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The Daniel Diggle Show Trial – 200 Years On

The Daniel Diggle Show Trial – 200 Years On

Thanks to student volunteer Edward Hammond for compiling this fascinating historical blog post 

The 2nd of April this year marks the bicentenary of the execution of the Luddite, Daniel Diggle. What a name! Diggle is one such man who paid the ultimate price for his crimes, and his court case rings all the bells that signify a trial coordinated by the authorities in order to control and influence public opinion; in other words, to bring a symbolic end to Luddism and to issue a firm warning to all associated rebellious tendencies across the country. This attempt, however, was ill-fated. Whilst it can be said that the unquiet spirit of Luddism had been laid to rest post 1817, dissatisfaction among the working classes certainly did not die with it:

The distress in the manufacturing districts continued for several years after the execution of the Luddite leaders. A great many of the working classes were still unsettled and defiant, and mad schemes for a general rising were as common as ever.

In the coming years, we of course see yet more examples of protest, with ‘two years more of turmoil and agitation, and then came the Peterloo massacre’. Anyway, I digress, back to Mr. Diggle.

On Tuesday 18th March 1817, Daniel entered court to answer for his crimes. The Nottingham Review on the 28th March of the same year reported:

This morning, Daniel Diggle, a fine stout-looking young man, only 20 years of age, was put to the bar, and arraigned on a charge of having on the night of Sunday, the 22nd of December last, entered the dwelling house of George Kerry, situated in the Parish of Radford, armed and disguised, and then and there wilfully, maliciously, and unlawfully shot at the said George Kerry, with intent to kill and murder him!

Like many other cases of a similar nature, what is striking with Daniel Diggle’s case is what he was prosecuted for. Glaringly, there is no charge directly for frame breaking, even though it had been a made a capital offence. The newspaper makes no reference to any Luddite motives, but the Nottingham Date-Book insists that it was a ‘frame-breaking expedition’. Either way, Diggle had been involved in the destruction in the past, which he admitted to in his confession filled with remorse and regret, although suspiciously very literate for a frame-work knitter; the Nottingham Journal reiterated that he was ‘extremely illiterate’. He also admitted to the George Kerry incident. The confession and court proceedings have ‘all the hallmarks of a show trial’. This is much more so because Daniel had initially pleaded guilty but, having been warned of the consequences of such an action, reluctantly consented to pleading not guilty, therefore instigating a necessary trial.

Unsurprisingly, Daniel was found guilty, and his lordship proceeded to pass the sentence of death upon the prisoner, ‘which he did in so impressive a manner, as to draw tears from most persons in the court’.

You shall be taken to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution, there to be hung by the neck till you are dead, and may the Lord God of all mercies, have compassion on your soul.

His execution outside Shire Hall on Wednesday, April 2nd, 1817 was observed by a ‘vast concourse of people’, but before he fell to his fate:

Diggle, with considerable fortitude, addressed the multitude – acknowledged his crime, and deeply lamented his having slighted the salutary admonitions of his parents; and particularly deplored his having been associated with Luddites, which, he said, had brought him to his unhappy situation.

So passes Daniel Diggle.


Find out more about our courtroom re-enactment of the trial of Diggle


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