Britain had been at war with France since 1793, following the revolution of 1789.

The fear amongst the English ruling classes that something similar may occur here was reflected in their attempts to stiffle both political and industrial activity. The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 attempted to circumscribe workers' organisations by prohibiting trade unions and collective bargaining. But the effect of this repression was merely to drive activity largely undergound. E.P Thompson argued that repression helped to dissolve the remaining ties of loyalty between people and their masters, with illegal trade unionisms being the stock which Jacobinism had been grafted.

Napoleon's dominance of continental Europe lead to economic warfare : a series of tit-for-tat measures resulted in the Orders in Council of 1807, whereby Britain effectively blockaded the ports of France and her allies, resulting in a severe depression of trade. This was made worse by the American Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which closed American ports to British ships.

In turn, this hit the cotton and woollen industry of the North of England particularly hard and affected the internal market as well. Unemployement rose and allied to the absence of imports, bad harvest in 1810 & 1811 increased the price of food, with the price of corn reaching a peak in 1812 that it never saw for over 100 years. Distress and starvation was all too common.
—The Luddite Bicentenary (March 10, 2011) "The Broad Context of Luddism"


It was early in the spring of 1811 that the phenomenon of Luddism first manifested itself in the Midlands, and, in particular, Nottinghamshire.

Yet if the popular understanding of Luddism is as a response to labour-saving technology, then what took place in Nottinghamshire does not necessarily provide a good example. In the early nineteenth century, the destruction of machinery was the response to a number of factors which were leading to the exploitation of working-class artisans in the hosiery trade at this time. Unlike some of the other mechanical devices that Luddites in other areas attacked, the mechanical knitting machine ("stocking frame") was not a new device, having been invented over 220 years before by William Lee in the Nottinghamshire village of Calverton in 1589.

The men who worked the machines, stockingers, were skilled artisans. But despite their "artisan" status, in reality stockingers had relatively little autonomy. The trade was controlled by master hosiers, who acted as merchants selling the products produced by the artisans. Some of the hosiers owned factories in the town, but, by and large, hosiery was a domestic system. The stockingers either worked from home in the villages surrounding Nottingham or in the workshops of "small masters". Most of them rented their stocking frame from either the hosier, or independent speculators who had invested in machinery during the boom years.

The early 1800s saw a declining market for hosiery and lace, chiefly influenced by the closing of foreign markets with the introduction of the Orders in Council in 1807.
—The Luddite Bicentenary (March 10, 2011) "Nottinghamshire & The Midlands in 1811"
What became the first instance of Luddism in the year 1811 began during the daytime on Monday 11th March.

Hundreds of stockingers gathered in the market place in Nottingham, where angry speeches were made and the crowd was vociferous in condemning their Employers and clamouring for work and a more liberal price. Constables were called out and a troop of Dragoons paraded until nine o'clock in the evening.

The crowd then dispersed, but continued on to march to Arnold, north of Nottingham. Between dusk and dawn, no less than sixty stocking frames were broken by the mob, swarming around the town, entering the houses of unpopular stockingers, and breaking the frames of special, hated hosiers. The general populace so far from preventing, actually aided and abetted the disturbance, cheering on the frame-breakers and obstructing the authorities. It was necessary to call out the Dragoons the following morning in order to clear the town.
—The Luddite Bicentenary (March 11, 2011) "11th March 1811: the first Luddite attack at Arnold, Nottinghamshire"
Mr H at Bulwell


Sir if you do not pull don the Frames
or stop pay [in] Goods onely for work
extra work or m[ake] in Full fashon
my Companey will [vi]sit yr machines
for execution again[nst] [y]ou --
Mr Bolton the Forfeit--
I visitd him --

Ned Lu[d], 
Kings [illegible]
Nottinghm-- Novembr 8, 1811
A threatening letter, one of the earliest known in Nottinghamshire Luddism that mentions Ned Ludd. The target is probably a Hosier whose premises were attacked two days later. Reference to an attack on a "Mr Bolton" is most likely the target of the first frame-breaking that took place in March 1811.
—The Luddite Bicentenary (November 8, 2011) 8th November 1811: Letter from Ned Ludd at Nottingham to Mr H at Bulwell