October 15, 2014, by bramh2
By Professor John Beckett, Department of History
‘Luddite’ is a term we use today of people (perhaps including ourselves) who resist the introduction of new technology or machinery, preferring things to continue to be done as they always have been. The Luddite movement, between 1811 and 1819, was not quite so clear cut. Luddites, followers of a mythical ‘leader’ known as Captain or Ned Ludd, were not fundamentally opposed to new technology, but to the way in which it was used in the hosiery trade in particular. Wide frames, as they were known to distinguish them from the traditional narrow frames, were used to make cheaper goods, and they were operated by less well qualified (if qualified at all) knitters. The Luddite actions were primarily to pressurise employers into maintaining the old, narrow frames, operated by skilled knitters who had served appropriate apprenticeships and were paid at ‘the old fashioned rate’. Consequently when they attacked frames, they invariably attacked wide frames, and they did so to render them unworkable, not to prevent work on all frames or to cause problems for individuals. The movement began in Arnold, near Nottingham, in March 1811, and in the East Midlands it was most active in the winter of 1811-12 when many frames in villages all around Nottingham were damaged. It subsequently spread into South Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire, where the movement is thought to have taken on a stronger political angle than in Nottinghamshire, before gradually disappearing both because the authorities were more successful in catching and prosecuting Luddites, and because an upturn in the economy led to a recovery of pay rates. It did not reappear after 1819.
The play “Hammer of Defiance”, recounting the Luddite rebellion, is part of the Heroes and Villains: subversion and rebellion in Nottinghamshire events programme for the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. It will take place on 21st November at 8pm and 22nd Nov at 3pm & 8pm at the Galleries of Justice: Court 1.