ELHAS Meeting Report - April 2013

Meeting Report - April 2013

In April 52 members and guests attended to hear Alan Brooke from the Huddersfield Local History Society deliver a lecture on the Yorkshire Luddites. Alan, who began his working life as a miner, changed tack and studied to become an archaeologist. He is well known in the local history scene and is co-author of two books 'Liberty or Death - Radicals, Republicans and Luddites in the Huddersfield Area 1793-1823' and 'Huddersfield a History and a Celebration'. In 2012 Alan won one of the most significant history prizes, the Beresford Award , for an essay on the origins of Huddersfield Naturalist Society.

Alan began his talk by saying that the rise of the Luddite movement in the late 18th early 19th century began with a social background similar to that we are experiencing now - a Tory government and an unpopular war abroad. There were many English supporters of the French Revolution, although this support waned when the terror and executions of noblemen began. The government of the day was afraid of the rise of the working classes and responded by suspending Habeus Corpus and passing legislation, the anti combination laws, outlawing any form of trade unions. The Luddites have often been portrayed as vandals, but they were just men trying to maintain their livelihoods and feed their families. Alan explained that as unrest spread the first act of violence against the machines was an attack in 1786 on the scribbling machines in a Leeds factory. Many attempts to prevent the introduction of the machines by legal means such as legislation and petitions were made. But when these failed the protesters turned to direct action. Initially attacks were only made against machinery but when the mills became better protected and often manned by militia the violence turned to the mill owners themselves. The authorities responded with a show of force and at one point there were more troops involved in putting down the protesters than were employed by Wellington during the Peninsular War. Describing the events of the time, we were impressed by Alan's depth of knowledge and his obvious enthusiasm and passion for his subject.

A lively question and answer session followed with members of the audience contributing some of their own and their parents experiences of the working class fight against oppression and exploitation.

The evening ended with our annual pea and pies supper, which was a lovely opportunity for members to get together and chat and was well received by all.

The next meeting on Monday 24th June 2013 will be an illustrated talk by Mike Betteridge entitled 'Gledhow Valley Woods and Friends' describing the history of the buildings and how the woods are maintained today.