Sunday, 30 October 2016

30th October 1816: Croppers lose wages case at Pontefract Sessions

A court case regarding Croppers' wages that came before Pontefract Sessions is a good example of how the spectre of Luddism was invoked to arguably alter the outcome. It is noteworthy that the case lasted 14 hours. The case was reported in the Leeds Mercury of 2nd November 1816:

[Illegible] [Beresford], Oct. 30th, 1816.

This was an action to recover the sum of £3 17s. 9d. due to the Plaintiff for wages on the balance of an account, three pounds and three pence was paid into Court; the only question was, whether the further sums of seventeen shillings was also due unto Plaintiffs. As this cause has excited some interest, we shall, without entering into a detail of the evidence, state the nature of it in as few words as possible.

The Plaintiffs are working cloth-dressers, and the Defendant is a master cloth-dresser, residing in this town. In the month of July last, the Plaintiffs were employed by the Defendant to dress for him 23 pieces of cloth for the Russian contract. It was stated by the witnesses of the Defendant, that when about six of these pieces had been done, Mr. Lister stated to the Plaintiffs that the pieces were only to be backed and not half dressed, an operation which was explained as requiring less labour, and that the price would be reduced from five to four shillings a piece. This proposal being demurred to, Mr. Lister said he would give the same price as other dressers gave for goods dressed in a similar manner. No objection appears to have been made at the time to this proposal: but upon a settlement of accounts, the Plaintiffs demanded 5s. a piece, and refused to take less. Several witnesses were also called to shew that 4s. shillings a piece was as much as was given by other dressers, and was a fair and full price for this species of dressing, and that by reasonable industry 30s. a week might be earned at that rate. On the part of the Plaintiffs several witnesses were called, the object of whose evidence was to prove, that the alteration in the price had not been mentioned to them until the whole of the pieces, except three or four, had been dressed; it was also contended by the Plaintiffs, that as the whole 23 pieces had been delivered the Plaintiffs to dress at the understood price of 5s. a piece, no alteration in this parcel could take place without the consent of both parties. Mr. Hardy said, there were two questions for the Jury to decide: first, was there a special contract? if there was, was that contract four or five shillings a piece? If there was no contract, the Jury would then have to determine from the evidence, what was a full and fair price for the labour performed upon the cloth. If they found that there was a contract, and that the contract was for 5s. a piece, the Plaintiffs would be entitled to recover the sum claimed. If four shillings a piece was the contract, the Defendant would be entitled to a verdict. If there was no contract, the Jury would then find for the plaintiffs or for the Defendant, as the evidence should satisfy then, that five or four shillings was a fair price for the dressing of this cloth. Mr. Hardy said, the Jury were to dismiss from their minds all the insinuations which had been thrown out as to the Plaintiffs belonging to an illegal combination; this was a charge, which, whether true or false, they had nothing to do with. Mr. Hardy then proceeded to make some observations on the ruinous nature of these kind of combinations; he observed, that labour, like all other things, would best find its own level, and that all confederacies to keep it up were destructive, because they had a tendency to drive trade and manufactures to other countries, and he mentioned Nottingham as an instance of the fatal effects of this system, and stated, that in consequence of the frame-breaking, which had been so long carried on there, the manufacturers were rapidly removing from that town neighbourhood, and that these deluded men had taken the most effectual means of depriving themselves of the means of subsistence. The Jury found a verdict for the defendant.

The Court, with the adjournment of one hour, remained sitting from ten o'clock on Wednesday morning until about two o'clock in the morning of the following day.

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