Monday, 20 February 2017

20th February 1817: A leading Leicester framework-knitter writes to the Home Secretary

Leicester Feby 20th 1817

My Lord

We have inclosed for the serious consideration of your Lordships & the cabinet Ministers No.1 a copy of the resolutions of the Framework Knitters passed at their late meeting & No.2 subsequent resolutions of ye Hosiers. You will find in them a statement of matters of Fact, & things as they really are in this Town & Neighbourhood. The Framework Knitters in consequence of the reduction of their Wages are reduced to the lowest state of misery & wretchedness, & if the present system of giving low Wages is persisted in, the whole of the common people will soon become paupers. One cause of this state of things is the combination Act, which is unjust in its principles, & impolitic in its application. If this Act had never been enforced mechanics would in a great measure been enabled to resist their employers in reducing their wages & consequently the country would have been in comparatively flourishing circumstances; All ranks of People in this Town see & feel evil of ye present system of giving low Wages, and we can assure your Lordship from a personal interview we have had with the Mayor, that he, and the other Magistrates of this Town are anxious that our Wages should be advanced, the present system will eat the Vitals of the Country, & your Lordship will find that a nation of Paupers will ultimately produce an empty exchequer and a National Bankruptcy.—It is not the want of employment of which we complain but the lowness of our Wages, the hands out of Work being comparatively few. You have legislated to keep up the price of Corn, & it is but just that you should legislate to keep up the price of labour & your Lordship will ever find in time of Peace that the Price of one is dependent on the price of the other; If the Mechanics and artizans were well paid for their Labour they would not hoard up their Money, It would find its way into the shops of the Tradesmen the Pockets of the Farmer & into his Majesty’s exchequer, If a low price is given for Labour the price of the necessaries of Life must come down in proportion in defiance of all attempts that are made to keep them up & we would ask your Lordship how a low price of Corn, a low price of labour can exist with a heavy taxation? Your Lordship will see in the Resolutions of the Hosiers, that they tell us they are forced to reduce our Wages, to come into the market upon equal terms with Parishes that manufacture goods, and those Hosiers who receive the premium from Parishes for employing their Poor; We would call your Lordships attention particularly to this subject, Parishes manufacture goods, send them to Market & sell them under prime cost & the loss sustaind is made up from the poor rates, to meet this competition, the Hosiers are obliged to reduce the wages of their Workmen? Your Lordship from this Statement we trust will see the necessity of some alteration in the Poor Laws, We would humbly suggest to your Lordship that if the Poor Rates throughout the Country were collected & put into one public fund & the whole of the poor paid from that fund there would be no inducement for parishes to manufacture or give premiums to manufacturers for employing their Poor & forcing them to work for low Wages as is the case at present, We have to beg pardon for intruding ourselves upon your notice, but the importance of the subject & the high station which your Lordship holds in his Majesty's Government we hope will be deemed by your Lordship a sufficient apology

Signed on the behalf of the deputation appointed to wait upon the Hosiers

Willm Jackson Secy

To Lord Viscount Sidmouth
Secretary for Home Department

This letter can be found at HO 42/160. A biography of William Jackson can be found here.

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