Since the 1960s the term luddite has meant someone who refused or feared to use new technology.

200 years ago Luddites were an organised group of textile workers who, rather than fearing new technology because it was unfamiliar, worried that their wages would be diminished as mechanised looms replaced hand looms.

In the early 19th Century the industrial revolution was in full swing. The UK’s population grew dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of men employed by the military started looking for work as wars ended. Overseas labour increased and wages fell. With mill owners hiring unskilled workers and unions banned, skilled textile workers feared for their livelihoods.

Between 1812 and 1817 the Luddites destroyed mill machinery – their main target was the stocking frame, a knitting machine. Many of the Luddites were imprisoned or transported to Australia. The Destruction of Stocking Frames Act 1812 meant that judges could bring the death penalty for the destruction of machinery, which they did from 1812-13, and again in 1817.

The Luddites took their name from the fictional person they saw as their movement’s leader: King Ludd, a character possibly inspired by the folk tale of a man named Ned Ludd, a textile worker who in 1779 was believed to have broken two stocking frames.

Lord Byron, who sympathised with the movement and argued vehemently in parliament against Acts allowing capital punishment for the breaking of machinery, wrote this poem about the Luddites.

(Image: La révolte luddite photo by Martin Erpicum, used under Creative Commons License.)