Feb 07, 2021

Fiction Historical Fiction

This is my confession. At the age of eighty one I feel it’s time to relieve myself of this secret, this burden that I’ve been carrying around. People thought I didn’t exist, you see. They thought I was a myth, or folklore or just a name for a cause. I’m not, I’m very real, however, it was in my best interest to be smart by hiding in plain sight. I want you to know that I never set out to be a violent man, but I am and always have been a passionate man. I suppose, to give you more understanding, I should explain from the start, before it all happened, so you can see why I did what I did, before judging me when I reveal who I am.

Going back many generations my family have been skilled in the art of weaving and sewing. It was a craft that allowed us to work and earn money from home, as a family. Mother would light a fire in the winter so our fingers didn’t hurt through the cold and it would also allow us to see and work longer when the days became shorter. I can’t remember a day back then when father cussed about the lack of money. Oh we weren’t rich, but were making enough cloths put food in our bellies, clothes on our backs and a roof over out head. I remember those times fondly, there was happiness and laughter. It all changed though, didn’t it? Like things do, and not for the better I can tell you. I can still hear my dad in my ears to this day when he told me that there was no more work and we would be leaving our home for a different one. Nottingham was where the work was he told me. He painted a picture in my mind, of the big buildings-factories he said they were called, similar to the textile mills but were all newly built, with lots of space. Work would be regular and all would be well.

I have to admit that I cried the day we left Leicester. I didn’t let my mother and father see of course, my dad especially would have cuffed me ‘round the ear for being soft.

I hated our new home, it was cramped and damp. We had to share it with another family-I hated them too. The factory wasn’t how my father told me it would be. Oh it was big, but the inside was crammed with textile machinery and there was barely enough room for any workers. At the beginning I couldn’t understand the need for quite so many machines. They were cold looking and loud. One day in 1779, when I was still a young lad, I remember got so enraged with the noise of the factory, the machinery working at full speed. My head felt full and I couldn’t hear myself think. The boss was yelling at me non-stop as I kept making mistakes. I just couldn’t concentrate, so I snapped and took my rage out on two of the stocking frames. I smashed them to pieces. I got sent home that day and had to pay for the damage I caused out of my wages. My father was not a happy man with the loss of money as money was tight as things were. It was not long after that, that my father passed away and it came down to me to support my mother and younger siblings.

Over the next 30 years I came to look at that factory as more of a prison. Initially I worked long hours for petty pay. Then the work load increased but the time to do it in decreased. Times were ever changing and as more factories sprang up in all different industries, not just textiles, skilled workers and small traders were losing jobs and businesses. Faster and cheaper was all that the big business men wanted, they didn’t care about us workers. You didn’t even need to know your trade to get a job in a factory, in fact the less skills you had, the less they payed you and the more money in the boss man’s fat pockets. I witnessed families, friends and neighbours suffering and struggling to keep a roof over their heads, as the employment they were promised was taken away. Many people that I cared about died at the hands of poverty. By 1810, the workers at the factory I slaved away in had halved and newer machines were installed. The Boss blamed Napoleon for the layoffs, saying business was down ‘cause Napoleon was causing a ruckus in Europe. It was true that food was frequently scarce and cost more because of the war, but it didn’t excuse the lack of work and crippling pay in my eyes.

I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated, so I organised a meeting one evening in the clearing of the local woods. About 30 men and a few woman turned out. It was agreed that we should stage a protest the next day and demand from the factory owner more hours and better pay. It was something we felt we deserved but also needed in order to survive. The next morning, on 11th March 1811 we gathered outside the factory, (some local villagers joined us in support) chanting ‘More work, more pay, or we won’t work another day,’ but the owner refused to discuss our demands with me, he couldn’t understand what the fuss was about and thought we should be grateful with our lot. To be honest with you, we could have never gone through with the threat of not working as the money was essential and the factory owner knew it. When we wouldn’t be heard some men got angry and started turning on each other with the frustration; tempers were frayed. We were surprised when army troops came to supress us. I had thought that they were all fighting Bonaparte at the time. Some of my men were roughed up by the soldiers, and eventually I encouraged everyone to go home for their own sakes.

For me, peaceful protesting wasn’t working and I needed to make sure that the workers I had rallied were taken seriously. That night we broke into the factory and started destroying equipment and machinery with our hammers. We definitely got the factory owners attention then as he arrived with a few men and they started to shoot at as. We ran from the gun fire but sadly one of us, Charles, was shot and injured. He later died from his wound.

I wrote to family members across the country to explain the importance protesting and encouraged them to do the same. Eventually the workers of the north of England decided they wanted to be heard and deserved more work and more pay.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming, but some of the workers were using violence and turned to rioting especially in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Some men and women were turning out in their thousands to be heard. Groups were saying I was their leader in order to strike fear into the factory and mill. It must have worked as I heard that some had built secret chambers in their homes and factories so they could hide from the rioters. Troops were employed to guard the larger mills and factories; it was said that there were more soldiers protecting factories than fighting Napoleon abroad. However, I hand on heart believe that the workers received more violence than they gave out. I remember a case in Manchester in 1812, reported in the newspaper, that the owner of a mill got his men to fire into the crowd of protesters. Eight were killed and eighteen wounded. There were many stories like this.

When I organised the first protest, I believed us workers had a genuine cause to plea and I had no intention to incite violence, and yes, I led the first destruction of the machines, but I thought it would be enough to make the owner listen, but it wasn’t. I also believed that spreading the word might make at least one factory owner make changes and the rest follow suit. I was sadly naive and my name was used to describe angry workers, to inspire angry workers and scare factory owners but to no real end. Too much death happened because of my name. My name became dangerous to me and my family so I had to change it.

By 1816 the number of protestors and rioters dwindled as penalties became harsher for those who were caught. Magistrates would give out sentences such as transportation or even death. The factory and mill owners were protected and the workers needs neglected.

My name is Edward Ludlam, or Ned Lud to my friends in the past. Some have called me Captain Ludd, others have called me King Ludd or General Ludd. I am the founder and apparent leader of the Luddite movement.

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