William Horsfall (1770-1812)

William Horsfall was a wool textile manufacturer and owner of a factory in Marsden.

As a strong advocate of using machinery in the production of textiles, he was one of several mill owners targeted by the Luddites and was seriously wounded on 28 April 1812 after being ambushed by four men near Lane End. He died in agony at the Warren House Inn at around 8.30am on 30 April.

Despite a reward of £2,000 being offered, it was some time before the men were arrested and tried at York Assizes in January 1813.

The site of his murder is now commemorated by William Horsfall Street although this was not laid out until around a century after his death.

Discovering Old Huddersfield

The assassination of Horsfall is covered in Discovering Old Huddersfield: Part Two (1995) by Gordon and Enid Minter.

[The Luddites] had no great difficulty in selecting a victim. William Horsfall, an outspoken opponent of the Luddite cause, had gone so far as to install a cannon at his mill to defend his machines from attack. More importantly, perhaps, once a week his journey to and from the market at Huddersfield took him past the Luddite headquarters at Longroyd Bridge and so put him within their reach.

On that fateful Tuesday afternoon, the millowner called for his usual drink at the Warren House Inn after which he continued up the turnpike towards the Dryclough area. Unknown to him four armed men had concealed themselves in ambush behind the wall of a plantation on the left hand side of the road. The four, George Mellor, William Thorpe, Thomas Smith and Benjamin Walker had a great deal in common: they were enthusiastic Luddites, they were croppers by trade, three of them worked at Wood's cropping shop and one at Fisher's shop close by, they had all taken part in machine breaking attacks and they were all under twenty-five years old.

As Mr. Horsfall approached the plantation several shots were fired and he was severely wounded. Seeing their victim fall forward onto his horse's neck the assassins made their escape along Dry Clough Lane. Mr. Horsfall was assisted back to the Warren House where, despite medical attention, he died some thirty-six hours later. His last words are reputed to have been 'These are awful times'.

On the day after the attack, George Mellor and William Thorpe promptly silenced all possible informers by forcing them at pistol point to swear on the Bible that they would reveal nothing of what they knew, and so the secret held until October 1812.

The Finding of a Pistol in 1865

In April 1865 — coincidentally the same month President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated — workmen clearing a hedge at Big Valley discovered "a large horse or cavalry pistol" in a "dilapidated state", which many local believed to be one of the pistols used to shot Horsfall.

The Huddersfield Chronicle described it as being in a "deeply corroded state, the whole of the stock and other woodwork completely rotted away, the lock and ramrod are rusted partially away, but the brass trigger guard, and the brass casing or socket that held the ramrods are in a perfect state of preservation".

For many years, Jesse Kaye, the landlord of the Big Valley Hotel, displayed the pistol behind the bar.

In October 1871, Kaye loaned two items to the Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition held at the Methodist New Connexion School at Paddock — the sword of a swordfish and "the pistol that shot Mr. Horsfall during the Ludd Riots".

It is unknown what happened to the pistol after Kaye died in 1892.

Further Reading


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