Saturday, 21 April 2012

21st April 1812: Attack on Burton's Mill at Middleton - Day 2

After the disorder and resulting slaughter that had taken place at Middleton in the daytime on Monday, in the evening the crowd had not just gone home quietly. The Leeds Mercury reported that "Monday night was occupied with rallying ... scattered forces and obtaining an accession of strength".

Samuel Bamford proceeded early to his job in Manchester, thereby missing what was to come.

Early on Tuesday 21st, the crowds had gathered again, only this time they were out in greater numbers. They had been augmented by a large number of Colliers from Hollinwood and Saddleworth, some of whom were carrying shotguns, and most of whom had brought their pickaxes. At 10.00 a.m. that morning, these men had called at the arms depot of the Oldham Local Militia, with the Adjutant William Chippindale had again anticipated an assault on the building, and although the crowd collected there had looked like they would mount an assault, they again changed their minds and instead looted gun powder from nearby shops, before proceeding to Middleton. Others with them carried all kinds of weapons, even scythes mounted on poles.

Scouting parties had detected the presence of the military at Burton's mill and whilst a presence was kept up outside it, other tactics were employed. The houses of some of those workers who had decided to side with Burton and against their class the previous day, and were not at home now, had their houses plundered of furniture, which was then piled up in the streets and set alight. Bamford said that "In this manner the furniture of one cottage at Back-o'th'-brow, and that of two others at the Club houses was destroyed." The Colliers from Oldham and Hollinwood used their tools to destroy the end wall of one such house, and we know the names of three of Burton's assassins whose homes were attacked: Benjamin Cooke, James Kay and Edward Taylor. The Colliers were next called away to nearby Rhodes to help out with another plan about to be implemented.

Emanuel Burton's house, a mansion called Park House at Parkfield, had been abandoned by the family after the happenings of the previous day. At 1.00 p.m, a crowd of 200 people proceeded to comprehensively loot it, as Bamford describes:
"the mob immediately ransacked the cellars and larder, the younger ones crunching lumps of loaf sugar or licking out preserve jars, whilst the older hands tapped the beer barrels and the spirit bottles, or devoured the choice but substantial morsels of the pantry or store-room. This part of the business having been accomplished, the work of destruction commenced, and nearly every article of furniture was irretrievably broken."

Bamford goes on to describe how, inside the house, two "dark-haired and handsomely formed" "Amazonian damsels" called Clem and Nan, apparently the daughters of an old weaver who lived on the outskirts, then escalated the matter:
"Come," said one to the other, “let's put a finish to this job,” and taking up a shred which lay on the floor, she lighted it at the fire which had been left burning in the grate. In a moment the sofa was on fire; the sofa set the curtains in a blaze, and sofa and curtains communicated the flames to the floor and window, and at the expiration of probably half an hour not a beam nor a board remained unconsumed in the whole building.

The Lancaster Gazette later stated the damage to be around £2000, which included the barn and stables (a week later, the Hereford Journal raised this to £3000). The crowd waited until the roof had fallen in and then proceeded another quarter of a mile. They had the same fate in mind for the home of Daniel Burton, at nearby Rhodes, and demanded meat and drink from those in the house. Apparently, they spent 90 minutes eating and drinking, and managed to consume 2 barrels of ale kept in the house.The crowd gathered around it was eventually dispersed by the returned Scots Greys, who Colonel Clay at Manchester had dispatched at about 2.00 p.m., and no damage was done.

It seemed that in certain parts of Manchester, word had got out about Middleton, and some were prepared to lend a hand. Colonel Fletcher's spy John Bent, reported that he had heard that the same afternoon, up to 427 mainly Irish workers in the Boardman Square district, many armed with pistols and swords, were prepared to head to Middleton, but were held back by their 'leaders'.

Both William Chippindale and the Lieutenant Colonel John Lees of the Oldham Local Militia went on to recount to the Home Office other activities apparently being conducted in Middleton that day. They described how a number of "revolutionary Jacobins" were about town wherever there were large numbers of people as well as in all the public houses. They were equipped with large ruled sheets of paper, at the top of which was an illegal oath, and they were collecting names of those who wished to take part in a rising against government on the 4th May. However it is hard to find these accounts convincing, especially as they seem motivated to procure military aid fearing similar occurences in Oldham as had taken place in Middleton and other towns.

Colonel Clay later reported to the Home Office that the crowd outside Burton's mill
quickly dispersed upon the appearance of the Scots Greys, but many took up positions on higher ground as well as in the Church Yard, and those with firearms proceeded to fire on the military. After apparently having three vollies of shots directed at them in this way the Cumberland Militia set about returning fire, killing several people. The Greys then proceeded to "clear every point they occupied", killing and wounding even more. Samuel Bamford again described some of the victims and how they died:
"A man named John Nield, from Oldham, was shot through the body by one of the Greys whilst attempting to escape near Alkrington Hall; another man was shot by one of the Greys, and left for dead, near Tonge Lane; a woman, also, who was looking through her own window, was fired at by another of the same party, and a bullet went through her arm. But a Serjeant of the Militia earned deathless execration by shooting an old man, named Johnson, from Oldham. Johnson had never been nearer to the mob or the factory than the Church public house, where he had sat in the kitchen with the family, and had smoked his pipe and drunk a glass or two of ale. Towards evening, when it was supposed that all the disturbance was over, he strolled into the churchyard, and was standing with his hands in his coat pockets, reading the inscription on a grave-stone at the steeple end, when a Serjeant and private of the Militia, having ascended the Warren, caught sight of him from mongst the trees; the Serjeant went down on one knee, levelled, fired, and killed the old man dead, the ball passing through his neck."

The Leeds Mercury said that in addition to these deaths, "a great number" were wounded. William Chippindale attested that "the country about Middleton is strewed with killed and wounded." 17 people were arrested.

By 6.00 p.m. the crowds had dispersed.

Heading home from Manchester, Samuel Bamford described what he saw "individuals on the road who were returning to Manchester with fragments of picture frames and mahogany goods in their hands."

It is hard to establish the true number of dead. A week later, the Times said that the toll was 12 dead and between 60-100 wounded. This is unsurprising given another statistic quoted in the same paper - that between 2000-3000 rounds of ammunition had been fired by the military.

But is possible to piece together other names of the dead and statistics about them which seem to have been missed from the most regularly referred to works. The Morning Chronicle of 28th April adds Thomas Jackson, 20 year-old a hatter from Oldham and John Johnson, a joiner.

The Chronicle also adds a weaver called John Sudwell of Ratcliff (i.e. Radcliffe), but this may be the same man named by Bamford, if spelled slightly differently (Bamford has John Siddall of Radcliffe Bridge). The same publicaton also has a Daniel Knott from Oldham, rather than Bamford's David Knott, a 21 year-old glazier. Again, it could be a different man. The Chronicle also informs us that the George Albison mentioned by Bamford was called Albinson, a 19 year-old weaver.

Regarding the wounded, the Chronicle reported that a week later, the only person who could be "ascertained with certainty" was a weaver called James Taylor, son of an Abraham Taylor of Oldham, and that he was believed to be mortally wounded at that time. But this contrasts with the Times dramatic figures, likely to be true given the number of rounds of ammunition fired. The Derby Mercury of 30th April had 27 wounded, 9 of them 'very severely'.

On the 29th April, the Hereford Journal reported that "a number of dead bodies had been found in the adjoining woods" (Prentice says that 2 were found there), and gave a new death toll of between 25 and 30 people. All of this was after the Coroner's inquest, which took place only a day after the second attack of the Mill, on Wednesday 22nd April and found that the slaughter was 'justifiable homicide'.

Writing at 11.00 p.m. on the 21st, Colonel Clay reported to the Home Office that "none of the military were hurt". Given the toll exacted on the people of Middleton, one can only add more's the pity.

The next day, the Burton's issued a notice: "D. Burton and Sons have determined not to work their looms any more."

And so the objective of the weavers at Middleton was achieved, but not without further cost. Burton dismissed 400 workers, many of whom subsequently left the town within a few days.

It is ironic that when we think of Luddism, the tragedy of the 2 dead men (and possibly a further 3) at Rawfolds in West Yorkshire always springs to mind. But what occurred at Middleton over those 2 days was of an order of magnitude that is, by contrast, almost quietly forgotten.

The Leeds Mercury of 25th April engaged in classic Liberal hand-wringing, despairing:
"For many years the military of this country have been solely employed against our foreign enemies; but now, unfortunately, they are under the necessity of acting against their own misled countrymen, and the tranquility of the country is only imperfectly preserved even at the point of a bayonet!"
But the lesson for the authorities would be that they had to tighten their grip on the North. Contrasted with his scaremongering tales of Jacobins on the street corners making big lists of names, William Chippindale did make one salient point:
"If more military be not sent into the country, they will not be called upon to prevent it, but will be required to reconquer it."

A number of sources were used to write this account: The Leeds Mercury of  25th April 1812; the Lancaster Gazette of 2nd May, 13th & 20th June 1812; the Morning Chronicle of 28th April 1812, and the times of the same date; the Hereford Journal of 29th April 1812; the Derby Mercury of 30th April 1812; Prentice (1851); Bamford (1893); W Chippindale to J Chippindale 21st April 1812, and Chippindale to Fletcher of 23rd April 1812 which can both be found at HO 42/122; Colonel Clay to the Home Office of 21st April 1812 at HO 42/122; Lt-Colonel Lees to the Home Office of 23rd April 1812 at HO 42/122; Bent's report ending 23rd April 1812 at HO 40/1/1.

Readers of EP Thompson may wonder where the infamous account of the crowd bearing a Red Flag and carrying an effigy of General Ludd is in this description. The simple fact is that this does not appear, as he cites, in the Leeds Mercury of 25th April 1812. Kirkpatrick Sale and Kevin Binfield, who have both repeated this alluring description, have also cited the same publication, seemingly without checking the reference. I sincerely hope that when I eventually find time to check the Manchester newspapers accounts of Middleton, that I find it there.


  1. The Bishops Transcripts (Drm/2/239a) list from Oldham Lancashire Daniel Knott of Foglane and Joseph Jackson of Oldham, joiner, as being "shot dead at Middleton" in the April 1812 burial register. Knott is buried the 23rd and Jackson the 26th.

  2. The Bishops Transcripts (Drm/2/239a) list from Oldham Lancashire Daniel Knott of Foglane and Joseph Jackson of Oldham, joiner, as being "shot dead at Middleton" in the April 1812 burial register. Knott is buried the 23rd and Jackson the 26th.

  3. Thanks for adding your research! Please drop me a line if you want to discuss it more -