most valuable picture of the industry. 4 The Report recom-
mended the repeal of the statutes to which the masters objected.
Wilberforce had long been a firm ally of the small clothiers in
Yorkshire, but he had come to the conclusion that their posi-
tion was not seriously threatened, and that they would con-
tinue to exist side by side with the factories, a forecast in which
he was justified by events. ' If the factory system,' said one
member of the committee, James Graham, a landowner near
Leeds, in giving evidence, 5 ' if the factory system were to exclude
from the country the domestic system, it would be dreadful
indeed, for it is very pleasing in Yorkshire to see the domestic
Clothiers living in a field, with their homestead, rather than
shut up in a street.' Towards the shearmen the committee
adopted a very different tone. Their Society with its com-
munications between different districts was credited with
almost unlimited power, and Wilberforce's old horror of work-
men's combinations was given full rein.
' The least of the evils to be apprehended (though an evil
1 H.O., 42. 83, February 10.
2 Ibid., February 22. Lord Auckland was President of the Board of Trade.
1 Smart, Economic Annals, i. p. 128.
4 The Report was printed July 4, 1806.
8 Committee on Woollen Manufacture, 1806, p. 445.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 187
in itself abundantly sufficient to accomplish the ruin, not only
of any particular branch of Trade, but even of the whole
commercial greatness of our Country) is, the progressive rise
of Wages which among all classes of Workmen must be the in-
evitable, though gradual result of such a Society's operations :
an evil, the fatal though more distant, and in each particular
increase, more doubtful consequence of which it cannot be
expected that the Workmen themselves should foresee so
plainly, or feel so forcibly, as not to incur them, under the
powerful temptation of a strong and immediate interest.' l
Dark hints are further thrown out of the political dangers of
The Report of the Committee of 1806 was a death-blow to
any hopes that the shearmen might still cherish of the pro-
hibition of gig mills. Close behind the gig mills came the
shearing frames which if generally used would, as Mr. Read had
pointed out in 1802, 2 ' entirely cut off the Artists in that
branch of the Trade.' The domestic weavers and the small
Yorkshire clothiers who had built hopes on the limitation of
looms were also disappointed, but the Report prophesied
correctly in their case so far at any rate as the immediate
future was concerned. 3
Although the Report of the 1806 Committee showed that
the attempt to resuscitate the old statutes was doomed to
failure, the actual question of the woollen laws was not definitely
settled by Parliament till 1809. In 1807 another suspending
Bill was passed, and there were fresh petitions against it. In
1808 yet another suspending Bill was passed. It must be
noticed that though each suspending Act only exempted exist-
ing gig mills from prosecution, new ones were set up, which
were indemnified by the next Act. This device of shelving
the question by passing one suspending Bill after another was
very unfair to the shearmen. A rather despairing set of
resolutions from the cloth-workers and shearmen of the West
Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire sent up to the Home
Office in 1808 4 sets out ' That the great question respecting
the use of that Machine in the Woollen Manufacture, having
1 Committee on Woollen Manufacture, 1806, p. 17.
2 H.O., 42. 66, September 5.
* The 'shoploom' system, i.e. of masters having their own looms on their
own premises, was only introduced into Gloucestershire after the 1828 strike and
was not universal in 1840 (see Reports from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers
Commissoners, 1840, part v. p. 448). * H.O., 42. 92, January 27.
188 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
been brought in so many Sessions of Parliament, the Expenses
have greatly distressed them.' Indeed the amount of money
spent by the woollen workers on the whole business must have
been considerable ; Mr. Jessop, the attorney, who had been
President of the Gloucestershire Weavers' Association in 1803,
said afterwards that he had spent about 1500 of the weavers'
money in Parliamentary expenses that year without counting
his own charges. 1 In the summer of 1808, riots were feared
in the Bradford (Wilts) district, and an employer wrote to
the Home Office asking for troops ; ' ... in the improvements
of the Factorys,' he explains, * the misguided and evil dis-
posed Shearmen erroneously fear their Interests are suffering.' 2
In 1809 the disputed question was at last settled by the Act
49 Geo. in. c. 109, which definitely repealed the Acts and
clauses of Acts on which the workers had built so many hopes. 3
The subsequent history of the shearmen or cloth-workers
is a melancholy tale. Gig mills and shearing frames came
into general use earlier in the south-west than in Yorkshire ; 4
and if we may believe the writer of the Report on the South-
West in 1840, owing to the briskness of trade, most of the men
displaced by machinery found other work. 5 In 1816, however,
when many extra hands returned from the war there was the
old complaint of 1802 ; the journeymen cloth- workers of the
West of England petitioned the Prince Regent for help ; 6 they
had hoped when peace came to return home to a trade, but find
nothing to do, ' and it is Distressing to see so many out of work
and are now at this Present moment lying on the streets of
Bradford and Trowbridge and its Neighbourhood and in time
of War there was no giggs nor Frames at Trowbridge but
sad to relate it is now Increasin Every Day.' The petitioners,
they declare, are compelled to wish for another war.
1 Committee on Woollen Manufacture, 1806, p. 350.
* H.O., 42- 95-
3 By this Act woollen workers were allowed to exercise any trade in any
4 In 1806 John Tate was sent down from the Yorkshire Central Committee
of Shearmen to find out the disposition of the people in the west about Parlia-
mentary proceedings, 'the principal [object] was to know, as machinery was
more general there than in any other county, whether it had the same injurious
effects, and whether they felt it a grievance or not' (Committee on Woollen
Manufacture, 1806, p. 353).
Report from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1840, part ii.
p. 440. H.O., 42. 171, June 30.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 189
In Yorkshire the Luddite disturbances of 1812, of which
we give a description elsewhere, were connected with the intro-
duction of shearing frames, still more or less of a novelty in
Yorkshire. Gig mills had indeed come into use in spite of
the croppers' protests, violent or pacific, except in Leeds,
where, as late as 1814, it was said that the manufacturers
dared not introduce them. 1 By 1817 the condition of the
Yorkshire cloth-workers was pitiable in the extreme. A peti-
tion to Parliament presented by Lord Lascelles 2 stated that the
number of gig mills had increased in Yorkshire since 1806 from
five to seventy-two ; that the number of shears worked by
machinery had increased from 100 to 1462, and that among the
shearmen only 763 were fully employed, 1445 partly employed
and 1170 entirely out of work. The shearmen renewed their old
prayers for the prohibition of the machinery that was injuring
them. The petition by its respectful tone and ' proper manner '
drew encomiums from both Castlereagh and Brougham, the latter
remarking that ' the people were still sound at heart ; that they
still looked up to that House as their constitutional safeguard,
and the grand source from which they were to expect relief.'
The petition was ordered to lie on the table, and finding that
this did them no good the shearmen, under Lord Lascelles' advice,
turned their minds to an attempt to get help for emigra-
tion to North America. The existing laws, as they pointed
out, debarred them as artificers in the woollen trade from
seeking employment in other lands, even though their trade
had deserted them at home. 3 Lord Lascelles, writing to Lord
Sidmouth, 4 urged that the Government should help those who
wished to go to North America. 5 ' The restraints imposed
by the Laws,' he wrote, ' 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.' Even were they allowed to go, they
could not pay their own expenses, so that Government aid
was necessary. Sidmouth, however, would do nothing to help
them. He answered curtly that both Lord Liverpool and he
agreed that machinery could not be stopped in the woollen
1 H.O., 42. 137, January 24.
2 See Hansard, House of Commons, February n, 1817.
3 By 5 Geo. I. c. 27 (1719) artificers in the woollen and other trades were
forbidden to emigrate. This Act and the successive Acts that strengthened it
were far from being a dead letter.
4 H.O., 42. 170, September 28.
5 Brougham had suggested that they should be allowed to emigrate.
190 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
trade, and that no special terms could be made for the dis-
placed men who wished to emigrate to the colonies. 1 The
shearmen, in fact, were left to starve as best they might.
An improvement in the machinery for cutting cloth, in-
vented about 1820 by Mr. Lewis of Brinscomb, enabled the
masters to substitute boys for the few men still employed. 2
The ' Tyrants of the Country ' had indeed met with the fate
foretold by Lord Fitzwilliam in 1802. They should be super-
seded by machinery, he wrote, 3 for then ' their consequence
would be lost, their Banks would waste, their combinations
would fall to the ground, and we should hear no more of meet-
ings of any sort of description.' The shearmen thus pass
out of the pages of history.
V. THE WORSTED WEAVERS
Early in the history of the Yorkshire worsted trade the
interests of masters and men were displayed in striking contrast
in the passing of the curious enactments called the Worsted Acts.
With the growth of the industry the masters complained of an
increase of frauds among the workpeople ; the woolcombers,
it was said, embezzled, and the spinners reeled falsely. Severe
penalties for these offences existed on the Statute-book, 4 but
the masters complained that they found it impossible to en-
force them. Accordingly the worsted manufacturers of York-
shire, acting in concert with those in Lancashire and Cheshire,
succeeded in inducing Parliament in 1777 to pass two Acts,
commonly called the Worsted Acts (17 Geo. in. c. 11, and
17 Geo. in. c. 56). By these Acts the previous penalties
were increased, and the manufacturers were now authorised
to appoint a committee of twenty-seven (eighteen for York-
shire, nine for Lancashire and Cheshire), and this committee
was to apponio Inspectors whose salaries were to be paid out
1 H.O., 79. 3, October 12.
2 Report from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, part ii. p. 441.
3 H.O., 42. 66, September 27.
4 These penalties for embezzlement were : first offence, fourteen days' hard
labour and a public whipping ; second offence, one to three months' hard labour
and a public whipping. For false spinning the penalties were : first offence, a
fine of from 55. to 2os. ; second offence, a fine of from 405. to $ ; third offence,
a month's hard labour and a public whipping (see 22 Geo. n. c. 27, and 14
Geo. III. c. 44). It is worth noticing that the penalties for false spinning had
been made less severe, because offenders went unpunished and many honest
industrious persons were deterred from spinning by their severity.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 191
of the drawback on soap employed in the manufacture of
wool. Seven inspectors were appointed, each in charge of a
district, at a salary of 50 each. Prosecutions were under the
direction of the committee ; offenders could be convicted on
the oath of the owner of the wool, of an inspector, or of one
or more credible witness.
The most drastic clause in the Acts was one in direct con-
tradiction to the maxim that in English law a man is deemed
innocent until guilt is proved against him. This clause gave
two justices of the peace the right to grant a search warrant
for embezzled material, before conviction, and enacted that
if materials were found the person on whose premises they
were found was to be deemed guilty unless he could prove
his innocence. Constables could apprehend any person
' reasonably suspected ' of carrying embezzled stuff, and here
again, unless the person apprehended could prove his innocence,
he was deemed guilty. An appeal in both cases was allowed
to Quarter Sessions. These subversive clauses were applied by
the Act (17 Geo. in. c. 56) to the other textile trades, as
well as to hats, iron, leather, and fur, but the worsted trade in
Yorkshire was distinguished by its machinery for enforcing
them. 1 In spite of this machinery, it was at first difficult to
put the Act in force. ' Justices of the Peace,' we read, ' especi-
ally in agricultural districts, until compelled by mandamus,
refused to entertain charges against or convict upon proper
evidence, embezzlers or false reelers.' 2
Apologists of the Acts maintained that prosecutions were
carried out ' prudently and without vindictiveness.' 3 It seems
difficult to believe that injustice can have been avoided. 4
The most important body of worsted weavers in the eight-
eenth century were the weavers of Norwich and the neigh-
bourhood ; in spite of the gradual decay of trade and in
spite of long periods of unemployment, they were remarkably
successful in keeping up their rates of wages. In the pros-
perous days of Norwich they were a well-organised body like
the woolcombers and like the woollen weavers of the south-
west, attracting the attention of Parliament by their combina-
tions, and maintaining a certain standard of living, described
1 James, History of the Worsted Manufacture, p. 299, says the manufacturers
of some Midland Counties followed their example soon after.
2 James, op. cit., p. 298.
1 James, op. cit., p. 295 ; cf. Baines, Yorkshire Past and Present, p. 677.
4 The Act is still in force. See The Wool Year Book, 1817, p. 505.
192 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
in the report ' that every weaver of any character made a
point of having a goose, or some equivalent, for his Sunday
dinner.' l They worked hard for their goose. ' One remark-
able feature of the city noticed by all observers, was the still-
ness of the streets by day and night. The weavers and their
families kept at home, and when drawn forth by a fine Sunday
or holiday, the chairing of a member, or some Mousehold hoax,
people wondered where they all came from.' 2 This busy
silence was a marked characteristic of Norwich.
It is impossible to trace the fortunes of the Norwich weavers
in all their vicissitudes. We hear little, for example, of the
introduction of the flying shuttle. In Essex it was said to
have been introduced about 1750, and Arthur Young mentions
it as in use for Colchester baize in 1784. 3 In Yorkshire, on
the other hand, the fly shuttle was very little used by worsted
weavers till after 1800, when the invention of the false reed or
slay, added to an improvement in the quality of mill-spun yarn
which was no longer so liable to break, overcame the preju-
dices against it. 4 The use of the fly shuttle in Yorkshire clearly
increased the earnings of worsted weavers. ' The Spring
Shuttle was the Weavers' Invention,' said a witness in 1803,
and he explained that as the prices had not been lowered the
weavers received all the advantage. A witness in 1838 stated
that whereas before 1800 he had made about 5s. a week, after
that time he earned from 12s. 9d. to 17s. 5
It is sometimes asserted that the worsted trade was originally
introduced into Yorkshire from the south because wages were
lower in the north and the weavers could live on oatmeal. 6
But as James points out, 7 by the time Arthur Young took his six
months' tour through the North of England in 1768, wages
in Leeds were higher than those in Norwich, and Eden in 1796
even suggests that the low wages in Norwich are one of the
causes of the decline of the trade. 8 But though the wages
were low, it was only by organisation that the weavers
prevented them from falling lower. Their general policy in
the Norwich district was to refuse reductions of prices even
1 James, op. it., p. 261. 3 James, op. tit., p. 262.
3 Annals of Agriczilture, ii. p. 108, and xv. p. 261.
4 James, op. cit., p. 356.
8 See Report of Committee on Yorkshire Woollen Petitions, 1802-3
(Nathaniel Murgatroyd) ; and James, op. cit., p. 480.
6 James, op. cit. , p. 586. James, however, on p. 200 doubts it.
James, op. cit., p. 291.
8 Eden, State oftht Poor, 1797, vol. ii. p. 478.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 198
when work was slack, preferring no work to work at reduced
rates. During the French war the scale of pay was raised and
this scale was maintained till 1829. 1 One of the Norwich
masters, before the Commission on Hand-loom Weavers in
1840, lamented this policy as handicapping the Norwich trade.
It would be better, he suggested, if the masters were free to
reduce wages in slack times rather than be forced to keep up
the rates and so turn workmen off when trade was bad. 2 The
example of the cotton trade, it might be remarked, was not
an argument in favour of this change of policy.
Of the position held by the weavers in Norwich one illus-
tration will suffice. In 1822 the manufacturers agreed on and
announced a reduction of wages. The weavers at once took
conceited action and asked for a deputation to be received by
the manufacturers at the Guildhall. It was agreed to receive
a deputation of twelve, and whilst these twelve were confer-
ring with the masters, the crowd behaved in a very violent
manner, attacking an unpopular master, and beating and kick-
ing him. The military were called in, but all disturbances were
ended by a declaration from the Guildhall balcony that the
masters had consented to the old prices, a declaration received
with ' thundering shouts of joy and exultation.' The masters
had not been an unanimous body, for the men's hero, Mr.
Arthur Beloe, himself a manufacturer who had lately estab-
lished a factory, was strongly against the reduction and ridi-
culed the fear of competition with Yorkshire. ' I do not
feel afraid of competing with the Yorkshireman, though he
may be paying a penny or two per dozen less than we are.' 3
Individual workmen or bodies of workmen were no doubt
prevented from accepting work at lower rates by the know-
ledge that their fellow workmen were strong enough to show
their sharp displeasure. Wymondham came to attack Ashwell-
thorpe in 1827 because Ashwellthorpe was taking work at
reduced rates. 4 In protesting against new machinery they were
not less violent, and the power-loom was not introduced into
Norwich till after our period. How little the system of * shop
looms ' had been introduced into Norwich is shown by the
remarkable figures in the Hand-loom Weavers' Commission
1 Reports from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1840, part ii.
2 Report from Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1841, p. 35.
1 See Annual Register, 1822; Chronicle, pp. 122-4; * Q d H.O., 52. 3.
July 23. 4 H.O., 40. 22.
194 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
Report of 1840. Out of the 4054 looms at work in Norwich,
3398 were in the weavers' own homes, and of these, 2890 were
in houses where there were either one or two looms only. 1
James, after commenting on the lack of enterprise shown by
the Nonv?ch manufacturers in the introduction of machinery,
adds : ' Again, there existed a strong party spirit in the city,
and neither party durst introduce machinery in dread of
offending the bulk of the citizens, who with a short sightedness
which has been extremely injurious to their interest, were
violently opposed to the use of spinning and weaving machines,
and as before seen, this opposition sometimes occasioned
dangerous riots in the city. ... In truth for any one at this
period to attempt to set up machinery in Norwich, was to
venture his life.' 2
It must not be supposed that the introduction of power-
looms into the West Riding was an easy matter. There also
the weavers fought against this menace to their livelihood.
The earliest power-loom for worsteds was sent secretly by a
manufacturer in 1822 from Bradford to Shipley, where he
hoped that it might be worked without attracting notice.
But no sooner had it arrived and begun to work, than the bell-
man was sent round to the neighbouring villages, whence the
weavers issued in force, surrounded the mill, destroyed the
loom, and carried its remains round in triumph. 3 Their triumph
only lasted two years, for in 1824 Messrs. Horsfall and other
firms established power-looms in Bradford and elsewhere. In
1826, when the fury against power-looms spread from the
starving cotton weavers in Lancashire to the starving worsted
weavers of Bradford, Ho rsf all's mill with its power-looms was
the object of a bitter attack. This attack followed a meeting
at Fairweather Green on May 3, called by some woolcombers
and stuff weavers. The terms of the notice are curious :
' At the suggestion of some of our employers, we, the Wool-
combers and Stuff-weavers of Bradford and its vicinity, hereby
convene a meeting ... to take into consideration the present
unparalleled distress and famishing state of the operatives,
and if possible, to devise some prompt and effectual means
to afford them relief.
' A numerous attendance is particularly requested.' 4
1 Report from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners, 1840, part ii.
p. 309. 2 James, op. cit., p. 437.
* James, op, cit., p. 414. 4 Annttal Register, 1826; Chronicle, p. 72.
THE WOOLLEN AND WORSTED WORKERS 195
There were no speakers or leaders at the meeting, and the
mob marched to attack Messrs. HorsfalTs mill. The mill was
garrisoned by ten of Horsfall's men and thirty soldiers, ten
of them dragoons and the other twenty members of the recruit-
ing staff at Leeds. The mob attacked the windows with stones
and tried to force an entrance, but failed to do so, owing to
the iron bars fixed in front. The garrison, however, thought
that they were making their way in and fired, killing a youth
of eighteen and a boy of thirteen. A magistrate came up after-
wards and read the Riot Act, and finally two troops of the
Yorkshire Hussars were called in to restore order. Two rioters
were afterwards tried at the York Assizes. One was acquitted,
the other, John Holdsworth, who had demanded of the magis-
trate, Colonel Temple, ' What are we to do ? Are we to starve ? '
was found guilty but his life was spared. 1
The coming of the power-loom meant that the hand-loom
weaver must starve or seek other work ; year after year more
work was done by power, less by hand, till in 1838 the 14,000
hand-loom worsted weavers left in the Bradford district were
making on an average only 6s. or 7s. a week. 2
VI. THE WOOLCOMBERS
The woolcombers may be called the aristocracy of the
worsted workers. An ancient, skilled, select, and well-organised
body whose insubordinate conduct gave much trouble to
their employers, they form an example of a trade that was
long able by combination to keep up its wages, but was
ultimately destroyed by the coming of machinery. Before
worsted can be spun the fibres of the wool must be laid in a
parallel direction, and this work used to be performed by the
woolcombers, whose stock in trade was two hand-combs with
two or three rows of teeth apiece, a stove at which to heat the
combs, and a post on which to fix one of them. The work was
hard and skilled, the atmosphere in which it was done was
generally vitiated by the fumes of the stove. The woolcombers
themselves have been described as * a well-informed class . . .
memorable for strikes and general improvidence, and strongly
impregnated with political doctrines of the democratic school.' 3
1 For an account of the attack sec Annual Register, 1826 ; Chronicle, pp. 72 f. ,
and Appendix to Chronicle, pp. 31 f. ; James, op. cit., p. 599; also Leeds
Mercury, July 15, 1826.
2 James, op. cit., p. 482. 3 James, op. tit., p. 559.
196 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
It was the action of the woolcombers, this formidable class
of workmen, and the worsted weavers that led the Norwich
masters and merchants to take measures to obtain the Act
of Parliament in 1726 ' to prevent unlawful Combinations of