At the last Chester assizes I was concerned professionally in a prosecution against a man of the name of Green for stealing Hats from his Master Mr. John Jackson a considerable Hat manufacturer in this Town and one George Pickford was a Witness for the prosecution — This hatter man and one Wm. Acton were the persons that first informed Mr. Jackson of the felony, and at the same time gave him reason to suspect a master-Hatter of the name of Richd Ardern of receiving the stolen Goods & encouraging such offences—William Henshall worked for Ardern as well as Thomas Bell the latter of whom was said to be privy to the Offences.―On the 15th Feby last Mr. Jackson took out a Warrant agt Ardern and Bell—the latter absented himself, &, there not being sufficient Evidence to fix the former, he was released & the next day he (Ardern) appealed to the Justice & obtained a Warrant against the Witnesses Acton & Pickford for threats sworn by sd Wm. Henshall to have been suffered by them agt the Life of Ardern on the monday before which was the day they had given Information of the felony – But this fact they must positively deny — No threats were ever made. This has been carried a little further, & they have since sworn to an actual Assault, & indicted Acton & Pickford at the Sessions which immediately succeeded the Assizes.
Pickford as I observed was examined on the Trial of Green who was convicted — and in the course of the trial it came out that the Journeyman Hatters of this Town had assembled in congress (as it is so called by them) on the 20th Feby a day or two after the commitment of Green and had imposed a fine of five guineas upon Pickford for giving the Information to the master of the robbery; which induced the Court to make a strict Enquiry as to the nature of such Congress and the animadvert upon
Mr Sergt Marshall who presided for the Atty Genl, and Chief Justice, expressed a hope that some Evidence might be procured & steps taken to suppress such dangerous & illegal proceedings — This day has brought me to the sd Acton & Pickford to the Office, who having to defend themselves from on the Charge of the assault imputed to them by the Indictment, have declared all the circumstances concerning the Congress which has been taken upon oath & is to the Effect following —
That any Journeyman Hatter (Pickford & Acton amongst the rest) were warned or summoned to the Townhouse for 7 oClock on the 20th Feby — where a committee was formed out of the Body consisting of above a dozen Journeymen whereof the said William Henshall was the president and John Knight Wm. Hodgkinson and Joseph Birkett and John Swindells were members — The Copies of Examinations were produced
"George Pickford & Wm Acton must pay five Guineas each before they hat any more all be stood by—" (the meaning of the last Expression was sufficiently understood by them to be that no one was to be suffered to work with them or the masters to employ them). They accordingly raised the money that night & paid it, part of it to Joseph Birkett remainder to the Inn Keeper of a public house the next night for Liquor which all the Journeymen partook of except Pickford & Acton & a scene of the greatest riot drunkenness & confusion ensued on this occasion – Acton is a poor man and was under the necessity of borrowing the money which he had to stop from the maintenance of his family by 10 [shillings] per week The Stewards assembled the congress and ordered the spending of the money. There are 3 stewards who have each a Key of the Turn-house Box, in which the papers are deposited — The acting Steward was sd Joseph Birkett
A Petty Congress was afterwards held at which the Journeyman Hatters were ordered to contribute 6 [pence] per week each Green & his Wife the former had 6 [shillings] a week in Prison & the latter 14 [shillings] per week to hire upon — and this they forced Pickford & Acton to contribute to under threats of fines ― Acton sent his money to the Stewards every Saturday night at the Turn house by one Saml. Parr, a Journeyman, And that they contributed in like manner to the Journeyman Calico Printers lately when they turned out against the masters—
The manner in which Congress is assembled they represent to be by a Note written by a Steward (supposed to be Birkett) which is handed to the 1st Shop and from thence it is taken by a workman of that shop to the next & so on (under a fine for any delay) till it gets to the last shop in the district & this last carries it to the Steward at Congress when assembled ― And this you will please to observe in general throughout the Kingdom — a Journeyman not attending forfeits 5 [shillings]/3 [pence] to be spent in liquor for the first 7 shops—
A Petty Congress is composed of one Journeyman from each Shop who is summoned by name & for non attendance forfeits 2 [shillings]/6 [pence] – If a Journeyman refuses to pay any fine – He is declared foul & no one is to work with him work with him; & if the master shod employ him, after he has been declared so — The whole Shop ‘turn out’ or ‘strike’ & refuse to work for that master—
Thus an Individual Master is intimidated from making his complaint, & there is not unfortunately sufficient of Union amongst them to crush the Evil —
I have the honor to be
Your very obedient
[Home Office note: desire Him to collect all the Evidence He can that is likely to lead a Conviction and transmit it to Mr Hobhouse
— It is not legal to seize Papers under the 39 & 40th of the King — but if they can be got at in any other way it might be desirable — Lord S. leaves this however to Himself.]
This letter can be found at HO 42/144.