24th May 1814
In conformity with our arrangements I have abstained from trespassing upon your attention until I found myself enabled to state some of the circumstances materially connected with the offences prevailing in the County of Nottingham.—
The Union Society, as it is styled, does not conceal its existence; altho the printed regulations with which I supplied you are no longer to be procured.—The principal leader is stated to be Grosvenor Henson,—the man alluded to by T. Large in his letter some time since addressed to me.—Henson does not now work at his trade, but is maintained by the association at a weekly allowance of about three guineas.—In connection with him are many desperate characters, who are strongly suspected of being the Frame-breakers and the Instruments of popular vengeance upon all who, in the language of the Society, are "denounced."—The names of the ruffians are very carefully concealed; and as their number is small I entertain little expectation of detecting them until they have been emboldened by success & impunity to the perpetration of more frequent or more tumultuous outrages.—It is not imagined that this Nottingham Gang has ever been broken by the prosecutions formerly instituted;—and the terror impressed upon the minds of the Manufacturers by the existence of such a daring conspiracy has placed the Masters in a state of almost unqualified submission to the demands of the workmen who dictate their own terms.— —Every branch of the Lace & Hosiery trades is represented by a set of delegates; and these Sub-committees hold a regular communication with the grand Executive Committee.—The subordinate Committees are but little acquainted with the application of the sums contributed; or the purposes of the Society: they merely profess that they expect to procure some beneficial changes on behalf of the working Mechanics.—Mr. Nixon ascribes the demolition of his frames to the modification of the Frame-breaking Bill by substituting transportation for life instead of capital punishment at the renewal of the Act; with which alteration I was not acquainted until he mentioned it.—However, altho I regret the mitigation of punishment I cannot entirely agree with Mr. Nixon since many of the machines have been destroyed under circumstances of disguise & violence amounting to a capital Felony.—He feels convinced that the order for demolishing his frames was issued by Henson; and that the evidence which he gave against the bill for regulating the Framework knitting trade & his non compliance with the exorbitant demands of his workmen other sources of provocation.—He has now been compelled to advance the prices of labor in defence of his property tho the Nottingham Hosiers are manufacturing at from 10 to 20 percent above those at Tewkesbury, and the rate of workmanship is such as to preclude the prospect of a successful competition with the foreign markets.—
In the Silk Stocking trade all the Workmen of Mr. Ray have struck because he rejected their application for an increase of wages.—
The Framesmiths have discounted their employments for similar reasons, and are collecting money to sustain themselves.—
The Bricklayers encouraged by the success of the journeymen in the Hosiery trade are endeavouring to affect their purposes by a conspiracy of this date same description.—I enclose one of the hand bills which they are now diligently circulating.—The Title & Style of the address as well as the Printer's name, testify clearly its origin.
Such an extensive system of subordination & terror will, I conceive, be deemed incompatible with the existence of our manufactures: and apprised as we are of the industry & success with which these principles are disseminated among mechanics of every description throughout the empire the expediency of some remedy will unquestionably be acknowledged.
To devise the means of prevention constitutes the difficulty.—Specific regulations between the Masters & the workmen appear to be utterly impracticable.—Labor must find its own value in the market—but the standard ought to be established by free competition, unrestricted by combination on either side.—With this view I have strenuously urged some of the manufacturers to prefer an application to Parliament.—They speak in very grateful terms the attention dedicated by Lord Sidmouth & yourself to their case; and will, I am assured, avail themselves of your countenance.
To render the Bill palatable the Masters as well as the Men should be prohibited from combinations; and to secure efficiency the existing punishments should be considerably augmented.—
For my own part I attribute the late as was as the present outrages to those jacobinical principles with which the Inferior orders have been sedulously inoculated by our Nottingham Reformers; who have, in many instances, become the object of that secret organization & malevolent confederacy which they fostered by their pernicious examples, their licentious harangues & their seditious press for the attainment of their fractious projects.—
Thus have the evils, of which I complain, been introduced & cherished until they have become intimately incorporated with the state of society in this and other manufacturing districts. I do not apprehend that the result will produce any general tumult but I forsee that the ferment will not subside without it be coerced by the interposition of the legislature.
Circumstances seem to require that the law be armed with more extensive powers, adapted to the emergency; and that some formidable examples of punishment be exhibited whenever an opportunity presented for bringing the Offenders to Justice. [For] until these Confedericies which are the source of all our mischief be suppressed we never can hope to close the scenes which have too long disgraced this County.—
I have requested Mr. Allsopp who is now in London to wait upon you.
I enclose the only two pieces information which he has hitherto been able to procure.—The "Minutes of the annual conference." seem to be drawn up with a design of giving something like a lawful appearance the objects of the Society.
I have [etc]
John T. Becher.
John Beckett Esq.—
This letter can be found at HO 42/139.