"Machine breaking and strike action were characteristic of unruly and undisciplined Labourers".

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"Machine breaking and strike action were characteristic

of unruly and undisciplined Labourers"

Violence, protest and machine breaking were all characteristic of the late 18th

and early 19th century.  Employers seeking to make more off less, drove down

workers wages with the more widespread use of machines, such as the gig mill.  

After failed attempts at lawfully seeking and upholding statutes which protected

the outworking system from newly mechanised 'factory' industry, where

products were of a lesser quality, the workers were left with little choice but to

resist with violence.  This happened at a time when bad harvests had caused an

acute increase in food prices, and foreign wars had damaged foreign trade.  Not

only did they resent this tide of cheaper, faster and less-skilled change, but also

to the greater shift in change to 'Laissez-faire' capitalism which left them

completely unprotected.  Although the assumption that the act of deliberate

wrecking of industrial machines was born with the Luddites, this is not the case,

moreover the assumption that these violent outbursts were committed by the

un-skilled lower class 'mob' are also untrue.  This Luddite myth is one that

needs addressing, as it has fallen into lore.  However it can not be ignored that

the violence did sometimes escalate out of control (ending in death) yet this

serves to prove just how frustrated and desperate these people were.

Accounts of skilled workers having their livelihoods destroyed by the

introduction of machine(s) go back far and wide in History.  In Spitalfields in

1675, well over a hundred years before the invention of General Ludd, narrow

weavers vented their aggression at new “engines” that could do the work of

several people.  Also in 1710 a London hosier employing too many apprentices

in violation of the Framework Knitters Charter had his machines broken by

angry Stockingers .  As we can see machine breaking had been used as a weapon

used by workers to protest against radical and resentful change within their


Yet these workers were in no way unruly and undisciplined, far from it, they

were skilled workers, artizans, proud and reasonably educated, they were the

lifeblood of the northern economy and they felt themselves being slowly

eradicated in favour of machines that not did the work faster but cheaper and in

a poor fashion.

1779 saw Nottingham framework knitters petition parliament for a bill to

regulate their trade, this along with a bill the previous year to regulate their

wages were thrown out by parliament.  As soon as news of this reached the

framework knitters violent protest was directed at Samuel Need, the leading

opposition of the bill.  Samuel Need was a powerful master hosier and joint

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owner of Arkwight’s cotton mill , he obviously did not see fit to grant the

knitters their demands at the loss of his own interests.  

Riots against Need lasted almost 2 weeks with attacks made on his mill, the

destruction of “...some fifty stocking frames...and the burning of the house of

the master Hosier” .  The dispute ended with troops being deployed, however

agreements were made between the master hosiers and the framework knitters

on wages which lasted for over 20 years, also those arrested for the vandalism

were given “light sentences” ...

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