JOB losses, poverty and the spirit of rebellion prompted a group of men to break into a Westhoughton Mill and burn it to the ground.

But this dramatic protest took place almost 200 years ago.

Nine of the men who carried out the arson attack — a rebellion against the march of technology in mills which was leading to the loss of thousands of jobs — were deported to Australia, while a further four were hanged.

And now, Westhoughton Local History Group is launching a year-long research project to examine what led to the event — and what happened to those who were sent to the other side of the world.

David Kaye, from the group, said: “Some fascinating leads are now being followed up by the group, however, we would be delighted to hear from anyone with any information about the deportees or about the historic happenings in Westhoughton in 1812 and the activities of The Luddites in the Lancashire textile industry.”

Westhoughton Mill first opened in 1803 and was one of the first steam-powered textile mills in Lancashire. It stood on a site now bounded by Mill Street and Park Road, diagonally across the road junction from the White Lion pub.

It employed a large number of local people but because of the machinery, lesser skills were needed and it became a target for The Luddites — who were skilled artisans protesting against the industrial revolution. And on April 24, 1812, a group of rebels assembled at Chowbent, now Atherton, and marched to the mill.

A young boy, Abraham Charlson, was passed through a small window and opened the factory to the mob, who smashed the looms and set it alight.

Over the following days the militia rounded up those suspected of being involved and sent them for trial.

The men deported to Australia for seven years were Christopher Medcalf; James Brierley; John Fisher; James Knowles; Henry Thwaite; Thomas Pickup; John Hurst; Samuel Radcliffe and Joseph Greenhalgh.

Meanwhile, Job Fletcher; James Smith; Thomas Kerfoot and Abraham Charlson, were given the death sentence by hanging.

Ten others were acquitted of the crime.

The Westhoughton Local History Group plans to chronicle the events of the burning of Westhoughton Mill and what followed after in a booklet.

Members also plan to hold an exhibition in Westhoughton Library for the bicentenary of the protest.

Anyone with information can contact the Westhoughton Local History Group by calling secretary Pam Clarke on 01942 814944 or emailing pamslocalhistory