The Leader of the Luddites, engraving of 1812

The Luddites were a social movement of 19th-century English textile artisans who protested – often by destroying mechanised looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life. The movement was named after General Ned Ludd or King Ludd, a mythical figure who, like Robin Hood, was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest.[1]



The movement emerged in 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 until the British government suppressed the movement.

Formation of 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.[citation needed] 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.[2]

Government response

Frame breaking (1812)

Measures taken by the British government to suppress the movement included a mass trial at York in 1812 that resulted in many executions and penal transportations.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Research by historian Kevin Binfield[3] 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.[citation needed]

"Machine breaking" (industrial sabotage) was subsequently made a capital crime by the Frame Breaking Act, 52 Geo. 3, c. 16[4] and the Malicious Damage Act of 1812, 52 Geo. 3, c. 130[5] – 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 troops fighting the Luddites than Napoleon I on the Iberian Peninsula.[6] 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, soon enough, 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.[citation needed]

In contemporary thought

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.[7]

In modern usage, "Luddite" is a term describing those opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Who were the Luddites and what did they want?", The National Archives,, retrieved 19 August 2011 
  2. ^ "Workmen discover secret chambers", BBC News, 15 August 2006,, retrieved 11 May 2010 
  3. ^ "Luddites and Luddism" extract from Binfield, Kevin ed., Writings of the Luddites Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Accessed 4 June 2008.
  4. ^ "Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812" at
  5. ^ "The Malicious Damage Act, 1812 at
  6. ^ Hobsbawm, Eric (1964) "The Machine Breakers" in Labouring Men. Studies in the History of Labour., London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, page 6. Hobsbawm has popularized this comparison and refers to the original statement in Darvall, Frank Ongley (1969) Popular Disturbances and Public Order in Regency England, London, Oxford University Press, page 260.
  7. ^ Autor, Frank; Levy, David and Murnane, Richard J. "The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration" Quarterly Journal of Economics (2003)
  8. ^ "Luddite" Compact Oxford English Dictionary at Accessed February 22, 2010.

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • luddite — ● luddite nom masculin (anglais luddite, de Ludd, nom propre) Membre d une des bandes d ouvriers du textile anglais, menés par Ned Ludd, qui, de 1811 à 1813 et en 1816, s organisèrent pour détruire les machines, accusées de provoquer le chômage.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Luddite — Lud‧dite [ˈlʌdaɪt] noun [countable] disapproving someone who is strongly opposed to using modern machinery and methods: • Luddites who insist on using traditional telephones * * * Luddite UK US /ˈlʌdaɪt/ noun [C] ► someone who is against the… …   Financial and business terms

  • Luddite —    , LUDDITE RIOTS    Technical improvements may develop at the expense of dislocated lives. That sociological problem confronted Ned Ludd of Leicestershire, England, a half witted laborer who proceeded to take the matter in hand by smashing two… …   Dictionary of eponyms

  • Luddite — (n.) also luddite, 1811, from name taken by an organized band of weavers who destroyed machinery in Midlands and northern England 1811 16 for fear it would deprive them of work. Supposedly from Ned Ludd, a Leicestershire worker who in 1779 had… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Luddite — Lud dite, n. One of a number of riotous persons in England, who for six years (1811 17) tried to prevent the use of labor saving machinery by breaking it, burning factories, etc.; so called from Ned Lud, a half witted man who some years… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Luddite — ► NOUN 1) a member of any of the bands of English workers who opposed mechanization and destroyed machinery in the early 19th century. 2) a person opposed to industrialization or new technology. DERIVATIVES Luddism noun Ludditism noun. ORIGIN… …   English terms dictionary

  • Luddite — [lud′īt΄] n. [said to be after a Ned Lud, feebleminded man who smashed two frames belonging to a Leicestershire employer ( c. 1779)] 1. any of a group of workers in England (1811 16) who smashed new labor saving textile machinery in protest… …   English World dictionary

  • Luddite (EP) — Infobox Album Name = Luddite Type = EP Artist = Grotus Released = 1992 Recorded = August 1992 at Dancing Dog Studio s, Emeryville, CA Genre = Experimental Industrial rock Length = Original: 15:34 Re issue: 21:38 Label = Spirit Music Industries… …   Wikipedia

  • Luddite — /ˈlʌdaɪt/ (say luduyt) noun 1. a member of any of various bands of workers in England (1811–16) organised to destroy manufacturing machinery, believing that its use diminished employment. 2. Also, neo Luddite. a person who opposes the… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Luddite — Luddisme Représentation figurée du chef des luddites (Mai 1812). Le luddisme est, selon l expression de l historien Edward P. Thompson, un « conflit industriel violent »[1] qui a opposé dans les années 1811 1812 des artis …   Wikipédia en Français

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