On 17 April 1812 The Times published part of a letter from Mrs. Goodair to her husband, a mill owner, in which she described the attack on their home and factory in Stockport by Luddites.1 The crowd were Irish handloom weavers, whose livelihoods were threatened or ruined by the introduction of mechanised production processes – power looms, stocking frames and spinning frames. Many of them were starving or nearly so, as they had no recourse to parish relief.
From the Buckley Arms, where she had taken shelter with her children and servants, Mrs. Goodair wrote:
This morning, about 9 o’clock, the people began to assemble in great numbers. They halted at our large gates, (at Edgeley), and remained there for nearly an hour, calling to us at intervals to open our windows, and throwing stones in order to compel us to comply with their wishes. Finding neither of any avail, they proceeded towards this town, their numbers increasing as they proceeded along. Instead of entering by the usual road, they visited several houses and factories, where they broke all before them.
Although the mob seemed to have passed them by, she remained vigilant, and saw them once more heading for her house. She hastily gathered her children and their nurse in the parlour but when the gardener rushed in and told them they must leave immediately as their lives were in danger, Mrs. Goodair took his advice and escaped to the home of her friends, the Sykes, owners of a large bleach factory. From there she could see her house in flames and heard the cry go up: “Now for Sykes!”. Despite the arrival of the military, she felt it better to decamp once more, this time to the Buckley Arms.
Earlier in the day, large crowds had attacked the home of Peter ‘the Great’ Marsland in Stockport, Mr Hindley of Hindley & Bradshaws and the factory of William Radcliffe.
At one point Mr. Garside, a mill owner, had tried to remonstrate with the mob and was only saved from death by someone in the crowd who pacified his assailants.
Mrs. Goodair made an interesting observation:
The rioters were headed by two men, dressed in women’s clothes, who were called General Ludd‘s wives.2
The extract from Mrs. Goodair’s letter is accompanied by reports of disturbances elsewhere in the country: Sheffield, Huddersfield, Chester and Leeds. The Times’s correspondents, while not condoning the violence, show some understanding at least of the plight of the protesters.
The high price of provisions and the want of employment, have been long gathering, and the storm has at length burst. —Sheffield
[There have been] scenes of riot and disorder, occasioned by the distressed experienced among the lower orders, from want of employment and the high price of provisions. —Chester
Meanwhile, in Cornwall, where tin miners were suffering great hardship and hunger, a community effort was made to relieve them, and thus, in this account at least, riot was avoided:
We have lately been thrown into some confusion by the ascent of several thousand miners from their subterraneous abode, impelled by the calls of hunger to a temporary breach of order. A regiment of Militia (the Brecon) marked towards Redruth, but the voice of the Magistrates, aided by the general expression of the public sentiment, had been found sufficient to prevent disorders. In the mean time the utmost exertions are making to obtain supplies of corn and potatoes from other counties, and economy is now the order of the day in Cornwall. The Attornies in a body have published their determination to discontinue the use of pies, custards, puddings, &c. in their families; and in fact, every thing is doing in Cornwall that can be done to husband the stock in hand. Of one thing you may be sure, nothing is to be apprehended from our miners on the score of disaffection; they are rough, hardy, untaught — but nothing except the last calls of starvation will driving them to even a temporary insubordination.
Luddite Bicentenary offers wonderful research on this and other occurrences.