Hanged man's letter named top treasure in Trowbridge

This Is Wiltshire: Trowbridge Museum curator Claire Lyall with Thomas Helliker’s last letter Trowbridge Museum curator Claire Lyall with Thomas Helliker’s last letter

A letter written by a 19-year-old man hanged in 1803 for setting fire to a mill in Semington as part of an anti-mechanisation protest has been chosen as one of Wiltshire’s top 10 treasures.

A handwritten copy of the last letter written by Thomas Helliker (signed Hiliker) is on display at Trowbridge Museum in The Shires shopping centre.

It has been picked as one of 100 objects in BBC’s A History of the World Project, in partnership with the British Museum and 350 museums and institutions across the country.

It is one of 10 historical items chosen to define Wiltshire, alongside a Bush Barrow gold lozenge in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes and a neolithic pot from the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury.

Helliker, who is buried in the grounds of St James Church, was hanged after allegedly setting fire to Littleton Mill, near Semington, and the letter is a moving farewell to his family.

Trowbridge Museum curator Clare Lyall said: “The early 19th century was a turbulent time; there was a real fear among the establishment that there was going to be a revolution similar to that in France. The fact that they burnt down a mill would have been a real blow to the establishment and they had to make an example of someone.

“Unfortunately, they picked someone who we now know was probably the wrong guy."

Comments (2)

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12:18pm Fri 22 Jan 10

WalterMc says...

Indeed, lets spare a moments thought for this 19 year old lad in the early 1800's, and dont for one solitary moment forget that Gordie McBroon and the Teflon coated Anthony Bliar wouldnt do the same for you if you push your opinions about them too far!! Tread careful my friends, The Establishment is still The Establishment and nowhere as much fun as that London club Peter Cook used to run!
Indeed, lets spare a moments thought for this 19 year old lad in the early 1800's, and dont for one solitary moment forget that Gordie McBroon and the Teflon coated Anthony Bliar wouldnt do the same for you if you push your opinions about them too far!! Tread careful my friends, The Establishment is still The Establishment and nowhere as much fun as that London club Peter Cook used to run! WalterMc
  • Score: 0

1:01pm Mon 25 Jan 10

Vox Pop says...

Quote: 'unfortunately they picked someone who we now know was probably the wrong guy'. That's not strictly true, we know that Helliker was one of the Luddite gang that set fire to the mill but it is now generally believed that he was just the look-out, he did not actually set the fire. Unfortunately all the rest escaped capture so he was left to take the rap. Though, if he had been charged for the offence for which he was guilty - 'being an accessory to arson' - I reckon the result might still have been the same as I think that was also a Capital offence in 1803. And in that era of course there was none of the politically-correct human-rights arguments we see so often today.
Quote: 'unfortunately they picked someone who we now know was probably the wrong guy'. That's not strictly true, we know that Helliker was one of the Luddite gang that set fire to the mill but it is now generally believed that he was just the look-out, he did not actually set the fire. Unfortunately all the rest escaped capture so he was left to take the rap. Though, if he had been charged for the offence for which he was guilty - 'being an accessory to arson' - I reckon the result might still have been the same as I think that was also a Capital offence in 1803. And in that era of course there was none of the politically-correct human-rights arguments we see so often today. Vox Pop
  • Score: 0

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