Tuesday, 6 December 2011

5th December 1811: Frame-breaking at Ilkeston - anatomy of a Luddite attack

In the early hours of Friday the 6th December, Derbyshire Luddites again attacked frames at Ilkeston. Amongst their targets that night were the workshops of Thomas and Christopher Harrison.

At 1 a.m., 30 to 40 Luddites, their faces disguised with cloth masks or handkerchiefs, broke into the workshop of Thomas Harrison. One of the Luddites stood guard outside armed with a musket with a bayonet attached. The frames were broken in the shop itself, with Thomas Harrison staying in his bedroom during the attack. Five frames from his shop were destroyed before the Luddites left and moved on into the village. The group returned after 15 minutes, with one of them ordering a halt near Harrison's house. They then formed into ranks and marched off in a military fashion.

Elsewhere in Ilkeston, Christopher Harrison could not sleep. Following the attacks in Ilkeston on the 1st December, he was afraid his stocking frames would be next, and had already removed several in case of attack. At about 2 a.m. he was peering through a window in his house when his fears were realised - he saw 30 men gathered outside his house, with raised voices they threatened to kill anyone who opposed them. This was enough for Christopher - he opened another window and jumped down, making his way to a vantage point where he could watch what took place in safety. The Luddites had posted guards outside the house, and then began to smash the two remaining stocking frames that were there. But the Luddites seemed to know he had taken some of his frames away, and they threatened a girl present in his house with violence unless she revealed where the frames had been taken. In the end, the threats were empty, and they left without hurting anyone.

This account has been compiled from the depositions of Thomas & Christopher Harrison which are at HO 42/117. Given the different times stated in these accounts, it's not clear whether either at least two different groups of Luddites were at work that night, or that the Harrisons were mistaken as to the precise time. It is also strange that the anonymous girl mentioned in Christopher Harrison's deposition is not named and that she has not given her own deposition, or even what her relationship is to Harrison. It's entirely possible that Harrison has created this part of the raid himself, in order to make the action of the Luddites that night a felony (frame-breaking itself was not yet a capital offence).

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