200ys ago - 1811 1812 1813 Luddite attacks against oligarch ownership of means of production
against oligarch ownership of means of production
Luddites and Luddism -- History
This historical overview is an extract from Kevin Binfield, ed., Writings of the Luddites (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). No part of this page may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of Kevin Binfield -- [except fair use, according to the law]
Few groups have been more misunderstood and have had their image and name more frequently misappropriated and distorted than the Luddites. The Luddites were not, as not only popularizers of theories of technology but also capitalist apologists for unregulated innovation claim, universally technophobes. The Luddites were artisans -- primarily skilled workers in the textile industries in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Cheshire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Flintshire in the years between March 1811 and April 1817 -- who when faced with the use of machines (operated by less-skilled labor, typically apprentices, unapprenticed workers, and women) to drive down their wages and to produce inferior goods (thereby damaging their trades' reputations), turned to wrecking the offensive machines and terrorizing the offending owners in order to preserve their wages, their jobs, and their trades. Machines were not the only, or even the major, threat to the textile workers of the Midlands and North. The Prince Regent's Orders in Council, barring trade with Napoleonic France and nations friendly to France, cut off foreign markets for the British textile industry. Even more importantly, famine and high food prices required more of each laborer's shrinking wages. Machines and the use of machines to drive down wages were simply the most accessible targets for expressions of anger and direct action.
The Luddites were not the first or only machine wreckers. Because organized, large-scale strikes were impractical due to the scattering of manufactories throughout different regions, machine wrecking, which E. J. Hobsbawm calls "collective bargaining by riot," had occurred in Britain since the Restoration. For example, in 1675 Spitalfields narrow weavers destroyed "engines," power machines that could each do the work of several people, and in 1710 a London hosier employing too many apprentices in violation of the Framework Knitters Charter had his machines broken by angry stockingers. Even parliamentary action in 1727, making the destruction of machines a capital felony, did little to stop the activity. In 1768 London sawyers attacked a mechanized sawmill. Following the failure in 1778 of the stockingers' petitions to Parliament to enact a law regulating "the Art and Mystery of Framework Knitting," Nottingham workers rioted, flinging machines into the streets. In 1792 Manchester weavers destroyed two dozen Cartwright steam looms owned by George Grimshaw. Sporadic attacks on machines (wide knitting frames, gig mills, shearing frames, and steam-powered looms and spinning jennies) continued, especially from 1799 to 1802 and through the period of economic distress after 1808.
The first incident during the years of the most intense Luddite activity, 1811-13, was the 11 March 1811 attack upon wide knitting frames in a shop in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold, following a peaceful gathering of framework knitters near the Exchange Hall at Nottingham. In the preceding month, framework knitters, also called stockingers, had broken into shops and removed jack wires from wide knitting frames, rendering them useless without inflicting great violence upon the owners or incurring risk to the stockingers themselves; the 11 March attack was the first in which frames were actually smashed and the name "Ludd" was used. The grievances consisted, first, of the use of wide stocking frames to produce large amounts of cheap, shoddy stocking material that was cut and sewn into stockings rather than completely fashioned (knit in one piece without seams) and, second, of the employment of "colts," workers who had not completed the seven-year apprenticeship required by law. (For those laws, see the page on "Interpretations.")
Frames continued to be broken in many of the villages surrounding Nottingham. The 23 March 1811 and 20 April 1811 Nottingham Journal reports several weeks of almost nightly attacks in the villages, all successful and carried out without one attacker's being arrested. The summer of 1811 was quiet, but a bad harvest helped to renew disturbances in November, when, as the story goes, stockingers assembled in the wooded lands near Bulwell and were led in attacks on a number of shops by a commander calling himself Ned Ludd.
Letters from Midlands correspondents to the Home Office report a number of riotous disturbances, including the burning of haystacks and "an anonymous letter received by a Magistrate threatening still greater acts of violence by fire." Letters dated 13 and 14 November 1811 request that the government dispatch military aid because "2000 men, many of them armed, were riotously traversing the County of Nottingham." In December 1811 public negotiations between the framework knitters and their employers, the hosiers, some of which were carried out in the two Nottingham newspapers, failed to result in the return of wages, piece rates, and frame rents to earlier levels or in any satisfactory amelioration of the framework knitters' economic circumstances. Frame breaking continued in the Midlands counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire through the winter and early spring of 1812. It resurfaced in 1814 and again in Leicestershire in the autumn of 1816.
The first signs of the spread of Luddism to the cotton-manufacturing center of Manchester and its environs in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Flintshire materialized in December 1811 and January 1812. Manchester Luddism has traditionally been understood as having centered on the cotton-weaving trade, which had failed in an attempt to organize in 1808, and which was suffering from the use of steam-powered looms to decrease the wages of skilled weavers at a time of rising food prices and depressed trade; however, documents that I have discovered in the McConnell, Kennedy and Company papers and Home Office documents that have been entirely overlooked by previous scholars indicate that Luddites were active in defense of the spinning trade, too. (For those documents, see Chapter 3 of Writings of the Luddites.) In Manchester, unlike Nottingham, the offensive machinery was housed in large factories. Luddite raids in and around Manchester tended to be carried out by large numbers of attackers and also often coincided with food riots, which provided crowds that were large enough to carry out the factory attacks and that came from a broadly distressed population ready to take action. Luddite activity continued in Lancashire and Cheshire into the summer of 1812 and blended into efforts to establish larger trade combinations and into political reform, but the force of Luddism dissipated following the acquittal of dozens of accused Luddites in Lancaster later that year and the administration of loyalty oaths coupled with royal pardons conditioned upon the taking of those oaths.
The factory owners and cloth merchants of the woolen industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire were the targets of Luddism in that county. Although West Riding Luddites represented a variety of skilled trades, the most active and numerous by far were the cloth dressers, called croppers, whose work was threatened by the introduction of the shearing frame. The croppers' work consisted of using forty- or fifty-pound handheld shears to cut, or crop, the nap from woven woolen cloth in order to make a smooth and salable article. They were threatened by two types of machines. The gig mill, which had been prohibited by law since the rule of Edward VI, was a machine that raised the nap on woolen cloth so that it might be sheared more easily. The shearing frames actually mechanized the process of shearing and reduced the level of skill and experience necessary to finish an article of woolen cloth, even though the machines could not attain the quality of hand-cropped cloth. From January 1812 through midspring, Luddite attacks in Yorkshire concentrated on small cropping shops as well as large mills where frames were used. In April Luddites began to attack mill owners and raided houses and buildings for arms and lead. Luddism began to fail after the failed attack upon Rawfolds Mill and the murder of mill owner William Horsfall by George Mellor and other Luddites. By the next winter, West Riding Luddism had run its course, even though after the January 1813 executions of Mellor and other Luddites a few more threatening letters were sent to public officials.
In all three regions, Luddites responded to the distressing concurrence of high food prices, depressed trade caused by the wars and by the trade prohibitions imposed under the Orders in Council, and by changes in the use of machinery so as to reduce wages for the amount of work done. That machinery alone was not the primary cause of Luddite anger is evident in the cessation of Luddism. Luddite activities ended as a result of the rescinding of the Orders in Council, the suppression of the riots by the government's use of spies and the military, some wage and usage concessions, and some reduction in food prices. Despite its brief run, Luddism ought to be understood as E. P. Thompson and J. L. and Barbara Hammond have argued, as an important step in the formation of a class consciousness and the development of labor unions in Britain. Both the appropriation of the term Luddism and the use of the term as an epithet are erroneous; to use the term other than in its historical context is to display ignorance of the particularity of historical conditions.
A number of excellent published histories of Luddism are available and are far more reliable and accurate than anything appearing on the internet. J. L. Hammond and Barbara Hammond gleaned the Home Office Papers for their treatment of Luddism in The Skilled Labourer (1919 -- indispensible). E. P. Thompson's landmark study, The Making of the English Working Class (1963 -- indispensible), considers Luddism in its relationship to cotemporaneous Radical and labor movements. Malcolm Thomis's The Luddites (1970 -- indispensible) was the first major study devoted solely to the Luddites. John Rule surveys the various scholarly treatments of Luddism in a chapter of his book The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England (1986 -- supplemental). Adrian Randall's Before the Luddites (1991 -- indispensible) explores the philosophy of Luddism in its nascent form and considers the differences between the woollen industry in the West of England and the Yorkshire industry, where Luddism flourished. Kirkpatrick Sale's Rebels against the Future (1995 -- cautiously recommended) reinterprets Luddism as a general resistance to technology. The most recent complete history of Luddism is Brian Bailey's The Luddite Rebellion (1998 -- cautiously recommended). The first collection of actual Luddite writings is Kevin Binfield's Writings of the Luddites (forthcoming Spring 2004). Many of these books are available from major booksellers.
Spinning the Web of Ingenuity
An Introduction to the History of Technology
WINTER QUARTER, 2004
Department of History
University of California, Irvine
Instructor: Dr. Barbara J. Becker
Mechanization and Society: The Luddite Riots (1811-1816)
It is a fact well known ... that scarcity, to a certain degree, promotes industry, and that the manufacturer who can subsist on three days work will be idle and drunken the remainder of the week.... The poor in the manufacturing counties will never work any more time in general than is necessary just to live and support their weekly debauches.... We can fairly aver that a reduction of wages in the wollen manufacture would be a national blessing and advantage, and no real injury to the poor. By this means we might keep our trade, uphold our rents, and reform the people into the bargain.
—J. Smith, Memoirs of Wool (1747)
Public discourse in America today is rife with raves and rants on the complex issues raised by terrorism. In England during the 1810s, it was almost impossible to find a neutral voice on the subject of Luddism. Depending on who was telling the story, the Luddites were villains or heroes.
What came to be called the Luddite riots began on the heels of two straight years of bad harvests. The price of wheat had risen by over 50% in London and nearly 90% in northern England. A fully employed stockinger might earn 7 to 14 shillings 6 pence per week; a handloom weaver, 9-12 shillings per week. Daily bread could cost up to 1 shilling 8 pence, or (assuming one purchased bread every day) 11 shillings 8 pence per week!
12 pence = 1 shilling = .05 pounds = roughly 25 cents in 19th century
In February 1811 at Arnold—a small town near Nottingham where fabric for "cut-ups" was being knitted on wide stocking frames—stockingers broke into hosiers' workshops and disabled their frames by removing the jack-wires.
The wide-frame stocking machine produced knitted fabric of uniform width from which patterned pieces could be cut to make stockings and other clothing items.
After a second riot in Arnold, military troops arrived in early April to quell the disturbance, but by then over 200 frames had been destroyed.
In November, in the wake of another disastrous harvest, a new outbreak occurred, this time in the nearby village of Bulwell. It was here that the name Ned Ludd was first heard. Perpetrators acted in small bands, striking particular targets and garnering the support of local stockingers and residents. Those whose financial backing could not be won over by sympathy, were "encouraged" through intimidation:
Gentlemen all. Ned Ludd's Compliments and hopes you wil give a trifle towards supporting his Army as he well understands the Art of breaking obnoxious Frames. If you comply with this it will be well, if not I shall call upon you myself.
On one night, frames were broken in villages and towns that were 12-15 miles apart, giving the appearance that the movement was well organized. In fact, to some observers, the movement seemed too well organized. Mere stockingers were, in their opinion, incapable of operating at that level of sophistication. The escalating violence at home worried law-abiding citizens of a nation at war and gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories. Perhaps outside agitators were to blame: the Irish? the French? the Americans?
Local authorities summoned more troops and swore in new constables. In December, a force of 2,000 men was sent. Meetings were held between representatives of hosiers and stockingers to settle their differences. And although no formal agreement was reached, some hosiers found it expedient to abandon cut-ups and to pay higher wages. Nevertheless, cases of frame breaking in the region around Nottingham continued at rate of 200 frames per month through February 1812, when Parliament adopted the Frame-Breaking Bill, which made the destructive action a crime punishable by death.
Just as things seemed to be calming down in the Nottingham area, new disturbances erupted in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire.
The Yorkshire moors were the center of the cropping, or shearing, branch of the woolen industry.
Croppers worked in small collectives to finish newly woven cloth by raising its nap and then shearing it—time-consuming jobs that had always been done by hand. In fact, croppers reacted positively when clothiers began purchasing labor-saving devices—first the gig-mill for nap raising...
The gig-mill automated the tedious process of raising the nap on a fabric.
and then the automated shearing machine.
The shearing machine automated the process of cropping the fabric.
But in troubled economic times, as work became scarce, croppers resorted to machine breaking to protect their livelihood.
The area around Huddersfield, a town about 15 miles southwest of Leeds, witnessed the eruption of Luddite-related violence:
22 February 1812 Two cropping shops (in Marsh and Crosland Moor) attacked by masked Luddites armed with firearms, hatchets and hammers
5-6 March Two cropping shops attacked in Linthwaite
13 March Small, well-organized nighttime raids carried out in South Crosland, Honley, and Lockwood
15 March Bigger, more violent attack at Taylor Hill; more damage: windows smashed, shots fired indiscriminately, attempts to start a fire; owner was member of the newly-formed committee against the Luddites
5 April Three workshops in Holme Valley attacked
9 April Destructive assault on mill at Horbury involving 300 men and causing almost £300 damage
11 April Major attack on mill in Spen Valley defended by militia; two Luddites killed
18 April Mill owner, William Cartwright, shot at in Bradley Wood
28 April Mill owner, William Horsfall, shot and fatally wounded at Crosland Moor
29 April Arms seized from clothier's home
22 July Suspected informer—clothier, John Hinchcliffe, of Upperthong—was shot and badly wounded; local criminals suspected of pretending to be Luddites while committing burglaries
2 January 1813 Three young Huddersfield men—George Mellor, William Thorpe and Thomas Smith—charged with the murder of William Horsfall; all found guilty
8 January Mellor, Thorpe and Smith hanged
9 January Eight men charged with attack on William Cartwright's mill; three acquitted
16 January Five men, found guilty, hanged
March 1813 Nine more suspected Luddites hanged for stealing arms or money
By May, the region had quieted down, and most of the soldiers were withdrawn.
There were minor outbursts of machine breaking in the summer and fall of 1814 and 1816, but more and more often, the damage done was found to be the work of mercenary gangs, not cadres of oppressed workers. Between 1806 and 1817, the number of gig-mills in Yorkshire increased from 5 to 72. Eventually, the craft of nap raising disappeared. Stockingers realized the futility of insisting on the abolition of cut-ups. Realizing that goal would have severely damaged the textile industry at its one growing point and contributed nothing towards raising wages.
Mechanization and Society: The Assembly Line
Oliver Evans (1755-1819)
The human mind seems incapable of believing anything that it cannot conceive and understand... I speak from experience, for when it was first asserted that merchant flour mills could be constructed to attend themselves, so far as to take meal from the stones, and the wheat from the wagons and raise them to the upper storeys, spreading the meal to cool and gathering it by the same operations into the bolting hopper, etc. until the flour was ready for packing, the projector was answered: You cannot make water run up hill, you cannot make wooden millers.
Oliver Evans' automated mill, Redclay Creek, Delaware (1785)
1. Grain goes into RECEIVING HOPPER and drops down a chute to the elevator in the basement.
2. ELEVATOR dumps grain into ROLLING SCREEN to filter out dirt and other foreign objects.
3. Grain falls into SMUTTER or FANNING MILL to remove any mold or dirt attached to the grain.
4. Grain falls into STORAGE BINS above the millstones.
5. Grain falls into the HOPPER above hole in middle of MILLSTONES. The SHOE, beneath the hopper, regulates flow of grain onto BED STONE.
6. Grain falls onto MILLSTONES that move at the rate of 125 rpm.
7. Warm, moist flour falls through a chute into basement where ELEVATORS pick it up and carry it to attic.
8. HOPPER BOY cools and drys flour with a revolving rake.
9. Flour drops into AUGER or CONVEYOR, which moves it, while continuing to dry it, to head of BOLTER.
10. Revolving motion moves flour over BOLTER's screens.
FLOUR falls through the finest mesh.
MIDDLINGS pass through the medium screen.
BRAN falls out the end.
11. Flour, depending on its fineness, drops into different HOLDING BINS and is loaded into barrels.
Evans' design incorporated three innovative elements to carry the grain automatically from one processing stage to another: the "endless belt," the "endless screw," and the "chain of buckets." The result was a continuous line of production. His automated mill could handle 300 bushels an hour. Those who said it couldn't be done later came to observe the mill in operation. Continuous production has been such an integral part of the modern manufacturing landscape for such a long time that it is difficult to conceive of a factory without it. In Evans' day, no one could imagine a system built on what was a wholly new operational principle.
Mechanization and Society: Interchangeable Parts
Achieving truly interchangeable, machine-tooled parts was a long and slow process. Not only was it a daunting task to create multiple copies of one component that were truly indistinguishable from one another, it was a practical challenge to assemble a set of parts that would work satisfactorily together. Eli Whitney (1765-1825), found that out the hard way. The so-called interchangeable parts in the rifles he produced were, in fact, finished by hand and bore the tell-tale marks of their makers.
Besides, there was (and still is) considerable disagreement over the relative quality and reliability of hand-finished parts compared to those tooled exclusively by machine. Machinists saw themselves as expert craftsmen. They took special pride in their creations and resisted being replaced by machines that could mass produce mediochre parts.
Isaac Merrit Singer (1811-1875)
For Isaac Singer, one of a number of successful nineteenth-century sewing machine manufacturers, the answer was obvious: Quality in production depends more on expert hand finishing and fitting than on the large-scale manufacture of uniform parts by special-purpose machines.
In 1862, Singer was confronted with a serious dilemma. In that year, an overwhelming number of consumers voiced complaints about the sewing machines they had purchased. Repairing the faulty machines and replacing broken or malfunctioning parts forced Singer to reconsider the wisdom of his preferred method of operation.
Singer's first sewing machine (1851-1858) Go to: History 135E Home Page Luddite Documents Shirley (1848), by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) Hard Times (1854), by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) The Principles of Scientific Management (1911), by Frederick Winslow Taylor (1865-1915) Week 8 Riddley Guide
The Age of George III
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The Luddites 1811-16
After the end of the French Wars, it became increasingly clear that England was suffering from great social, economic and political upheavals. These problems collectively became known as the 'Condition of England Question'. Many of these problems would have occurred eventually but had been speeded up by the effects of the French Wars on the country. Most of the major changes were the direct result of the French Wars. Others came from natural growth and change. The distress and discontent caused by these enormous changes were manifested in a series of events in the period 1811-19. One of these was the upsurge in Luddism.
Luddites were men who took the name of a (perhaps) mythical individual, Ned Ludd who was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest. The Luddites were trying to save their livelihoods by smashing industrial machines developed for use in the textile industries of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Some Luddites were active in Lancashire also.They smashed stocking-frames and cropping frames among others. There does not seem to have been any political motivation behind the Luddite riots; equally, there was no national organisation. The men merely were attacking what they saw as the reason for the decline in their livelihoods.
However, early outbreaks of Luddism occurred during the French Wars and were seen by the government as clear evidence of disaffection. In 1812 the government probably had reason to be fearful:
a large part of the army was overseas, mainly in the Peninsular with Wellington;
the country was fighting not only the French but also the Americans
England was experiencing the worst trade depression since the 1760s and people were suffering great hardship. as evidenced by the Sheffield riots of 1812
The only person who seems to have appreciated the problems faced by ordinary people was the Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He said, 'outrage and conspiracy ... are the offspring of distress and want of employment ... fostered and rendered formidable by nothing but the want of trade'.
This period was not the first time that England had experienced occurrences of machine-breaking. In 1779 the failure of a Bill to regulate the frame-knitting industry had resulted in 300 frames being smashed and thrown into the streets. However, by 1810 the Orders in Council and a change in fashion had led to a deterioration in the standard of craftsmanship required in stocking making and a consequent cheapening of the trade. It was the attempt to intimidate some masters who brought in the new machines that caused Nottingham stocking knitters to smash the machines.
Stocking knitting was predominantly a domestic industry, the stockinger renting his frame from the master and working in his own 'shop' using thread given to him by the master; the finished items were handed back to the master to sell. The frames were therefore scattered round the villages; it was easy for the Luddites to smash a frame and then disappear. Between March 1811 and February 1812 they smashed about a thousand machines at the cost of between £6,000 and £10,000.In April 1812 the Luddites burned the West Houghton mill in Lancashire. Samuel Whitbread, an MP, said of the event
As to the persons who had blackened their faces, and disfigured themselves for the purposes of concealment, and had attended the meeting on Deanmoor, near Manchester, it turned out that ten of them were spies sent out by the magistrates... These spies were the very ringleaders of the mischief, and incited the people to acts which they would not otherwise have thought of. [Parliamentary Debates, lst Series, Vol. 23, Col.1000, (l8l2)]
The authorities were incapable of stopping the attacks so the government felt obliged to put in place special legislation. Machine-breaking had been made a capital offence in 1721; in 1811 a special Act was passed to secure the peace of Nottingham. At the Nottingham Assizes in March 1812, seven Luddites were sentenced to transportation for life; two others were acquitted.
In April 1812, the Luddites attacked William Cartwright's mill at Rawfolds near Huddersfield. The event was described by Charlotte Br�nte in her novel Shirley. Cartwright and a few soldiers held the mill against about 150 attackers, two of whom were killed. The following week an attempt was made on Cartwright's life and on 28 April William Horsfall, another manufacturer, was killed.
In June 1812 Lord Sidmouth became Home Secretary, by which time the outbreaks of Luddism had begun to diminish. However in July, parliament set up Secret Committees for the examination of evidence from the 'disturbed areas'.Information had been given to Major Searle, the commander of the South Devon Militia, which was stationed in Sheffield. The informant was not identified. Part of the Report said
It is the opinion of persons, both in civil and military stations, well acquainted with the state of the country, an opinion grounded upon various information from various quarters now before your committee, but which, for obvious reasons, they do not think proper to detail, that the views of some of the persons engaged in these proceedings have extended to revolutionary measures of the most dangerous description.
Their proceedings manifest a degree of caution and organisation which appears to flow from the direction of some persons under whose influence they act... [Parliamentary Debates, 1st Series, Vol.23, Col.1036. (1812)]
On the strength of the evidence, the Secret Committees in parliament approved a Bill to preserve the public peace of the 'disturbed districts' and to give additional powers to the magistrates. It passed through parliament and remained in force until 25 March 1813. This was the only way that the government could compensate for the inefficient methods of crime prevention at the time.However, despite the government's fears, there is no evidence whatsoever that the activities of the Luddites wer politically motivated.
Another parliamentary committee heard petitions for relief from the cotton workers and reported to parliament in 1812: it is clear from this section of the report that the government would do nothing to move from the economic ideas of laissez faire:
While the Committee fully acknowledge and most deeply lament the great distress of numbers of persons engaged in the cotton manufacture, they are of opinion that no interference of the legislature with the freedom of trade, or with the perfect liberty of every individual to dispose of his time and of his labour in the way and on the terms which he may judge most conducive to his own interest, can take place without violating general principles of the first importance to the prosperity and happiness of the community, without establishing the most pernicious precedent, or without aggravating, after a very short time, the pressure of the general distress, and imposing obstacles against that distress ever being removed. [Parliamentary Debates, 1st Series, Vol. 20, (1811) Col.609].
Lord Liverpool, the PM endorsed the view of the committee when he said:
In these cases the Legislature ought not to interfere, but should leave everything to find its own level... I am satisfied that government or parliament never meddle in these matters at all but they do harm, more or less... The evils inseparable from the state of things should not be charged on any government; and, on enquiry, it would be found that by far the greater part of the miseries of which human nature complained were at all times and in all countries beyond the control of human legislation.
In January 1813 three men were charged at York for the murder of Horsfall, were found guilty and were hanged. Fourteen others involved in the attack on Cartwright's mill or related activities were hanged a week later. Sidmouth and Lord Ellenborough expected the executions to have the 'happiest effects in various parts of the kingdom'.
Direct action in the shape of strikes or machine breaking continued despite the special legislation and severe measures. A Bill was introduced to parliament to regulate the stocking knitting trade and especially to prohibit the cheap, nasty 'cut-ups' that were being sold ['Cut-ups' were tubes of stocking fabric that were cut to appropriate lengths and one end was then stitched to form the toe part of the stocking]. The legislation was rejected by the House of Lords. The textile workers then attempted to form a Trade Society to promote their demands but it was deemed to be illegal under the Combination Acts and it collapsed.
In 1816 there was a revival of violence and machine breaking following a bad harvest and a downturn in trade. On 28 June the Luddites attacked Heathcote and Boden's mill in Loughborough, smashing 53 frames at a cost of £6,000. Troops were used to end the riots and for their crimes, six men were executed and another three were transported. William Cobbett's view of events was that
Society ought not to exist, if not for the benefit of the whole. It is and must be against the law of nature, if it exists for the benefit of the few and for the misery of the many. I say, then, distinctly, that a society, in which the common labourer . . . cannot secure a sufficiency of food and raiment, is a society which ought not to exist; a society contrary to the law of nature; a society whose compact is dissolved. [Political Register, 11 September 1819]
After the trials, Luddism subsided in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Concurrently, 'Swing' riots erupted in the countryside as a protest against low wages, unemployment and the Game Laws.
The Tory periodical, the Quarterly Review, attacked the government's "do-nothing" policies:
Of distresses, such as now pervade the mass of the community, small indeed is the part which parliaments or governments either create or cure... But what little might have been in our power ... has unhappily, perhaps inadvertently, been thrown away. In passing from a state of war to a state of peace, the shock of the revulsion might not improbably have been lessened to all orders of society by somewhat graduating the transition... If stagnant manufactures, and languishing agriculture, and a population suddenly turned loose from the military or naval services of the country, produce a supply of hands for which there is no work, a partial and temporary remedy might perhaps have been found in undertakings of public utility and magnificence - in the improvement of roads, the completion of canals, the erection of our National Monuments for Waterloo and Trafalgar - undertakings which government might have supplied, if the means had been available. [Vol. 16, 1816, pp.276-277]
These links go to primary sources on the Luddites:
"Luddites Smashing a Loom, 1812"
Luddites and Luddism Midlands Documents ContentsMeet the web creator
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