Ned Ludd or Ned Lud, possibly born Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam, is the person from whom the Luddites took their name.
In 1779, Ludd is supposed to have broken two stocking frames in a fit of rage. After this incident, attacks on the frames were jokingly blamed on Ludd. When the “Luddites” emerged in the 1810s, his identity was appropriated to become the folkloric character of Captain Ludd, also known as King Ludd or General Ludd, the Luddites’ alleged leader and founder.
Supposedly, Ludd was a weaver from Anstey, near Leicester. In 1779, either after being whipped for idleness, or after being taunted by local youths, he smashed two knitting frames in what was described as a “fit of passion.” This story is traceable to an article in The Nottingham Review on 20 December 1811, but there is no independent evidence of its truth.
John Blackner’s book History of Nottingham, also published in 1811, provides a variant tale of a lad called “Ludnam” who was told by his father, a framework-knitter, to “square his needles.” Ludnam took a hammer and “beat them into a heap.” News of the incident spread, and whenever frames were sabotaged, people would jokingly say “Ned Ludd did it.” Nothing more is known about the life of Ludd.
By 1812, the organized frame-breakers who became known as the Luddites had begun using the name King Ludd or Captain Ludd for their mythical leader. Letters and proclamations were signed by “Ned Ludd.”
In Popular Culture
The character of Ned Ludd is commemorated in the folk ballad “General Ludd’s Triumph.” Chumbawamba recorded a version of this song on their 2003 release, English Rebel Songs 1381–1984.
Robert Calvert wrote and recorded another song “Ned Ludd,” which appeared on his 1985 album Freq; which includes the lyrics:
They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.
Steeleye Span’s 2006 album Bloody Men has a five-part section on the subject of Ned Ludd.
The Heaven Shall Burn song “The Final March” has a direct reference to Captain Ludd.
Alt-country band The Gourds affectionately refer to Ned Ludd as “Uncle Ned” in the song “Luddite Juice” off their 2009 release, Haymaker.
The Scottish folk musician Alasdair Roberts sings of Ned Ludd in his song “Ned Ludd’s Rant (For World Rebarbarised)” on his 2009 album, Spoils.
Theo Simon has written a song entitled “Ned Ludd,” commemorating the machine-breakers of 1811-13 and praising current direct action protest as a continuation of his ethos.
San Diego punk band The Night Marchers included a song called “Ned Lud” on their 2013 release “Allez, Allez.”
Edmund Cooper’s alternative-history The Cloud Walker is set in a world where the Luddite ethos has given rise to a religious hierarchy, which dominates English society and sets carefully prescribed limits on technology. A hammer – the tool supposedly used by Ned Ludd – is a religious symbol, and Ned Ludd is seen as a divine, messianic figure.
The novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), by Edward Abbey, is dedicated to Ned Ludd.
Anne Finger wrote a collection of short stories titled Call Me Ahab about famous disabled historical and literary figures, which included the story “Our Ned” about Ned Ludd.
Ecodefense: A Field Guide To Monkeywrenching was published by Ned Ludd Books. Much of the content came from the “Dear Ned Ludd” column in the newsletter of the group Earth First!.
My family were Ludlams from Keighley who found it prudent to emigrate to Canada in the early 1820s. I can imagine why. My mother is a genealogist who has tracked down much of the history. I have fun claiming to be a living descendant of the infamous Ned Ludd. The inside of the Luddites was never revealed. Even in old age, those involved refused to disclose their organizational details. It was quite in keeping in the days of secret societies and government persecution to mislead the authorities by putting up a false front. Ned just emerged as a foil. But, it’s a very romantic and heroic business.
Thank you for your perspective. I love to question the “story” behind the history.