The Lady Ludd Riots of 1812

Lady Ludd Riots (August 1812)
Briggate
These took place on Briggate at the height of summer, when a group of women and boys marched through the street attacking corn merchants in protest at perceived high prices. The group was led by a figure styling themselves as ‘Lady Ludd’ – named after ‘Ned Ludd’, the (possibly mythological) personage said to have inspired the Luddites by his breaking of machinery. Some have speculated that ‘Lady Ludd’ was a male protester dressed as a woman to evade identification; others have suggested that Alice Mann may have been ‘playing’ the character.

Further Information and Sources
Contemporary sources for the Lady Ludd riots are limited, although the events were reported by both local newspapers of the day – the Leeds Mercury and the Leeds Intelligencer:

Leeds Intelligencer, 24.08.1812, p3
Leeds Mercury, 22.08.1812, p.3

There is also a brief account on page 229 of William Parson and William White’s 1834 Annals, History and Guide of Leeds and York (1830) – likely derived from those same newspaper articles:

A further account of the Leeds Lady Ludd riots can be found in an ‘Notes and Queries’ column in the June 28, 1879 issue of Leeds Mercury; readers with a Leeds Libraries card can access that article using the 19th-century Online Newspapers facility freely available to all Library members. Local author Chris Nickson has also provided a detailed and very readable account and analysis of the Lady Ludd riots.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Lady Ludd riots is the suggestion, made by a reader on a Leodis image (see below), that Lady Ludd was actually a Leeds-woman, Alice Mann, in disguise. Alice was a hugely influential figure in Leeds Radical politics and readers can decide for themselves whether she was a likely candidate for the ‘role’ of Lady Ludd, after discovering more about her life and career elsewhere in this series of protest-trail blog pieces.

Duncan Street, nos. 14-20. Undated. Photograph taken in the early 1900s. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service, www.leodis.net

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More broadly, those interested in Leeds-life during the early 19th-century can gain insights from a wide range of other sources. As well as the newspaper collections that have been mentioned above, maps and visual images are perhaps the best way to get ‘close’ to daily life two-centuries ago. While our Leodis collection of historic images does not include any actual photographs from 1812, there are several engravings and sketches that at least give a sense of the hustle and bustle of Briggate and its famous market during the wider 19th-century:

1872. This artist’s impression of Leeds on a market day shows Boar Lane, centre, at the junction with Briggate, right. It is taken from a supplement to The Graphic and is dated 21st September 1872. (c) Leeds Museum Service, www.leodis.net

George Walker’s famous The Costume of Yorkshire (1814) contains a wonderfully-evocative image showing cloth merchants in the Mixed Cloth Hall of Leeds, which illuminates the fashions and manners of that time and place:

‘The Cloth Hall’ – Plate XXVIII in Walker’s The Costume of Yorkshire

While few other plates in the Walker book specifically relate to Leeds, they still provide a vivid impression of 19th-century rural and urban life in Yorkshire:

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Furthermore, this map from 1815 shows the ‘Market Place’ situated toward the top of Briggate, just north of the Moot Hall (effectively the place of local governance in the town, until the opening of the Town Hall in 1858) and the ‘Shambles’ (butcher’s row):

Extract from Netlam Giles’ 1815 Map of the Town of Leeds. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service
Watercolour by John Rhodes, of the ‘Old Shambles, Middle Row, Leeds’. Taken from William Boyne’s History of Leeds and (c) Leeds Library and Information Service

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Finally, good secondary sources allowing for a deeper look at early 19th-century Leeds life include the relevant chapter(s) in Steven Burt and Kevin Grady’s Illustrated History of Leeds (2002), A History of Modern Leeds (ed., Derek Fraser: 1980) and many articles in the  Publications of the Thoresby Society series.

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Please contact the Local and Family History  or Information and Research departments to access any of the resources mentioned here

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