The following article contains extracts of the minutes of various meetings of the Todmorden & Walsden Overseers of the Poor, taken from a transcription of notes made circa 1894 by James Whitehead. These notes were transcribed by Betty Savage, March 1980, and we are greatly indebted to her.



In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was made, requiring all townships to merge with neighbouring towns to form a larger group, to be known as a Union. This was the first real attempt to reform the old Poor Law Act, which had been in existence since 1601.

The 1834 Act required Todmorden & Walsden to join with Stansfield, Langfield, Heptonstall, Wadsworth, and Erringden to form the Todmorden Union. The Union was to be run by a Board of Guardians who would organise the erection of a large workhouse. All applicants for financial relief would be sent automatically to the workhouse and "out relief" would be discontinued. The Government saw this as a way of discouraging claims on the basis that the workhouses would be less than basic and very austere places to live.

In 1837 the Todmorden Union was formed and the first meeting of the Board of Guardians was held at the Golden Lion in Todmorden on 15th February. Mr. John Crossley of Scaitcliffe chaired the meeting and James Stansfield was elected as clerk and superintendent registrar, posts he held until his death in 1874. At the meeting, the representatives from Todmorden & Walsden and Langfield refused to comply with the law and refused to elect members to the Board of Guardians. They said they would have nothing to do with the Union and would continue to administer their own "out relief" as they had always done. They determined they would continue to raise taxes from the folk of Todmorden & Walsden and Langfield, and would look after their own poor.

The ordinary townsfolk disliked the interference from the Government. The new Union workhouses were regarded as prisons and the treatment of the poor was regarded as harsh and degrading. A group of people opposed to the new laws got together under the name of the Todmorden Working Men's Association and declared its intention to fight for a repeal of the Act. They held public meetings and organised demonstrations and boycotts of shops and businesses belonging to those known to support the law.

The Overseers of Todmorden and Walsden were determined not to comply with the orders of the new Poor Law Commissioners, and issued a notice to all Ratepayers of the township:

Notice to the Ratepayers of Todmorden and Walsden


The Overseers of the above township, having made no return of Guardians under the new Poor Law, particularly desire the ratepayers to meet them in the Old Church Todmorden on Monday next the 2nd day of April at 2 o'clock in the afternoon for the purpose of expressing their approbation or disapprobation of the Overseers' proceedings.


Also for the purpose of considering and fixing upon proper persons and methods for making out a Poor Rate as directed by the new Parochial Assessment Act or otherwise, and for any other business relating to the affairs of the township.

Todmorden 30th March 1838

William Crossley

William Robinson

John Shackleton


Todmorden 2nd April 1838

At a meeting held this day pursuant to the foregoing notice, Mr. William Robinson in the chair. It was resolved:


First: That this meeting approves of the conduct of the overseers of this Township in not making any returns of Guardians under the new Poor Law Assessment Act, and the Ratepayers hereby undertake to indemnify the said Overseers in any proceedings which may be taken against them for such conduct.


Second: That this meeting approves of and hereby confirms the determination come to by a meeting of ratepayers and other inhabitants of this township held on 15th February 1837 when the following were unanimously adopted:

•  That this meeting views with alarm the attempt now making by the Commissioners under the Poor Law Amendment Act to introduce a change in the management of the affairs of this township, destruction of that self-government that we have had handed down to us by our forefathers, and which we feel it to be our duty as well as our interest to maintain.


•  That the Poor Law Amendment Act is, at least in one of its parts, an unconstitutional and coercive measure. This, we find from reports of the debates, was declared over and over again by many distinguished lawyers during the discussions on it when it was passing through the House of Commons. Amongst that number are Sir J. Scarlett, now Lord Abingdon, since made a Judge of the land, Mr. Godson, Mr. Jarvis, and a long list of men learned in the law.

•  That we have committed no breach of the law in this township; that we have had no riots nor disturbance amongst us; that we have pursued our daily avocations in peace and quietness; that we have paid all demands on us, public and parochial; that we are willing to continue to do so, if we may be allowed without sacrificing our rights and liberties, but if we be required to surrender these and to live under a despotism consisting of three Commissioners to whom we owe no allegiance and whose rules, regulations and orders, if obeyed, would take the control of our Parish affairs out of our own hands, that if we be required to do this, then we say resistance to such an attempt is not only a virtue but a duty and to shrink from such resistance would be a crime.

•  That we are well satisfied with the management of our own affairs in this township and that we pledge ourselves individually and collectively to resist any foreign interference with the management thereof; and we are resolved that we will not be united to any other township in the manner proposed by the projected Union of the Poor Law Commissioners.


•  That we will make no return of Guardians to constitute any machinery for such a purpose; that we will pay no rates to any Overseer acting for any Union if one should, in opposition to our wishes, be formed; and that we will indemnify our Church Wardens and Overseers from any penalties inflicted on them, for acting in obedience to our instructions in opposing the introduction of the Poor Law Amendment Act in this township.


•  That although we are resolved to make this stand for the maintenance our rights and liberties against the attempt now making by the Poor Law Commissioners to wrest from us the control we have hitherto exercised in relieving our own poor; to place those poor, whom we love and respect and who have been guilty of no crime, in a Workhouse and under a discipline and restraint more intolerable than is allotted to felons in a gaol; yet we feel it is to be our duty and our highest pleasure to acknowledge the Constitution of King, Lords and Commons and to obey any laws directly emanating from them.

Third: That a committee be appointed to make out a new assessment for this township in the manner directed by the new Parochial Assessment Act; that the following persons, together with the Overseers and Church Wardens do constitute such a committee of whom any five with a majority of the Overseers and Church Wardens shall form a quorum:


John Crossley esq. of Scaitcliffe

John Barker of Barewise Mill

John Fielden esq. M.P. of Dawson Weir

John Buckley of Todmorden

James Taylor esq. of Todmorden Hall

Thomas Ramsbottom of Centre Vale

Thomas Bottomley of Spring Mill

John Haigh of Pastureside

William Greenwood of Watty Place

Robert Law of Ramsden Clough

John Stansfield of Ewood

John Fielden of Clough Mill

Joshua Fielden of Waterside

William Helliwell of Friths Mill

John Barker of Edge End

Charles Chambers of Todmorden

William Scholfield of Todmorden

William Greenwood, grocer of Todmorden

John Ratcliffe of Woodfield

Jonathan Uttley of Todmorden Edge

Abraham Ormerod of Gorpley Mill

Reuben Haigh of Moorcock

Abraham Scholfield of Knowl Top

John Marland jnr. of Walsden

John Stansfield of Moorhey

James Howarth of Royal George, Todmorden

John Fielden, Member of Parliament and Todmorden mill owner, wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper:

July 2nd 1838

".......the object is to stop outdoor relief to the able bodied, and that the strict workhouse principle requires that all members of a family claiming relief should enter the workhouse and give up their property for the benefit of the Parish. To enter a workhouse the family must submit to workhouse discipline. Each individual must put on workhouse dress, and the husband must be separated from his wife, both from their children, and the female children separated from the male children.."

John Fielden 1784-1849


The Poor Law Commissioners responded to this opposition by taking steps to take over the administration on 6th. July 1838. John Fielden immediately threatened to close all his several mills on that day, which would put his 3000 employees and their dependants into the position of having to claim relief, thereby severely clogging up the system. The Commissioners called his bluff, and John Fielden was obliged to re-open his mills 10 days later.

The incomplete Board of Guardians arranged its first meeting for July 6th 1838, the date the Poor Law Commissioners were to take over the administration. John Fielden and many other notables of the time showed their objections to the Union by staging a demonstration at the same time and outside the place where the Board planned to meet. The Board held an emergency meeting the previous evening at the White Hart when it was resolved :

" consequence of the very large concourse of persons likely to assemble tomorrow at the anti-poor law meeting to be held near Woodmill, and threats of violence uttered by persons, that the meeting not be held. The Guardians are willing to bring the law into operation if they can receive adequate protection, civil and military; and request further information from the Poor Law Board on the subject."


Local Magistrates drafted in Cavalry and Special Constables to restore order. Resistance to the law continued throughout the year and a troop of Infantry was stationed permanently in the town to restrict the intimidation and boycotts.

The Board of Guardians did eventually meet, and settled a tax rate from the people of Todmorden & Walsden of £50 and from Langfield £20. The Overseers of Todmorden & Walsden and Langfield were instructed not to raise this money and not to comply with the orders from the Board of Guardians. This is how they did it:

Notice to the Ratepayers of the township of Todmorden and Walsden

An order, of which the following is a copy, has been received by the Overseers of the above township:


Todmorden Union

To the Overseers of the township of Todmorden and Walsden

You are hereby authorised and directed to pay to Mr. Thomas E. Boyd, manager of the Commercial Bank of England, Todmorden, on the 9th day of August next, at the White Hart Inn, Todmorden the sum of fifty pounds from the Poor Rates of the said township towards the relief of the poor thereof, and towards defraying such proportion of the general expenses of the Union as is lawfully chargeable on the said township, and you shall take the receipt of the said Thomas E. Boyd for the said sum of £50 given under our hands at a meeting of the Guardians of the said Union, held on Friday the 27th day of July 1838.

James Taylor - Presiding Chairman

John Foster jnr. - Guardian

John Riley - Guardian.


In consequence of receiving the above order from the Board of Guardians, the Overseers request that the Ratepayers meet them in the Old Church Todmorden on Saturday next the 4th day of August at 7 o'clock in the evening precisely for the purpose of determining whether the said order shall or shall not be complied with. The Overseers, as the servants of the township, consider themselves bound to act in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the Ratepayers and they particularly desire that all the Ratepayers will attend.

Todmorden July 3rd 1838

William Crossley

William Robinson

John Shackleton



Todmorden 4th August 1838


At a meeting held pursuant to the above notice, it was resolved that the Overseers be directed not to comply with the order of the Board of Guardians referred to in the above notice and that the Ratepayers now present do indemnify the Overseers for so doing.

William Robinson, Chairman.

Signed by the following Ratepayers:


Thomas Lord

Abraham Greenwood

Barker Greenwood

James Uttley

John Ratcliffe

John Crabtree

John Southwell

John Stansfield

John Whitehead

Thomas Dawson

Robert Sutcliffe

William Dawson

James Scholfield

Robert Law

John Barker

John Howarth

Joseph Brook

Joshua Fielden

John Sutcliffe

Enoch Fielden

Samuel Howarth

William Crowther

William Marshall

Joshua Cudworth

John Dawson

James Greenwood

James Greenwood

David Mitchell

James Mills

James Dawson

John Webster

Philip Crowther

Stott Sutcliffe

John Holt

James Barker

William Greenwood

James Lord

John Fielden

John Mills

James Stephenson

Thomas Greenwood

William Crowther

James Fielden

John Greenwood

George Taylor

William Greenwood

James Gibson

James Newell

Jonathan Uttley

William Haigh

John Marland jnr

Daniel Ogden

John Greenwood

Joseph Hurst

Joshua West

John Crowther

William Stansfield

William Helliwell

Thomas Fielden

Ely Greenwood

James Howarth

Thomas Sutcliffe

William Law

Samuel Fielden

William Chadwick

Abraham Mills

Joseph Stell

Samuel Crabtree

Thomas Unsworth

Abraham Barker

Jabesh Butterworth

Stephen Nuttall

Samuel Bentley

Joseph Eastwood

Robert Law

Thomas Hartley

Ellis Hollows

Abraham Taylor

James Jackson

Henry Helliwell

Edmund Farrow

James Horsfall

William Greenwood

Thomas Law

John Farrow

Henry Ramsbottom

John Greenwood

John Hindle

William Farrow

James Travis

Abraham Clegg

John Laycock

William Slater

James Farrow

William Scholfield

Thomas Holt

John Fielden

William Fielden

John Haigh

Benjamin Crowther

Jeremiah Howarth

James Howarth

James Sutcliffe

Thomas Beasley

Thomas Stansfield

James Horsfall

James Fletcher

William Southwell

William Stansfield

John Fielden

Samuel Fielden jnr.

Zachariah Heyworth

James Greenwood

John Webster

James Dawson

Joseph Hurst

Ely Crossley

George Davies

James Fielden

Major Rothwell

William Fielden

Matthew Wilson

George Widdup

George Cockcroft

Abraham Barker

Gibson Cockcroft

Robert Walmesley

John Ashworth

John Holt

James Brown

William Taylor

Joseph Knowles

William Normanton

James Cheetham

Thomas Wilson

Samuel Simpson

James Fielden

William Mitchell

John Orrell

Benjamin Watson

Peter Bentley

William Cunliffe



Notice to the Ratepayers of Todmorden and Walsden

A meeting of the Ratepayers of the above township will be held in the Old Church Todmorden on Saturday next the 17th November at 6 o'clock in the evening precisely for the purpose of determining and directing what measures shall be taken by the Overseer in consequence of the fines which have been imposed on them by the Magistrates for refusing to obey the orders of the Guardians for the payment to their Treasurer of the several sums specified in their warrant. And also for the Ratepayers to advise the Overseers what course shall be taken with parties who refuse to pay their rates. It is particularly requested that all Ratepayers shall attend.

William Crossley

William Robinson

John Shackleton

Todmorden 12th November 1838



Todmorden November 17th 1838


At a meeting of the Ratepayers held this day pursuant to the above notice, it was resolved:

1. That the Ratepayers of Todmorden and Walsden are thankful to the Overseers for the perseverance and manhood with which they have hitherto resisted the demands of the so-called Board of Guardians of the Todmorden Union.

2. That the undersigned Ratepayers, desirous of seeing the validity of the Board stated, cordially approve of an appeal from the convictions that have taken place to some tribunal in which the test can be applied.

3. That should it be the intention of the Overseers to appeal to some higher court against the convictions obtained from the Magistrates, we the undersigned ratepayers pledge ourselves to support them with the necessary pecuniary means, and to pay in proportion to the amount of our respective rates.

4. That the Overseers be directed to summons all Ratepayers who refuse to pay their rates before the Magistrates.

5. That this book with the proceedings and resolutions of the meeting as now entered be taken to every Ratepayer in the township for the purpose of giving all who approve of them an opportunity of signing.

William Robinson, Chairman


Over 1000 signatures of Todmorden and Walden folk were collected. These are transcribed and include names, occupations and addresses.



So, the Overseers of Todmorden & Walsden were supported by a vast number of people of the township in their decision not to hand over £50 to the Union and to continue to care for their own poor as they had done successfully for centuries.

Likewise, Mr. William Ingham, the Overseer of Langfield, was similarly supported. He refused to hand over the £20 supposedly due from the township of Langfield. He was summonsed to appear before the Magistrates for this, and was personally fined £5. He refused to pay the fine.





The story is best told by reproducing the newspaper articles written at the time.


November 24th 1838


The attempts to enforce the introduction of the new Poor Law Bill into the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire continue to keep these districts in a state of excitement the most alarming….

.…On Friday the hitherto peaceful town of Todmorden was plunged into a scene of riot and disturbance of the most serious description, in consequence of the inhabitants, through their overseers, refusing to contribute their share towards the newly formed Poor Law Union.

From the accounts we have received from the latter place, it appears that some time since the overseers of Langfield, Todmorden, Walsden and Lee, were fined by the bench of Magistrates for refusing to pay a certain sum of money, which was proved to have been regularly demanded, in support of the Union of that district. The overseers would not pay, on the plea that they were utterly unable to collect one farthing, so strenuously opposed were the inhabitants to the new law. The Guardians of the Union, however, were determined to extract the money from the overseers, leaving it to the latter to seek their own remedy, and on Friday last warrants were issued by the Magistrates and placed in the hands of proper officers to distrain upon the goods and chattels of the said overseers.


William Ingham's house in Mankinholes

The first place chosen by the constables to levy was the house of Mr. William Ingham, the overseer of the township of Langfield near Todmorden, into which they entered, having brought with them a horse and cart to convey away the goods.


No sooner did the people of Todmorden and neighbourhood hear of what was going on, than they congregated in great numbers in front of Mr. Ingham's house, threatening vengeance upon the two unfortunate limbs of the law engaged in the distraint.

They threatened to burn down the house of Mr. Ingham unless he turned out the two bailiffs and handed them over to the tender mercies of the mob. The cart which the unfortunate men had brought with them was broken to atoms, piled in a heap, and set fire to, and the harness cut to ribands.

Mr. Ingham from his house attempted to address the mob, begging them to spare the men’s lives, which, after considerable tumult, they consented to, providing that Mr. Ingham instantly turned them out

William Ingham's house from the road


Upon an assurance that the bailiffs should receive no bodily injury, Mr. Ingham turned them out. The mob immediately proceeded to strip them naked, and in that state they were suffered to depart, followed by the mob with hootings and horrid imprecations. At this moment, the Board of Guardians of the Union was holding a meeting at the Crown Inn at Woodmill. To this place the mob repaired and broke every window in the inn, the Guardians having to make their escape from the back of the premises in the best way they could. A meeting of Magistrates was immediately summoned when it was resolved to send for the military from Blackburn and Manchester. Detachments of infantry were soon upon the spot, but on their arrival the mob dispersed. The military are still in the town, but no further attempts at riot have been made. A Whig paper (The Manchester Guardian of Wednesday) gives the following account of the disturbances:

On the afternoon of Friday last the township of Langfield near Todmorden became the scene of a very gross outrage on the persons of two officers, sent from Halifax, to carry into effect a precept of the law on the property of an overseer. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the above day, two stout and respectably dressed persons were observed proceeding in a one-horse cart, with reins, in the direction from Halifax and towards Woodmill, about a mile and a quarter from Todmorden. On arriving at a turning in the road, they took the direction of Mankinholes, the residence of Mr. W. Ingham, assistant overseer for the township of Langfield, whose house they entered, leaving the horse and cart in the front yard.

They soon made known to Mr. Ingham that their business was to seize his household furniture, by authority of a distraint warrant for the penalty of £5 awarded by the Magistrates of Halifax, for neglecting to comply with an order of the Board of Guardians. Mr. Ingham still being unable or unwilling to pay, they proceeded to levy on his goods, when a handbell was heard to ring outside of the house. A number of people were very soon upon the spot, and their numbers quickly increased; the alarm spreading in every part of the valley and upon the hills where a number of men were at work for the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company; they flew from their employ, as well as the hands of four or five cotton mills and in a short time the house was surrounded by a multitude of many hundreds of persons of both sexes.

Meantime some person had turned the horse towards the main road and set it off; and one of the constables ventured out of the house to bring it back, which he succeeded in, after following it the greater part of a mile towards Todmorden. On approaching the house, which he seemed to have summoned a desperate resolution to effect, the cart was seized and thrown over in a minute, the horse falling between the shafts and the man beside it. He still retained his hold, when one person took up a stone and dashed it with force upon his breast. He recovered his feet, and fortunately made his escape to the house without receiving any serious injury. The gearing of the horse was then cut and it was turned into a field, whilst the cart was smashed and broken by picks, and afterwards it was set on fire and entirely consumed.

It had now become almost dark, and the situation of the two constables in the house assumed every moment an appearance of greater peril; they begged to be allowed to go away without personal harm. They represented to those with whom they could occasionally interchange expressions that it was an unpleasant duty forced upon them, and tendered their promise not to be again so employed, if suffered to return without harm in this instance. The mob would listen no parley: they at length demanded that the men should be turned out of the house; and, their request not being promptly complied with, stones were thrown, several windows were broken, and further violence was threatened, when at length the door was opened, and the unfortunate men walked into the crowd, which seemed ready to tear them to pieces.

They proceeded towards Woodmill, at which place, at the Crown Inn, the Guardians were sitting; but had not gone far, ere every vestige of apparel contributing to decency was torn from their backs, and they literally ran the gauntlet naked, except their stockings, through a continuous crowd, which hooted, pelted, and inflicted on them indignities which are not fit for description.

The mob now collected in front of the Public House, and one of the Guardians, Mr. Royston Oliver, endeavoured to address and reason with them, but his efforts were in vain, and it was not without difficulty that the crowd were prevented from laying hold of him, and dragging him out. The windows were, however, smashed, after which the mob slowly dispersed, and, on the arrival of the 8 o’clock coach for Halifax, the two constables (who had to a degree re-clothed) returned by it to that town. Nothing further had occurred on Monday. The constables, being strangers, could not name individual offenders, many of whom also are supposed to be strangers working on the railway.




Thursday evening November 22nd.


A further demonstration of the feeling with which the Poor Law is received in the village of Todmorden and its neighbourhood was manifested yesterday. A report had got into circulation that a posse of constables, supported by military, would in the afternoon seize the goods of Mr. Ingham, the overseer of Langfield, in execution of the process referred to in our report of that transaction on the Friday previous.

A number of persons consequently assembled at the spot, and on the eminences commanding views of the scene of expected operations. The report proved to be incorrect, for neither constables nor military came in site.

The crowd being, however, collected, and probably disappointed in not having something to do, turned their attention to other employment, and wheeled round to the premises of Messrs. Samuel and Royston Oliver at Wood Mills, the latter being a Guardian for the township of Langfield. These houses they broke into and sacked, breaking all the windows and doors, and making a wreck of the greater part of the furniture.

The mob then proceeded rapidly through Todmorden and up to Dules, or Devil’s Gate (as the pass to Bacup is called), to Friths Mill, where they ransacked the house of Mr. William Helliwell, another of the Guardians, and broke his windows, doors and furniture in a similar manner.

Mr. Helliwell was entertaining a party of friends, all of whom fled precipitately, and the house was entered and furniture broken as at the other places. Mrs. Helliwell begged them to spare a clock because it was her mother’s, but her entreaties were of no avail. This might be about half past five in the evening.

William Helliwell's house and mill at Friths.

Reconstruction drawing of the original by

kind permission of the widow

of Lawrence Greenwood


Abraham Ormerod's house at Stoneswood

From Mr. Helliwell’s they went to Stoneswood and enacted similar outrages at the residence of Mr. Abraham Ormerod, who has also the misfortune to be a Guardian. They found instruments of destruction here in the iron palisades, with which they smashed in the panels of the doors.


The dwellings of Messrs. Greenwood and Bros. at Water-place (Watty) was next visited with similar results.

The mob then went to the shop of one Ann Holt, a provisions dealer, who had rendered herself obnoxious, it would seem, by her frequent and warm advocacy of the new Poor Law. All the windows of her shop were broken, and a quantity of her goods was injured and destroyed.

Mr. Oliver, a surgeon, the Registrar of Births and Deaths, and brother to Mr. Royston Oliver, next received their attentions. His house and shop were broken in to and sacked as the others had been; his bottles and vials were smashed, and his medicines thrown into the street.

A more important object was then visited, for passing along the street the rioters fell upon the residence of Mr. James Taylor, which is known as Todmorden Hall.

This is a venerable stone mansion, situate in a shrubbery on the left of the road from Rochdale. Mr. Taylor, who is a grandson of the celebrated Whitworth doctor, is a Magistrate and of course a Guardian ex officio. This place the mob completely surrounded, smashed nearly every one of the numerous windows, and hewed the door with sharp instruments, apparently shovels, which they found in the garden house.

Todmorden Hall

Entering the dining room by the window, every article of costly and splendid furniture it contained was shivered; all the numerous family portraits, except one, were cut with knives and irrevocably destroyed, and the fragments of furniture being piled in a heap were set fire to, and the mob then retired. The servants fortunately entered the room as the mob left it, and a few buckets of water being applied the fire was extinguished without doing serious damage. Mr. Taylor was at Liverpool, and the elder Mrs. Taylor, the children and the servants only were at home. The instruments of destruction, as is evident from those left in the house, were large clubs, stems, roots, and gnarled branches of trees with great pieces of rock, apparently walling stones.
A garden shovel was thrown through the laundry window; the handle was broken, probably with hewing at the back door. Another shovel, with the handle bloody, was hurled through the window of the library on the second floor. A large stone was deposited on one of the shelves beside the books, and several large clubs were left on the floor.

A more humble individual next experienced the vengeance of the lawless multitude. Mr. James Suthers of Toad Lane, a beer shop keeper and collector of rates under the Guardians was served as his neighbours had been.


Hence they went to Hare Hill, the residence of Mr. James Greenwood, where they broke every thing, making a complete wreck of the splendid furniture; they threw some of the silver plate into the brook, and finished by setting fire to the house, which would have been certainly destroyed had not the neighbours flocked in when the mob left and vigorously applied water to the flames; this was not effected, however, without difficulty, and not until the principal staircase had been destroyed.

Hare Hill House


Henry Atkinson, a shoemaker in the village of Todmorden, was next assailed. His shutters and windows were dealt with as others had been. Here they were addressed by Mr. Robinson of The Stones, one of the overseers who had resisted the Poor Law Commissioners and Guardians. He represented to them the folly of destroying property, which the country would have to make good, and requested them to desist and go to their houses. They said as it was he who gave the advice, he should be obeyed, and they immediately broke up and dispersed.

In a very short time afterwards, a troop of the 5th Light Dragoons from Burnley entered the village at a smart trot; there was then no enemy to encounter. This was about half past seven o’clock. The Dragoons were followed by two companies of the 86th Foot, also from Burnley, and on the arrival of the latter the cavalry returned. On Thursday a Bench of six Magistrates assembled at the Buck Inn and swore in about 110 special constables. At that time all was quiet in the village and neighbourhood.



A party of the 5th Light Dragoons from Burnley under the command of Captain Bolton took up quarters in the town this morning. A troop of the 3rd Dragoon Guards from Manchester occupied the village of Littleborough on Thursday night, and last night additional cavalry, with two pieces of artillery, marched into Rochdale.

(One of these soldiers was Lance Sergeant Anthony Hodgins, an Irishman. He arrived in Todmorden with the rest of the party at 7.30pm on 22nd November 1838. Whilst billeted in the town he met and fell in love with 21 year old Ann Stansfield. In April of the following year they eloped and married at Halifax Parish Church. After the end of his army career they settled in Todmorden. They had seven children.)

At Todmorden the working population were perfectly peaceable. The Magistrates, seven in number, met at the Buck and took depositions.

The mob on Wednesday was composed apparently of factory hands; no stonemasons or excavators were noticed amongst them. About a couple of hundred boys preceded the main body, and as usual commenced the mischief. The mob of the previous Friday was differently composed, of which more will probably be said next week.

In no instance, so far as has come to our knowledge, did they attempt to inflict personal injury; in no instance did they consume liquors, nor is anything said as to their having stolen articles of value as plate etc.

At several places they made free with eatables, and at Hare Hill, the residence of Mr. James Greenwood, they took a quantity of preserves, with beef, cheese, and other substantial articles of food. At this place the configuration was most perilous; they set fire to a closet under the stairs in the servants’ hall, and the whole of the smashed furniture was ignited in the middle of the floor, so that the room was in a strong blaze, and a few more minutes would have been sufficient to render the building irrecoverable.

Miss Greenwood acted with great spirit and presence of mind, and the bearing of Mr. Greenwood was courageous, but too rash.


Hare Hill House

A man made a blow at some valuable furniture with a heavy bludgeon; he missed his aim, and Mr. Greenwood struck him with an iron rake on the back of his head, and afterwards on the shoulder. The mob called to turn him out, but he maintained his position at the foot of the stairs, after having placed his sister and the servants in the cellar, and his mother and another lady in one of the bedrooms.

At Mr. William Greenwood’s of Water-place, (Watty) the rioters called out “Halt!” and the boys, who went in front, deliberately armed themselves with bludgeons from some timber near at hand. They then attacked the house, and demolished every window about the place, and most of the furniture.

Watty House





About 150 special constables, who had been sworn in on Thursday, assembled at the White Hart and shortly afterwards, supported by parties of the military, infantry and cavalry, with several Magistrates, they proceeded to Lumbutts near Mankinholes, where the outrage on the two Halifax constables was perpetrated, and there surrounded the High Mill of Messrs. Fielden and Brothers.

Some of the Halifax police and special constables entered the mill and took prisoners, near 40 men and youths whom they found at work, and against whom information had been laid for the riots of 16th and 21st inst. The prisoners were escorted back to Todmorden, where two of the men were identified as having been concerned in the attack on Todmorden Hall, and 14 in the riot at Mankinholes on the Friday previous. The former were sent off immediately, under escort of cavalry, to the New Bailey at Manchester, preparatory to their transmission to Kirkdale; the latter 14 were similarly dispatched to York for trial at the next assizes.

The Magistrates were Messrs. Ralph, Waterhouse and Briggs of Halifax, Royds of Rochdale, and Crossley and Taylor of Todmorden. On the evidence against the prisoners being concluded, Mr. John Fielden, who had some time before entered the room, offered bail for the whole of his workmen. He asked by what authority the constables and military had entered his mill? Mr. Royds said: “for the purpose of apprehending rioters, Mr. Fielden.” Mr. Fielden then said he tendered bail for the whole of his men. Mr. Royds said that would depend on whether the Magistrates chose to accept it. Eventually, they declined, and the men were committed.

On Saturday it was remarked that but few men were to be seen in the streets of Todmorden, the spectators were chiefly women and girls. On Sunday a great number of strangers visited the place to view the devastation the rioters had made. It was rumoured, and not without authority, that the Guardians intend now to resign, but nothing decisive had at that time taken place.

(The names of the arrested men are not recorded in The Times. However, the two men sent to the New Bailey in Manchester were George Turner and William Lord. Details of their trial are below. The 14 men taken to York were as follows:)


William Crabtree (aged 17)

John Crabtree (19)

Abraham Crabtree (25)

John Fielden (22)

Joseph Gaukroger (27)

Thomas Greenwood (22)

James Kershaw (25)

James Kershaw (52)

Gibson Lord (17)

Jeremiah Sutcliffe (18)

Joseph Taylor (25)

Enoch Thomas (32)

John Uttley (24)

John Walton (28)







George Turner and William Lord were indicted for having, on 21st November last, at Todmorden, with divers other persons riotously assembled and begun to pull down the house of William Helliwell, and also a certain mill of the said William Helliwell.

Mr. Sergeant Atcherley and Mr. Brandt conducted the prosecution: Mr. Adolphus, Mr. Bliss and Mr. Blair defended Lord, and Mr. Dundas and Mr. Cobbett defended Turner.

It appeared from the evidence of Mr. Helliwell that the neighbourhood had been formed into a Poor Law Union, which was very unpopular there. On the 21st November a large mob of persons assembled, but after a time dispersed. About 30 persons assembled a second time, who smashed his windows, broke the iron rails in front of his house, and the panels out of the front door. There was a great deal of shouting; stones and sticks flew about in all directions, and his wife and children were in great alarm.

James Greenwood deposed that after the mob left Helliwell’s they went to a Mr. Bacup’s, whose house they treated as they had done Helliwell’s. They then proceeded to witness’s brother’s, where they broke the rails down and windows, and injured the mill. Witness then went to his house at Harehill and ordered the house to be secured. He put the family in the cellar for safety. They demolished the doors and windows, broke in, and set the kitchen, breakfast room and staircase on fire. Some cried “Bring him out; bring him out! Kill him; he’s a Bastille chap!”

Eli Crossley: He was bringing his children home from school. Hearing the mob he hastened to get them in the house. He saw Lord and Turner in the mob. He had known Turner a long time; they went to school together. Lord he had known about 6 months. He was called “Silly Billy”, he could not tell why.

Richard Chambers: Is a stationer in Todmorden. Saw the mob. 500 people went to Helliwell’s. He observed Turner in the middle of the crowd carrying a large stick. Lord was walking on the causeway, but not in the crowd. The mob went on to Mr. Fielden’s house.

Several other witnesses spoke to the violence of the mob, and to the presence of the prisoners, particularly of Turner.

Mr. Adolphus addressed the jury for Lord, and called some witnesses who spoke to his being quietly at home as soon as he could get there, and that his presence with the mob was involuntary, he not concurring in their transactions.

Mr. Dundas addressed the jury for Turner. Lord was acquitted and Turner found Guilty. Sentence deferred.


Meanwhile, the 14 men sent to York for trial were joined by a further 3 alleged insurgents; William Barrett, John Helliwell and Arthur Lowden. Mr. John Fielden's offer to bail these men was initially refused, although they were eventually granted bail in January 1839. The men were tried at York on 21st March 1839 and all 17 were bound over.

Following the riots, the government sent a group to investigate whether John Fielden had incited, encouraged or supported the rioters. They failed to find anyone willing to testify against him and his case was dropped. In the end, only one man was imprisoned and the Magistrate commented that he felt others were more responsible for the riots than those in the dock. This was a veiled reference to John Fielden's role in the affair.

The Board of Guardians could not operate successfully without representation from Todmorden & Walsden and Langfield. This fact, together with the fear aroused by the violence of the riots and the intimidation of the supporters of the law, led them to go along with the rebels. They agreed to continue  with the old system of poor relief and abandon any idea of building a Union Workhouse.

The Overseers continued to collect their own Poor Levy and to distribute it as "out relief" as before. No-one was sent to any workhouse if they had somewhere to live, and life continued as before. The townships made use of 3 small Poorhouses at Gauxholme, Stansfield and Wadsworth for those who had no-where else to live.

On 31 March 1843, the two townships appointed their first Guardians as Relieving Officers and Collectors. Thomas Heyworth aged 49 of Woodhouse and John Sutcliffe aged 45 of Underbank were elected as Relieving Officers, and Richard Ingham aged 54 of Haugh, Langfield, was elected as Poor Rate Collector for Langfield.

Todmorden and Langfield townships were so vehement in their opposition to the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act that in 1844 the Todmorden Union was allowed to abandon the requirement to provide a workhouse. However, the two townships still refused to join the Union and only after 40 years did this opposition cease.