[From Samuel Smiles's Self-Help (1859). Text courtesy of Professor Professor Mitsuharu Matsuoka of Nagoya University, Japan. Translation to html and links by GPL.]
Notwithstanding the great increase in the number of hands employed in lace-making through the introduction of the new machines, it began to be whispered about among the workpeople that they were superseding labour, and an extensive conspiracy was formed for the purpose of destroying them wherever found. As early as the year 1811 disputes arose between the masters and men engaged in the stocking and lace trades in the south-western parts of Nottinghamshire and the adjacent parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, the result of which was the assembly of a mob at Sutton, in Ashfield, who proceeded in open day to break the stocking and lace-frames of the manufacturers. Some of the ringleaders having been seized and punished, the disaffected learnt caution; but the destruction of the machines was nevertheless carried on secretly wherever a safe opportunity presented itself. As the machines were of so delicate a construction that a single blow of a hammer rendered them useless, and as the manufacture was carried on for the most part in detached buildings, often in private dwellings remote from towns, the opportunities of destroying them were unusually easy. In the neighbourhood of Nottingham, which was the focus of turbulence, the machine-breakers organized themselves in regular bodies, and held nocturnal meetings at which their plans were arranged. Probably with the view of inspiring confidence, they gave out that they were under the command of a leader named Ned Ludd, or General Ludd, and hence their designation of Luddites. Under this organization machine-breaking was carried on with great vigour during the winter of 1811, occasioning great distress, and throwing large numbers of workpeople out of employment. Meanwhile, the owners of the frames proceeded to remove them from the villages and lone dwellings in the country, and brought them into warehouses in the towns for their better protection.
The Luddites seem to have been encouraged by the lenity of the sentences pronounced on such of their confederates as had been apprehended and tried; and, shortly after, the mania broke out afresh, and rapidly extended over the northern and midland manufacturing districts. The organization became more secret; an oath was administered to the members binding them to obedience to the orders issued by the heads of the confederacy; and the betrayal of their designs was decreed to be death. All machines were doomed by them to destruction, whether employed in the manufacture of cloth, calico, or lace; and a reign of terror began which lasted for years. In Yorkshire and Lancashire mills were boldly attacked by armed rioters, and in many cases they were wrecked or burnt; so that it became necessary to guard them by soldiers and yeomanry.
The masters themselves were doomed to death; many of them were assaulted, and some were murdered. At length the law was vigorously set in motion; numbers of the misguided Luddites were apprehended; some were executed; and after several years' violent commotion from this cause, the machine-breaking riots were at length quelled.
Among the numerous manufacturers whose works were attacked by the Luddites, was the inventor of the bobbin-net machine himself. One bright sunny day, in the summer of 1816, a body of rioters entered his factory at Loughborough with torches, and set fire to it, destroying thirty-seven lace-machines, and above £10,000. worth of property. Ten of the men were apprehended for the felony, and eight of them were executed. Mr. Heathcoat made a claim upon the county for compensation, and it was resisted; but the Court of Queen's Bench decided in his favour, and decreed that the county must make good his loss of £10,000.
Last modified 30 December 2005