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Luddism

Diary entries are not offered in this section, as the diaries began in 1822 and do not refer back to the earlier events of Luddism. Instead we have selected two letters that illustrate Newcastle's opinions. 

Other useful sources are discussed below. Where possible, images of the source items have been provided and can be viewed online.

 

Letters from the Duke

Letter from Newcastle, Clumber, to Lord Sidmouth (Home Secretary), 27 February 1817 (Ne C 4929)

I have just had the honor of receiving your Lordships letter of the 25th informing me that the Assizes will be transferred from Nottingham to Newark - I must own I rather regret that it should have been thought proper to adopt this measure, because it will appear that justice is not sufficiently strong, & that the disaffected have carried their point - I think there could have been no doubt of our being able to afford protection to the execution of justice, if the assizes had still been held at Nottingham. I cannot learn that any tumult was apprehended at the period of the Assizes and measures were about to be taken similar to those adopted in 1812, in order to preserve the public peace. If any disturbance is considered likely to occur your Lordship may rest assured that I will use all means in my power to counteract it - I Shall be happy to receive and execute any instructions from your Lordship on this subject or any other connected with it - I am happy to add that this County is perfectly quiet and that great Consternation prevails amongst the Luddites, as they called [sic], at the apprehension of so many of their comrades -

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Letter from Newcastle, Clumber, to William Sherbrooke, Oxton, 28 February 1817 (Ne C 4981)

I own I feel regret that it should have been thought necessary to transfer the Assizes to Newark, and on receiving a notification to that effect from the Sec[reta]ry of State last night I wrote to express this opinion on the measure, assuring him at the same time that effectual means were adopting for the maintenance of the public peace and to afford protection and security to the course and administration of Justice - I added that I felt no doubt of our ability to maintain the public tranquillity during the Assizes - I thought it right to make this representation for the honor of the Magistracy and loyal inhabitants of this County - Whether this representation has any effect, or not, I will beg that you and the Magistrates acting with you will continue your exertions for the right cause and real welfare of our County - Altho’ all may not happen precisely to our wishes let us consider that in these times a straight forward and undeviating course is alone to be pursued and that that course leads us to enforce an obedience to the laws by destroying excitement and main taining the public peace by some eans or other, and also by our example to exhibit proofs of public Spirit worthy to be imitated by our deluded inferiors -

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Newcastle was the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire throughout the period of Luddism. This meant he was charged with responsibility for maintaining law and order and preventing working class unrest.

Given Newcastle’s strong ‘Church and King’ politics - and the origins of Luddism in Nottinghamshire - this was a responsibility which he took particularly seriously. Newcastle did not commence his diary until 1822 but did correspond regularly with the Home Secretary in London and with magistrates (justices of the peace) on whom he relied for information and assistance in upholding the law.

These two letters come from the second period of Luddite disturbances (1816-17).

The return to peacetime conditions - following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 - changes in working practices and the introduction of new machinery saw a renewal of Luddite (or machine-breaking) activity, notably an attack on Heathcoat’s mill at Loughborough in June 1816. This revived memories of the Luddite disturbances in Nottinghamshire during 1811-13.

The letters indicate Newcastle’s strict resolve to maintain authority in the face of this renewed threat and his determination not to give any sign of yielding to it. In particular, we see Newcastle recommending a ‘straightforward and undeviating’ example of ‘public Spirit’ to his fellow magistrate (Sherbrooke) which may, in turn, be imitated by ‘our deluded inferiors’.

 

Other relevant sources

Use the links to view images of these sources.  Transcripts are available for download:

 

Reasons for the distress of the framework knitters

In this letter, John T. Becher, a magistrate with a particular interest in the relief of poverty, writes to the Home Secretary setting out the history of circumstances and events leading up to the Luddite outrages.

He outlines a combination of factors, including 'want of diligence' on the part of the framework knitters, who had grown used to a comfortable living before the Napoleonic Wars; but ultimately blames the oppressive behaviour of some of the hosiers. In the letter, Becher argues that an Act of Parliament to regulate rents for frames would ease the situation.

 

Sending in the army, February 1812

This list accompanied orders given to the Nottingham Division [Ne C 4917/1], and gives an indication of where the most serious disturbances were expected. The orders stated that the infantry was to mount pickets every evening at sunset and to patrol the villages in which they were stationed until daybreak.

They were asked to 'occasionally listen to the Door or Window' of houses in which framework knitters who rented frames were known to live, as it was suspected that such people had often broken their frames themselves. The troops were also given powers to apprehend framebreakers in the absence of a constable.

At the March Assizes in 1812, seven men were convicted of frame-breaking and sentenced to a collective total of seventy years transportation. Nervousness about the possibility of violence surrounding the trials led the Justices of the Peace to draw up these plans for keeping order.

 

'The Loughborough Job', 1816

Background information and documents relating to probably the largest single act of Luddism in the East Midlands: the attack on frames at Heathcoat and Boden's mill in Loughborough in June 1816. Seven men, including James Towle, were eventually executed for machine-breaking.

 

The attempted murder of George Kerry, 1817

A smaller act of Luddism took place on 22 December 1816, when Daniel Diggle, William Burton, and two others went to George Kerry's house in Radford, armed with a hammer and three pistols, to break Kerry's frame. In the ensuing struggle, Kerry was shot in the head, but survived. In this letter the magistrate Lancelot Rolleston explains that a number of Luddites, 'who have for so many years infested this County', had been apprehended, and asks whether the Duke will assist Kerry in prosecuting them.

This broadsheet transcribes the evidence of Kerry and Burton given in the trial on 18 March 1817, and the judge's remarks, and concludes with a report of Diggle's execution.

 

Next page: Riots and Reform

 

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