Object Highlight #9 – Helliker letter

Today our Object Highlight is a little bit different than we usually do it. Today the town celebrates Helliker Day, a commemorative day celebrating the life and death of Thomas Helliker.

Thomas Helliker (sometimes spelt Hilliker or Elliker) is often referred to as the Trowbridge Martyr. He was a young apprentice shearman working in the woollen industry. When Littleton Mill near Trowbridge was burned down in protest at the introduction of machinery, he was apprehended on false accusation despite having an alibi and protesting his innocence. Although he probably knew those who had started the fire, he steadfastly refused to name them. He was charged and sent for trial in Salisbury, where he was subsequently found guilty and was hanged at Fisherton Gaol on the occasion of his 19th birthday on March 22nd 1803, despite public outrage. It is likely that he had been framed by powerful clothiers determined to make an example. Every year (with the exception of lockdown) a wreath laying ceremony takes place at Hellikers tomb at St James Church in Trowbridge on Helliker Day organised by the local Trade Unions.

laying of the wreath at Hellikers tomb
The laying of the wreath in 2022

The object that has been chosen is a book, The Complete Letter Writer, printed in Salisbury, 1768. On the back endpapers are copies of letters supposedly from Thomas Helliker on the night before his execution in Fisherton Jail, Salisbury, Wiltshire, March 22nd 1803. The letters finish on the first page, just before the preface. It would seem likely that the condemned man’s last words to his family were taken down and printed as a broadsheet at the time. These letters were then copied into this book, which belonged in 1769 to Elizabeth Bruges of Semington.

This object is such a personal item and gives a tiny snapshot of the tragically short life of Thomas Helliker.


Object Highlight
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