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Luddite Spring: 21 - Twisted In

...“There could be danger involved. We are making plans to set matters right about our work. You’ve heard about the rebels in Nottinghamshire and Lancashire breaking machines?” ...

Seth Gledhill takes an oath to fight against the new mahinery that is "stealing'' the jobs of textile workers.

Ronnie Bray continues his epic novel of the fight for rights in the early days of the industrial revolution.

Less than a week after meeting Jack Crowther while walking home from the Moorcock Inn, Gledhill met him again. He came up behind him on his way home from work and fell in step with him. “Well, Seth,” asked Crowther. “Are you still of a mind to be joined to us?”

“I am, Jack. I’m more ready than ever.”

“So, you think you are ready for to learn more, eh?” He asked quietly, hardly moving his lips.

“I am.” His voice gave away his eagerness.

“Seth, you have to know that it’s a serious business. We’re not playing silly games, you know. I have to impress that on you before we go any further. We are in deadly earnest about what we propose to undertake, and if you come in you must stay in. There's no turning’ back and no getting out. What do you say, then, eh?”

“I gathered that, Jack. But you still haven’t told me anything about what sort of enterprise you're into. I shall have to know more about it other than it is deadly serious. So, tell me what you are going to do, and how you expect to do it? I must know that much at least. It’s about righting our wrongs, yes?”

“It is, and you’re right, lad. You do need to know more. Come down to mine after dinner tonight and I’ll tell you about it and answer your questions.” He pressed his face close to Gledhill’s. “There could be danger involved. We are making plans to set matters right about our work. You’ve heard about the rebels in Nottinghamshire and Lancashire breaking machines?”

Gledhill nodded, solemnly, a knot tightening in the pit of his stomach.

“Well,” continued Crowther, “it’s something like that.”


At nine o’clock that night, Gledhill stood on Crowther’s stoop. Answering the knock on his door Crowther invited him in. There were five other men in the room besides Crowther. His wife, Sarah, and their children were out of the way, having retired for the night.

“Come on in and I’ll introduce you to my friends,” said Crowther. “Brothers, this is Seth Gledhill.”

Each of them put their hands forward in fellowship. On four of them, he felt the tell-tale iron hard cropper’s callus. The fifth was the man Gledhill had briefly seen speaking at the Moorcock.

“This brother is from Nottingham,” explained Crowther. “I think you saw him at the inn the other night. He is Brother Jackson, and he is going to explain everything. Take a seat, Seth.” He motioned Gledhill towards an empty chair.

Jackson rose, removed his overcoat, and folded it small before laying it on the rickety sideboard. “I have come up from Nottingham where I have witnessed several revolts against machines. Hundreds of our brothers have lost their jobs to them and more will follow. Distress is widespread. No one in authority has moved to help them. Every petition we have made for justice has been denied. Not only that, but when we appeal against an unjust law, then that law is deliberately strengthened and used against us. Men that have laboured for ten or twenty years have been laid off because they have been replaced by machines that eat no bread, drink no water, need no wages, and never rest. The result in human misery is indescribable. When a man loses his employment, his family suffers. I do not need to tell you that. You have seen it for yourselves. There is no winding down when a wage stops coming into the house. Without money, we cannot get food, and when there is no food, we starve. Parish Poor Law doles are insulting. These situations have led to the revolts. Some of you have heard of Ned Ludd and the Luddites.”

At the mention of these names, a murmur went around the room, as the men looked at each other, face to face, nodding. They had heard of them. They had heard of Ludd and the Luddites.

Jackson went on. “Some of us have banded together under the Luddite banner. We are the ones that planned and carried out uprisings against machines aimed at restoring jobs and wages that you have heard about. Other issues have to be addressed, but if we can get rid of the machines first, then we can get our people back to work. Our attacks are only against machines. If we can persuade masters to take them out and take back the unemployed, that will put things back to where they were before the frames came. If they cannot be persuaded to take out the frames, then we shall take direct action by smashing their machines to bits. Then, if they want to continue in business, they will have to take on those workers they have laid off.”

Jackson paused to let that sink in. He took a sip from a pot of water before continuing. “Now, brothers, I will not mislead you. This is dangerous. Any man of you taken in charge when entering mills and breaking machines is certain to be convicted and sent to a penal colony. In some cases, a fate far worse than transportation will be handed down. That is why we warn you before you commit yourselves to our cause of the possible consequences if we fail, if we are apprehended, or if we are betrayed.”

He paused, looking into the faces of the six men. “If you decide to join with us it will be by taking an oath of loyalty that you must hold sacred and never make known. This is to make sure that those that come in with us know exactly what they are getting into before they get into it. We are an army. We will secure weapons to empower us to pursue our goals on terms equal to our enemies. We know they are armed, and I do not doubt that some of us will pay with our blood as we destroy their machines. However, each of you knows what is at stake and what you have already paid. It is a serious business, but we are determined to see it through to victory.”
An undertone of approval went through the room. All agreed with Jackson.

“Work must be available for every man at a fair rate. That is our cause. I say no more just now because it is time for you to search your hearts and decide if you are with us or not. If you are not ready to stand with us, then you can leave now and no harm will ever come to you at our hands. All we ask is that you keep what you have heard here tonight secret for the safety of your brothers. Any that wish to leave may now do so and our blessings go with you.”

He sat down, taking a little more water. Not a man stirred or spoke. After five minutes, he rose and addressed them. “Since you have chosen to remain, I shall administer the Oath of Allegiance. It is important and must be considered binding. Before I do, I repeat, if any of you want to leave, you may do so now and be not ill thought of. Once you have taken the oath, it is binding upon you for the rest of your lives.”

Jackson paused again to give the men time to make their final decision whether to go or stay. No one moved. Jackson then asked them to rise, and took each of them by the hand and had them repeat after him the Luddite Oath. Gledhill rose first to be twisted-in.

“I, Seth Gledhill, of my own free will and accord do hereby promise and swear that I will never reveal any of the names of any one of this secret Committee, under the penalty of being sent out of this world by the first Brother that may meet me. I furthermore do swear, that I will pursue with unceasing vengeance any Traitors or Traitor, should there any arise, should he fly to the verge of Hell.

I furthermore do swear that I will be sober and faithful in all my dealings with all my Brothers, and if ever I decline them, my name is to be blotted out from the list of our Society and never to be remembered, but with contempt and abhorrence, so help me God to keep this our Oath inviolate.”

One by one, the others took the Oath. The company then embraced one another and shook hands, imbued with the sense that they were engaged in an enterprise that would lead them to victory, set justice on its throne, and secure their futures.

Jackson spoke again. “I urge you all to remember this night when the long shadows of hard days come upon us and we are required to arm ourselves and march into battle. Now, my brothers, we must go to our homes.”

The men rose in silence, weighing Jackson’s words and feeling the seriousness of them in their minds, wondering what would become of them if things got as bad as he warned them they could become. The bells of fate, it seemed, rang loudly and ominously in their heads, and their hearts fell heavy as each of them contemplated what their end might be.

“This is a good night’s work,” said Jackson to Crowther, after the men had left. Crowther passed Jackson’s overcoat to him. The brother from Nottingham slipped his arms into it, buttoned it, and opened the door into the street. “We need even more recruits so that we can put together plans and get on with our struggle. I will contact you again Brother Crowther. We will call a meeting where we can see our strength and continue to establish Ned Ludd’s Army in the Huddersfield District.”

Jackson left Crowther’s house casting his eyes up and down the street for people. He had to be careful. Soldiers patrolled the streets on the strength of the rumours that circulated that Luddites were already at work in the district, and extra constables had been recruited. The Ward and Watch were also an increasing presence. It was a time of wild suspicion.
Sure that the street was clear, Jackson made his way from Holmeside to the Moorcock Inn where his mount was stabled. He would head back to Nottingham at first light.


Gledhill slept well for the first time in months. His work was about to begin. He thrilled as he imagined what its harvest might be. Yet, his elation at having joined the fight was mingled with disquiet as he looked at his wife’s head on the pillow next to him.



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