When two men’s worlds collided: the start of the Luddite revolt

The Luddite rebellion
The Luddite rebellion
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THIS month sees the 200th anniversary of the Luddite rebellion - a period in history when the destinies of two Halifax men collided in a dramatic and tragic way.

The stories of William Cartwright and Samuel Hartley have been researched by Halifax historian David Glover who has discovered that the two men came from very different backgrounds but they were both ultimately to become involved in one of history’s most turbulent episodes.

A mob attack at Rawfold’s Mill, near Liversedge in the Spen Valley on the night of April 11, 1812, was the culmination of a series of protests which had begun the previous year in Nottingham and that fateful night involved the two Halifax men, born 14 years apart.

David reveals that the Cartwright family came to Halifax from Catterick in the mid-18th Century. William Cartwright was born and baptised in Halifax in 1774.

“His father John was a well-to-do man, a mercer and woollen-draper,” adds David.

“The Hartleys had been local for some generations, and Samuel Hartley was born about 1788. His father, also called Samuel was a cloth-dresser, who had married Elizabeth (Betty) Dean at Halifax Parish Church in 1770.”

“The families could never have known how their destinies would become so intermingled and what the outcome would be,” he says.

In the early months of 1811, the first threatening letters from “General Ned Ludd” were sent to employers in Nottingham. Workers, upset by wage reductions and the use of unapprenticed workmen, began to break into factories at night to destroy the new machines that the employers were using.

“In a three-week period more than 200 stocking-frames were destroyed,” explains David.

He adds that Luddism gradually spread to Yorkshire and other areas. In the West Riding, croppers - a small and highly-skilled group of cloth finishers - turned their anger on the new shearing frames that they feared would put them out of business.

As a result, one of the most serious Luddite attacks against a mill operating the new machinery, took place at Rawfolds Mill, near Liversedge.

In 1812, William Cartwright moved from Halifax to occupy the Mill at Rawfolds.

“The Mill itself had been built by Benjamin Broadley, around 1774,” says David.

“Cartwright was a manufacturer or, more accurately, a cloth finisher. He began the use of shearing frames at Rawfolds and his large establishment was the only one of its kind in the surrounding area, which was populated with small cropping shops, employing three or four croppers who used hand-shears. To each of these men, Cartwright’s arrival caused great hardship, and threatened to put them out of work.”

The attack on Rawfolds was actually planned in Halifax, he explains - at the old Crispin Inn, at Smithy Stake. It was led by George Mellor, a young cropper from Huddersfield.

“The men arranged to meet at the Dumb Steeple, near Kirklees Park. Cartwright was suspecting trouble and arranged for the mill to be protected by armed guards. The Luddites failed in their attempt to force entry, being repelled with gunfire, and by the time they left, two of the croppers had been mortally wounded,” says David.

One of those injured was Samuel Hartley who had formerly been employed by Cartwright.

“Samuel was described as a fine-looking single man aged 24,” says David.

“He was a private in the Halifax Local Militia, of which regiment his former employer Cartwright had until recently been a captain.”

In the Rawfolds attack, Hartley received a shot in his left breast, which, passing through his body, had lodged beneath the skin at the left shoulder.

“A doctor managed to remove the bullet, along with a portion of bone but it was to prove fatal. Hartley languished until about three o’clock on the Monday morning, when he died.”

His body was brought back to Halifax for burial in the graveyard of the South Parade Wesleyan Chapel. A huge number of working people joined Hartley’s cortege, each wearing white crepe arm-bands, which aroused panic amongst the local establishment, and extra constables were sent to keep order.

The Wesleyan minister, the Rev Jabez Bunting, agreed to permit Hartley’s burial in the chapel graveyard (where his mother was buried), but would not conduct the funeral service, ordering a junior colleague to do so.

“This displeased the huge crowds who had gathered, many of whom could not gain access to the chapel,” says David, who adds that Hartley’s family tombstone was eventually moved to Stoney Royd, when the contents of the graveyard were moved there - with all the monuments - in the 1880s.

Meanwhile, William Cartwright prospered at Rawfolds.

“He did return to Halifax on occasion and his daughter, Sarah, was buried in the Parish Church on September 18, 1825. William’s own mother Mary was also to be buried here in January 1830, while Cartwright himself was buried at Liversedge in 1839.”

David adds that the arrest and prosecution of the Luddites led to the trials of many local men at York early the following year. Five from Halifax were hanged, and some transported to the colonies.

Sir Joseph Radcliffe, JP led the prosecution of the Luddites and was awarded with a baronetcy for his zealousness. Although he lived chiefly at Milnsbridge House, Huddersfield, he spent some time in Halifax and his wife was an eventual heiress of the Sunderland family, originally of High Sunderland and Coley Hall.