The Secret Meeting

Hear the Luddites' voices in RealAudio 3 Child | Ned | Benjy | Mary | Sarah | James | Sam

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"We all know why we're here," said my good friend William, without preamble. "You've heard about what happened up at Arnold this fortnight past. Go on, John, tell us your story."

And there he put me on the spot, straight out. I didn't know what to say — where to start. It was uncomfortable sitting in the silence there, in the cave, with the lanterns' flickering light making shadows like spectres on the walls, so I had to say something. I just told them about me and mine, and why me and Samuel and Danny and Jem had decided to do what we did.

"I've been a framework knitter for nigh on 15 year. For six year now, I've been working for the hosier Walter Lockhear. Then I was thrown out of employment by Mr Lockhear. I worked a little, here and there, but now I am unable to find further work except at such low rates as would not allow me to feed my family.

"I wasn't the only one. Times are hard. Hosiers have been reducing the wage they offer and it were not enough in any case. We're in a poor state — but you know about that. So last month, being at a loss for anything we could say to the Hosiers to persuade them to be fair, we decided to take some positive action. A group of us, about six in number, including me and young Ned here, in the dark of the night, broke into a workshop in Arnold, where there were several frames belonging to Mr Lockhear.

"We took off the jackwires from the frames — they won't work without them. We didn't do no damage but take them wires. And we put half of them in St Mary's church and half in St Paul's over Daybrook way. We weren't stealing, you understand, we just wanted to make our point.

"It caused a stir, certainly. Some other knitters came to meet with us after that. They wanted to carry it on, to break more frames, especially those wide frames they make the cheap unshaped stockings on — engines of mischief one called them. So we determined that we would continue. Mind, there's been no violence, no harm done to man nor beast, and we left alone those frames as were owned by individuals, as needed their livelihood."