Saturday, 21 June 2014

21st June 1814: George Coldham updates the Home Office on strike action taken against Hosiers

Private & Confidential

Nottingham June 21st 1814

Dear Sir,

Ever since about the 26th of April the Effects of the Combination have been directed against the House of I & George Ray of this place who are Manufacturers of plain Silk Goods to a very great Extent but Manufacturers whom the Combination have thought most particularly assailable by them because they are not correspondent to the extent of their Business Proprietors of Frames but manufacture their Goods from what I hear called independent Frames. Such Persons are therefore at all times more dependent than the Owners of Frames upon the Master & Journeymen [Framework knitters]. The Blow which has been struck by the Combination upon this House is a very heavy one for it has reached to deprive them of the work of between 2 & 300 Hands. Messrs Ray were fully aware of the nature of their Situation & Mr John Ray the Partner here to whom the management of the Business of the Manufactory is almost exclusively confided was very much disposed to give the advanced Price demanded by the Combination with a view to prevent the temporary derangement of their Business. It was however very important to the Secret Committee & the Great Body of the Trade not only ultimately to frustrate the plans of the Combination but to prevent if possible [thus] succeeding in them as connected with the House of Messrs Ray. With this view I have been in constant communication & Treaty with Mr John Ray from the 24th of May to the present moment. There was considerable difficulties in the way of this arrangement. The Bulk of the Hosiers possess very considerable property in Frames & thro’ them contrive to acquire the entire Controul over their Workmen—perhaps the most effectual manner in which the Combination could coerce them was their former manner of carrying on War by destroying their Frames. Mr Ray however was not acceptable to this mode of attack, but that he was still more assailable by the System upon which they acted against him. They applied to the Workmen employed by him & they engaged these to leave off working to him unless he should advance their wages & to induce them to do this they undertook to pay their weekly wages for being idle or to employ them in preferring the Business of the Combination. Messrs Ray were not at all insensible to the Extent of the Value of their Opposition to the demands of the Workmen, to the rest of the Trade & indeed it is but Justice to them to admit that the consciousness of the in peculiar Situation with their Workmen had placed them in a very unpleasant predicament in this respect for Messrs Ray had proceeded in consequence of an Engagement as I believe with their Workmen to [date], the very advance which the Combination demanded & which the great Body of the Trade had referred to grant to the Frameworknitters. Mr John Ray therefore required of the secret Committee & the rest of the Trade that they should state these facts to the Publick in the manner more calculated to vindicate Messrs Ray & show the peculiar Ingratitude of the Attack of the Combinations as directed against those who had been the best Friends of the Workmen. This however the Secret Committee positively refused doing because they felt that it endangered the transferring the whole [Policy] of the refusal from Messrs Ray upon the rest of the Trade because it seemed in some degree to countenance the propriety of the advance demanded & because they were of opinion that they were other parts of the Conduct of Messrs Ray's Conduct to their Workmen which would admit of the Trade identifying themselves with the defence of their general Conduct to their workmen. In the difficulty which these clashing Opinions produced the Secret Committee appealed to a still larger Body of the Trade than themselves—& communicated from them to him a full & complete Vindication of the Conduct which the Secret Committee proposed to adopt. I had given up the whole arrangement for lost when on 16th of June I was fortunate enough with the Concurrence of the Secret Committee to come to an entire understanding with Mr John Ray effected I have little doubt in consequence of the sincere & zealous Cooperation received from the Committee in London. This agreement produced the printed Address from the Secret Committee which I inclose & it has also produced an Order from Mr Ray to his Warehouseman to give Evidence against some of the leading Master Frameworknitters with a view to the reaching thro’ them some of the most open reprehensible of the Workmen engaged in this Conspiracy not without since Hopes thro’ them of reaching some of the principal Actors in the Combination. This has only been done yesterday but I shall proceed without loss of time to try our legal Strength upon the Evidence by an Appeal to the Magistrates. In the mean time the support of the Combination by the great Body of the Trade seems evidently upon the decay for this Week there have been forced by their necessities to make their Collections in the Town & Country by 8 or 10 of the Hands who have used Threats to induce the Frameworknitters to keep up their usual Contributions. We had prepared a Hand Bill to set this matter a rest but upon a perfect knowledge of the manner in which the Pulse of the People beats the Secret Committee have adjourned the commencement of this Attack upon this part of the System of the Confederacy until Friday next I hope to obtain the Cooperation of the Magistrs to the same points & it will appear at the very same time when the Combination will also be attacked thro’ the medium of the Conviction of some of their Abetters either for neglecting their work or for being otherwise engaged in the Combination. In the mean time the Secret Committee are extremely impatient that they have learn’d no tidings of a Communication made by them very early indeed after their appointment to the Committee in London with a view to its being transmitted to Lord Sidmouth which communication contained some Hints of what they were of Opinion would be the best means of giving general legislative Relief from the dreadful Effects of such extensive Combination as the present. They would also be happy to hear from you as to the probable Period at which they might expect the disbanding of the Nottm Leicester & Derbyshire Regiments of Militia.

I am [etc]
Geo Coldham

[To] John Beckett Esqr

This letter can be found at HO 42/139.

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