It all started with a question at the Friday Night Rock Tavern Quiz : "Where is Dumb Steeple?" It was one of those annoying questions where you feel as if you should know the answer but for one reason or another, you don't. At the end of the day I put down some silly answer ("Newmarket Race Course") just for the sake of putting something down. And, of course, it was wrong. Very wrong. As my so-called friends delighted in telling me, I should have known as it brought together two of my great interests - local history and the labour movement.
Dumb Steeple is the name of a stone obelisk which stands alongside the main Huddersfield to Leeds Road at Cooper Bridge ("Cooper Bridge" being the required answer to the question). Nobody seems to know the origins of the monument - which is unmarked - nor how it got its name. However, it became famous as a rallying point for local agitators, particularly during the Luddite rising of the early nineteenth century. The story goes that in the early hours of Monday 12th April 1812 over 100 Luddites met at Dumb Steeple before marching off towards Rawfold near Cleckheaton to attack Cartwright's Mill where some of the new automated shearing machines had been installed. The plan was fated to disaster. The Mill Owner had been warned about the attack and troops were waiting at the mill. Two of the Luddites were killed and several others where arrested and hung at York a few months later. In all, seventeen men were hung in January 1813 for their part in the riots which originated at Dumb Steeple, the largest mass execution York ever saw.
Whilst searching for my facts about Dumb Steeple, I came across a reference to a proposed web site (dumbsteeple.com) which was proposed a few years ago by the journalist Richard Donkin. The idea was that it would provide a forum for discussion of the impact of new technology on employment and work. Mr Donkin was seeking organisations to sponsor the website but it would appear that he failed as the domain name is once again available for purchase. At £17 for two years, I must admit I am tempted. It would seem a suitable penance for never having heard of the Dumb Steeple.