Friday, 20 April 2012

20th April 1812: Attack on Burton's Mill at Middleton - Day 1

Between Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd of April 1812, one of the most bloody and prolonged  examples of civil insurrection in the history of the UK took place in the Lancashire town of Middleton, 5 miles from Manchester.

The focus of the raging discontent in the town over the 2 days was the mill of Daniel Burton & Sons which utilised mechanised (steam) looms. Emanuel Burton knew trouble was brewing and had armed around 40 to 50 of his employees who had taken up positions in the mill. He had apparently been drilling them in the use of firearms for weeks. Burton also had 2 field pieces in the yard of the mill, although it is not recorded that they were used.

On the Monday, towns nearby and others across the North West of England had experienced extensive food rioting. Middleton was no exception. Around 2.00 p.m. large numbers of men arrived from the surrounding districts, many armed with sticks and bludgeons, and proceeded to empty shops in the upper part of town of provisions like bread, cheese, bacon and groceries. Bamford (1893, p.245) describes this body then amalgamating and taking the turnpike road down into the main part of town to meet those already gathered there.

According to Prentice (1851, p.53) the crowds that had gathered at the bottom of Wood Street, outside the mill initially amounted to 2000 people, and were now joined by those who had conducting the rioting in the upper part of town, totalling 3000. A pistol was fired from the crowd, which seemed to be the signal for proceedings to begin. A group of boys leading the crowd began shouting and then threw stones which broke windows in the mill. The crowd joined in, and then attempts were made to try to force entry. Burton ordered his workers inside the compound to fire blank cartridges to try and scare the crowd off. About 50 blanks were discharged over 15 minutes or so, but the crowd soon realised the shots aimed at them weren't finding any kind of target. Bamford (1893, p.246) describes a cry going around the crowd "Oh! they're nobbu feyerin peawther; they darno shoot bullets" and the crowd, unintimidated, renewed their attempts to get into the mill.

Seeing this, Burton decided to use live ammunition. In the ensuing battle, at least five of the crowd were shot dead, and at least 18 injured. The crowd now began to disperse in fear, and a troop of Scots Greys and a detachment of Cumberland Militia arrived from Manchester and cleared the streets. The Greys later returned to Manchester and the Militia took up residence in the mill.

Samuel Bamford (1893, p.246) gives not only the names, ages and home towns of those shot dead, but also the locations where they fell in Middleton itself:
"Joseph Jackson, sixteen years of age, and David Knott, aged twenty, both from Oldham, were killed at the end of Chapel Street; John Siddall, of Radcliffe Bridge, aged twenty-two, was killed lower down the street; and George Albison, a young man from Rhodes, was wounded whilst going along the highway, and shortly after bled to death, there being no surgical aid promptly at hand."
Bamford, a Middletonian, arrived home from work in Manchester after the streets had been cleared and the military retired. He describes the 'agitated' minds and 'fierce denunciations' of local people against Burton and his men, contrasted with very little criticism of the food rioters. He also described his alarm and anger at his wife Jemima who, in telling him what had happened that day, admitted she had followed the crowd to the mill and watched what had occurred, and was not far from one of the men who was shot dead when he fell.

But whilst what had happened that day was extraordinary in itself, what was to occur the next day was even more so.

This has been compiled from a number of sources: the Leeds Mercury of 25th April 1812; the Lancaster Gazette of 2nd June 1812; Prentice (1851) and Bamford (1893); a letter from Colonel Clay to the Home Office of 21st April 1812 at HO 42/122.

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