Little Bits of History

Good Lord

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2015
Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall

March 13, 1809: Lord Byron takes his seat in the House of Lords. George Gordon Byron was born in 1788 and was an English poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement. His father was a Captain who first seduced the married marchioness of Caemarthen, who divorced her husband to marry the Captain and after she died, he found an heiress from Aberdeenshire, Scotland to marry. She was George’s mother. When George was ten, he inherited the English Barony of Byron of Rochdale. The Captain managed to squander both wives’ fortunes.

Byron’s education was spotty as his mother would often remove him from school. He was born with a foot deformity (or perhaps had a childhood case of polio) and overcompensated having “violent” bouts. He was sent to Harrow in 1801 and stayed until July 1805 and was an undistinguished student while there. He was known to lack a sense of moderation and proved this when he fell in love with Mary Chaworth in 1803, and then refused to return to school. He returned in 1804 and met John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare who became a friend for life with the two meeting up again in Italy in 1821. He next went to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Byron first took his seat in the House of Lords on this day but left London soon after to spend time on the Continent. He returned and on February 27,1812 gave his maiden speech as a defender of the Luddites. These English textile artisans were being put out of work by the automation taking place during the Industrial Revolution. Their dissatisfaction led to the breaking of industrial looms. One of their main areas of operation was Nottinghamshire. The Frame Breaking Act of 1812 made this a capital offense. In his speech, Byron made many sarcastic references to the “benefits” of the automated process which he felt made inferior goods at the price of putting people out of work. He was solidly against it.

The Act was rushed through as an emergency measure and received royal asset in March. There was agreement between both sides that something must be done and this was a last resort effort. The issue was with the more liberal side feeling not everything else had already been tried. About 60-70 Luddites were hanged while the statue was in force but not all death sentences were due to this act alone. Judges preferred to use previously enacted legislation to sentence. The Act was repealed in 1814. Instead of death, the new law required life transportation instead. Even that was repealed in 1817. Byron did not remain in England. He left for the Continent again in 1816 and remained there until his death. He was helping Greece with its fight for independence when he became ill. Treatment included bloodletting which eventually led to his death on April 19, 1824. He was 36 years old.

But whilst these outrages must be admitted to exist to an alarming extent, it cannot be denied that they have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress.

These machines were to them an advantage, inasmuch as they superseded the necessity of employing a number of workmen, who were left in consequence to starve.

By the adoption of one species of frame in particular, one man performed the work of many, and the superfluous labourers were thrown out of employment. Yet it is to be observed, that the work thus executed was inferior in quality, not marketable at home, and merely hurried over with a view to exportation.

The rejected workmen, in the blindness of their ignorance, instead of rejoicing at these improvements in arts so beneficial to mankind, conceived themselves to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism. In the foolishness of their hearts, they imagined that the maintenance and well doing of the industrious poor, were objects of greater consequence than the enrichment of a few individuals by any improvement in the implements of trade which threw the workmen out of employment, and rendered the labourer unworthy of his hire.  – all from Lord Byron’s speech

Also on this day: The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft IPO – In 1986, Microsoft had its Initial Public Offering.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.
Dunblane Massacre – In 1996, a gunman entered the Dunblane Primary School with guns blazing.
Kitty Genovese – In 1964, Kitty was attacked and murdered.

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.

“1
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.”

“3
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.