Friday 18 December 2015

18th December 1815: Cloth Dressers' Union Secretary arrested in Leeds

In the evening of Monday 18th December 1815 John Sunderland, the secretary of the Cloth Dressers' Union (or 'Brief Institution') was arrested in Leeds. The two local newspapers carried reports of the arrest.

From the Leeds Mercury of Saturday 23rd December:
On Monday night last, John Sunderland, Secretary of United Cloth-Dressers’ Society, was apprehended at a public-house in this town and committed to prison, on a charge of aiding and abetting an illegal combination for preventing the use of Machinery in the dressing of woollen cloth, and at the same time the papers of the Society were seized and inspected by the Magistrates. On the following day Sunderland and three other persons were held to bail to appear at the Quarter Sessions to answer to the said charge.
From the Leeds Intelligencer of Monday 25th December:
Monday last, five men, members of a Committee of Cloth-dressers, were convicted at our Rotation Office of having entered into an illegal combination for preventing or their fellow-workmen from following his trade, unless he paid the sum of five pounds, which this Committee thought itself entitled to demand of him. They have appealed to the Quarter Sessions. It might have been hoped that the awful example at York, would have been a sufficient warning to workmen of every description, of the danger of entering into illegal combinations. Though any Class of workmen may set out with a resolution not to give way to such daring acts of outrage, as drew down that terrible infliction of the law, they ought to be aware that, having once entered upon an unlawful career, it is impossible for them to foresee where the evil may terminate, and that, however guarded they may be in their proceedings, detection, must, sooner or later, overtake every deviation from that course which the laws of the land, as well as every principle of policy, of necessity, and of justice, have marked out. The object of dislike to the present combination, is that species of machinery, employed for the dressing woollen cloth, called Gig Mills. By this machinery, some are of opinion that the manufacture can be finished, at the same expence, in a style much superior, to that which the Cloth-Workers are either able or willing to affect by manual labour. Several manufacturers, therefore, exercising that opinion, (which is their undoubted right) have determined on employing such machinery. Against this system, it appears, the Cloth-Workers have combined; and having demanded, as we have above stated, five pounds from an individual who had worked with machinery in Ireland, before they would allow him to earn his subsistence here by his wonted avocation, he gave information of the system, and the Committee, with their books and papers, were taken into custody. An extensive correspondence and combination have in consequence been discovered. As the next sessions must determine the business, it would be improper here to dwell further on the subject.

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