Luddites in Marsden

Who were the Luddites?

Frame breaking from the Penny Magazine 1844

Frame breaking from the Penny Magazine, 1844

The Luddites were an organised group of workers in the textile industry, who destroyed the machinery that was taking their livelihoods. The movement began in 1811 in Nottinghamshire, and quickly spread to Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

The movement was believed to have been founded by Ned Ludd, but he was never identified, and may well be mythical. Some authorities claim his surname to be Ludlam. The movement was dedicated to destroying machinery, not people

Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, instigated severe measures, culminating in a mass trial at York in 1813. This resulted in executions and transportations against the Luddites

The Luddites in Marsden

Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, food was scarce and unemployment was high. James and Enoch Taylor, two brothers who were smiths in Marsden, developed and made a cropping machine that could do the work of 10 hand-croppers. The mill owners in the Marsden area were installing these machines. Enoch Taylor also made sledgehammers, which were called "Enochs", so the Luddites would quip, "Enoch made them, and Enoch shall break them."

Apparently, the law-abiding menfolk of Marsden were stirred to riot by "desperate men of Longroyd Bridge!" The first riot was at the scene of William Horsfall's mill, which had been fortified.

The leader of the Marsden Luddites was George Mellor. He could read and write, and while in prison signed a petition calling for Parliamentary reform. He worked at John Wood's finishing shop at Longroyd Bridge, along with Benjamin Walker, who, according to some, was to betray them eventually. New documentary evidence, however, seems to suggest that this may not be altogether true.

Regular troops and cavalry were brought in and quartered in the village.

The Luddite Myth

The word 'luddite' has come to be used to describe a mindless opposition to change, particularly technological change. However, this is something of a myth. There is no record, for example, of them opposing the new canal in Marsden, nor of any threat to the Taylors' workshop, which made the new machines.. All the violence was against machines in mills, and there appears to have been an element of radical, even revolutionary, political thought in the movement. To lose one's livelihood would mean poverty and starvation, smashing machines carried the death penalty, and trade union activities were illegal. With this in mind, the luddite response seems neither mindless nor unfocussed.