One thing that many of the conspirators had in common was that they were artisans, skilled men, whose earnings had been decimated by the Industrial Revolution and the end of the Napoleonic wars. The revolt against the machines that drove the industrial revolution was symbolised by the Luddite revolts of the early 19th century.
To cut the cost of fighting the war the government had abolished the Statute of Artificers, which had protected the apprenticeship system since the time of Elisabeth I. This had cast many artisans into poverty as cheap labour took away work.
The Luddites was a revolt by craftsmen as machines destroyed the wages of skilled workers. Ned Ludd, possibly born Edward Ludlam, is the person from whom, it is popularly claimed, the Luddites took their name. In 1779, Ludd is supposed to have broken two stocking frames in a fit of rage. When the “Luddites” emerged in the 1810s, his identity was appropriated to become the folkloric character of Captain Ludd, also known as King Ludd or General Ludd, the Luddites’ alleged leader and founder.
The revolt of the artisan was widespread at this time. This was symbolised by the plight of the handloom weavers, whose skilled work had been taken by women and children in the new steam powered cotton mills. The reaction to the poverty this caused was violence. Gangs of unemployed men, known as Luddites took to raiding these mills. The name of ‘Ned Ludd’ and his great hammer ‘Enoch’ became infamous across England.
General Ludd by Seize the Day
The Lyrics and song on this video were performed by folk band Seize the Day at the Big Green gathering in 2000. Further details about Seize the Day are on their website: