Thursday, 22 December 2011

22nd December 1811: William Milnes writes of the Luddite system in South Derbyshire

Ashover 22nd. Dec. 1811
Right Honble Sir

I am extremely sorry to inform you that the Stocking frame breaking system which has caused so much alarm and disturbance in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, has extended its baneful effects, into this Neighbourhood, at Pentridge about six miles from hence

A Person of the name of Topham, has had frames distroyed to the amount of £500, the whole of his property, at Wessington, they distroyed at two Houses 1 frame each, and took money for preservation of the [illegible]—on Monday two men came to this place who called them selves inspectors from the Committee they went to every stockingers house and discharged them from working under such prices as they gave them a list of and said they they should come again in a few days and in case any of them were found working without having a ticket from their Masters saying that he was willing to give the price stated in their list—They should break these frames. They summoned all the Stockingers about 12 or 14 in number of Master Men to a Publick House with as much consequence and as if they had a mandate from the Prince Regent. When they got them thither all I can learn at present, was for for the purpose of collecting money from them for the support of the families who where deprived of getting their bread by having their Frames broken—Where they found a frame worked by a person who had not served a regular apprenticeship, or by a woman, they discharged them from working and if they promised to do so, they stuck a paper upon the frame with these words written upon it “let this Frame stand, the colts removed”—Colt is the Name given to all those who have not served a regular apprenticeship—there is no military at Chesterfield, we are therefore doing all we can to protect ourselves, & neighbor by the civil power. Mr. Jebb has been here to day and swore in upwards of 40 stout young Men as Special constables—We are all upon the alert for we have some bad men who are stockingers among us & we are determined if possible to be a match for them. I am afraid their intentions are evil and that some are concerned whose designs are so awful as to require great vigilance to detect.

I hope in my next I shall have to say that all is become peaceable and quiet & remain

Sir: Your most obedient & faithful Humble servant

Willm. Milnes

The Right Honourable Sir Joseph Banks Bart. K.B.
Soho Square, London

On Christmas Day 1811, the recipient of this letter, Sir Joseph Banks, enclosed this letter with a note to the Home Office. Banks was the famous naturalist and botanist who took part in Captain Cook's first voyage and was a founder of the Royal Academy. Milnes was the manager of his Estate at Overton Hall, near Ashover, in Derbyshire.

It's not clear from the letter whether Milnes is referring to the activities of Luddites at Pentrich at the beginning of December, or if this is later activity which has not been recorded before. It's also unclear whether Milnes is referring to Pentrich as "this place", rather than Ashover or Wessington, both of which locations are a fair distance from frame-breaking activity in South Derbyshire. The system of displaying notes on frames is reminiscent of the aftermath of the Luddites first visit to Pentrich earlier in the month. Given that Milnes was Banks' Estate manager, we can assume that in his closeted and privileged existence, this was the first he had heard of Derbyshire Luddism, and he is referring to this attack.

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