As we come up to the 200th anniversary of the peak of luddite activity in our area we can hopefully look forward to more accurate and better-informed appraisals than that afforded by Mr Appleyard in last week’s edition.
It would take too long to dissect all the inaccuracies, however his portrayal of the ‘suffering’ endured by Byron, Shelley and Keats is laughably off-target. Byron and Shelley, outstanding poets though they are, were scions of the aristocracy. Lord Byron, descended from a long line of unstable characters, spent his time hunting down heiresses and then running off with either married women or young teenagers; his outrageous behavior was, in fact, indulged by society until, even by his standards, he went too far and fled England amid allegations of sodomy and incest. His inspiring speech about the Luddite stocking-knitters of Nottingham was not sustained, as he quickly found other causes to be passionate about. He named his private yacht Bolivar; was an uncritical admirer of Napoleon and died of a fever whilst championing Greek independence.
Shelley, who self-indulgently abandoned his wife and children to cavort around Europe with various young women, was descended from the Earls of Arundel and the grandson of a wealthy baronet; and Keats was only a schoolboy at the time of the Luddites – albeit one with trust funds amounting to over £370,000 in today’s money waiting for him. None of them felt any of the alleged conditions outlined by Mr Appleyard!
The trials at York were humane for their day with many of the accused being found not guilty on the flimsy evidence presented. Three were hanged for the murder of William Horsfall (although undoubtedly Mellors had been one of the ring leaders at Rawfold’s Mill). Other leaders were not Luddites but Republicans, who gleefully hijacked the Luddite cause for their own ends. It was their activities and influence, at a time when Napoleon was still in the ascendant (1812) and Britain was trying to finance half of Europe, as well as fighting for its own survival, which led to the Establishment seeing revolution in the air rather than just another trade dispute.
Finally, whilst there was extreme suffering amongst the population for a variety of reasons, the Croppers were the elite of the Artisan class, with many more concerned with preserving their own status than with bettering conditions for everyone. The year of 1812 was a fascinating one but let us please not settle for myth and biased sentimental ‘socialist’ twaddle.