The Luddites

Preface • PrologueThe advance of machineryThe predicament of the manufacturersThe situation of the textile workersThe organisation of the frame-breakersThe management of the disturbances by the authoritiesEpilogueBibliography

Come all you cotton-weavers, your looms you may pull down;
You must get employ’d in factories, in country or in town,
For our cotton-masters have found out a wonderful new scheme,
These calico goods now wove by hand they’re going to weave by steam.

So, come all you cotton-weavers, you must rise up very soon,
For you must work in factories from morning until noon;
You mustn’t walk in your garden for two or three hours a day,
For you must stand at their command, and keep your shuttles at play.

John Grimshaw, Hand-Loom Versus Power-Loom


With particular emphasis on the events that took place in the years 1811-1812, this essay aims to account for the activities by the revolutionary minorities, known collectively as the Luddites, that sent shock waves throughout British society during the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars. I will analyse the social, economic and political factors that gave rise to the Luddites; the advance of machinery, the war, and the Orders in Council, and consider the impact that these factors had upon the situation of textile manufacturers and labourers alike, as well as British trade and economy in general. In addition, I will account for the Luddites’ methods of organization and how the authorities responded to this “inner enemy”. In the prologue and epilogue I will consider the threat which Luddism posed and its consequences; the prologue thus serving as an introduction and the epilogue as a conclusion.

My main sources have been Edward Baines’ History of the Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain (first published in 1835), Robert Reid’s account of the Luddite disturbances in Yorkshire, Land of Lost Content, Clive Emsley’s British Society and the French Wars 1793-1815 and Thomis and Holt’s Threats of Revolution in Britain 1789-1848. The song quoted at the beginning of this essay is from Asa Brigg’s Iron Bridge to Crystal Palace.

© 1996, 2010, 2015, 2018, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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