fallen into disuse, and for these two reasons, the clothier no
longer depends on the Poor for the yarn which they formerly
spun for him at their own homes, as he finds that 50 persons
(to speak within compass), with the help of machines, will
do as much work as 500 without them ; and the Poor, f mm the
1 Scribbling by hand took a man 96 hours, by machine a child performed the
same amount in 14 hours (Reports from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Com-
missioners, 1840, part ii. pp. 439 f. ).
1 Cf., e.g., Annals of Agriculture, vol. ix. pp. 298-9. A correspondent from
Pucklechurck, Gloucestershire, wrote: 'I know that a very considerable
Wiltshire clothier from a great distance, lately wished to put out spinning in
this place, where the hands were before full of work, that the same person has
opened a spinning house, at a still greater distance from his residence, and that
he wants to introduce the spinning machines.'
N.B. In some copies of vol. ix. of the Annals of Agriculture the full
answers of correspondents to questions about the woollen industry, from which
the above is taken, are not given.
8 Annals of Agriculture, vol. xxvi. p. 19.
1 Eden, op. cit. t vol. iii. p. 796.
148 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
great reduction in the price of spinning, scarcely have the heart
to earn the Little that is obtained by it.' *
But although the introduction of machinery brought disaster
to some villages, to others it brought life and prosperity.
Water power was used for working the jennies and the other
machinery, and this caused a migration from the towns to
those villages where streams were available. Just when
steam engines were beginning to be used in the North, the
use of water power became common in the South- West. This
tendency to move from towns to villages is noted by most
of the witnesses before the Committee on the Woollen Trade
Bill in 1802-3. ' In consequence of the introduction of
Machinery Manufacturers are now looking out for Mill Scites
to work by Water which cannot be obtained in Market Towns,
and those Places where the Manufacture has been formerly
carried on,' said one Wiltshire clothier ; 2 and a Gloucester-
shire clothier stated categorically, * since the Introduction of
Machinery there is much more work for the Women and Children
in the Villages than formerly,' 3 a statement which is hard to
reconcile with the loss of hand-spinning, until we realise that
village differed from village in its fate. 4 The migration of the
weavers to the villages we have mentioned elsewhere. Owing
to the competition of the spinning factories it was complained
that the services of children as ' QuiJlers ' to help the weavers
were difficult to obtain. ' A Child then, through the Introduc-
tion of Machinery, can be useful from five or six Years old ?
It must not, however, be supposed that in consequence
of the migration from towns to the villages, the towns lan-
guished. The cloth trade itself was increasing and with it
the population of the manufacturing towns as well. A Frome
1 At Pewsey in Wiltshire, where the women and children were suddenly
deprived of their work by the competition of spinning mills and the poor rates
rose to 155. in the pound, ' the Rector applied to the manufacturer for a continu-
ance of employment, offering to do it at the same rate as the wool was spun at
the mills, or even at less, he was answered that the work was supplied with
more ease and certainty from the mills, and therefore they could not employ the
poor on any terms' (Reports of Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor,
vol. iv. p. 82).
2 Minutes of Evidence on Woollen Trade Bill, 1802-3, P- 335-
3 Report of Committee on South- West Clothiers' Petition, 1802-3 (Henry
4 Compare also another witness : ' Women who used to go out to Leasing and
Harvest are now employed about Spinning ' (Evidence on Woollen Trade Bill,
1802-3, p. 303). 6 Ibid., p. 300.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 149
manufacturer declared in 1803 J ' That he is so necessitated,
from the Want of Workwomen, as to have applied to the Over-
seers of his Parish, for some Months past, to send him such
as apply for Relief to be employed in the Woollen Manu-
facture ; and that he also sends Wool into different Parishes
to be picked, from the want of Hands.'
The change from hand work to machine work did not take
place without some disturbances. A scribbling mill at Brad-
ford, Wilts, was burnt down about 1790, whereupon the owner
moved his works to Malmesbury, 2 and threats of attacks on
other establishments where machinery is used are reported
from time to time. Thus a magistrate in Somersetshire
describes in 1790 3 how he was called in by two of the principal
manufacturers of Keynsham to protect their property ' from
the Depredations of a lawless Banditti of Colliers and their
Wives.' The wives had no doubt lost their work by the erec-
tion of * spinning engines.' ' They advanced at first with
much Insolence, avowing their Intention of cutting to Pieces
the Machines lately introduced in the Woollen Manufacture ;
which they suppose, if generally adopted, will lessen the Demand
for manual Labour. The Women became clamorous. The
Men were more open to conviction and after some Expostula-
tions were induced to desist from their Purpose and return
A later change in spinning in the South-West clothing
trade was made about 1828 by the introduction of the mule ;
this time there was no increase in general employment to
compensate for the decrease of work in a particular process ;
by two mules worked by one man and a child the whole spinning
of warp and weft for a piece of cloth could be done in twelve
hours. With the spinning-jenny a woman could spin the warp
in thirty-eight hours, a man with two children could spin the
weft in thirty-four hours. Six hundred and twelve hours was
the time originally required for a woman with one or two
children's help to do the same amount. 4
Introduction of Machinery into Yorkshire. (1) Wool
The introduction of spinning-jennies into Yorkshire for
wool seems to have taken place about 1780, and though for
1 Committee on South- West Clothiers' Petition, 1802-3 (William Sheppard).
8 Eyidence on Woollen Trade Bill, 1802-3, P- 8 4- 3 H.O.,42. 16, March 17.
4 Report from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1840, part ii.
PP- 439 f-
150 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
various reasons it caused less suffering than in the south,
it was not entirely free from disturbance. At Hunslet, for
example, there are said to have been riots when spinning-jennies
were introduced. 1 But the increase in the trade soon dis-
pelled the prejudices against their introduction. ' At the first
and for some time after the introduction of spinning-jennies,
pulling out and twisting from forty to sixty threads at once
in the place of one, and of carding, slubbing and scribbling
billies, performing with one man the work of twenty, etc., all
seemed in the woollen trade to go on well ; and instead of
men being thrown idle as they apprehended, webs were pre-
pared so much more quickly than before, that they all found
themselves called upon to the looms, and the women and
children only were left without work in their own houses.' So
wrote the author of Observations an Woollen Machinery 2 in
One feature of this development of the industry that throws
an ominous shadow over the new prosperity is mentioned by
a correspondent from Gloucester to the Annals of Agriculture in
1791 : 3
' A Gentleman from York passed through this city a few days
ago, who gave us a new confirmation of the flourishing state
of the woollen trade in that county. He says, that although
so many machines have been erected, yet the trade has thereby
been encreased to that degree, that at this time no less than
seventy additional machines are now setting up in the neigh-
bourhood of Leeds, Bradford, and Huddersfield. One manu-
facturer assured this gentleman, that he was in such want of
hands as to be driven to the expedient of procuring from the
workhouses in London, 500 poor children to be employed in
This introduction of machinery into the clothing trade for
spinning and the preliminary processes seemed, to many
observers, to involve as a necessary consequence the extinc-
tion of the small manufacturers. Men put capital into the
industry on a large scale, and steam was applied as early as
1793. ' The application of steam engines,' wrote Arthur
Young in that year, 4 ' to move the machinery of manufactures,
is nowhere carried further than at Leeds ; there are six or
1 Report of Committee on Woollen Manufacture, 1806, p. 81.
2 Page 12.
3 Annals of Agriculture, vol. xvi. p. 422.
4 Ibid., vol. xxvii. p. 310.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 151
seven for mills, etc., and a dying house has also one. . . .
Viewed with great pleasure the machines for unclothing and
puffing out wool, if I may use the expression, also for spinning,
and various other operations. The inventions that have done
so much in cotton, are here fast introducing for wool.' The
change that seemed imminent is clearly described by the
writer of the Observations on Woollen Machinery in 1803 : J
' Formerly the mode of making cloth in this large cloathing
district was as follows : A class of men with tolerable capitals
called woolstaplers, rode over the country about cliptime, to
buy up the wool from the growers. They then have the
fleece carefully broke into its various qualities, and after-
wards sell it out in small quantities thus assorted, to innumer-
able master manufacturers of little or no capitals, spread
around in the adjacent villages. These master-makers super-
intend all the remaining operations ; have many performed
in their own houses and hire out the rest to their neighbour-
ing families : the whole of which husbands, wives, and children,
were employed together in their own dwellings, some in weav-
ing, others scribbling, carding, or spinning.
' Since the introduction of machinery a new class of men, as
machinery, or mill-owners, are concerned ; and many of the
master-makers have their own mills. The effect of which is,
that wool is very much faster made into cloth, considerably
more weavers are employed, and no home work left for women
and children. Now after the wool is dyed by the master, it is
sent to a mill, where, with the help of a man or two and a few
children, it is most expeditiously scribbled, milled, slubbed,
spun and made ready for the loom.'
The writer underestimated the powers and tenacity of the
4 innumerable master manufacturers of little or no capitals,'
for, as we have said elsewhere, they adapted themselves to
the new circumstances, and set up their own mills where the
preliminary processes could be carried out. The women and
children either followed the work into the mills or were em-
ployed in weaving or in helping to weave.
Mules for spinning wool seem to have been introduced into
Yorkshire about the same time that they were introduced
into the South- West, in 1826. 2
1 Page 14.
1 Baines, Yorkshire Past and Present, p. 650.
152 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
The story of the introduction of machinery for spinning
worsted in Yorkshire differs in some respects from the story
of its introduction for wool. ' Spinning engines ' were intro-
duced earlier for wool than for worsted, and it is clear that
any women and children displaced by the use of the jenny for
wool could find employment at the wheel for worsted. The
jenny indeed seems to have been used very little for worsted, 1
and the one-thread wheel remained the common implement
till the end of the eighteenth century and indeed later. 2
The real competitor with the one-thread wheel was the
worsted mill or factory, where Arkwright's water frame or
developments of it were used, 3 worked by either water power
The first worsted mill with water frames was built in 1784
in Lancashire, at Dolphin Holme on the river Wyre, but for
some time it was not a success. 4 Others followed towards
the end of the century. By 1800 there were about ten, includ-
ing one worked by steam built that year in Bradford. 5 An
attempt to build one in Bradford in 1793 had been stopped
by the remonstrances of a number of ' respectable residents,'
who, fearing ' such a smoky nuisance as a steam engine,' had
threatened the proprietor with legal proceedings for nuisance. 6
The building of worsted mills was hastened by the shortage
of yarn, for owing no doubt partly to the growing competition
of the cotton industry, 7 and partly to the great growth of
trade, Yorkshire towards the end of the century could not
even supply enough yarn for its own worsted trade, and
Norwich and the surrounding districts were now spinning
yarn for use in the north. 8 Early next century, with the
coming of the mill-spun yarn, the tables were reversed, and
the north supplied the south, for after 1807 fine yarn spun
1 Arthur Young, however, notes its use for worsted at Leeds in 1793 (Annals
of Agriculture, xxvii. p. 312).
2 James, op. cit., pp. 335, 355, 358.
3 There were also a few mules worked by hand or a gin horse introduced
into Bradford about 1794 (see James, op. cit., pp. 328-9).
4 James, op. cit., p. 327. 6 James, op. cit., pp. 355 and 592.
6 James, op. cit., p. 592.
7 Cf. Annals of Agriculture, vol. xvi. p. 423 : Halifax manufacturers
complain of scarcity of hands owing to rapid progress of the cotton trade.
8 James, op. cit. , p. 306. In earlier days wool had been sent from Norwich
to be spun in Yorkshire.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 153
by water frames in Yorkshire was despatched south to
Norwich with its decaying trade, and by 1818 most of the
Norwich yarn was coming from the northern mills. l
It must not be supposed that the worsted mills killed hand
spinning at once ; long after 1800 the two methods of produc-
tion went on side by side. Mill-spun yarn was rougher than
that spun by hand, but the invention of the false reed or slay
about 1800, a device which helped to guide the shuttle and
made the use of rougher yarn less troublesome, together with
improvements in the mill-spun yarn itself, made the extinction
of hand spinning a question of time. 2
Machinery and the South-East
Whilst in the north worsted mills were being built and
machines worked by steam were taking the place of
human hands, in the south-east districts the processes re-
mained unchanged though the work constantly diminished
in volume. 8 As the cheap mill-spun yarn from the north
flooded the markets, the demand for the hand -spun yarn of
the south decreased, the rates of payment fell, and the southern
yarn was only used for particular sorts of stuffs, such as the
finer kinds of poplins. Not only was the spinning done by
machinery instead of by hand, but it was done elsewhere.
Some attempts to introduce the spuming- jenny must have
been made, for in 1816 its introduction was assigned as one
of the causes of the misery that brought about the rising
of the labourers in the eastern counties. 4 No serious
attempt was made to compete with the worsted mills of the
north, though after 1832 one or two mills were started in
It was the south-eastern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and
Essex that suffered most severely from the loss of domestic
spinning, and employment was further decreased by the
scarcity and dearness of wool from 1785 to 1795, and again
from 1798 to 1809, which pressed hardest on the districts where
trade was failing.' There was no temporary increase in other
branches of the trade to help the workers in these counties
1 James, op. cit., pp. 366 and 386. 2 James, op. cit. t pp. 355 f.
* The primitive distaff and spindle was still used in Norfolk for the finest
yarn (James, op. cit., p. 334). * H.O., 42. 151, June 7.
9 Report from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1840, part ii.
8 Cunningham, Growth of English Industry and Commerce, ii. p. 452.
154 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
to tide over the evil time, and no other trades came at once
to those districts to sweep in the hands left idle by the
decay of the worsted industry. 1 The overseers sometimes
adopted the disastrous practice of giving bounties to spinners,
in other words making the manufacturer's wage up to a living
wage. ' In some parishes a happy practice has obtained, of
stepping in to the aid of the industrious spinner, by supply-
ing the deficiency of the manufacturers' prices of labour, and
paying her earnings at a stated price ; thus, by a small addi-
tion in money, preventing the vicissitudes ever attendant on
commercial concerns. Admirable device ! at once leading to
the employment of the poor, and to the incitement of their
By 1830 the spinning of wool or worsted as a domestic
industry for commercial purposes was obsolete.
After spinning had passed into the factories the spinners in
the woollen factories seem to have been in much the same
position as the spinners in the cotton factories : they were a
small class of skilled men superintending the work of women
and children. They do not figure so prominently as the
cotton spinners in the records from which the material for
this history has been drawn : they were of course fewer in
number and their organisation was weaker. We have some
account of their conditions from a witness before the Com-
mittee on Artisans and Machinery in 1824. 3 The witness was
himself a woollen cloth maker, by name Joseph Gates, of
Leeds, representing ' the body of labouring manufacturers in
Leeds, Holbeck, Armley, and Wortley.' Gates described the
establishment of a Union in Dewsbury in 1822 which embraced
both spinners and weavers, with the object of ' equalising
wages,' i.e. of bringing the bad employers to the standard
of the good. From Gates' answers it is possible to piece
together some information about the spinners in the heavy
woollen district. The wages of spinners and weavers seem
to have been much the same in Leeds, they were higher in
Leeds than in Stanningley and the surrounding villages, higher
also than in Dewsbury. The hours were fourteen to fifteen
1 For the use made by other trades of the ' large fund of cheap technical skill
seeking occupation ' in Suffolk, see Victoria County History of Suffolk, vol. ii.
2 Annals of Agriculture, vol. xxvi. p. 253 (of Essex), 1796.
3 Report of Select Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 533.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 155
including two hours for meals. Spinners were making about
twenty to twenty-five shillings a week in Leeds in 1819, 1
but that year the larger employers forced a reduction of five
shillings in the pound : the workers, spinners and weavers,
struck, and they received considerable support from the
general public, but after holding out for six months they were
compelled to submit. The Dewsbury workers struck at % the
same time with rather better result : it is interesting to note
that they had the support of a large number of employers.
The General Union of Weavers and Spinners there had five
In the worsted mills, on the other hand, the spinners were
chiefly ' children or young persons,' 2 for there Arkwright's
water frame was in use. The conditions were very bad and
cripples were very common. 3 We have an account of her
life in one of these mills from a girl of eighteen who started
work when about nine years old : 4 ' I was put to learn to
spin. ... I was put to the one spindle frame. I was put at
first with another to learn me, and in two or three weeks I
was able to mind it myself. My next sister went with me ;
she was put to spin too, at the one spindle frame. ... I got
3s. at first and then 3s. 6d. When I first went, we worked
from six to seven ... we had three-quarters of an hour for
dinner and afterwards only half an hour and no time for
breakfast or drinking.' When she was ' turned ten ' and her
sister was nine the mill changed hands, and the new master
picked out these two girls and one or two others to work long
hours. ' We went from five to nine. We had over-money
for that : it made a week of seven days. My standing wage
then was 5s. 6d., we reckoned that from six to seven. We
gave over at five on Saturdays. I had 6s. odd when we worked
this time. I forget the coppers. ... I had my health very
well till I worked from five to nine ... I worked on till
better than a year ago. I worked those hours all the time.
We sometimes worked from six to seven but it was mostly
from five to nine. ... I went from there to the Infirmary.
My lameness has been coming on nearly six years. ... It
1 Baines gives the following figures taken from ' an old and eminent firm ' in
the Leeds district : 1795, *<>*. 9^- 5 l %5> 2 4 S - 8d. ; 1815, 315. 8d. ; 1825, 2OS. 4d.
After introduction of mule spinning in 1826 workmen earned 405. less I2s.
paid to two piecers : in 1835 this figure was 373. id. (Baines, Yorkshire Past
and Present, p. 650).
* James, op. cit., p. 549. * Ibid., p. 550.
* 1833 Factory Commission First Report, p. 72, c. I.
156 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
Was having to crook my knee to stop the spindle that lamed
me as much as anything else.'
It will be remembered that the earlier Factory Acts, 1 such
as they were, applied only to cotton factories, and that there
was no protection at all for the children in the woollen and
worsted mills at this time. It was stated in the Leeds Mercury
in 1830 2 that the children were employed in the worsted mills
thirteen hours with an interval of half an hour, and in the
woollen mills fifteen hours with an interval of two hours.
John Wood, the famous worsted spinner of Bradford, who
was one of the earliest champions of the children, declared to
Oastler, when urging him to embark on the crusade with which
his name is so gloriously associated, that the factory children
were worse off than the slaves in the West Indies. Sadler
made great play with this comparison when moving the
second reading of the Factories Regulation Bill in March 1832.
He showed that the Orders in Council of November 1831 had
limited the work of adult slaves to nine hours a day and that
of children under the age of fourteen to six hours a day. ' You
have limited the labour of the robust negro to nine hours :
but when I propose that the labour of the young white slave
shall not exceed ten, the proposition is deemed extravagant.'
Thus the decay of the old system of domestic spinning did
not bring more misery on the villages that suffered from its
loss than the birth of the new system brought to the towns
for which it found employment.
III. THE WOOLLEN WEAVERS
The woollen weavers of the south-west, like the worsted
weavers of the Norwich district, were early an organised body
of men, whose interests were often in sharp opposition to those
of their masters. ' Discontent,' it has been said, ' was the
prevalent attitude of the operatives engaged in the wool in-
dustries for centuries,' 8 a discontent expressed in the old
ballad of the Clothier's Delight, written in the seventeenth
century, which describes the methods by which the clothiers
oppressed their various classes of workers. One verse runs :
1 Except the 1802 Act which applied to cotton and woollen mills but dealt
with apprentices only.
2 October 30, 1830.
a Burnley, History of Wool and Woolcombing, 1889, p. 160.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 157
' We '11 make the poor Weavers work at a low rate ;
We '11 find fault where there 's no fault, and so we will bate ;
If trading grows dead, we will presently show it :
But if it grows good, they shall never know it :
We '11 tell them that cloth beyond sea will not go,
We care not whether we keep clothing or no.
Chorus. And this is the way for to fill up our purse,
Although we do get it with many a curse.' 1
The woollen weavers had been the objects of Parliamentary
attention long before the time with which we deal. Their
combinations had been forbidden, their masters had been
ordered to pay them in money and not in goods, and the
magistrates had been instructed to fix their rates of wages.
But men, masters, and magistrates paid very little regard to
the directions of the legislature. In the middle of the
eighteenth century, we find the men trying to obtain the
enforcement of the regulation of wages. It is worth while to
give a brief account of this attempt.
In 1756 the workers employed in the woollen weaving trade
in Gloucestershire petitioned Parliament, asking that the
Parliamentary regulations for paying their wages should be