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Luddite Spring: 40 - The King Cometh

"The Luddite movement, like most rebellions in English history, had a short but spectacular life. Despite its brevity, it was an important step on the path that in time led to correcting industrial and social injustices,'' writes Ronnie Bray, continuing his epic tale.

Nottingham, far famed for the medieval and noble champion of the poor, Robin Hood, was introduced to Ned Ludd around the middle of 1811. Possibly, because some suggested that Ludd was not a real person, but a mythical being founded on a tale of an artless lad by the name of Edwin, or Ned, Ludd, that accidentally or intentionally, stories differ on this point, broke a stocking loom beyond repair. Whether the tale is true or fable does not matter. Another element of the story is that when men broke looms or frames deliberately, they covered their wrongdoing by claiming that they were ‘as clumsy as Ludd.’

That is almost certainly nonsense because owners were no more likely to overlook a broken machine because a clumsy lad had damaged it unintentionally than they would forgive someone that deliberately sabotaged it. Either case would be met with either imprisonment, transportation to a hellish penal colony, or by hanging.

Yet, from whatever source and circumstance the figure came, Ned, King or General, Ludd did come! If he was an impostor that assumed an infamous name, that did not matter. What did matter was that his impact on the textile industry was unquestionable. Another reality was that his was the standard around which resentful textile hands assembled.

By degrees, Ned Ludd became the champion of the poor upon whom the Industrial Revolution had imposed devastating burdens. He was their advocate because they believed that he cared for them. He was celebrated in popular songs such as ‘Ludd’s Triumph’ in which he supplants the old Robin Hood as the new champion of the poor.

Ludd’s Triumph

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the achievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire

Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused
Till his sufferings became so severe
That at last to defend his own Interest he rous'd
And for the great work did prepare

Now by force unsubdued, and by threats undismayed
Death itself can't his ardour repress
The presence of Armies can't make him afraid
Nor impede his career of success

Whilst the news of his conquests is spread far and near
How his Enemies take the alarm
His courage, his fortitude, strikes them with fear
For they dread his Omnipotent Arm!

The guilty may fear, but no vengeance he aims
At the honest man's life or Estate
His wrath is entirely confined to wide frames
And to those that old prices abate

These Engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the Trade
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the grand Executioner made

And when in the work of destruction employed
He himself to no method confines
By fire and by water he gets them destroyed
For the Elements aid his designs

Whether guarded by Soldiers along the Highway
Or closely secured in the room
He shivers them up both by night and by day
And nothing can soften their doom

He may censure great Ludd's disrespect for the Laws
Who ne'er for a moment reflects
That foul Imposition alone was the cause
Which produced these unhappy effects

Let the haughty no longer the humble oppress
Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering Sword
His grievances instantly meet with redress
Then peace will be quickly restored

Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice
Nor e'er their assistance withdraw
Till full fashioned work at the old fashioned price
Is established by Custom and Law

Then the Trade when this ardorous contest is o'er
Shall raise in full splendour its head
And colting and cutting and squaring no more
Shall deprive honest workmen of bread.

The Luddite movement, like most rebellions in English history, had a short but spectacular life. Despite its brevity, it was an important step on the path that in time led to correcting industrial and social injustices. When Luddism flourished, these goals were still far distant. Even-handedness did not blossom in the lifetime of the men, women, and children upon whose lives we reflect in this historic account.

Unfortunately, we shall not see the people that stir our hearts enter the Promised Land where all men count and all is just and fair. Nevertheless, we thank them for their donations to the emergence of generations of nameless workers that made crucial contributors to the history of working people in the grim industrial history of the West Riding of Yorkshire.


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