Thursday, 10 March 2011

Rising tensions in Nottinghamshire - Winter to Spring, 1811

"Class alignments hardened month by month, and the goodwill which had formerly existed between those employers who were political reformers and their journeymen was dissipated"1

E.P. Thompson sets the scene for the months leading up to the first outbreak of violent direct action which took place on March 11th 1811. This period of shifting phases of negotiation is important enough to spend some time examining.

Scan the pages of the Nottingham Journal between January and March 1811, and one can virtually feel the rising tension and the "dissipation of goodwill." The editions of 19th and 26th of January, and the 2nd of February contain the same advert taken out by a long list of hosiers with this statement at the head:
We, the under-signed, feel ourselves called upon (to state) publicly our decided DISAPPROBATION of ANY ATTEMPT to REDUCE the PRESENT STATED PRICES OF MAKING SILK and COTTON HOSE.2
What was compelling them to "state publicly" their negative feelings towards other hosiers? William Felkin relates the tale that before frame-breaking began in earnest, a group had been removing the jack wires from the frames of hosiers who were not paying the full prices. This act rendered the frames useless, but was clearly not as severe a measure as frame-breaking, since the wires could be restored later3. He also relates that the wires were hidden in churches, in particular in Arnold, as 'hostages'.

Nevertheless, the previous statement from the multitude of hosiers did not go unappreciated by some framework knitters, and the 26th January edition of the Nottingham Journal carried the following statement:
The FRAME-WORK KNITTERS of the County of NOTTINGHAM, 
IMPRESSED with the most lively Emotions of Gratitude to those Gentlemen Hosiers who have generously stepped forward at this moment, so awful to the Working Classes, and signified their Intention not to reduce the Price of making Plain Stocking, beg leave to State to these Gentlemen, that the prayers of our Wives and Children shall be put up to heaven for their prosperity for so great and good a Deed―The Frame-work Knitters further hope that the other Gentlemen Hosiers will follow so generous an Example, and thereby merit the Approbation of all good men. 
The Frame-work Knitters 
January 24th, 1811
In the same edition, some soon to be familiar names crop up – a clearly rattled hosier very plainly states his case:
To Frame-work Knitters, &c. 
From circumstances of a Public Nature which are occurring in the Trade, Mr BOLTON thinks it proper to state that since the Time he relinquished his Manufactory (about two years ago), he has not, nor does he receive any Annuity, Advantage, or Allowance of any Kind Whatever, from Messrs. BROCKSOPP and PARKER, his Successors. 
His STOCKING FRAMES were LET to them on LEASE; some years of which are unexpired; he being at the Expense of keeping them in good repair. 
By an Act of Geo III "Any Person whom shall wilfully and maliciously break, destroy, or damage any Stocking Frame, shall be adjudged guilty of Felony." 
Nottingham, January 23, 1811.
Bolton is shifting the blame onto Brocksopp & Parker who are speculators. In the same edition of the Nottingham Journal, there is a long statement signed by Brocksopp and Parker, as well as other hosiers which makes their position plain. They urge the framework knitters as a body to not accept work from those hosiers who were paying low prices:
To the EDITOR of the NOTTINGHAM JOURNAL. 
SIR,—There appeared in your last week’s paper an Advertisement, signed by a number of the Manufacturers in this town, stating their disapprobation of any reduction in the prices of making Silk and Cotton Hose; we see amongst them the names of several Houses who have, for a length of time, been ion the habit of making Women’s Hose at the price of Slender Women’s, and Slender Women’s at the price of Maids’, and other sizes in proportion; this, undoubtedly, is a reduction.—There are others amongst the, who, under a pretence of leaving out the fashion, have considerably reduced the prices: we will just name one article—the standard price of Slender Women’s, 30 guage, Cotton Hose is 17s. per dozen; this article is now making at 12s. per dozen, Welted, under the pretence of deducting 1s. for leaving out the shape, 1s for being bound in down the leg, instead of being narrowed, and the remainder for having slit partings, in lieu of being spliced and having out the bindings at the heel and beginning of the foot bottom; so that 5s. per dozen is deducted from the Workman, for work left out, which is not worth more to him than 3s. at the utmost, other qualities are also made on the same principle. 
Now, we would ask those Gentlemen who thus publicly avow their disapprobation of reducing the price of making Hose, what they call this but a Reduction.—We have had much conversation with the Workmen on this subject, and they all say that the fashion thus left out is by no means adequate to the price deducted for it; in which opinion we most decidedly agree with them. 
It is well know, that Stocking-makers who have frames of their own, or independent frames, have taken work at very reduced prices, for the sake of employment: this essentially injured both us and out Workmen; and it became necessary for us to consider, whether we would discharge our old Workmen, let out own frames stand still, and employ the independent frames at the reduced prices, or whether we would give our own Workmen the preference of work, at such a price as would enable us to cope with those Manufacturers who, by employing independent frames, and marking their goods on the plans above described, have hitherto possessed such great advantages over us. These reasons, therefore, made it indispensible for us to reduce the price to our own Workmen, leaving it entirely at their option, whether they would take the prices we offered them, or work on the same principle as the independent frames. 
We have been told by some Gentlemen who have signed that Advertisement, that we should have followed the same system that others have done; then no notice would have been taken of it:—to which we answer, that, never having been accustomed to reduce the stated prices given by the Trade at large, by any such mode as making one size and paying for a less, we do not choose now to adopt such a ruinous measure. 
It remains only for us to state, of those Gentlemen are really anxious to prevent any reduction in the price taking place, they will return to the old standard mode of making and paying for their Work; then there will not be found any Individual amongst them who will not pay the old price with greater pleasure than 
 J. and T. WATSON, NELSONS, and Co.
CHURCHILL and PRICE.
RICHARD EATON.
BROCKSOPP and PARKER.
At the time, Gravenor Henson – later a focus of much 'legal' activity to do something about the situation of the framework knitters, in contrast to the Luddites 'illegal' activity – had attempted to get this group of hosiers prosecuted under the Combination Acts. He related this before a Parliamentary Select Committee4 thirteen years later in 1824:
Do you think there would have been any difficulty in prosecuting them (the hosiers) for the meeting, at which they came to resolutions at the post office? – Yes; I had a case in point: in 1811 the masters met at Nottingham, in the spring of that year. 
How did they manifest their resolutions? – They published them in the public papers, week after week, signed by four distinct persons, to reduce the wages three-pence per pair, unless the workmen could induce the rest of the masters to make the stockings in the same way, as to forming them, as they made them.
…and later, Henson relates the mood of the framework knitters and his attempts to pursue a legal course:
…the manufacturers would not listen to those committees, and they at last came in crowds; and very soon it was supposed that the men would begin to break the machinery, because a person had advertised, in the public papers, that the frames which particular masters rented were not the masters’ property; I went myself, seeing this disturbance, to lay information against those four persons. 
To whom did you go? – To the magistrates at the Town Hall; the magistrates told me, that I had not got sufficient evidence; I produced the newspaper, I told them, I thought they might summon the printer, under the Combination Act, and he would give evidence; they said, their opinion was, that I had better not go on. I went again and the magistrates said, they would grant me a warrant against them; but when I went to the town clerk, he refused to grant me a warrant, because I could not prove the parish where they had met in; the reason was, that part of the penalty is to go to the poor of the parish. 
You gave up the prosecution? – Yes.
Thomis tells us that despite their public protestations, Brocksopp & Parker and the others eventually "introduced a cut in their own wages, protesting their reluctance to do this but justifying it on the ground of their inability otherwise to compete with their undercutting rivals"5. But they were exposed by the proclamations of the no-doubt unnerved hosiers that had stated their intention to abide by the “stated prices”. The statement of the five hosiers now looked hollow and manipulative. What was to follow will be related in the next post.

Notes:

1. Thompson (1963, p.583)
2. The 19th January 1811 edition of the Nottingham Journal carried the names of 59 firms under the statement, with the 26th January edition adding a further 47 (see below for a list of all the sames).
3. Felkin (1867, p. 236)
4. First report from Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery. pp.280-281; 1824 (51) 1
5. Thomis (1970, p.74)

Names of hosiery firms pledging not to reduce prices in the Nottingham Journal of 19th January 1811:

Hancock and Wakefield.
Mark and John Hulsh.
Alex. & Joh Hadden & Co.
Hall, Northage, & Hardwick.
Needham and Nixons.
J. and T.C. Smit and Co.
Wm. Nunn and Co.
Allen and Phillipps.
Trentham, Turney, and Morton.
Samuel Lawson and Sons.
Williams and Co.
Kewney and Richardson.
Hooleys and Renshaw.
Morley, Wilson, and Morley.
Charles Hollins and Co.
Turner and Smith.
William Gould.
Deverill, Crowther, & Lart.
Thomas Plant.
R. Hopper and Co.
William Howitt.
Wm. Chamberlin.
Jarman and Attenborough.
Thos. Dufty and Sons.
James and Neale.
Storer and Acomb.
W. and D. Melville.
Brough, Cape, and Robinson.
Samuel Barlow.
H. and J. Cox and Co.
Barwick, Christian, & Gill.
G. and J. Mills.
Francis Braithwaite.
Dove, Gill, and Co.
Beardmores and Co.
J. J. and D. Pritt.
Thomas Kelk.
Richard Smith and Co.
Green and Gill.
Hill and Lowe.
Redfern, Stevenson, and Co.
Child, Cosens, and Co.
Francis Beardsley.
John Heath and Son.
Heard and Sons.
Berridge and James.
Joseph Lawson.
Holmes, Edenborough, and Stenson.
Samuel Fox, Derby.
Pagets and Byng, ditto.
Thomas Wright, ditto.
John Wright, ditto.
Samuel Wright, ditto.
Wm. Wightman, ditto.
Thos. Bridgett, ditto.
Thos. Eaton, ditto.
John Marshall, ditto.
Thomas Newton, ditto.
Edw. Cockayne, ditto.

Names of hosiery firms pledging not to reduce prices, in the Nottingham Journal of 26th January 1811, (in addition to those featured in the 19th January edition):

George and John Ray.
Robt. Wright, Son, and Co.
Harrison and Bowmer.
S. Skidmore and Co.
S. B. Mason.
Thomas Jackson.
Wm. Leeson.
James and Horsley.
George Carey.
Wm. And S. Cheetham.
G. Gibson and Lowe.
John Woolerton.
Abijah Bond.
Kirk and Swann.
John Rawson.
John Buchan.
Joshua Smith.
Thomas Jalland.
S. Wilkinson.
W. Eyre.
Jos. Perry, jun.
G. and S. Nichols.
Renshaw and Wood.
Samuel Barrowcliff.
George Collishaw.
Charles Hill.
Samuel Clark.
Wyer and Smoke.
R. Ragg.
John Carr.
Wm. Baker.
Wm Thorn.
Strahan, Theaker, and Co.
Taylor and Hood.
R. and T. Frost.
Jos. Burton.
Thomas Richards.
Pope and Co.
Wilks and Armfield.
G. O. Pogson.
Joseph Wilson and Co.
Thomas Salthouse.
T. Galloway.
Jonathan Deakin.
Thomas Jerrain.
M. Hopkins, Lenton.
Potter, Carver, and Potter, Ilkeston.

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