Luddites in Georgian England

The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who violently protested against the machinery introduced during the Industrial Revolution that made it possible to replace them with less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work. Historian Eric Hobsbawm has called their machine wrecking "collective bargaining by riot", which had been a tactic used in Britain since the Restoration, as the scattering of manufactories throughout the country made large-scale strikes impractical.

The movement was named after Ned Ludd, a youth who had allegedly smashed two stocking frames 30 years earlier, and whose name had become emblematic of machine destroyers. The name evolved into the imaginary General Ludd or King Ludd, a figure who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest. The movement emerged during the harsh economic climate of the Napoleonic Wars, and difficult working conditions in the new textile factories. The principal objection of the Luddites was to the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms that could be operated by cheap, relatively unskilled labour, resulting in the loss of jobs for many skilled textile workers. The movement began in Nottingham in 1811 and spread rapidly throughout England in 1811 and 1812. Mills and pieces of factory machinery were burned by handloom weavers, and for a short time Luddites were so strong that they clashed in battles with the British Army. Many wool and cotton mills were destroyed before the British government suppressed the movement. The Luddites met at night on the moors surrounding the industrial towns, practising drills and manoeuvres, and often enjoyed local support. The main areas of the disturbances were Nottinghamshire in November 1811, followed by the West Riding of Yorkshire in early 1812 and Lancashire from March 1813. Battles between Luddites and the military occurred at Burton's Mill in Middleton, and at Westhoughton Mill, both in Lancashire. It was rumoured at the time that agents provocateurs employed by the magistrates were involved in provoking the attacks. Magistrates and food merchants were also objects of death threats and attacks by the anonymous King Ludd and his supporters. Some industrialists even had secret chambers constructed in their buildings, which may have been used as hiding places.

Measures taken by the British government to suppress the movement included a mass trial at York in January 1813 that resulted in many executions and penal transportations. The Luddite movement can also be seen as part of a rising tide of English working-class discontent in the early 19th century (see also, for example, the Pentridge or Pentrich Rising of 1817, which was a general uprising, but led by an unemployed Nottingham stockinger and probable ex-Luddite, Jeremiah Brandreth.) An agricultural variant of Luddism, centring on the breaking of threshing machines, was crucial to the widespread Swing Riots of 1830 in southern and eastern England.Research by Kevin Binfield is particularly useful in placing the Luddite movement in historical context – as organised action by stockingers had occurred at various times since 1675, and the present action had to be seen in the context of the hardships suffered by the working class during the Napoleonic Wars. "Machine breaking" (industrial sabotage) was subsequently made a capital crime by the Frame Breaking Act, 52 Geo. 3, c. 16 and the Malicious Damage Act of 1812, 52 Geo. 3, c. 130 – legislation which was opposed by Lord Byron, one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites – and 17 men were executed after an 1813 trial in York. Many others were transported as prisoners to Australia. At one time, there were more British soldiers fighting the Luddites than Napoleon I on the Iberian Peninsula.Three Luddites, led by George Mellor, ambushed and assassinated a mill owner (William Horsfall from Ottiwells Mill in Marsden) at Crosland Moor, Huddersfield, Mellor firing the shot to the groin which would prove fatal. Horsfall had remarked that he would "Ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood". The Luddites responsible were hanged in York, and shortly thereafter "Luddism" began to wane.

Many of the ideas that were encompassed within the Luddite Movement have been studied and evaluated in modern economics literature. The concept of "Skill Biased Technological Change" (SBTC) posits that technology contributes to the de-skilling of routine, manual tasks.A changing world and new technologies are usually the blame for the world's worries.

In modern usage, "Luddite" is a term describing those opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.
From Wikipedia.com

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