THEY were one of the industry’s most controversial movements 200 years ago.
And the Luddite movement is set to spark more debate at a 200th anniversary festival in Huddersfield next April.
The Luddite 200 festival, which is set to feature live music, poetry and discussion, coincides with the 200th anniversary of when Luddite activity reached its climax in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The festival committee drew up more plans for the event at a planning meeting at the Albert Hotel.
The Luddites were a group of skilled textile workers from Yorkshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire who were opposed to the growing mechanisation of their trade.
The movement’s activity in the West Riding culminated in April 1811 with the smashing of machines at Rawfolds Mill, Hartshead, in which two Luddites were killed, and the assassination of Marsden mill owner William Horsfall, in Crosland Moor.
The Luddite movement, named after folkloric machine breaker Ned Ludd, still divides opinion.
Some believe the Luddites were enemies of progress. The term ‘luddite’ is often used pejoratively to describe someone who is afraid of change.
Others believe they were artisans protecting their livelihoods against cheaper, unskilled labour which produced inferior products.
Some modern thinkers revere the Luddites for resisting technology which has led to unsustainable consumption of the Earth’s resources.
A spokesman for Luddite 200 said: “Today, the industrial system that the Luddites were rebelling against has led to climate change and huge losses of biodiversity, and its new technologies, such as information technology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology raise equally profound issues.
“Yet anyone who raises concern about the price and side-effects of new technologies is harshly condemned as a ‘luddite’, someone supposedly irrationally opposed to technology and progress.
“In fact, the Luddites were not ‘luddites’ in that sense: the idea that they were opposed to all technology is a history written by the victors.
“In fact the Luddites opposed only technology ‘hurtful to commonality’, ie) to the common good, rather than the narrow interests of the few.
“The festival aims to promote local band, poets and hold workshops on the Luddites and the use of technology today.”
For more information on the Luddites and Luddite 200 visit: www.luddites200.org.uk
By 1812, machine-breaking had been a form of protest in England for more than 100 years.
1812 saw one of the most serious outbreaks in the West Riding of Yorkshire, particularly in the Colne and Spen Valleys.
Skilled tradesmen known as croppers – who manipulated huge shears to smooth the surface of woollen cloth – faced the loss of their livelihoods due to the machines.
Bands of them set out to smash the machines and make violent raids on mills.
They swore oaths of secrecy and adopted the figure of General Ludd as their semi-mythical leader.
After mill owner William Horsfall was ambushed and murdered at Crosland Moor, the authorities stepped up their investigations and huge numbers of troops flooded the area
Many arrests were made and at York Gaol in January 1813 a string of executions brought the episode to an end.