Luddites in Huddersfield and Spen Valley, West Riding of Yorkshire  















LUDDITES in Huddersfield and Spen Valley, West Riding of Yorkshire

The term ‘Luddite’ was given to groups of workers in the Textile Industry who attacked and destroyed machines they felt were threatening their jobs. The name Luddite came from groups of frame knitters in Nottinghamshire who sent threatening letters to Masters, signing them "Ned Lud" or "General Lud"

The Luddite disturbances took place in 1812 and 1813 in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. In West Yorkshire the two main centres of Luddite activity were around Huddersfield and the Spen Valley. In these areas the workers involved were mainly croppers. These were highly skilled workers who were employed in the Cloth Finishing Process. Their skill meant that they could make or mar the finished piece of cloth.

In 1812, as the economic plight of textile workers worsened, the outbreaks of machine breaking in textile areas took hold, resulting in the presence of the militia in some areas, notably Huddersfield.

Most of the raids were small scale, well organised and highly successful - aimed mainly against small clothiers who had installed Cropping Frames on their premises. Care was taken to destroy only the frames and not to harm the Masters themselves.

In the Huddersfield area, Luddite attacks during February, March and April 1812 took place at the premises of:

    • Joseph Hirst's cropping shop at Marsh

    • James Balderstone at Crosland Moor

    • Sam Swallow and William Cotton at Linthwaite

    • George Roberts of South Crosland

    • John Garner of Honley

    • Clement Dyson of Lockwood

    • Three workshops in the Holme Valley including one at Snowgate Head

The attacks, which had started as small scale, began to get more violent.   The escalation in the scale of damage caused, began with an attack on 15 March 1812 on the premises of the hated Francis VICKERMAN of Taylor Hill, Huddersfield.   Francis VICKERMAN was a member of the newly formed Manufactures committee against the Luddites.  Here, there was much more general damage, windows were smashed, shots were fired indiscriminately and there had been attempts to start a fire.

Previously Luddites had often asked for keys of workshops instead of breaking in and said ‘goodnight’ afterwards with politeness. Vickerman's Mill was an exception because of the hatred of the man.  See the newspaper report of the attack.             

    • Fosters Mill at Horbury. This was said to involve 300 men
    • Rawfolds Mill in the Spen Valley was the scene of a major attack, which involved the militia. There was a twenty minute exchange of fire with the mill's defenders and the death of two Luddites.   See the newspaper report.
    • William Cartwright, owner of the above Rawfolds Mill, was shot in Bradley Wood.   
    • William Horsfall, owner of Ottiwells Mill at Marsden was shot and fatally wounded at Crosland Moor whilst returning home from the market in Huddersfield.   See the newspaper report of the attack.

Following the murder of William Horsfall a large reward was offered for information. This appears to have been successful, as arrests shortly followed.

It is thought that the informers could have included Joseph MELLOR, KINDER, DURRANCE or Francis VICKERMAN jnr (nephew of the Francis VICKERMAN attacked on 15 March).

Reportedly, there was an anonymous letter signed "V" (possibly VICKERMAN?) giving the names of four men supposedly involved in the murder.   Francis VICKERMAN jnr was not called as witnesses at the murder trial, seemingly the only one of the apprentices in the same Finishing Shop not to be called.

There were strong feelings in the area about the trial. Many people being of the opinion that not all the men on trial were guilty and that 1 or more of the real culprits were not charged

In January 1813, 17 men were hanged at York (only 3 of them for murder) and 7 men were transported.   George MELLOR, William THORPE and Thomas SMITH were sent to the gallows 36 hours after conviction.   This meant that there was no time for an appeal.

Below are links to newspaper reports published in 1812:

Contemporary Newspaper reports 
Attack on Francis

Attack on


For far more details about Luddite activities in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, try the following sources:


Liberty or Death, Radicals, Republicans & Luddites, 1793-1823 by Allan Brooke & Lesley Kipling

On the Trail of the Luddites, by Lesley Kipling and Nick Hall

Land of Lost Content: The Luddite Revolt, 1812, by Robert Reid 1986.