An 18th century pub that played a central part in the story of Luddism in West Yorkshire faces demolition after plans to replace it with housing were submitted to the local council.
The Shears Inn at Liversedge was host to regular gatherings of local croppers at the start of the 19th century, and in early 1812 was the venue for a meeting at which plans were made to attack and destroy cropping frames being delivered to a mill owned by William Cartwright at Rawfolds.
The historian of the Spen Valley Frank Peel, who had spoken to eye-witnesses, recounted in his 1880 book The Rising of the Luddites, Chartists and Plugdrawers how croppers from Huddersfield also took part in meetings at the Shears Inn to set out their “objects and methods” of rebellion.
Although the attack failed, leaving two Luddites dead, the event was a significant influence on future Luddite tactics, prompting a move from attacks on machinery to attacks on mill owners instead. George Mellor, a Luddite who was later hanged for his part in the murder of William Horsfall near Huddersfield, reputedly said “there was no method of smashing the machinery, but by shooting the masters”.
The building has a further claim to fame in that it inspired the Luddite meeting place described by Charlotte Bronte in the industrial novel Shirley.
Although a similar planning application was submitted and thrown out in 1999, local campaigners fear the local council’s planning committee may give it a green light this time round. There is particular concern that heritage assessment submitted by the applicants argues that as there is now a Luddite trail, there is no longer a need to retain the original building.
Time for objections is tight. Planners are due to meet on 14 April, and there is a deadline of 12 April for objections.
The campaign to save the Shears Inn is being spearheaded by Spen Valley Civic Society, and is backed by Huddersfield Local History Society and the Labour History Society, which is urging all those with an interest in labour history to add their voices to it.
Statement by Dr Joan Allen, Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour History:
On 14 April Kirklees Council will meet to consider a planning application to demolish a historically significant alehouse, the Shears Inn, in Liversedge to make way for a handful of new houses.
The Shears Inn has served this West Yorkshire community and its visitors well since it was built in 1773, providing rest and recreation, refreshment and entertainment for over three centuries. The provision of alcoholic drinks was but a small part of any inn’s functionality; in the nineteenth century they were truly the ‘great social centres of working-class life’ (K. T. Hoppen, 1998). Like so many other British inns and taverns, The Shears acted as host on market days and elections as well as supporting a raft of associational and leisure activities. Friendly societies. trade unions and craft societies all used the upper rooms of public houses for their regular meetings. On these grounds alone, the argument for preserving this building for future generations is firmly enshrined in national legislation to protect our collective cultural heritage.
The Shears Inn, however, has an even more pressing claim to be conserved and protected by Kirklees Country Council. In April 1812, at the height of a wave of Luddite protests across the industrial north, a group of highly skilled woollen croppers met in the Shears Inn to consider how to meet the threat to their livelihood and way of life posed by the introduction of new textile machinery. Their violent attack on Cartwright’s Rawfolds mill in Cleckheaton was resisted and in January 1813 seventeen ‘Luddites’ were hanged at York. The events were later fictionalised in Charlotte Bronte’s famous novel, Shirley.
The applicants have tried to suggest that the loss of the Shears Inn would not damage the Luddite trail which the Council launched with considerable fanfare as recently as September 2015, and yet it is clearly an intrinsic element of the Luddite narrative.
Spen Valley Civic Society and Huddersfield Local History Society, together with more than 400 local residents, have registered their grave concern that this building, which features so largely in the area’s industrial past, might be lost. The Society for the Study of Labour History, which has a large national and international membership, fully endorses their efforts and would add its voice to all those who urge Kirklees Council to preserve and protect this vital piece of industrial heritage.
Update: 15 April 2021. Kirklees planners unanimously rejected the application to demolish the Shears Inn at their meeting on 14 April. There had been 433 objections to the proposal. Further details can be found in a Yorkshire Post report.
Find out more on the Spen Valley Civic Society website about the Luddite statue and the attack on Cartwright’s Mill.