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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Risings of the Luddites

The years 1811 to 1813 were marked by great poverty for workers in many trades. The war against Napoleon had led to high food prices and difficult trading conditions.In Nottinghamshire in November 1811, framework knitters protested against cheap, shoddy hosiery by smashing stocking and lace frames. In his maiden speech in parliament, Lord Byron (1788–1824) highlighted the hardships which working families were suffering, but despite his efforts, the government made frame-breaking a capital offence. Luddite activity peaked in the northern counties during April 1812.

In Yorkshire, resentment was running high amongst the woollen croppers or ‘shearmen’. They believed that new ‘shearing-frames’ were taking away their livelihoods. On Saturday 11 April, over 100 Luddites tried to break into Cartwright’s mill at Rawfolds in Yorkshire.
In Cheshire, food riots in Macclesfield on 13 April were followed the next day by attacks on cotton powerloom mills at Stockport. Then on 28 April Yorkshire mill-owner William Horsfall, well-known for his hatred of Luddites, was shot dead.
In Lancashire during the same month, a cotton powerloom factory at Middleton was targeted. Then on 24 April, Wroe and Duncroft’s factory at Westhoughton was torched. Many of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Luddites later died on the gallows.

You can find out more about the Luddites’ stories and why they took direct action in the forthcoming May issue of Jane Austen's Regency World.
Update April 2015: My forthcoming book Regency Spies (which if all goes well with be published by Pen & Sword later this year), will discuss the authorities' hunt to find the Luddite leaders, and the spies who tried to infiltrate the ranks of the frame-breakers.

Images: Interior of John Wood’s cropping shop: headquarters of the Yorkshire Luddites. Rising of the Luddites, Chartists & Plug-Drawers, 3rd edition, (Brighouse, 1895).
Lord Byron. Great Authors of English Literature, W. Scott Dalgleish, (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1899).
Lancaster Castle. Lancashire Luddites were tried and executed here after the 1812 riots. Engraved by T. Higham from a drawing by T. Allom. People’s Gallery of Engravings Vol.2 (Fisher, Son & Co., 1845). Both images from the author’s collection.

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