Ludds On Tour #5: Radcliffe’s Army (Harrogate / Huddersflield, 1812)
[Okay, so although Joseph Radcliffe’s dynasty of Baronets would not take up their family seat in Rudding Park, Harrogate (which they owned until 1972) until a few years after his death, his role in the Luddite Rebellion makes the tenuous connection worthwhile.]
Radcliffe was the Magistrate of Huddersfield during a high-water-mark of the Rebellion: the assassination of William Horsfall. Horsfall was a mill owner in Marsden who had previously stated his plans to “ride up to his saddle girth in Luddite blood”. This may sound hyperbolic, but in the violent context of the time, where private police forces were often hired and deployed to crush Luddite attacks, it could be taken more seriously. Ultimately, the Luddites got to Horsfall first. Four men ambushed him on his way to market and shot him off his horse. One account of what happened next gives another indication of the civil tensions at play:
“as soon as he fell after being wounded the inhuman populace surrounding him reproached him with having been the oppressor of the poor — they did not offer assistance — nor did any one attempt to pursue or secure the assassins who were seen to retire to an adjoining wood.”
Clearly not a popular guy. After his death, Radcliffe brought hundreds of troops to the area to track down the killers. Eventually four were arrested and put on trial, and Radcliffe led the prosecution. The confession of one of them, Benjamin Walker, sealed the fate of the other three while saving his own, and William Thorpe, Thomas Smith and George Mellor were hanged in January 1813. Shortly after, Radcliffe’s army helped track down and hang 14 more luddites for a raid on Rawfold’s mill.
Many were in favour of this kind of brutal repression. In fact, a few months later, the bourgeoisie of West Yorkshire clubbed together and commissioned a portrait of Radcliffe (pictured above) to say thank you. Nonetheless, while Horsfall’s saddle never saw Luddite blood, the first Baronet Radcliffe would see enough for both of them.