Ackworth 28 March (Eveng) 1814.
Having written the only official answer which it is in my power to give to your letter of the 14th instant, I think it right privately to enclose an extract of such part of Mr. Evans’s letter to me, this day received, as refers to the subject of Lord Sidmouth’s enquiry, & to transmit some particulars connected with it.
In immediate answer to my letter, Mr. Evans (who was convening the Magistrates, & had sent a copy to the Sollicitor for the Master Printers) held out little prospect of any advantage to be expected. This was no surprise to me, as I had occasion to be aware the difficulties might occur in respect to the procuring information.
I will now state to you as surely as I can what had passed on the subject prior to my writing to Lord Sidmouth.
The Magistrates in Sessions, before whom the rules were laid, thought them of too serious a complexion, more especially after all they had witnessed, not to be sent to Government. This Order was unanimously made.
The Master Printers hearing of the determination of the Sessions, seemed pleased with what we had resolved on; and, by their Sollicitor, intimated to me that they were ready to communicate with me on the subject, if I wished it. I instantly fixed the time, & met them—After hearing the state of the combination & other particulars my advice was given as strongly as I could present it, that without loss of time, & laying aside all minor considerations, they should proceed to put down the combination, then sufficiently strong, but which would every hour become more formidable, for that delay and indecision must operate in favour of the men, & against the masters—Their sollicitor was a strongly of the same opinion. I found however (as is too often the case) that present advantages were an obstacle to some of the masters. In fact, they were unanimous as to the grievance; but not united as to the mode of resistance, if any were to be made. A Plan they had; not strictly legal perhaps; but under the circumstances probably justifiable. I proposed that, whatever plan they might think proper to pursue, they should instantly by delegation from their own body inform Government of the combination; because the question was too general in its bearing to be considered merely as respecting their own branch of trade. They stated to me some of the instances of outrage, & from what passed, I had every reason to believe that they would furnish me with a summary of several grievances already experienced by the masters; some of which, as I have stated, were the subjects of conversation. I called for this whilst I was in Manchester—On not receiving it, I requested that it might be sent after me; stating to the Sollicitor that I would withhold my letter to Government for some days, that I might have an opportunity of receiving it: but none came—I therefore could no longer delay writing on my instructions from the Sessions.
Amongst many other grievances was one which I conceive Mr Evans to refer. A Gentleman (whether or no he had been in the trade I am not sure, tho I believe he had) went to dine with a Master Printer. The journeyman heard of it. They insisted to the master that his guest should leave his house—a considerable parley ensued; and it was not till after a thorough explanation of the relation of the parties, an assurance that the guest was not in the situation of a master printer, and that his visit had nothing in its object that respected their trade—that he was suffered to remain.
In another instance a roller for the purpose of printing was in use at some extensive works. The men insisted that, inasmuch as that roller was not made by such persons, & under such circumstances as they approved, it should not be used—The master remonstrated; and, with apparent firmness; but at length he judged it prudent to give up the roller—The men, not satisfied with this, would not continue to work for him (or, probably has the term is, would have declared him in a state of blockade) unless he pay the expenses of the combination: £1.16. 0—this he did,—and I have since been informed that some other demand for expenses was insisted upon and paid.
These would have been two of the cases furnished by me. I need not state to you how important they are. When the Masters with the law in their hands dare not put it into force, the case is very serious. The evil complained of is vital - it will roll through every branch of trade; ultimately it may reach even the interior of private families.
I must request that this letter be considered as private; to be communicated only to Lord Sidmouth. As such I find it necessary to write it. Tho it may contain more perhaps than I have permission to communicate officially, it may be useful to his Lordship by way of explanation, and in respect of my brother magistrates & myself may operate so far as to protect us from censure.
I am, Dear Sir,
Your faithful & obedient humble serv.
William Robert Hay.
John Beckett Esqr &c &c
This letter can be found at HO 42/138.