Event 2: How revolutionary were the Luddites?
Who were the Luddites?
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The Luddites were groups of weavers and other textile works in areas of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire.
What did the Luddites do?
Textile factory owners introduced new machines called stocking frames that could produce cloth more cheaply than using people to do the same work. Workers who lost their jobs or had wages cut were very angry. They ganged up together at night to smash up the stocking frames. The first attacks were in Nottinghamshire in 1812. The Luddites left messages in the factories signed by a mysterious General Ludd who was supposed to be hiding in Sherwood Forest. In fact there was no such person.
Luddite activity spread from Nottinghamshire to Lancashire and Yorkshire as well. In April 1812, 150 armed luddites attached Rawfold's Mill. The owner Edmund Cartwright knew about the attack in advance and some of his men opened fire on the Luddites as they tried to break down the mill doors. Two Luddites were killed. The attack failed. In the same month, another mill owner, William Horsfall was murdered.
How did the government react?
The government sent about 10,000 soldiers to prevent the Luddite attacks. Parliament passed a law making smashing up stocking frames punishable by death. Seventeen Luddites were hanged. Although the Luddites became popular with local people in a few areas, support for them was strongest amongst working class people in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire but never spread much further. By 1813 the protests died away. This was partly because food got cheaper and the number of jobs and the level of wages increased.
This information is also available as a word document, see below.