Peel Street circa 1900



Ottiwells Terrace, at the bottom of Binn Road, commemorates the site of Ottiwell's Mill.

Its owner, William Horsfall, had barricaded his mill and mounted a cannon to deter Luddites, but he was murdered by them on Crosland Moor in 1812, on his way home from Huddersfield.

Luddites in Marsden

Who were the Luddites? | The Luddites in Marsden | The Luddite myth | Trials at York
'The road from York to Huddersfield' | Letters to Joseph Radcliffe

Who were the Luddites?

The Luddites were an organised group of workers in the textile industry, who destroyed the machinery that was taking their livelihoods. The movement began in 1811 in Nottinghamshire, and quickly spread to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

The movement was believed to have been founded by Ned Ludd, but he was never identified, and may well be mythical. Some authorities claim his surname to be Ludlam.
The movement was dedicated to destroying machinery, not people

Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, instigated severe measures, culminating in a mass trial at York in 1813. This resulted in executions and transportations against the Luddites

The Luddites in Marsden

Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, food was scarce and unemployment was high. James and Enoch Taylor, two brothers who were smiths in Marsden, developed and made a cropping machine that could do the work of 10 hand-croppers. The mill owners in the Marsden area were installing these machines. Enoch Taylor also made sledgehammers, which were called "Enochs", so the Luddites would quip, "Enoch made them, and Enoch shall break them."

Apparently, the law-abiding menfolk of Marsden were stirred to riot by "desperate men of Longroyd Bridge!" The first riot was at the scene of William Horsfall's mill, which had been fortified.

The leader of the Marsden Luddites was George Mellor. He could read and write, and while in prison signed a petition calling for Parliamentary reform. He worked at John Wood's finishing shop at Longroyd Bridge, along with Benjamin Walker, who, according to some, was to betray them eventually. New documentary evidence, however, seems to suggest that this may not be altogether true.

Regular troops and cavalry were brought in and quartered in the village.

The Luddite Myth

The word 'luddite' has come to be used to describe a mindless opposition to change, particularly technological change. However, this is something of a myth. There is no record, for example, of them opposing the new canal in Marsden, nor of any threat to the Taylors' workshop, which made the new machines.. All the violence was against machines in mills, and there appears to have been an element of radical, even revolutionary, political thought in the movement. To lose one's livelihood would mean poverty and starvation, smashing machines carried the death penalty, and trade union activities were illegal. With this in mind, the luddite response seems neither mindless nor unfocussed.

Trials at York

This extract from her book, On the Trail of the Luddites is included here by kind permission of the author, Lesley Kipling. More detailed analysis of the evidence appears in the book.

The Special Commission appointed to try the Luddites opened at York on the 2nd January 1813. More than sixty men awaited trial in York Castle on a variety of charges and all were to be tried as Luddites, though many of them had no connection with the movement. This was not to be a demonstration of justice so much as a "Show Trial", by means of which the government intended to warn any other would-be groups of insurrectionists of the penalties to be faced. Various facts support this argument:

  1. Plans for the trials had begun in May, 1812 but by mid-September it had been decided to fpostpone them so as not to risk any acquittals or lack of evidence;

  2. Judge Bailey, who had, presided over the trials of the Nottinghamshire Luddites without giviQg any death sentences, had offered his services and could not understand why he was turned down. At the end of October Radcliffe wrote to Fitzwilliam:-- "But pray exclude Judge Bailey from the Commission. His decisions at the last Assizes gave great encouragement to the Luds, who look on him as their friend." The Authorities wanted a "Hanging Judge"!

  3. More than thirty of those held in York Castle were never brought to trial -- they were either discharged without trial or discharged on bail to appear again when called for, which they never were. This was ostensibly an act of clemency, but the truth was the government knew there was insufficient evidence against them (despite the fact that they almost certainly had as much evidence against them as they had against the men who were tried and sentenced). Many of those whose trials were held over claimed damages against the government for wrongful arrest and the like. The government's advisers told them it would be better to pay up rather than risk having some of the informers subjected to public scrutiny again, no matter what evidence they might have. By the end of January public opinion had altered too much to risk further trials.

  4. The alibis for the defence seem to have been totally ignored in most cases, no matter how many .witnesses they had to suppor[ them. As Frank Peel later wrote:--"The Jury seem to have heard them and then to have dismissed the evidence given in their support entirely from their minds, apparently as unworthy of investigation. If they really thought the witnesses in support of these alibis were not to be believed and that they deliberately conspired to deceive the court, they ought to have been proceeded against."