Broadhead, William (DNB01)

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BROADHEAD, WILLIAM (1815–1879), instigator of trade-union outrages, was born at Whirlow, near Sheffield, in September 1815. As a boy he worked with his father, who was for many years foreman of the saw-grinders employed by Messrs. Jonathan Beardshaw & Sons of Garden Street (now of the Baltic Steel Works, Effingham Road), Sheffield. After leaving his father he went to work at Stacey Wheel in the Loxley Valley, now enclosed within the Damflask reservoir of the Sheffield water company. He married and developed studious tastes, assiduously reading Shakespeare. On leaving Loxley, Broadhead, without ceasing to practise his craft, became landlord of the Bridge Inn, Owlerton. His sympathies were always strongly with workmen in their disputes with their employers. In 1848, while living at Owlerton, he guaranteed the costs of the solicitor who defended Drury, Marsden, Bulloss, and Hall, charged with employing two men to destroy the property of Peter Bradshaw. The prisoners were eventually liberated on technical grounds, but Broadhead found himself seriously embarrassed by the heavy amount of the costs.

In 1848 or 1849 he was appointed secretary of the saw-grinders' union. The body was a small one, numbering as late as 1867 only 190 members. Originally it was organised chiefly as a mutual benefit society. Under Broadhead's vigorous management the working members in five years contributed no less than 9,000l. to sick and unemployed members. Removing from Owlerton he became landlord of the Greyhound inn at Westbar, and subsequently of the Royal George in Carver Street, Sheffield. These houses became the headquarters of the saw-grinders' union, and Broadhead, though nominally only secretary, in reality dictated its actions. He was full of zeal for its prosperity, and, to enforce discipline on its members and compel the whole of the workmen to enrol themselves, hesitated at no measures, however disgraceful. The trade had long been notorious for rattenings and outrages, but under Broadhead's management more daring crimes were perpetrated. In July 1853 he hired three men to hamstring a horse belonging to Elisha Parker of Dore, who had offended by working in association with two non-unionists. Parker, remaining obdurate, was fired at and wounded on Whit Monday, 1854, at the instigation of Broadhead, who paid his assailants out of the funds of the union. In November 1857 James Linley, who persisted in keeping a number of apprentices in defiance of the union, was wounded with an air-gun by Samuel Crookes at Broadhead's instigation, and in January 1859 a can of gunpowder was exploded in the house where Linley lodged. Finally, Broadhead hired Crookes and James Hallam to shoot Linley. On 1 Aug. 1859 he was shot in the head in a public-house in Portland Street, and died from the effect of the wound in the following February. Broadhead afterwards stated that he had given express injunctions that Linley should not be injured in a vital part. On 24 May 1859 he employed two men to explode a can of gunpowder in the chimney of Samuel Baxter of Loxley, a saw-grinder who refused to join the union. In October James Helliwell, another non-unionist, was injured by the explosion of half a can of gunpowder in his trough, and Joseph Wilson, Helliwell's employer, had a can of gunpowder exploded in his cellar by Crockes on 24 Nov. After an unsuccessful attempt by Crookes to blow down a chimney at Messrs. Forth's works, considerable damage was done by Crookes and Hallam, at Broadhead's suggestion, to the works of Messrs. Wheatman & Smith, who had introduced machinery for grinding straight saws. These outrages continued, though with less frequency, until 1866. Broadhead constantly protested his entire innocence, styling the attempt on Messrs. Wheatman & Smith 'a hellish deed,' and on another occasion offering a reward for the detection of the offender. When Linley was shot he wrote letters expressing his abhorrence. He even imputed attacks on manufactories to the jealousy of rival employers. Notwithstanding these protestations it was suspected that the union was cognisant of many of the crimes committed. The editor of the 'Sheffield Daily Telegraph' was especially active in attacking Broadhead, and in seeking evidence against him. Every effort at detection, however, failed in spite of the offer of large rewards. Under these circumstances it was felt that unusual concessions must be made to arrive at the truth. An attempt to blow up a house in New Hereford Street on 8 Oct. 1866 finally induced government to take action. On 5 April 1867 an act was passed directing examiners to collect evidence at Sheffield regarding the organisation and rules of the union, and empowering them to give a certificate to any witness who gave satisfactory evidence protecting him from the effect of his disclosures. The examiners under the act sat at Sheffield from 3 June to 8 July. Broadhead was among the numerous witnesses examined. His air at first was confident: he flourished his gold eye-glass and patronised the court. The testimony of Hallam and Crookes, however, established his complicity in a number of misdeeds, and he was driven in self-protection to make a full avowal of his practices. He admitted having instigated one murder, that of Linley, and twelve other outrages, besides many smaller offences.

At the conclusion of the proceedings Broadhead received a certificate under the act, and on 13 Aug. the saw-grinders' union refused to expel him on the ground that his deeds were the result of the want of properly regulated tribunals to bind workmen to what was 'honourable, just, and good.' He found himself, however, unable to endure the general contumely. His health failed. The magistrates revoked the licence of the Royal George on 22 Aug. 1867, and refused to grant him a licence for a beershop. A subscription was made for him among the trade workmen, and he emigrated to America in November 1869; but, failing to find employment, eventually returned to Sheffield, where he kept a grocer's shop in Meadow Street until his death. In 1876 he had an attack of paralysis, and for the last twelve months of his life he was almost helpless. He died in Meadow Street on 13 March 1879. He married Miss Wildgoose of Loxley, by whom he had nine children. His wife survived him.

Broadhead was introduced by Charles Reade into his novel 'Put Yourself in his Place,' under the designation of Grotait.

[There is an excellent memoir of Broadhead in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 17 March 1879; Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 17 March 1879; Trades Unions Commission, Sheffield Outrages Enquiry, vol. ii., Minutes of Evidence (1867), pp. 222-51; Ann. Eeg. 1867, Chron. 73-9, 245-8; Hunter's Hallamshire, ed. Gatty, 1869, pp. 217-22; Gatty's Sheffield, Past and Present, 1873, pp. 292-9.]

E. I. C.