Little Bits of History

The Lord and the Luddites

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2011

Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips

February 27, 1812: George Gordon Byron first speaks before the House of Lords. He became the sixth Baron Byron and was referred to as Lord Byron. He was also a poet and adventurer. He was a leading figure in the Romanticism movement and is still regarded as one of the greatest British poets. He led a life of excess and amassed huge debts as well as a titillating past. Lady Caroline Lamb said he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

Lord Byron first took his seat in the House of Lords on March 13, 1809. He left London for the continent on June 11, 1809. He was back in Parliament to speak out in defense of Luddites who had destroyed weaving frames in Nottinghamshire. With new automation and the use of these new textile machines, men were being put out of work. When they reacted violently, they were given a death sentence. Lord Byron came to their defense. He later said of his speech that it was sarcastic and spoke to the “benefits” of automation – producing inferior materials and putting people out of work.

These men had been professional weavers, but the Industrial Revolution was taking their livelihood away. Ned Ludd, their leader, gave his name to the social movement. The economy was already struggling due to the Napoleonic Wars. As mechanized looms were put into place, they were staffed by unskilled and cheaper labor leaving the skilled workers out of jobs and nothing else available. The movement grew so heated that the Luddites even faced off against the British Army. However, the Luddites were not the first to destroy unwanted machinery. This had a tradition going back to 1700s.

There may not be an actual person named Ned Ludd [or Ned Lud or even Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam]. However, he became a folklore hero called “Captain Ludd” or sometimes given the title of King or General. The leader of the group was said to have come from the village of Anstey outside Leicester, England. Folk tales talk about a young man whipped for idleness or perhaps taunted and bullied who broke two knitting frames in a “fit of passion.” Some say his father, a framework-knitter, asked his son to “square his needles” whereupon young Ned smashed them with a hammer. By 1812, when anyone took to smashing textile equipment, it was said he was a Luddite, in honor of Ned Ludd.

As the liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!”

“ 2
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding sheet
O’er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has poured.”

Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of  Liberty, planted by Ludd!” – Lord Byron’s poem, Song for the Luddites

“They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.” – Robert Calvert in “Ned Ludd”

Also on this day:
Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the prisoner of war camp was opened for business.


One Response

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  1. GYSC said, on February 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Ha! Another mystery solved. Nice post.

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