Monday, 7 March 2016

7th March 1816: Suffolk Yarn makers lament the automation of their trade to local MPs

The letter below was published in the Bury & Norwich Post of 27th March 1816:

Yarn-makers.—A Copy of the following letter was last week transmitted to the Members of Parliament for this county —

"GENTLEMEN.—While the Freeholders of the county are petitioning against Income and Property Tax, permit the Suffolk Yarn-makers to lay before you the state of spinning of fine worsted yarn, and the bad consequence of encouraging machines for spinning of wool, which has been in part the cause of parish rates getting up to their present height, and now threatens a total annihilation of all hand spinning. The coarse spinning by hand has already been done away, to the injury of many thousands of women and children, and about 800 journeymen combers in the said county; and there are about 400 more likely to share the same fate, if a stop is not put to mill-spinning, principally manufactured in Yorkshire. The number of spinners in this county amounts to about 40,000, and their earnings on an average 3d. each per day, amounting to the sum of 156,000l. per annum; this sum must, of course, fall principally on the occupiers of land, and if a stop is not put to so growing an evil, it must in the end be the ruin of the Agricultural interest, as well as the Yarn-makers of this county. Although the ingenuity of man is patronised and encouraged, still when it becomes a national grievance, surely it then behoves the Legislature to stop, or remedy, the evil. It must be allowed the Wool-growers in some counties find a readier and higher market, owing to a less sum being required to manufacture the raw material; yet if it is considered the large sum it takes for the maintenance of the labouring poor, still increasing, how is the landed interest to support the expences, or find employment for so greater a number of women and children? Besides, all selfish considerations must be extinguished, or give way to a public good. It has been observed, that the machine spinning enables our manufacturers to undersell the Foreign Markets; the contrary will be proved to a demonstration in times of Peace, from the raw materials having advanced triple during the War, the consequence of which will be, the manufacturers will have a quantity of goods on hand, their journeymen unemployed, thousands of females and children out of employment, pauperism rapidly increasing, and a  general distress among the lower orders of the people; nor will the Farming Interest be able to live with moderate rents, even if Wheat should get up to 40s. per coomb, from the enormous sums they will have to pay rates. If it be asked, are the goods equal to hand spinning? the answer is, they are made to sell; perhaps some will say, 'Can no other employment be substituted?' I answer, I know of none that will give labour to two millions of people in this kingdom. Must they not be brought up in idleness and vice? and will it not be the ruin of the morals of the people? That you, Gentlemen, will take this into your serious consideration, is the wish of the Yarn-makers of the County of Suffolk.

7th March, 1816.


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