Saturday, 22 October 2011

22nd October 1811: frame-breaking returns to Arnold

All of the publications about Nottinghamshire Luddism agree that after a lull of 6 months, the disturbances recommenced on 'Mischief Night' (4th November) in 1811. However, the Home Office records hold vital evidence that frame-breaking had begun at least a fortnight earlier, and at the same location as in March - the village of Arnold.

A notice that appears to be unconnected with any other document offers 150 Guineas (total) reward for information leading to the conviction of a 'number of persons' who entered the house of a Framework-Knitter, William Marshall, at Red Hill near Arnold at one o'clock in the morning and destroyed five stocking-frames, as well as stealing a large piece of cloth. The owner of the frames appears to be James Pritt & Co, because the notice states the reward will be paid at their warehouse at St. Mary's Church Yard, Nottingham.

This document appears in the Home Office archive at HO 42/117. A J.J & D Pritt had signed a statement in the Nottinghamshire Papers in January 1811 undertaking to not reduce their prices prior to the first appearance of frame-breaking in March.

In addition, a letter from a Thomas Hayne, Lace Manufacturer, to the Home Office on 12th February 1812 states that frame-breaking recommenced 'at the beginning of October 1811, when some more frames were broken at Arnold, at Bulwell, at Basford etc'. The letter can be found at HO 42/131.

Friday, 21 October 2011

21st October 1811: Printed address to Lancashire Weavers

Manufacturers, Mechanics, Artisans, and Others,


Who Signed and Supported the late PETITION to the



NOW that the result of your late application to Parliament is known, the reasonable expectations for the present disappointed, and little hope remaining that any future petition of a similar nature, and to the same quarter, will in future be more successful, it becomes the painful duty of the Committee, entrusted with the management of this unfortunate business, to lay before you the leading circumstances therewith connected.

Your petition had 36,104 signatures annexed, which was sent to London on the 25th. May, 1811. The Petition from Scotland, presented at the same time, and for a similar purpose, had 30,000 signatures. One from Bolton 7000; which plainly proves, that the distress experienced by the Mechanics and Artisans is generally felt through the United Kingdom.

The Delegate from Manchester, and three from Glasgow, was sent to London to forward the business; where their utmost exertions were only able to obtain the appointment of a Committee, consisting of the following 21 Members, who were appointed to consider the said Petition:

Colonel STANLEY, President.
Right Hon. G. ROSE,
Sir J. SHAW,

The Report of the Committee was, by a vote of the House of Commons, ordered to be taken into consideration by Committee of the whole House, on Wednesday the 19th of June; but there being no House on that and the following day, it did not come on till the 21st, when, by a motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was again put off till the 24th; when with a view as it would apply to get clear of so troublesome question, it was a second time put off to a period, at which it was then expected the House would be prorogued, and the Session ended.

In perusing the evidence given by the Delegates on this business, you will see that the ruined state of the manufactures of the country, sufferings of the labouring classes of the community, and the different allegations of your Petition, have been substantiated to the satisfaction of the Committee to which it was referred; and by that Committee, in your report, fully acknowledge, and most deeply lamented; yet no one solitary expedient has been proposed on their part, either for a permanent relief, or a temporary mitigation, of sufferings so candidly acknowledged, and so deeply felt for. On the contrary, in the said report, the Committee seem to consider some of the measures proposed by the Petitioners of too great magnitude for the time to which they found it necessary to circumscribe their deliberations; others of a nature hostile to the principles of individual liberty, and which would ultimately be injurious even to the Petitioners themselves, as calculated to arrest the progress of national improvement, and consequently of national prosperity; as tending to circumscribe matters, which ought to be left to their own operation, and which, white water, would find their own level. Above all, the report is decidedly against pecuniary aid being granted, and hopes would thereby be created, which could never be realized; as any sum that could be given must prove altogether inadequate to the distress. Besides that, the balance of commerce, of Manufacturer, and agriculture, would be endangered.

We are only mechanics, of course ill acquainted with the reason why the same measures are frequently opposed, at one time, by the same arguments by which at other times they are vindicated and supported. When we consider the extent and severity of the sufferings of which our Petition complained, with the most unparalleled patients of the sufferers—when we consider the number of the Petitioners, their usefulness in society, their peaceable demeanour, the respectful language in which their petition was couched, and that petition altogether unconnected with party politics, not the unseasonable clamour of the discontented populace, but the prayer of starving industry, which had relief, and that alone, phrase object—was it possible that some reasonable portion of hope should not have been founded on these circumstances? But when we consider likewise, that the legislator has already interfered in matters apparently less moment—has enacted laws regulating the price of corn, fixing the assize of bread, the fixing the price of labour in the case of the Spittalfields Weavers, and Journeyman Tailors of London; for augmenting the salaries of Judges and Clergymen; for regulating commerce, and a multitude of other things, which time would fail to enumerate. To say nothing of the Act now pending, or just passed into a law, for fixing a minimum on bank paper; and considering, moreover, that every law by which society are bound together, are subject to the same objections as those brought forward against the prayer of our petition being granted; namely, that it is an infringement of individual liberty. This Committee are utterly at a loss to conceive on what fair ground Legislative interference can be improper under circumstances so necessitous. If a large mound be projected from the one bank of a river, the stream must necessarily make inroads on the opposite shore: and if laws be made to regulate the price of the necessaries of life, laws should also be enacted for regulating the wages by which such provisions must be purchased, especially when (as in our case) such wages have lost all reasonable balance and proportion.

We have been in the habit of considering the wisdom of the House of Commons equal to every emergency. We have seen that House triumph over the united efforts of prejudice and barbarity, of ignorance and unconscionable avarice, in the abolition of the slave trade. We have seen their arm extended for the protection of the weak and defenceless—their hand open liberally to the relief of the indigent. We still see them able to provide the means for defending our common country against the attacks of Europe united against us; even in cases the most critical and alarming, their wisdom has never been nonplussed: but our case, it would seem, stands an exception in the general rule of Legislation; but why it should be so, we confess we have not sufficient penetration to discover a satisfactory reason.

On the whole, when reasonable hopes have been entertained, and considerable exertions made to realize these hopes, it becomes a painful task to relate the tale of disappointment. This the Committee find it on the present occasion; and have only to say for themselves, that nothing, which the means in their power enabled them to attempt, for bringing this business to a happy termination, has been neglected; every thing that could be done, has been done to secure success; and all the consolation that remains, either to the Committee or the supporters of the Petition, is the poor reflection, that they have done their best, and that the distress of the country has been fairly, formerly, and specifically represented at the proper place.

The Committee cannot dismiss the subject, without returning their sincere thanks to the Contributors, the chearful manner in which they have exerted themselves and the support of this business, notwithstanding the general poverty and pressure of the times. A statement of the receipt and expenditure is herewith subjoined for the inspection of the Public, by which it will appear, the subscriptions and benefactions amounted to £109 6 11½; under total of the expenditure (exclusive of this address and report) amounts to £108 12 4½, leaving a balance in the treasurer's hands of 14 s. 7d.

From the foregoing statement it is evident, that although the distress of the Manufacturers and Artisans was fully proved to, and admitted by, the House of Commons, yet it is equally evident, that the House was either unable or unwilling to remove this general calamity: in either case it proves that House (as at present constituted or appointed) to be unfit to manage your affairs. They, the Members of that House, can make arrangements which advance the price of provisions—increase your taxes—introduce such a state of things as diminishes your business and employment, and reduces your wages; but when you state to them that you cannot exist under these accumulated and accumulating evils, they will coolly tell you they cannot relieve you. Had you possessed 70,000 votes for the election of Members to sit in that House, would your application have been treated with such indifference, not to say inattention? We believe not. Is it not therefore high time to look to your own concerns, to strengthen the connexion between you and your nominal Representatives, to claim the constitutional privilege of electing those Men who are to make the laws which are to govern you; who impose your taxes, and direct your exertions. Your industry and economy no longer procure you plenty, nor have you any security they ever will, while your affairs are managed by Men over whom you have no check or control, and who have the power of raising the price of provision, increasing your taxes, and diminishing the value of your labour. That such is the state of things at present, the state of the Representation abundantly proves. It having been stated, and not contradicted, that in the year 1793, one hundred and sixty-two individuals sent 306 members into the House of Commons, being a majority thereof. If therefore you have any regard for yourselves, or your wives and children, if you have any regard for your liberty, property, or security, hesitate not to solicit the PRINCE REGENT for the restoration of that Right, without which no other rights are available or secure; namely, the right of electing your Representatives, and extending the elective franchise as far as taxation.


Manchester, Oct. 21, 1811.

1810s: Song “The Hand-loom Weavers’ Lament.” Lancashire

Kevin Binfield includes this song in his excellent book 'Writings of the Luddites'. He uses it as an example of folk song which illustrated the distress suffered by the weavers in the period of Lancashire Luddism. The wages of a Lancashire Weaver had declined from 25 Shillings in 1800 to 14 Shillings in 1811. Binfield dates the song roughly the 1810 decade, sometime after 1807 and the American Embargo Act and the collapse in trade with South America and changing to include the exile and death of Napoleon Bonaparte. Binfield also points out that the references to 'old prices' may have meant the song was influential to another well-known song which was yet-to-emerge. The song is sung to the tune of 'A Hunting We Will Go'.

The Hand-loom Weavers’ Lament

You gentlemen and tradesmen, that ride about at will,
Look down on these poor people, it s enough to make you crill;
Look down on these poor people, as you ride up and down,
I think there is a God above will bring your pride quite down.

You tyrants of England, your race may soon be run,
You may be brought unto account for what you’ve sorely done

You pull down our wages, shamefully to tell;
You go into the markets, and say you cannot sell;
And when that we do ask you when these bad times will mend
You quickly give an answer, "When the wars are at an end."

When we look on our poor children, it grieves our hearts full sore,
Their clothing it is worn to rags, while we can get no more,
With little in their bellies, they to work must go,
Whilst yours do dress as manky as monkeys in a show.

You go to church on Sundays, I'm sure it's nought but pride,
There can be no religion where humanity's thrown aside,
If there be a place in heaven, as there is in the Exchange,
Our poor souls must not come near there, like lost sheep they must range.

With the choicest of strong dainties your tables overspread,
With good ale and strong brandy, to make your faces red;
You call d a set of visitors—it is your whole delight—
And you lay your heads together to make our faces white.

You say that Bonyparty he's been the spoil of all,
And that we have got reason to pray for his downfall;
Now Bonyparty’s dead and gone, and it is plainly shown
That we have bigger tyrants in Boneys of our own.

And now, my lads, for to conclude, it’s time to make an end;
Let s see if we can form a plan that these bad times may mend;
Then give us our old prices, as we have had before,
And we can live in happiness, and rub off the old score.

Monday, 10 October 2011

10th October 1811: a letter from a Lancashire informant

On the 10th October 1811, Colonel Ralph Fletcher, a JP, Local Militia Commander and member of the Orange Order at Bolton-le-Moors, received a letter from one of his informants in Lancashire.1

The writer, who he called 'B',  painted a very vivid picture of secret committees and the political underground in that County. Writing on the 5th October, 'B' reported that he had just got back from a meeting attended by 140 delegates, held in a field, a mile from the Toll Bar at Mottram, Cheshire (on the border with Lancashire). The purpose was to discuss the sending of a delegate on a trip through several counties, to test the political, economic and social waters, and how the delegate must exercise care & sensitivity so as not to be discovered. Those gathered would reconvene at Gee Cross, a few miles up the road, in a fortnight, with reports from their local areas about the numbers of people who wished to be involved in 'the Business', as the 'B' puts it.

'B' talks of the widespread nature of the discontent in the land: there is talk of delegates travelling between Glasgow and Ireland, with Stockport in Cheshire being some kind of central meeting place of importance. There is talk of possible assistance in 'the Business' from France.

More revealing is 'B's' insistence that the country areas are more advanced than the towns in their readiness for change: the Manchester Committee is chosen by delegates from Saddleworth, Royton, Hollinwood, Glodwick and Ashton-under-Lyne, all places in Lancashire, with the Committee meeting in the Falstaff Hotel in Market Place.2

The fact that the content of many of these discussions, as far as 'B' could ascertain, were largely concerned with petitioning the Prince Regent and Reform and vague about anything else is part of the strange character or Lancashire and Cheshire Luddism, which would only emerge into the open 5 months later. Fletcher's mysterious informant was to write many more letters over the coming months.