Monday, 21 May 2012

21st May 1812: Captain Francis Raynes encounters Luddites assembling near Mottram at night

Captain Francis Raynes was an officer in the Stirlingshire Militia, a Regiment which had recently been sent into the North from their quarters at Deal in Kent. After being briefly based in the Luddite heartlands of Loughborough and Derby, the Regiment was sent first to Macclesfield, and then onto Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire. Raynes was sent with a company of up to 80 men to the nearby village of Mottram-in-Longdendale in Cheshire, which had seen disturbances and machine-breaking in the area in the third week of April.

Upon his arrival, he was approached by the 'principal gentlemen' - mill owners and manufacturers - who all wanted military protection lest their properties be attacked again. Raynes agreed to post guards at the various factories and mills

Raynes was soon receiving reports that Luddites were assembling on the hills between Stalybridge Mottram each night, holding meetings and even drilling. On Thursday 21st May 1812, he was told by George Hadfield, the well-to-do owner of the Old Hall at Mottram, that 'hundreds' of men had assembled on the hills behind his house the previous evening, many of them armed, and that at one point a gun had been fired.

Raynes and his men had been patrolling in a different location that night, and so had missed the assembly. Someone told him that he and his men were being continually watched, and that scouts were reporting their location, aiding the Luddites in avoiding the Militia. He decided to venture out onto the moors that evening, to see what he could learn about the local Luddites, but to only take a small detachment - himself, 2 soldiers and the local curate, a Mr Lightfoot who knew the countryside and all the byeways.

Raynes' small group was on the moors between 11.00 and 12.00 p.m. He had ordered his men to conceal their weapons and 'turn their caps' to make them appear less conspicuous, and after an hour traversing the lanes about a mile and half from Mottram, they could see look-outs in the distance. Moving closer, they perceived greater numbers, but someone in the group ahead gave was aware all was not well - a signal was given, and the whole group dispersed in different directions. Raynes and his men now showed their arms, and ran in pursuit, calling out as if there were greater numbers of the Militia nearby. But Raynes soon realised that the numbers of Luddites were so great that there was now a danger that he and his men "should shortly become the pursued, instead of the pursuers". His group of 4 therefore hid in a ditch until all was quiet.

Making his report to his commanding officer the next day, he wrote that he had heard a plan was afoot for the Luddites to surprise his men in their billets and steal their arms. He also voiced suspicions that some of those enrolled under the Watch and Ward were working with the Luddites.

Shortly afterwards, his detachment would be relieved by a detachment of the Norfolk Militia under Captain Langford and called to the large military camp on Kersal Moor near Salford, but he would be sent back to Mottram again the following month.

This has been compiled from 2 letters from Raynes to his commanding officer dated 21st and 22nd May 1812, which can be found at HO 40/2/1 and Raynes (1817, pp.21-26)

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