MAN VERSUS MACHINE – THE LUDDITES OF WEST YORKSHIRE – BICENTENARY 1812-2012

“On his entering the room, he appeared to us raw and ignorant; with such apparent self-condemnation in his countenance, we thought we had not before witnessed; as if he felt himself an outcast, and thought a mark of infamy was set upon him; newly-clad as we supposed from the money he had recently received; as the reward of his having discovered his accomplices in the murder, for which they had suffered. “

This quote from the diary of the ReverendThomas Shillitoe, a Quaker who visited the families of men executed and arrested for Luddite activities in 1812 refers to his encounter with Benjamin Walker, the man who, having saved his own life through turning King’s Evidence against his fellow murderers of the textile manufacturer,William Horsfall, had to live with the consequence of his actions.  Evidence suggests he never received his “blood money” and was reduced to a life of beggary.

The Luddites were mainly croppers, a small and highly skilled group of cloth finishers, who, at a time of the worst trade depression since the1760s, facing deepening poverty, rising wheat prices and food scarcity, turned their anger on the new cropping machine which they feared would put them out of work.  The violent events of1812, lead to a string of executions at York in January1813.

Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker 1814

'Costume of Yorkshire' by George Walker

 WYAS is one of the partners in the Luddite Link partnership which provides a gateway to information and resources about the Luddite movement in West Yorkshire.  Throughout 2012 there will be commemorative events by the partners, and up-to-date information about all these exciting activities will be found at http://ludditelink.org.uk/and http://www.archives.wyjs.org.uk

WYAS has produced a major display to mark the bicentenary.  It focuses on various themes including the response of the local people in authority, such as SirJoseph Radcliffeand the Reverend Hammond Roberson, key Luddite figures such as the informant, Benjamin Walker, and the personal suffering undergone by the widows and children of Luddites.

Thomas Shillitoe, Quaker and supporter of the widows and children of executed Luddites

 The display will be at various venues throughout the year, beginning at Huddersfield Library, Halifax Central Library and the Red House Museum, Gomersal in April and WYAS staff will also be attending other Luddite link events in 2012 including a day school on 12 May 2012 organised by the University of Huddersfield with talks by ten speakers on a range of Luddite topics.

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