Sunday 6 January 2013

6th January 1813: The trial of Mellor, Thorpe & Smith - Part 2: witnesses for the prosecution

After Sir Simon Le Blanc had summed up the prosecution's case, witnesses for the prosecution were then called, beginning with Joseph Armitage, the landlord of the Warren House Inn, a pub on Crosland Moor, and Horsfall’s last stop on the way home before he was shot. Armitage was examined by Mr Topping for the prosecution & was asked about the timings surrounding the matter: he stated that Horsfall had arrived at the pub at 5.45 p.m. and drank a glass of rum and water whilst still on horseback, also buying drinks for two ex-workmen. Horsfall left 20 minutes later, at 6.05 p.m., without having dismounted. At 6.30 p.m., some children brought the news that Horsfall had been shot in a plantation a quarter of a mile up the road from the pub. Armitage set off with the two workmen and found Horsfall sat by the roadside 30 yards below the plantation, bleeding heavily. They brought him back to the pub, where he died over a day later.

In cross-examination, Mr Hullock for the defence was very particular and repetitive in getting Armitage to be clear about the timings for all that happened. Armitage stated that he frequently looked at the clock throughout the day, as his customers needed to know when their horses would be ready after stopping at his pub. He fixed the time of Horsfall’s assassination as between 6.10 – 6.15 p.m.

The next witness was Henry Parr, who was examined by Mr. Holroyd for the prosecution. Parr was taking a similar journey to Horsfall and at the same time, trailing slightly behind him. He had passed the Warren House when he heard a crack from a gun coming from the plantation ahead on the left-hand side of the road, saw gun smoke and then four people in the plantation about 150 yards away. He saw Horsfall take the shot and cry out ‘murder’. One of the assassins stood up onto a wall at the edge of the plantation and Parr rode towards Horsfall, upon which he saw all four men flee. He stated that all four were dressed in dark clothing. Riding up to Horsfall, he helped to keep him in the saddle, but blood was spurting from his side, and Horsfall eventually fell from his horse. Parr left Horsfall with two boys who were at the roadside, before riding away to alert William's brother, John Horsfall, as William had requested.

Under cross-examination by Mr Williams for the defence, Parr was clear that he did not know the three accused.

When he was re-examined by the prosecution, Parr was clear that he had heard only one shot, and also went on to say that three of the men stood behind the man with the gun who made the shot.

Another witness, a clothier called Joseph Bannister, was called: he had met Parr on the road at 6.30 p.m., who explained what had happened. Bannister went forward to help, finding Horsfall at the roadside, and later stayed some time with him at the Warren House.

The next witness was Rowland Houghton, a Huddersfield surgeon who had been called to attend to Horsfall at 7.00 p.m., but did not arrive until between 8.00 and 9.00 p.m. at the Warren House. Houghton found that Horsfall had 2 wounds on the upper left thigh, 3 inches apart; another wound on the lower left side of the belly, another on the lower part of the scrotum and two more wounds on the right thigh. One of the bullets had already been extracted (by army surgeon Mason Stanhope Kenny, who was not called as a witness) before he arrived, and he removed a bullet from the inside of Horsfall’s right thigh, near to the hip joint. Houghton regarded a wound that had penetrated Horsfall on the left side had been the fatal one.

Two bullets that had been extracted were produced by the Reverend Abraham Horsfall & John Horsfall, William’s relatives, to the Court – one like a musket ball, the other had been cut and flattened.

Next, the Crown called their star witness – the accomplice Benjamin Walker. Walker was a cropper, who worked with Thomas Smith and George Mellor at John Wood’s cropping shop, with William Thorpe working for a man called Fisher close by. Walker said that after the unsuccessful attack at Rawfolds, George Mellor had said that the only way for the Luddites to succeed now would be to shoot the masters.

Walker stated that on the day of Horsfall’s assassination, he had been working at John Wood’s shop with his father John and his brother William in one part of the workshop, with Mellor and Smith in another. That between 4.00 and 5.00 p.m., Mellor approached him and asked him to go with him to shoot Horsfall, and he refused. He said he left the workshop to go for a drink for about 30 minutes, returning at 5.00 p.m. to find Mellor, James Varley, John Walker and William Hall together. He said that Mellor approached him, gave him a loaded pistol and told him he must go with him, Smith & Thorpe to shoot Horsfall. Mellor further directed him to make his way to Joseph Radcliffe’s plantation on Crosland Moor with Smith, using a direct route.

Walker said that he and Smith arrived at the plantation ten minutes before Mellor & Thorpe. He also
noticed that Mellor & Thorpe were now wearing a green and a dark-coloured top-coat respectively. He went on to say that he never went as close as 20 yards from the wall which bordered the plantation and faced the road Horsfall was travelling on – that Mellor and Thorpe were close to the wall and out of his sight from where he stood. For the prosecution, James Alan Park was careful to contend to the Jury that although Walker could not see Mellor and Thorpe, that this did not mean others, such as the witness Parr, could not see them all from his position. Walker said that Mellor told him and Smith to fire on Horsfall if he and Thorpe missed. When Horsfall was shot, they all fled, with Thorpe handing Walker his pistol and Mellor cursing the two other men for not firing. He contended that Thorpe’s pistol had been discharged and was still warm, but that he threw it down when they reached Dungeon Wood, with Mellor retrieving it. Walker said that Mellor had hurt his finger firing his overloaded pistol, and Thorpe had hurt his cheek, possibly on some branches. Walker and Smith hid their pistols in an ant-hill in the wood, and then parted company with the other two: Mellor ordered them to go towards Honley along a different route than he and Thorpe would take, and gave them 2 shillings to buy some beer.

Walker said that he and Smith went to Honley to drink in a public house, the Coach & Horses Inn. Whilst they were they, some travellers came from Huddersfield market to announce that Horsfall had been shot. Thomas Smith then started to whistle a tune, and a drunken collier in the pub got up to  dance to the tune. Walker said that he and Smith stayed at the pub until between 8.00 or 9.00 p.m. and managed to drink between 7 or 8 pints each whilst they were there. They arrived home at 10.00 p.m. that night.

The following morning, Mellor sent Joseph Sowden to bring Walker into the workshop, to join him as well as Thorpe and Smith. Mellor administered an oath to Walker, asking him to kiss a Bible at the end of it. He noticed that Mellor’s finger was bound.

Walker was then cross-examined by Mr Hullock for the defence. He was asked where he had been for the past couple of months, and revealed he had been in Manchester on Saturday 2nd January and before that in ‘safe custody’ at Chester Castle for 10 weeks. He went on to confirm some of the evidence he had just given. He also said that he had confessed to his mother and father what had happened at the plantation upon arriving home the same night, and that his mother went to Joseph Radcliffe’s 11 or 12 weeks ago to inform him: that Mellor and Thorpe had already been taken up by this time, saying that he and Mellor were taken up at the same time. He confirmed that he could not read, but had heard from Joseph Sowden that a reward of £2000 had been offered for information about the killing before he was taken up.

Walker was asked by the defence if he had sent a message to a woman named Hartley, and revealed that, whilst in custody, he sent a woman called Mary Dransfield to go to Mrs Hartley and ask her to go to a magistrate to prove he was elsewhere at the time Horsfall was shot. Walker said that Mrs Hartley had come to John Wood’s cropping shop on the evening of Horsfall’s shooting to inform them what had happened, but he now said he was not there at that time, and that Mellor had told him Hartley had come to the shop. Walker also revealed that when he first faced Joseph Radcliffe, William Hall had been a witness for his being present at John Wood’s cropping shop when Horsfall was shot.

William Hall himself was the next witness for the prosecution. He stated that on the afternoon of Horsfall’s shooting, between 4.00 and 5.00 p.m., George Mellor had approached him to borrow a pistol: this was the Russian horse pistol that Mellor had previously owned that had come into Hall’s possession. Hall took Mellor to his house, where Mellor loaded the pistol in front of him: he used two loads of powder then loaded the barrel with one bullet, then slugs that had been made from other bullets, and then another bullet. Hall was concerned about the recoil from the pistol, and Mellor confirmed he intended to shoot Horsfall with it. Hall stated that Mellor asked him to accompany him, but he refused. Hall described Mellor as wearing a bottle-green top-coat.

Hall confirmed that Mrs Hartley had brought the news about Horsfall to the workshop at 7.00 p.m. that night. Hall also said that Mellor had told him that night at bedtime that he and Thorpe had left their pistols at his cousin Joseph Mellor’s house with two apprentices, with instructions for them to give them to Joseph when he returned home. Later, Mellor also told Hall that he had hurt his finger and didn’t know if it would heal properly or not.

Hall stated that Thomas Smith had also arrived home that night and had told him he had been to Honley with Benjamin Walker after hiding their pistols in Dungeon Wood.

Hall went on to state what had occurred the following day at his workplace, John Wood’s cropping shop. That Mellor made him and others at the shop take an oath of secrecy, for all that he and others had been witness to or been told.

Hall said that On the Sunday after Horsfall had been shot, Thomas Smith asked him to go with him to find the two pistols left in Dungeon Wood, but they could not find them among the ant-hills. Two or three weeks later, Smith showed him a pistol telling him that somebody else had been out with him and they had found his pistol.

Hall said that it was not until 3 weeks after Horsfall had been shot that George Mellor had returned the Russian horse pistol to him, and that some time after that, he asked him for it back again, this time to lend out to some people at Leeds who needed arms.

Hall also contended that 2 or 3 days before he was arrested, Mellor had asked Hall if he would wear William Thorpe’s coat if he was questioned before Joseph Radcliffe, and also to state he had gone with Mellor to his cousin Joseph’s house on the night Horsfall was shot. Hall had refused.

The next prosecution witness was Joseph Sowden, another cropper who worked at John Wood’s shop. He said that Mellor and Thorpe had come into the shop at 4.30 p.m. on the day Horsfall was shot – both of them carrying pistols, and that Mellor had ordered Benjamin Walker to go home and fetch top-coats and a pistol, and that Walker left and he didn’t see him again that day. Sowden said that the next day, all four assassins had told him what had happened and then Thorpe wanted him to swear an oath – when he refused, he said Thorpe threatened him, after which he took the oath and administered it to the others in the workshop under Thorpe’s presence.

Under cross-examination by Henry Brougham for the defence - seemingly Brougham's only intervention during the whole trial - Sowden largely reconfirmed much of the evidence he had already given. But he denied Brougham’s accusations of being a secretary to any Luddite association or being a delegate to other workers’ organisations.

Benjamin Walker’s father, John Walker, was the next witness for the prosecution, but only seems to have confirmed he worked at John Wood’s cropping shop.

Martha Mellor, the wife of Joseph Mellor, George Mellor’s cousin, was called next. She stated, as she had in her original evidence to Joseph Radcliffe, that she first saw George Mellor at her home at Dungeon  Bottom at 6.15 p.m. the evening that Horsfall was shot. She said he brought with him another person she did not know and has not seen since – the trial account does not record whether she was asked to identify in Court if either Smith or Thorpe were the man, but the inference is that she did not regard either of them as the ‘stranger’. Mellor asked after Joseph, who was absent at that time, and also if Joseph needed a man to work there. Martha said they did not at that time. Mellor asked her for a handkerchief, and she gave him a black silk hanky. Mellor also asked if the man could wash himself and she agreed to this. Martha described both Mellor and the other man as wearing dark coloured top-coats, and said that they stayed for 15 minutes.

On being cross-examined by Mr Hullock for the defence, Martha was clear that her husband Joseph arrived home 30 minutes after they had left, at 7.00 p.m. She also stated that one of the apprentices and a witness that evening, Joseph Oldham, had ‘run away', a week after George Mellor was committed to York, and had not returned.

The defence appeared to have missed an opportunity to ask Martha if George Mellor had an injured finger, and if the other man had a bloody face, as some of the prosecution witnesses had contended. They also failed to underline the crucial nature of the timings in Martha’s evidence: the arrival of the two men in the house at 6.15 p.m. was at the time the prosecution stated that Horsfall was shot. Any earlier, and this would have affected the evidence of those present at John Wood’s shop; any later would affect the evidence of other prosecution witnesses that corroborated Martha’s timings.

One of Joseph Mellor’s apprentices, 17 year-old Thomas Durrance, was next. In line with the evidence he gave to Joseph Radcliffe, he stated that George Mellor and the other man, who he only ‘thought’ was like William Thorpe, came into the workshop that evening both wearing dark-coloured top coats – underneath which, George Mellor had a green coat. Mellor asked Durrance to go upstairs with him and then produced two pistols which they hid beneath some flocks of waste cotton, with Mellor swearing him to secrecy about them. However, when Durrance’s master Joseph Mellor arrived home later, he showed him the concealed pistols straight away.  He also admitted showing the other apprentices the pistols, including Francis Vickerman, another witness who was not called.

Durrance went on to state that after he had been examined by the magistrate Joseph Radcliffe last October, George Mellor gave him 5 shillings, asked him to give his fellow apprentice John Kinder half of it, and urged him to tell the truth of what had happened that evening except for the pistols, which he wanted Durrance to keep secret.

Durrance was unwilling to positively identify William Thorpe as ‘the man’ accompanying George Mellor that evening.

Questioned by one of the Judges, Durrance estimated that Joseph Mellor arrived home between an hour and 90 minutes after George Mellor and the stranger had been there, and also that he hid the pistols in an outbuilding with Joseph Mellor 2 hours after they had been hidden upstairs.

The other apprentice to Joseph Mellor that had been present that evening, 18 year-old John Kinder, also gave evidence. He saw Mellor come down the stairs with Durrance and explained to Durrance who he was. Durrance showed him the pistols after Mellor and the stranger had left, and Durrance stated that they were not loaded. Kinder also confirmed that Durrance had given him half a crown and explained what George Mellor had said about telling the truth and keeping the pistols secret.

Next to give evidence was George Mellor’s cousin, Joseph Mellor. He confirmed he had arrived home about 7.00 p.m., and that Durrance had told him about the pistols. In October, he had told the magistrate he had learned the news about Horsfall from a neighbour, William Spencer, later in the evening, and had brought the news home to his household afterwards, but Joseph doesn’t seem to have mentioned or been asked about this.

Joseph stated that when Durrance showed him the hidden pistols, he moved them to another outbuilding. In his workshop, he found a dark-coloured top-coat which had 2 bullets in the pockets, and that he also found a dark bottle-green coat behind the door, neither of which belonged to him.

Joseph went on to relate how the cropper James Varley arrived the next morning, and that he told him about the hidden pistols, and that a week later, they had gone. In the statement he gave to Radcliffe, Joseph made it clear that he strongly intimated to Varley that the pistols should be taken away after telling him where they were hidden.

A Mr Staveley, the governor of York Gaol, gave evidence that the coat George Mellor was wearing when he was brought to the York Castle after being arrested. The coat was bottle-green, and Joseph Mellor was asked to identify it – he said it was similar to the one he found in his workshop, but would not swear that it was the same one.

The prosecution then called Abraham Willey, who worked for Joseph Radcliffe. When Horsfall was shot, he was working 200 yards away in a stable behind the plantation. He heard a gunshot and went to see what was happening and observed four men running down the fields behind the plantation towards Dungeon Wood at a distance of at least 50 yards. He stated that they were wearing dark-coloured coats. A few minutes later, the two boys that had found Horsfall lying in the road – his sons – came to tell him what had happened.

The penultimate witness for the prosecution was a man called Richard Hartley who was travelling from Crosland to Lockwood via a road at the back of the plantation. He stated that he also heard the shot and then saw four men run down from the plantation and down into Dungeon Wood. He contended that he noticed the brass-ended pistol one of the men was carrying in his belt when the man vaulted a wall.

The last witness for the prosecution was Mary Robinson, the landlady of the Coach & Horses Inn at Honley that Benjamin Walker said he and Smith had gone to later in the evening. She put the time of their arrival at the pub as between 7.00 and 8.00 p.m., and they left shortly before 9.00 p.m. She remembers the man whistling and the collier dancing to the tune. Finally, she stated that her husband had asked the two men where they had come from, and they told him Longroyd Bridge,

At the conclusion of the evidence of the prosecution the Judge, Sir Simon Le Blanc, asked Mellor, Thorpe and Smith if they wished to say anything for themselves: their reply was “We leave it to our Counsel”.

This is based upon Howell (1823, pp.1009-1026) & the Leeds Mercury Extraordinary Edition of 9th January 1813.

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