Machinery—that he has heard some of them talk about going to London to alter the Government but considered this as random talk.—

Towle died penitent & seemed to have a right sense of religion, & bitterly regretted he had not availed himself of the opportunity offered him of making these discoveries in time to save his life—acknowledged that he had been a very bad one but thought that Mitchell, Slater & Savage were worse—thinks they never will be quiet till they get hanged, seemed to pride himself in the idea that tho’ he had been a Luddite he had never been a thief—Strongly suspected that Badder saved himself by having given some information against him.—He refused to see [several] people from Nottm & Basford who came to seem on the morning the execution & the day previous—Lowater among the rest—who called several times & was extremely pressing to see him—Towle would converse with nobody but Mr. Pochin & Mr. Mundy;—was removed from the Gaol to the new House of Correction where the Execution drop by night at his own request thinking it would agitate his mind to pass through the Crowd that would be assembled if he were removed by daylight & seemed very anxious that the removal of his body to Basford & his funeral should be as private & as quiet as possible—His great anxiety seemed to be about the future fate of his wife & Children & was very anxious that they should go to reside with his mother & expressed great gratitude towards the High Sheriff & the Gaoler for the treatment he had experienced since his condemnation adding that his long [imprisonment] had been of great service in bringing his mind to the calm state of Resignation it was in & of which he frequently spoke with the greatest comfort & satisfaction—the crowd was immense, some say 20,000, but Mr. C. Mundy thinks there were not more than 10,000—The Troop of the 15th Huzzars that are quartered at Leicester were ordered to remain in readiness at their Stables but the Civil power were alone present at the Execution—Every thing was perfectly quiet & orderly—He declined making any address to the Spectators.—

This document can be found at HO 40/9/4.

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