Ludds On Tour #7: The Roof Is On Fire
For all the misery, anger and betrayal mixed up in the stories of dissent in the late Georgian period, there are a fair few that, though often grim, are hard not to laugh at. Though not formally associated with the movement, the attack in Sunderland March 20th1815 had all the same basic ingredients of a Luddite raid: A new machine (the coal staiths, a platform with a mechanism that loaded coal onto boats to be taken downriver for export), a group of workers who stood to lose their livelihoods from its introduction (the Keelmen, who handled the transportation of coal along the rivers of the North East, around a thousand of them in this case), and an objective (quick and total destruction).
The Keelmen showed up at around 4pm and quickly accomplished their objective, blocking the river with their boats, seeing off the local law enforcement and chopping down the staiths. They continued on to burn them the ground, and the Durham County Adviser described what happened next:
“A young man, called Bennett, a carpenter, about 18 years of age, who had undertaken to set fire to the building in which the machinery was contained, by attaching a burning tar barrel to the roof, fell whilst in the act, and was so severely bruised he died the next morning, very fortunately for himself; for had he survived, he must doubtless have suffered a disgraceful and ignominious death, as an atonement to the offended laws of his country.”
Even during a coordinated assault, teenage boys seem to be unable to keep from showing off, particularly at great heights and with fire. Carrying flaming tar barrels around is a tradition in my home county of Devon, but it proved fatal for poor Bennett.