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Plug riots

Exasperation at Parliament's intransigence to the demands of Chartism (a petition containing 3,300,000 signatures was rejected in 1842) and desperation in the face of depression and poverty boiled over into a level of militancy that many believed could result in a popular uprising in the 'long hot summer' of 1842.

On August 12, an estimated 20,000 men and women marched into Todmorden from Lancashire, successfully pointing out to mill-owners there the advisability of closing down their factories. On the next day, a similar number marched from the upper valley into Halifax; another 4500 or so came in from the Bradford area. They converged on working mills, halting production by emptying mill dams and removing the plugs from boilers - as a result these disturbances became known as the Plug Riots.

In the Todmorden area, mills voluntarily stopped work when confronted by plugdrawers from Lancashire; in the Halifax area, troops and militias were brought in. 15,000 protesters gathered on Skircoat Moor and moved off to attack mills; they were eventually dispersed by soldiers, and eighteen were arrested. Another contingent were only dispersed by gunfire and a sabre charge at North Bridge on August 15. The next day, protesters, having failed to rescue Chartist prisoners, ambushed a troop of soldiers at Salterhebble, and in a highly violent encounter caused serious damage to the troop until troop reinforcements arrived; this engagement was considered to be the closest that troops came to being overwhelmed during the disturbances. For a few days, Halifax remained in an almost insurrectionary state, until the rioters returned to their homes. On August 18, a large Chartist meeting was held at the Basin Stone , on the moors above Todmorden, a distinctive rock that has frequently been used for radical meetings (including those of the Hudsonites and later socialist movements)

After these confrontations had died down - and no popular uprising had materialised, as had been feared in some quarters, with some justification - a kind of peace resumed, although agitation continued in the activities of the Chartists.

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