Who Was Ned Ludd? What Did He Do?

If you Google Ned Ludd, the first thing that pops up is a cartoon of a man wearing a blue polka dot dress, red scarves, and a black hat. It’s such an interesting picture that you’re sure to keep scrolling, so let’s learn a little more about the caricature and the angry-looking dude it depicts.

Who Was Ned Ludd and What Did He Do?

What were the Luddites most famous for?

It is said that Ned Ludd was a weaver who lived in the late 18th century.  But, Ned Ludd wasn’t a real person. He’s a legendary figure who allegedly protested against industrialism by breaking two stocking frames. These automated knitting machines were a big step for modern textiles.

Stocking machines were invented by William Lee, a Calverton resident. They played a big role in mechanizing textiles, but rumor has it Lee invented them because his lady-love spent too much time with her needles. He wanted more of her attention, so he built a cotton-knitting machine!

Where Was Ned Ludd From?

England. Since Ned is a common nickname for Edward, Ned Ludd was probably derived from Edward Ludlam, a man buried at St. Mary’s Church in Anstey, which is a village in Leicestershire. Ludd was allegedly a hand-weaver made jobless by newfangled automated stocking machines.

In 1779, he was allegedly attacked by young people running the machines and got so upset that he broke two of them. The machines, not the operators. On 20th December 1811, angry weavers adopted his image as their mascot after a story about him appeared in The Nottingham Review.

What Happened to Ned Ludd?

Since many adult hand-knitters were unionized, the first people trained on stocking machines were kids and teens. They worked in secret cellars where their welfare was largely ignored, and since they were cheaper and worked faster, their adult counterparts – like Ned – became jobless.

He had no work to do and was either whipped by officials for being idle or attacked by young machinists, so he broke two stocking machines. Another version says Ludlam, the young son of a machinist, was scolded by his dad. So he threw a tantrum and mashed the machine with a hammer.

Was General Ludd Real?

Was General Ludd real?

No, General Ludd was not real. The version of the story that described the Ludlam boy above was printed in 1811’s History of Nottingham by John Blackner. At the time, stocking machines were extremely expensive, so mechanically trained weavers hired them from wealthy patrons.

Their bosses would supply yarn and buy the knitted items for distribution, leaving hand-weavers unemployed. So these hand-knitters began to sabotage the machines and claim Ned Ludd did it. They proclaimed him their legendary leader, referring to him as General, Captain, or King Ludd.

What Did the Luddites Believe in?

Luddites opposed automation, computerization, and technology in general. They were organized saboteurs who took their name from Ned Ludd, and by 1812, they wrote angry letters, signed them Ned Ludd, and systematically destroyed the textile machines that were stealing their jobs.

They even wrote a folk song called The Triumph of General Ludd, covered by Chumbawamba in 2003. Their rebellion lasted from 1811 to 1817, and many were executed. Lots of contemporary songs, books, TV shows, video games, and eateries have referenced Ned Ludd over the years.

What is the Main Aim of Luddism?

Luddism is all about fighting technology and modernism. It started in Nottingham, England, and members took secret oaths to ensure loyalty. It was based on Ned Ludd, who – like Robin Hood – allegedly lived in Sherwood Forest and organized his guerilla campaigns from there.

Other stories claim the Celtic King Lludd map Beli Mawr was the Welsh Monarch who built London and rests in Ludgate. He’s sometimes known as Lud or Ludd. Either way, traditional weavers lost business to machinists and couldn’t find work so they sabotaged the spinning tech.

What Were the Luddites Angry About?

When William Lee invented his stocking machine in 1589, it spurred advancements in the textile industry and broadened the Industrial Revolution. His machine could knit cotton, silk, worsted (wool), and ribbed edges. By the 1800s, it could make lace. The first one had 8 needles per inch.

These expanded to 16 needles, then 20. The machine failed in Lee’s lifetime, but his assistant, John Ashton, tweaked it. Later, adjustments by Richard Arkwright, Samuel Wise, and Jedediah Strutt led to a spinning machine that eventually replaced tons of hand-knitters and lace-makers.

How Long Did the Luddite Movement Last?

The Luddite Movement ran from 1811 to 1817 before it was crushed by military intervention. Lots of Luddites were arrested, shot, killed, or sent to penal colonies in Australia. What did they do to deserve this? They used sledgehammers called Great Enoch to smash stocking machines.

Enoch was a local blacksmith who – ironically – made both the hammers and the automated knitters. Luddites also wrote letters, sent death threats, burned mills, and dressed as women who called themselves Ludd’s Wives. But on at least one occasion they did kill a mill owner…

What Were the Luddites Most Famous For?

The Luddites were famous for sabotaging the spinning machines in textile mills. Ironically, when Lee first invented his knitting machine, Queen Elizabeth I and Later King James I both denied him a patent because it would make weavers, lace-makers, and hand-knitters redundant.

Lee moved his operation to France where King Henri IV was more accepting, but his business didn’t work out. Later, French Protestants called Huguenots moved back to England to spin and sell silk. Centuries on, these silk and wool weavers used Luddism to battle cotton mill machines.

What Causes Luddism?

Industrialism and technology. Traditionally, weaving, knitting, and spinning were crafts that took decades to master. But the new stocking machines produced silk, wool, and eventually cotton garments. The machines were quicker, cheaper, more efficient, and used fewer workers.

Traditional artisans lost their identity as well as their income, so they developed Luddism to defend themselves. Curiously, low-wage mill workers joined the movement as well, hoping to improve their working conditions. They had limited technical skills and were paid horribly.

How Many Luddites Were Executed?

Luddites included both handloom artisans and textile workers. During the Napoleonic Wars, these weavers would burn stocking machines, mills, and sometimes entire factories while the low-wage textile laborers would sabotage and destroy the equipment inside the buildings.

Class was a factor as well, with the middle and upper classes supporting the monarchy, the military, and the government against the Luddites and lower classes. Officially, 17 Luddites were hanged, including George Mellor and two others who killed William Horsfall, a harsh textile mill owner.

Who Are the Luddites of Today?

60 alleged Luddites were tried by a jury in 1813. Some – including Benjamin Walker – turned state witness. 30 of the accused were acquitted for lack of evidence. 17 were executed and others were sent to convict colonies. The Frame Breaking Act of 1812 turned sabotage into a capital crime.

Today’s Luddites are people generally opposed to technology. They include communities like the Amish in America or the Chipko in India and Nepal. But in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, formal Neo-Luddites were meeting at conferences and conventions complete with academic manifestos.

What Are Today’s Luddites Afraid Of?

Some neo-luddites avoid technology because they feel it dilutes the social fabric. They want us to care more about people instead of commerce. Others neo-luddites have more extreme concerns. They believe factors like biological engineering and surveillance have disastrous global effects.

The issues they raise include computers taking over jobs, smartphones increasing psychological ailments, and materialism destroying empathy and humanity. Fringe elements worry about 5G, vaccination, robot takeovers, genetically modified food, genetic decay, and nuclear apocalypse.

Is Luddite an Insult?

To some people, yes. It’s often used in a derogatory way to describe technophobic folk, though it can also define people who are against consumerism and computers. The original Luddites were violent saboteurs, but today’s luddites are more likely to be passive and theoretical philosophers.

The movement is loose and unaffiliated though, so it sometimes blankets anti-globalists, radical environmentalists, and deep ecologists. Others embrace casual homesteading and simpler off-grid lifestyles. Practitioners only oppose harmful technologies rather than overall advancement.

Is it OK to Be a Luddite?

It depends. Some modern luddites (note the small ‘l’) are fine with technology after they’ve tested it and proved that it isn’t harmful. They believe consumerism and capitalism will not necessarily solve the world’s problems. But others still sabotage technology and cause damage.

Many neo-luddites invite us to consider the social and ecological impacts of technology, not just its economic ones. They focus on the ways that ‘progress’ can catalyze societal collapse through economic inequality, inhumanity, harming nature, and thoughtless environmental destruction.

Are Luddites Dangerous?

Again, it depends. At least three of the Original Luddites (from the 1800s) committed murder. And some neo-luddites still advocate for vandalism and property damage. One prominent neo-luddite was Ted Kaczynski, the Berkley professor who became the Unabomber and killed people.

And in 2012, self-proclaimed neo-luddite anarchists shot Ansaldo Nucleare Executive Roberto Adinolfi. But most neo-luddites describe themselves as pacifists. Kirkpatrick Sale and Chellis Glendinning are considered the founders of Neo-Luddism, and they both openly reject violence.

Soooo … What’s Ludd Got to Do With it?!?

Ned Ludd was the mythical figure that inspired Luddites to start their movement. He was later known as King Ludd, Captain Ludd, or General Ludd, and claimed as their great leader. Some rowdy kids beat him up and he responded by smashing two knitting machines. So the next time some dude says women are too emotional … and tells you to calm down or go knit a sweater …