Tuesday 30 July 2019

30th July 1819: The trial of Adam Wagstaff at Nottingham Summer Assizes for sending a threatening letter in the name of 'Genrall Ludd'

On Friday 30th July 1819, a 27 year old framework-knitter, Adam Wagstaff, stood trial at Nottingham Summer Assizes, accused of sending a threatening letter in the name of 'Genrall Ludd' to Richard Dennis of Greasley, Nottinghamshire, earlier that year in March. The trial is possibly the last time that offences connected with Luddism were tried in Court.

The Nottingham Review of 6th August 1819 covered the trial:

ADAM WAGSTAFF, aged 27, was placed at the bar, on a charge of having, on the 12th of March, feloniously wrote and sent a letter to Richard Dennis, signed with a fictitious name, threatening to kill and murder him, and burn his property.—To prove the charge, Mr. Denman called Richard Dennis, who stated himself to be a farmer and framework-knitter at Kimberley. Prisoner, who is a framework-knitter, lived near to him, and had worked in a frame of Dennis’s. A man of the name of George Tidy worked with him in March. It appeared from what we could collect, that Tidy had laid an information against the prisoner, under the games laws, and Wagstaff wanted Dennis to turn Tidy away; this he would not do, because he belonged to the parish, and prisoner told him he was as great a rogue as Tidy, and it should be as much as seven times out of his way. On Sunday the 14th of March, in the evening, as witness was coming into his own yard at the bottom gate, prisoner was coming to the other gate, and he saw prisoner drop a letter out of his hand upon the steps in the yard, then he ran away, witness also ran, and saw him go in at his own door, so that he was sure it was the prisoner. It was a little turned seven o’clock, darkish, but light enough for him to see him. He went into his house a good deal fluttered, and told his wife to go and see after the cows.—Cross-examined by Mr. Adams—was always sure that it was Wagstaff; he might see witness; prisoner was dressed in a light coat; what he dropped seemed to be a letter. Question—You know what Luddism means, to break frames or do any other mischief? Answer—Yes, I do; I shall carry the marks of it to my grave. Hannah Dennis, the wife of the last witness, said he came in all of a flutter and sent her to look at the cows; she took the lantern with her. As she passed the garden side, she saw a letter on the ground; upon the steps just under the gate; she read in the hovel, and then took it in, and gave it to her husband. On her cross examination she said, she kept the letter by her till three weeks ago, because Mr. Rolleston, the magistrate, was not at home, but she told the constable immediately, and yet Wagstaff did not run away. She believed it was Wagstaff’s writing, but she never saw him write any but the following words to a petition when they had their frames broken seven years ago:—“Adam Wagstaff, who heard the dreadful shrieks and horrid cries, but dare not come out.”—Francis Saxton, the deputy constable of Greasley, said that on the 15th March, having been informed of the letter, he saw Wagstaff at the Barley-mow, in Nottingham, and told him there was a serious charge against him of dropping a Ludd’s letter, upon the premises of Dennis; and he answered, “why if they don’t mind their own business about me, I shall Ludd them all.” The letter was then read, as follows:— 
Richad Denniss 
If you keep that Rouge in you house Ned shall viset you and we shall be acpt too give you A little could led and you cattle too if you dont get shoot ove him very soon and Need will set you all on Fire And you Promess Need will send them too Hell and Hall ove you too and you sheep Ned will ham string And if you don thay will send me word in the course ove of day 
March the 12 I GENRALL LUD.” 
Richard Denniss 
Mr. Adams took several legal objections. The principal one was that he carried, and did not send the letter, and it was the sending which was contemplated by the Act. The indictment also said sent “to him,” which was not made out in evidence. In Hammond’s case it was decided that carrying or delivering was not sending. He also contended, that of Wagstaff was known at the time, or intended to be known, the case was not within the Act on which the indictment was framed. The Judge directed that the case should go to the Jury. A great number of very respectable witnesses were called to his character. The Jury consulted about ten minutes, and brought in their verdict of guilty. The points argued by Mr. Adams being reserved for future consideration, sentence was deferred. 
The Chief Justice put the following question to the Jury for their determination—Whether they were of opinion, that at the time Wagstaff carried the letter, he intended that Dennis should know him, or thought he did know him? The Jury answered—He did not intend to be known, and thought he was not known.