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Luddism

'Luddism' was the name given by contemporaries to the activities of machine-breakers in the Midlands and North during the period 1811-16. Historians have long debated the causes and character of the movement, focusing particularly on whether it was primarily a form of industrial protest motivated by economic hardship or part of a wider insurrectionary political movement. Historians of Methodism have sought to establish the character and extent of Methodist involvement in the disturbances, which occurred in some of the areas of most rapid Methodist expansion in that decade. Connexional leaders were anxious to demonstrate their loyalty in order to remove any justification for restrictions on itinerant preaching threatened by the Sidmouth Billof 1811; hence the exhortations of WM preachers to 'fear the Lord and the King, and meddle not with them that are given to change'. But David Hempton has questioned the effectiveness of such injunctions and W.R. Ward has suggested that Methodists 'stood on both sides of the conflict'. Some Methodist employers, for example Daniel Burton of Middleton, Lancs and Francis Vickerman of Huddersfield, were certainly targeted by the Luddites. But evidence for Methodist participation in the riots has proved more elusive. For Jabez Bunting, who had sanctioned the burial of a Luddite son of Methodist parents in the graveyard of his Halifax chapel, the 'awful fact' that of 17 Luddites hanged at York in January 1813 no fewer than six were 'sons of Methodists' demonstrated the failure of Methodist parents and suggested that Methodist progress in the West Riding had been 'more swift than solid; more extensive than deep'.

Sources

  • W.R. Ward, Religion and Society in England 1790-1850 (1972)
  • David Hempton, Methodism and Politics in British Society 1750-1850 (1984)
  • J.A. Hargreaves, in Northern History 26 (1990) pp.160-85

Entry written by: JAH
Category: Subject

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