The Late Fire, 25th January, 1812
We stated in our Paper of last week, that a conspiracy had been formed in this place for the purpose of destroying certain Machinery obnoxious to the Shearmen; and that an assemblage of the conspirators, with their faces blacked and armed with offensive weapons, had taken place in the night of Wednesday the 15th instant, but that by the energy of the Civil Power, who had been apprised of their designs, the conspirators had been prevented from executing their purpose, and one of them, of the name of James Shaw, apprehended and committed top York castle under the provision of the Black Act, by which this offence is made felony; and it is proper to add, that according to the information given to the Magistrates, not only the property but the lives of the Proprietors of the Machinery were marked out for destruction.
It was not to be supposed that a design so atrocious, would fail to produce some consequence beyond the mere assembling of the persons by which it was formed, and on Sunday night last about seven o’clock, the GIG MILL of Messrs Oates, Wood and Smithson, at Oatlands, near Woodhouse-Car, was discovered to be on Fire! and the flames extended themselves with so much rapidity, that notwithstanding the exertions used to check their progress, about half the upper part of the building was consumed before they could be extinguished. The damage to the premises and stock, both of which are insured in the Norwich Union Office, is estimated at about 500l. and it gives us deep concern to add, that no doubt remains but the fire was lighted by the hand of an incendiary, as no persons had been at work in the Mill during the day, and it is quite evident from the floors that remain, that combustible materials had been placed in four or five different places in the attics, and that in two of these places the effect had extended to only scorching the floor and ceiling. A reward of 100 guineas has been offered for such information as may lead to the conviction of the offender or offenders, but hitherto without success.
About thirteen years ago a Mill for the same purpose as Messrs. Oates and Co. was erected at Holbeck, and after standing a length of time, the populace assembled and burnt it to the ground. It may be proper to inform such of our readers as are unacquainted with the nature of a Gig Mill, that its object is to produce a saving of manual labour in the dressing of woollen cloth; and that the progress of dressing by machinery is not peculiar to this town or neighbourhood, but has long been in use, both in the South and in other parts of the county.
On a subject of so much difficulty and delicacy as the expedience of using Machinery in a department of the woollen business, where there are unfortunately at present a number of hands out of employment, we shall not hazard an opinion; but we cannot forbear expressing our detestation of any confederacy that has for its object the destruction of either life or property; and our perfect conviction that any Man who for the chance of obtaining a little more employment than at present falls to his lot, exposes his own life, endangers the tranquility of the town, and places his family in the situation of having torn from them, like the family of the unfortunate James Shaw, its head and support, plays a desperate game, and stakes his life against a Counter. It is not necessary for us to tell that laborious and useful body of Men the Croppers, that we sympathize in their distresses, and we are most anxious to see the period when the restoration of peace and a free commerce shall bring them to an end, and we are sure they will do us the justice to believe that in offering them our advice and admonishing them of the danger of such conspiracies as have thrown this town and neighbourhood into alarm, and reduced us to a situation resembling the county of Nottingham, we are influenced by the best wishes towards them.
Source: Leeds Mercury, 25 January 1812, p.3.