Thursday, 28 September 2017

28th September 1817: Viscount Lascelles writes to Lord Sidmouth about the plight of the Croppers

My dear Lord.

In the course of the last Session of [Parliament] your Lordship may recollect that I together with a Deputation from the Cloth Workers, or Croppers, waited upon you upon the subject of an alteration of the Laws respecting Emigration―The ground upon which the application which deprived the Clothworkers of their usual means of employment. The machinery applicable to their particular branch of trade are the Gig mill for raising cloth, and the Shearing Frames for cropping it when raised. Your Lordship well knows that considerable objections have existed in the minds of this class of workmen to the establishment of these machines; that in 1812 some deluded persons attempted by intimidation to restrain the use of them, and that application at different times has been made to [Parliament] for their abolition, but without success. In the last Session of [Parliament] a petition was presented to the House of Commons upon the subject, setting forth, in the most respectful manner, the effect likely to be produced upon the interests of the Petitioners by the increasing use of these machines. A numerous meeting was held in order to discuss the point in question―;and the Parties were unanimously recommended not to incur the expence of proceeding in furtherance of the petition; in consequence of the general opinion which seemed to prevail that [Parliament] would not sanction the abolition of the machines, or lay a restraint upon the fair employment of capital. In failure of the accomplishment of their wishes, the Parties were desirous of being allowed freely to emigrate: and it is upon this part of the question I take the liberty of troubling your Lordship: for I am informed that no expectation is now entertained by the Clothworkers of accomplishing their object. It cannot be doubted that the use of these machines is rapidly increasing throughout the West Riding of Yorkshire, and that they supersede the manual labor of a body of men, amounting, as I am informed, to about 3,500, who have been regularly and almost exclusively brought up, to the exercise of this trade. A Deputation waited upon me last week, and I promised to communicate with your Lordship upon the subject of their present wishes, in order that they might have an opportunity of being considered by Government previous to a more regular application. The persons who communicated with me, allow that the Woollen Trade has considerably revived, and that reasonable hopes may be entertained of its progressive amendment; but that notwithstanding these circumstances, their particular situations will not be improved since the use of machinery deprives them of their usual employment. In all changes of this nature, altho’ considerable inconvenience may be experienced in the first instance, the population affected will generally find employment in other branches of the business, and I make no doubt this will be the case very shortly with some part of the Clothworkers; but still a strong desire is expressed by them to have the assistance of Government in conveying such of them as may wish to emigrate, to North America. According to my own calculation this body may be divided into three parts: that which will find employment in other branches of the Woollen Trade: that which wou’d endeavour to find employment in any Trade or Business rather than emigrate; and that which would prefer emigration as affording them the fairest prospects. The Parties are aware of the regulations furnished by the Colonial Department respecting emigration; but according to them, Individuals must bear the expences of the voyage, which the greater part or perhaps all these persons are unable to do: and the Articles furnished by Government when Grants of Land are made, being according to the means of cultivation possessed by the Grantee: the prospects of an advantageous settlement in the Country are quite hopeless unless Government should, under the particular circumstances of the case, think proper to render them such assistance as will enable them to remove; and secure to them both assistance, and protection for a certain time after their arrival in North America. It must be recollected that the population already engaged in the different branches of the Woollen Trade is probably, uner the present circumstances of that Trade, fully sufficient to supply the demand for labor.

I am aware that difficulties may present themselves in fulfilling the wishes of the Parties, but if they can be overcome I am persuaded the number that will emigrate will not be large. The restraints imposed by the Laws do not appear to be as necessary now as at the time they were made, because not only in Europe, but in other parts of the World, improvements in manufactures are no longer unknown.

I remain
My dear Lord
Your faithful and
Obt Servt


[To] Viscount Sidmouth.

This letter can be found at HO 42/170.

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