Ned Ludd, or possibly Ned Ludham, was the real or imagined inspiration of the Luddite movement in England in the early nineteenth century.
The historical warrant for the existence of Ned Ludd is very thin. Allegedly this man, born Ned Ludham, was a stocking maker's apprentice in Leicester during the late eighteenth century. Apparently he smashed his master's stocking frames with a hammer in a fit of rage over a dispute with his master over working conditions. This incident is believed to have taken place in 1779.
The Luddite Movement
In 1811, the economy of England was in depression. The American market was closed to the British on account of the continued dispute over the seizure of American cargo ships bound for French ports during the Napoleonic Wars. (This dispute would escalate to the War of 1812.) In addition, the harvests of wheat and other foodstuffs had been less than plentiful, with the result that food prices were higher than usual and indeed higher than many industrial workers could afford.
Workers in the textile industries blamed the invention of mechanized looms for the depression. Then in February 1811, negotiations in and around Nottingham over wages and frame rents broke down. Workers smashed 200 frames between February and November 1811, and claimed to be under the orders of a "General" Ned Ludd.
The movement spread from Nottingham to Lancashire, Cheshire, Liverpool, and Manchester. In Stockport, two men dressed as women and claiming to be the wives of Ned Ludd incited a riot that caused the destruction of many machines and damage to the house of a steam loom owner by thrown stones. Hundreds of rioters were arrested, and many were sentenced either to execution or to transport to the Botany Bay penal colony (specifically, New South Wales, Australia.)
The movement then spread to Yorkshire, center of the wool trade. Here the protests turned violent, and several machine owners received death threats. The local militia and the Royal Army mobilized against the Luddites. After about 1000 machines had been damaged (1813), the local militias and a 12,000-strong regular army force defeated the Luddites permanently.
Ned Ludd is remembered today in multiple popular ballads. In addition, "Luddite" is a popular word that stands for any movement in opposition to the introduction of new technology for any reason, but especially on account of ostensible concern for the plight of workers who find themselves "displaced" by such technology.
- Apostolakou L, "Ned Ludd: Popular protest and machine breaking in England," Suite 101, February 27, 2009. <http://historicalbiographies.suite101.com/article.cfm/ned_ludd>