Nottingham Castle purchases Luddite Sword at Auction

Nottingham City Council’s Museums and Galleries Service has successfully secured an important artefact from the history of Nottingham after a bid at auction was accepted today. The purchase was made possible with donations from the Nottingham Civic Society and Nottingham Castle Trust.

Over two hundred years to the day since he was caught, a notorious Nottingham Luddite’s fearsome sword will now return to the scene of the crime.

The relic, known as John Blackburn’s sabre, resonates with events that shaped history. Blackburn was one of the ring leaders of a gang of Nottingham men who carried out one of the most infamous of Luddite attacks.

The Mellors and Kirk auction catalogue listing gives an excellent account of the history of this key object…

The Luddites, otherwise known as frame breakers, were marauding gangs of lawless men bent on acts of violence and destruction, active from 1811-16.  This was the cause that sparked the trouble which shook the established order of Nottingham and the north of England in those tumultuous years of the early 19th century.

Blackburn was one of the ring leaders of a gang of Nottingham men which carried out a Luddite attack in Loughborough on the night of 28 June 1816. They wrecked John Heathcote’s factory there, shooting one of his men in the course of the attack.  Three of the gang were arrested and one, James Towle was hanged.

After escaping from this raid unpunished, Blackburn was caught poaching at the estate of Lord Middleton in Cossall and fought with the Lord’s gamekeeper. In order to spare himself from the gallows, he chose to inform on those involved in the Loughborough factory raid which spared his life and saw six comrades hang. A crowd of 15,000 turned up to watch the macabre spectacle and demonstrates the Luddite’s notoriety. Blackburn and his young family were sent to Canada for their own safety.

The sabre was a trophy taken by Cook – Lord Middleton’s gamekeeper. It resembles that which might have been used by a customs man or parish constable (for there was no police force at that time, the authorities relying on the militia). The heavy, 58cm steel blade has a now smooth wooden hilt, its original leather or other grip long gone.

Cook, or possibly Lord Middleton himself had the brass pommel of the sword engraved to commemorate the occasion – “TAKEN FROM BLACKBORNE GENL OF THE LUDDITES BY W COOK SHORTWOOD JANY 3RD 1817”.  It would not be surprising if the mis-spelling of Blackburn’s name was deliberate, intended to demonise him, for example in the same way as the evil pirate Blackbeard, which sounds much worse than ‘Edward’.

Cllr Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said; “Our thanks must go to Nottingham Civic Society and Nottingham Castle Trust who have made this important purchase possible. Nottingham City Council would not have been able to make this successful bid without them. The acquisition of this sabre will be a very important part of the displays at the Castle that tell of the city’s history of rebellion and its significance in shaping history.

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