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Luddite Spring: 39 - War Drums

...They were wrestling with thoughts of Ned Ludd and his Army. Whether he was a phantom or not, he was become real enough to them, and they were afraid...

The threat of damage to mill machinery by disaffected workers increases.

Ronnie Bray continues his dramatic tale based on the disturbances which occurred in the early days of the industrial revolution.

The Cherry Tree Inn had its usual complement of local grandees in the best room when Staithes made his way in. He had suffered a disappointing day’s trading at the Cloth Hall and didn’t want to be bothered by what he unkindly referred to as ‘those nattering old women,’ by which he meant his associates with whom he supped at least once a week. But since most merchants had not fared any better than he had, he thought he might find some solace in their company.

Everyone was feeling the pinch from the downturn in trade, although trade was not the subject of discussion when the Master of Outcote Mill joined the group.

“I told you those Luddites would be trouble, and I told you they’d be coming here.” The speaker was Jory Baggett who had taken upon himself the mantle of prophet, seer, and revelator concerning the Luddites, Luddism, and Luddite threats.

Although he was the most outspoken, he did no more than voice the fears of the rest of his friends.

Staithes, who had heard Baggett say “Luddites” with dramatic emphasis as he entered, responded sharply, “The only brigand ever to come out of Nottingham was Robin Hood, and he’s long gone! There’s nothing to be afraid of from that quarter now!”

“Oh,” sang Baggett, somewhat triumphantly, “You think not, eh? Well, Reynold, just you get an eyeful of this from the Leeds paper.”

With his typical theatrical style, Baggett unfurled the broadsheet on which he had been sitting. Opening it at the front page, after clearing his throat, he began in comic sermonising style that was clearly pointed at Staithes.

“The name of Ned Ludd of Nottingham has now spread throughout Yorkshire’s textile districts. As it has done so, it has grown in importance. It is said that he has ordered some factory owners to rid their premises of powered machinery or else they will suffer the consequences. Some communications have carried serious threats couched in imperious and terrifying language. In some letters he is styled ‘General Ludd and his Army of Redressers.’ Otherwise, he is called ‘King Ludd.’ We have been handed one such letter that is evidently sent from Ludd’s ægis that reads as under:

To: Mister Harrison at Bullwell in Nottingham
if you do not pull down the Frames or stop pay in Goods onely for work extra work or make in Full fashon my Companey will visit yr machines for execution against you—
Ask Mister Bolton. He has paid the Forfeit when I visited him-
Ned Ludd –King and his Army of Redressers
Nottingham--- 12 November 1811.

“Although the letter is in a rough hand and the spelling is incorrect, the threat it carries is not to be ignored as a Mister Bolton had all his machines smashed and his workshop burned to the ground a few days ago.”

Baggett refolded the newspaper and sat on it again before addressing an open mouthed Staithes.

“Well, then, Reynold. What do you say to that, eh?”

Staithes’ face was ashen as he was instantly converted to the threat of danger to his business. He sat down abruptly on the chair at the end of the table. “I have heard about attacks on stocking frames in Nottinghamshire, and cotton frames in Lancashire, but I didn’t really believe that anything of that nature would come here. Now we have to take these threats seriously. But I’ve also heard that Ludd isn’t a real person.”

“Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t,” said Alderman Spiggot, “But these machines aren’t being smashed to bits by phantoms!”

“I’ll grant you that,” said Staithes, wondering who could be behind the threats and destruction if Ludd wasn’t a real person. “It has to be somebody. Machines don’t smash themselves.”

“I’m going to have a word with Squire Radcliffe,” chipped in Spiggott. “He’ll have to get more soldiers in. We can’t stand by and do nothing now we know these threats have substance. We have to defend our machines.”

“You do that, Seth,” broke in Staithes, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the news. “Whoever yon Ludd is, he’s a villain and he must be stopped before he starts here! We’ll not stand for any of his nonsense. What does he think we are?”

The company grunted agreement and nodding their heads at the question, visibly rattled that someone was out to harm their enterprises. Baggett, who was enjoying his role as chief envoy of coming trouble, returned to the subject.

“I should think that it won’t be long before this fellow, Ludd, begins paying attention to us. You know how trouble travels. Its feet are shod with fairy-swift shoon and no barricade can stop it running from place to place as it wills. Its real cunning is that it doesn’t come behind a Wait Band announcing itself. The devils come like thieves in the night and at an hour when we least expect them. The paper says they are experts at surprise attacks that come without warning. That probably means that the safer we feel, the more danger we are in!”

“The Devil take them!” stormed Staithes. “They make them sound like hobgoblins that no man can see, but their vandalism is plain enough when daylight comes! They can’t be phantoms even if you do believe in ghosts and goblins, Seth, and I’m sure I don’t! There’s flesh and blood behind this, and besides them shedding blood, they can also be made to bleed."

“I’d be careful what you said about ghosts and goblins, Reynold, if I was you,” declared Spiggott. “They could be listening now. They can be powerful wrathful if anyone speaks about them harshly.” He was serious. Even devout churchgoers held on to some old beliefs in malevolent sprites of various kinds that were blamed for whatever went wrong. They especially feared vengeful hobgoblins that were said to exact terrible vengeance on those that insulted them. “It’s not worth taking risks with the little people.”

“Don’t tell me you believe in such things, Seth,” said Baggett, scornfully. “Folks used to but they don’t anymore. We’re better educated than folks were in the dark ages. Nobody believes in faeries anymore.”

Spiggott was patently upset by Baggett’s careless talk about beings that he himself hadn’t yet brought himself to not believe in. He needed to persuade his companions that they ought not to dismiss something about which they could not be certain. Not that it mattered to him whether they believed in goblins or not, but he didn’t want the little beggars to be were upset by him and take revenge. He tried to win his friends over to the side of caution, just in case.

“There are things in heaven and earth, yes, and in other places too, that we don’t know enough about to speak certainly one way or another. The best course is to hold our judgement and our tongues too, just in case. That’s all I am saying.”
The others did not reply. Their minds had moved on from faery folk to the possibility that they could face threats and damage to their machines.

Spiggot did not mind their silence. He had passed the warning to them and the most malicious hobgoblin was sure to be pleased that he had done so. He would have been wiser to have addressed himself to the causes of Ned Ludd’s crusade and find methods to avert the kind of disasters he was willing to lay at the feet of creatures that were not flesh and blood. However, he was preoccupied with spiteful creatures of the abyss and the lower regions of the earth.

Not so his friends. They were wrestling with thoughts of Ned Ludd and his Army. Whether he was a phantom or not, he was become real enough to them, and they were afraid.


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