On Saturday 9th January 1813, the day after George Mellor, William Thorpe & Thomas Smith had been executed, the trial commenced of several alleged Luddites who were accused of tumultuously assembling and beginning to demolish Rawfolds Mill on 11th April 1812.
The prisoners on trial were James Haigh (aged 28), Jonathan Dean (28), John Ogden (23), James Brook (26), John Brook (22), Thomas Brook (32), John Walker (31) & John Hirst (22), all of them croppers. They all pleaded Not Guilty. Mellor, Thorpe & Smith were also named in the indictment.
The Jury for this trial was as follows:
James Alan Park started the case against the prisoners for the prosecution by eulogising machinery and chiding the prisoners for their lack of patience in understanding that their actions were ‘depriving others of bread’, which was of course the charge the Luddites levelled at the likes of William Cartwright. The alternative viewpoint to that of the State and Capital was never mentioned throughout the whole trial.
Park continued to give an outline of the events of 11th April 1812 from the viewpoint of Cartwright. He then went on to introduce the principal witnesses for the Crown, starting with Joseph Sowden. Sowden had come forward when the evidence led the solicitors John Allison & John Lloyd to the workshop of John Wood, George Mellor’s employer and step-father.
Park said that Sowden contended that on the morning of the 11th April, a man called Joshua Dickinson had come to Wood’s cropping shop and a great deal of conversation ensued, and Dickinson later distributed ammunition. Arrangements were then made for the raid on Rawfolds Mill that took place later that night.
Sowden alleged that at the beginning of the year, he had heard John Walker & Jonathan Dean discuss commencing frame-breaking in the West Riding, along the same lines as the Nottinghamshire Luddites had been doing. Around this time, Sowden said he had been asked by George Mellor and Dean to join them, but said he had refused. Sowden painted a picture of Mellor and William Thorpe being the ringleaders, and commanding musket and pistol companies respectively at the Rawfolds Fight.
Park went on to discuss the prisoners in turn, beginning with James Haigh. He related how, the day after the Rawfolds Fight, Haigh had gone to Richard Tatterson, a surgeon, to have the wound in his shoulder treated, and from there went to Penistone Green to his relative, Mary Culpan, accompanied by his master, Joseph Ardron.
Park revealed Sowden had said that Jonathan Dean had been wounded in the hand at Rawfolds, as he was hitting the front door with a hatchet and had been shot at.
Sowden had also said that John Ogden was at the attack at Rawfolds, carrying a sword, which later broke in the scabbard. When the attack failed, he was alleged to have fled via Clifton with a man called Drake and another witness for the Crown, Benjamin Walker.
Another prisoner, James Brook, had talked about what had happened at Rawfolds to his neighbour and the horror of hearing John Booth and Samuel Hartley, the wounded left behind at Rawfolds, screaming from half a mile distant. The woman had gone to the authorities to tell them what Brook had said to her.
John Brook was before the Court because he had admitted to someone in conversation that he was there, and also that he had removed firearms from John Wood’s cropping shop prior to a search taking place.
Thomas Brook was before the Court because he had lost his hat in the mill pond at Rawfolds (where it was found later by a servant of William Cartwright), and on his way home later he had stopped at the house of a man called Samuel Naylor to borrow his hat from his wife. The hat was later returned.
John Walker was before the Court on the evidence of Sowden, whom he tried to recruit into the ranks of the Luddites. At Rawfolds, he was shot at, with the musket ball passing through his hat and not injuring him.
Lastly, Park stated that John Hirst had admitted to being at Rawfolds in a statement, saying that he was threatened to take part after meeting at the Dumb Steeple. He said he had made his way back to Hartshead with William Hall, another witness for the Crown.
Park went on the say that the Court may well hear from character witnesses for the prisoners, but that any tributes as to them being honest, industrious and hard-working did not mean that they had pledged allegiance and submission to lawful authority and government. He also strongly intimated that those providing alibis were liars.
Mr Justice Le Blanc then summed up the case before the Court.
The first witness for the prosecution was William Cartwright himself, who was examined by Mr Topping for the prosecution: he related his preparations for an attack he expected to come at some point and also the events of that night. One of his servants, James Wilkinson, spoke to Court about how the following morning after the attack, he had found a hat in the mill dam.
The next witness was a Luddite-turned-informer, William Hall. Hall was a cropper and worked at John Wood’s cropping shop. Hall related how Joshua Dickinson had brought ammunition and gunpowder to the cropping shop early on 11th April 1812. He also related what happened at the raid and that he had seen James Haigh, Jonathan Dean, John Ogden, James Brook, John Brook, John Walker & John Hirst assembled at the Dumb Steeple beforehand. He did not see Thomas Brook there, nor did he see Hirst at the Mill.
Hall said that when he retreated from the Mill, he went through the beck from the mill-pond, and later met John Hirst at Hightown, before leaving him to head back to Sir George Armytage’s fields.
Hall went on to say, that two weeks later, he had been in John Wood’s cropping shop when Thomas Brook brought in a hat, and asked him to take it back to where it belonged, and that George Mellor would know where it was from. Mellor told him it belonged to a Samuel Naylor, and Hall took it back to him.
The next witness was a cropper, Joseph Drake, who admitted to being at Rawfolds, making his way there with John Walker and Jonathan Dean, but said that he did not take part, gave up his pistol and stayed 60 yards distant throughout the raid. Other than Walker and Dean, Drake identified Thomas Brook, having seen him in Hightown later that night, without a hat and having wet clothes: he said Walker told him he had fallen into the mill-dam. Drake stated that Mellor was with Brook, and they went together to Samuel Naylor’s house, to borrow a hat for Brook.
Drake went on to say that they had also stopped at Clifton, and knocked up a house to provide them with something to eat and drink. Drake also said that he met John Ogden at Hightown after the attack: Ogden had a pistol, and they went together to Cowcliffe where they parted.
The next witness was Benjamin Walker, whose evidence for the Crown had already hung three men. Of the prisoners before him, Walker stated that he had seen James Haigh carrying a maul at the Dumb Steeple; that Jonathan Dean had given him a tot of Rum on the way to Rawfolds from the Dumb Steeple, and he also saw John Walker with a pistol as they were travelling. Walker said that after the attack, he fled the Mill with George Mellor, Joseph Drake, Thomas Brook and a man whom he did not know from Cowcliffe and corroborated Drake’s evidence about stopping at Samuel Naylor’s for a hat for Brook, and also the group stopping for food and drink at Clifton. Later, he had gone to Dean’s house after the attack, to find Dean in bed, with a bleeding hand.
It was now Joseph Sowden’s turn to give evidence. He claimed to have not been involved at Rawfolds, and related what he had seen & heard at John Wood’s cropping shop in the days afterwards, in particular John Walker relating to tale of how a shot from the Mill passed through his hat. Under cross-examination by Mr Hullock for the defence, he claimed to have been too scared to speak out earlier than the 24th October, when he was questioned by Allison and Lloyd under oath.
Mary Brook was called to give evidence that she was the woman at Clifton who had given bread and water to people she claimed to be unable to identify. The Crown contended the people outside her house were Benjamin Walker, George Mellor, Thomas Brook, Joseph Drake and John Ogden on their way home from Rawfolds.
Sarah Naylor was called to give evidence about the same group calling at her home at Hightown to lend a hat for the bare-headed Thomas Brook. She also related that the hat was returned, but could not be specific as to the time. Like Mary Brook, she said she could not identify the men.
Richard Tatterson, a surgeon, was called to give evidence about how he had treated James Haigh’s wound to his shoulder. He stated that the wound did look like it had been caused by a fall onto a stone, contradicting what the Crown had said when they opened the case. Tatterson pointed out Haigh at the Bar when he was asked to identify the man who had called on him.
Joseph Culpan was also called as a witness, to relate how he had sheltered James Haigh when he was brought to his home at Penistone Green by Haigh’s employer, Joseph Ardron. A Constable, Thomas Atkinson related how he had tracked and eventually arrested Haigh at Methley 12 days after the Rawfolds attack.
Fanny Miles, a neighbour of James Brook, gave evidence about his behaviour in the days following Rawfolds: how he had been visited by many croppers and held discussions, of which she had overheard talk of a ‘dismal din’ that could be ‘heard for half a mile’. Under cross-examination, she admitted that her husband had had Brook arrested on a former occasion, and Brook subsequently sued him and won damages for assault and false imprisonment.
The last evidence for the prosecution was the statement given by John Hirst to the magistrate Scott on 2nd November 1812 in which he said he was ordered to go to the Dumb Steeple and intimidated into taking part in the raid at Rawfolds, and subsequently retreated as far as Hartshead with William Hall.
The prisoners were now asked for their defence: James Haigh and Jonathan Dean stated they were Not Guilty, but would leave their defence to their Counsel. John Ogden said he had never been in company with the other men. James Brook said he was not involved. Thomas Brook said he was not at Rawfolds, and John Brook and John Hirst said they were Not Guilty.
Witnesses for the defence now appeared.
Abraham Berry spoke for James Haigh. He started by saying that he been in Haigh’s company after Haigh’s abortive trial at the York Summer Assizes in a public house, when he had been accosted by a man called Hall. At this point, the Judge told him that unless he could identify this man as William Hall, his testimony could not be accepted as evidence. When Hall was brought into the Court with some others, Berry could not identify him.
Thomas Ellis, the Lockwood wool-stapler and correspondent of George Mellor’s (although the latter fact was not mentioned at the trial) who spoke for James Brook. He stated that he had been in Huddersfield on the night of the Rawfolds Fight, and making his way home later, he saw Brook opposite his house at 11.45 p.m. He also paid tribute to Brook’s character. Ellis was cross-examined by the prosecution, as to whether the defence solicitor, Mr Blackburn, had discussed particulars relative to the trial with him. Ellis denied this.
George Armitage, a blacksmith from Lockwood, also spoke for James Brook. He had visited Thomas Ellis on his way home and gone from there to James Brook’s father’s house at 12.05 a.m. on the 13th April and saw him there.
Hannah Tweddle was called to dispute the evidence given by Fanny Miles – she claimed to have overheard Miles saying she was determined that some of the Brooks ‘must be hanged before they left this place’.
John Ellis, a cropper from Lockwood, was called to speak for Thomas Brook. He said that he, Thomas Elam and Jonathan Vickerman worked for Brook and saw him that evening at midnight and earlier. Shortly after midnight, they finished work and Brook paid them their wages. The prosecution spent a lot of time cross-examining Ellis about minute details of the day, and Ellis appeared at time inconsistent.
Richard Lee was called to speak for John Walker. He said that he had been at Walker’s house that evening and stayed overnight, and he was sure Walker was not absent that evening, other than when he left briefly to fetch some coal. Walker’s brother-in-law, Joseph Walker, was also present for some of the time, and he was also called as a witness for Joseph. There appeared to be some differences in the accounts given of that evening by Lee and Joseph Walker.
Hannah Blakey, a coal-dealer, corroborated Richard Lee’s evidence about John Walker buying some coal from her that evening.
Character witnesses were then called for the prisoners.
An apprentice cropper called Mills spoke to the good character of James Haigh, as did Joshua Wood, a cloth manufacturer.
Joseph Brook, a cloth-finisher, spoke in favour of Jonathan Dean, having known him for four years. James Garside, a cropper, had known Brook for up to 7 years, and called him honest and industrious. Joshua Priestly had know Dean for 12 years and described him as peaceable. Joseph Riley, a tailor, had known Dean since he was a child and gave a tribute to his character.
Richard Beaumont, a clothier, spoke for John Ogden having known him for 5 years and worked with him for 2. Another clothier, Abel Armitage, said he had known Ogden for up to 6 years, and described him as steady, and hard-working and had a wife and two children.
William Haigh spoke to the good character of all the Brooks, having known them from their youth, as did James Garside, who had known them up to 8 years. Joshua Wood, a cloth manufacturer, also spoke in favour of Thomas Brook.
William Haigh spoke in favour of John Walker, having known him for years, and found him a laborious, honest man.
Two witnesses called Holdfield and Shipley spoke for John Hirst, both of them having known him for many years.
Sir Simon Le Blanc summed up the case, and paid a highly partial and glowing tribute to William Cartwright. The Jury retired at 6.00 p.m. to consider their verdict. They returned an hour later, finding James Haigh, Jonathan Dean, John Ogden, Thomas Brook and John Walker Guilty, and James Brook, John Brook & John Hirst Not Guilty.
This has been compiled from Howell (1823, pp.1092-1123) and the Leeds Mercury of 16th January 1813.