The execution of George Mellor, William Thorpe, and Thomas Smith on 8 January 1813.
by David Mellor
George Mellor was born in 1789, a watershed year in European history for that was the date which heralded the beginning of the French Revolution, an event that was to have such a significant effect on Great Britain for the next quarter of a century.
George was born in Huddersfield, the son of William Mellor. Little is known of George’s early life but it seems that he received a fairly comprehensive education as by the time he went to work he could both read and write well.
George’s family came from the working classes and everyday life for such people could be a very precarious affair. George was apprenticed as a “Cropper” at John Wood’s Finishing Shop at Longroyd Bridge, Yorkshire.
The job of the cropper was to trim the nap off the woollen yarn and to give it a very neat and smooth finish. The job was highly skilled and the croppers were the most highly paid of the workers in the finishing shops. By 1812 George was highly proficient in the use of these shears.
However, the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars were highly unsettled. The very great fear that the British working classes might revolt, as the French peasantry was a worry for the British ruling class.
Couple that with the vast advances that science and technology were making in what was to be known as the Industrial Revolution and it will be seen that the conditions obtaining at the time had all the volatile elements for massive social upheaval and unrest.
George himself was particularly affected. Nearly twenty years of war with France had seen the near collapse of the exporting of finished woollen cloth and goods. The value of the trade had dropped from over £12 million to around £1 million per annum.
At the same time England had suffered a series of disastrous harvests. The cost of food was rocketing whilst the rates of pay were falling.
It was into this highly charged situation that two Yorkshire brothers, James & Enoch Taylor, introduced an invention that was to have violent repercussions in the wool trade.
The brothers invented and manufactured a cropping machine that could do the work of ten men. Another product of their workshops was a large sledgehammer, nicknamed an “Enoch”. The new cropping machines did not give the woollen cloth such a good finish as the skilled croppers but that did not hinder their introduction into many mills with the consequent loss of work.
Luddism had already reared its head in the Nottinghamshire villages of Bulwell and Arnold.
The word Luddism is believed to have been taken from the founder of the movement, one Ned Ludd, (see above Image) also known as General Ludd. There is no historical proof that any such person existed in real life.
Luddism itself seems to have taken different forms in different parts of the country. In Nottinghamshire Luddism seems to be associated almost entirely with acts of destruction and vandalism. In Yorkshire, where George Mellor operated the movement was far more politically orientated.
George Mellor saw Luddism as a vehicle for change and improvement in the lot of the labouring classes. To be labelled a “Luddite” is to infer that a person is against progress. This was not the case at all.
In Yorkshire where George Mellor was operating the factories where the new cropping frames were being manufactured were never targeted for destruction.
Likewise the new canal at nearby Marsden was not seen as a threat to the livelihood of working people. Luddites were not opposed to progress per se, only progress that was detrimental to themselves.