Westhoughton Mill in Mill Street in Westhoughton, near Bolton in the historic county of Lancashire, was built in 1804 by Richard Johnson Lockett, a Macclesfield man who lived at Westhoughton Hall. He leased the mill to Thomas Rowe of Manchester in 1808, and in 1812 it was the site of a Luddite attack during which its steam-powered looms were smashed and the mill itself set alight.
During 1811 and 1812 Luddites had been attacking powered mills throughout the North and Midlands in protest against what they regarded as manufacturers who used machines in “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to replace the skilled labour of workers and drive down wages by producing inferior goods. Skilled weavers were losing their livelihoods as production moved from a domestic system to new manufactories, causing severe hardship and unrest. Unemployed weavers joined the Luddites believing their only hope was to destroy the machines. In 1812 Luddite disorder around Manchester was rife, and the Westhoughton Mill had the most up-to-date machinery in the area.
Rioting and punishment
On 28 April 1812 a large crowd gathered at the site of the mill, and a contingent of the Scots Guards was summoned from Bolton. Believing the unrest to have been quelled, the Guards returned to their barracks, but soon after the mill was set on fire, destroying much of the building and the machinery it contained.[a]Westhoughton Hall was also set on fire by the rioters. In the following days dozens of men and women were rounded up and sent for trial at Lancaster Assizes. Some were discharged, but Job Fletcher, James Smith, Thomas Kerfoot and sixteen-year-old Abraham Charlson were found guilty and hanged; nine other men were transported to Australia.[b]The Frame-Breaking Act had been passed in February 1812, making the destruction of powered-looms a capital felony, punishable by death.
The mill was rebuilt after the attack and used at various times as a corn mill and for cotton spinning, but was empty for some time before being demolished in 1912. In later years the site was used as a privately owned car park. As at 2023 the site, opposite the White Lion public house, where the straw to start the fire had been taken from, remains undeveloped.
Power-loom riotsRioting by hand loom weavers in 1826 in Lancashire, England, protesting against the introduction of the much more efficient power looms.
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