more be done in this case than calling the Attention of
the Magistrates to the Facts by a Letter to the Chairman
of the Sessions, or some intelligent Magistrate in that part
of the County which is indeed all or at least the principal
part of the manufacturing district.'
The correspondent (Mr. John Singleton of Wigan) who sent
up the weavers' address denied that the weavers had grounds for
complaint ; the labouring class he declared was * fully employed
and well very well paid for their labour and before these arts
were us'd to disturb their peace and make them discontented
was both happy and contented.' He throws an interesting
sidelight on the introduction of women into the trade : in
spite of the war the number of looms have increased, ' for if
a Man enlists, his Wife turns Weaver, for here the women are
weavers as well as the Men, and instructs her children in the
art of weaving and I have heard many declare that they
lived better since their husbands enlisted than before.' 2
The action of the weavers in associating together was speedily
followed by the first Combination Act, passed July 1799. It
seems probable, indeed, that their association was a cause
of its introduction. The paper containing their manifesto was
sent up, as we have seen, to the Home Office on May 27. 3 On
June 17 Pitt obtained leave to bring in the Workman's
Combination Bill, and in his speech referred specially to the
combinations in the northern part of the kingdom. 4 The
1 Probably the Seditious Meetings Act, 36 George III. c. 8.
2 H.O., 42. 47. s Ibid. * See Town Labourer, p. 119.
THE COTTON WORKERS 61
Combination Act, however, was not the sort of answer that
the weavers wanted or appreciated. A general meeting of the
acting magistrates within the hundred of Salford in November
even thought it necessary to publish a handbill of warning to
the discontented : * We, the undersigned, taking into con-
sideration the various and repeated Attempts that have lately
been made, to excite a spirit of Dissatisfaction amongst the
Weavers and others employed in the Manufactures of this
County, and by violent Hand Bills, and other inflammatory
Publications, to encourage an illegal Opposition to the Act
passed in the last Session of Parliament " To prevent unlawful
Combinations amongst Workmen " do hereby signify our
determined Resolution to maintain, as much as in us lies,
due Obedience to the Laws . . .' 1
The passing of the Combination Act did not deter the weavers
from pressing Parliament next year for a regulation of their
wages. The journeyman weavers of Chester, York, Lanca-
shire, and Derby sent up a petition 2 praying for a more speedy
and summary mode of regulating abuses ' and for the settling
of the Wages, Pay and Price of Labour from time to time.'
The Combination Act, it must be remembered, nominally
prohibited combination amongst masters not less than amongst
men, and the weavers take the opportunity to point out that
their evils are due to ' a powerful Combination of the Master
Weavers or Manufacturers, and that the Petitioners scarcely
earning a bare Subsistence by their daily Labour, are totally
unable to seek the Suppression of Combinations of so much
Secrecy, Wealth and Power, or any Redress of their Grievances,
by any existing Law.' Some of the master manufacturers,
however, were on the men's side, for on the same day came a
petition from master manufacturers in Chester, York, and
Lancashire stating that their difficulties were due to the fact
that there was no power to settle wages. A special Committee
of the House of Commons was appointed to take evidence,
and on May 8 it published the Minutes of Evidence. 3 James
Holcroft, weaver of Bolton, who had been secretary of the
Association the year before, stated the men's object clearly.
* Is it the wish of the Weavers,' he was asked, ' to have any
Standard Price or not ? ' ' We wish for no particular Wages,
but what may be fixed upon mutually between the Manufacturers
and Workmen, or by the Quarter Session.' * Is it not regu-
1 H.O., 42. 48. House of Commons Journal, March 5, 1800.
3 Ibid., May 8, 1 800.
62 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
lated at present by the Manufacturers and Workmen ? ' ' No,
we wish to be regulated similar to the Silk Manufacturers.' *
The Cotton Arbitration Acts
The weavers did not obtain their desired regulation, but they
were given instead an Act 2 providing for arbitration in the
cotton trade. Richard Needham, weaver of Bolton, who had
been one of the general committee in 1799, gave the history
of this Act both before the Committee on Artisans and
Machinery in 1824 3 and also before the Committee on Hand-
loom Weavers ten years later, in 1834. 4 We will quote
the latter account : ' At that time Mr. Pitt was prime minister
and chancellor of the Exchequer as well ; I was not here
but another person was here at the time we were applying
for it. Mr. Pitt stopped Colonel Stanley from moving any
further in the business ; he sent to the weavers' solicitor,
and sent him down to hold a delegate meeting to consult the
weavers as to the plan he had to suggest, which was a principle
of arbitration, and if we would give up the application for
a regulation of wages at that time, he would give us that
in lieu of it.'
That Pitt had seriously considered the question of granting
a minimum wage seems probable. Mr. Bayley, the Lancashire
magistrate, as early as 1798 wrote to the Home Office urging
the adoption of some such measures as ' indispensable to keep
quiet the lower Orders and to conciliate their good Will. . . .
If the great Mind of Mr. Pitt would give it five Minutes Con-
sideration, I am sure the Bill would pass.' 5 Amongst the
Home Office papers for 1800 is an undated and rather illegible
paper probably belonging to the year before, which seems to
be a memorandum on the subject prepared for Pitt by Mr.
King, then Under Secretary of the Home Office. 6 ' On look-
ing into Burn's Justice Title Servants, head 4 Rating of Wages,
Mr. Pitt will see the Authority given to Magistrates to settle
the wages of all artificers and labourers by the day, week or
month. If any thing can be done as suggested by Mr. Bayley
it appears to Mr. King that it must be grounded on the acts
there mentioned.' The memorandum points out that the
1 See Chapter vn. * 39 & 40 George Hi. c. 90, passed July 28.
8 Fifth Report, p. 544.
4 Report from Select Committee on Hand-loom Weavers' Petitions, 1834.
8 H.O., 42. 45. From this letter it seems that Rose had a Bill on the subject
in his charge. * H.O., 42. 55.
THE COTTON WORKERS 68
existing Acts apply to cases where employment is uniform ;
in manufactures of great extent and employing great numbers
the only remedy seems to be ' to leave it to the call for employ-
ment to regulate the wages. ... I know not what Rule Mr.
A. Smith or anyone would desire to lay down.'
If Pitt played with the idea of an Act for regulating wages,
he rejected it and gave the weavers instead the Arbitration Act.
This Act l provided that in all cases of dispute over wages or
hours each party could name an arbitrator, and if the arbitrators
could not agree either arbitrator could require them to submit
the points in dispute to a Justice of the Peace whose decision
would be final. The Act had some success for a short time
as a device for settling disputes and protecting the men from
actual frauds, but before long the masters put their finger on
a fatal flaw in the drafting. The Act obliged the masters to
appoint an arbitrator, and made provision for cases of dis-
agreement between the arbitrators, but it contained no pro-
vision to compel an arbitrator to act. The masters having
discovered this hiatus amused themselves by appointing an
arbitrator living in London or some other distant place who
had no intention of acting, with the result that the arbitra-
tion went no further.
The working of the Act and the grievances of the weavers
are described very fully three years later in the evidence before a
Select Committee of the House of Commons. 2 Thomas Thorpe,
who had acted as arbitrator in some two hundred cases (in a
few he was chosen by the masters), said so long as the Act was
carried out it worked well. Of the cases in which he had
acted eleven had been referred to a magistrate, and of those
eleven all but one had been settled in the men's favour. James
Holcroft, who had acted in some three hundred cases, said
that only four or five had been referred to a magistrate. He
described in detail a case which throws light on the scope of
the Act and the persistent desire of the men for a minimum
wage. At Whitefield, where wages had been reduced some
time before from 6d. to 3d. a yard, the men, hoping to use
the Act to raise their wages, wished to arbitrate in a body,
but they were advised by Mr. Gurney that they could only
act individually. Consequently some nine hundred applica-
tions for arbitration were made, but the magistrates treated
1 39 & 40 George in. c. 90.
2 Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Cotton
Weavers' Petitions, 1803.
64 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
the demand as if it were an attempt by the men to fix wages,
and said that the Act gave no such power. This interpretation
of the Act, which of course made it worthless as a protection to
the men against anything but actual fraud or breach of agree-
ment, was supported by the legal opinion of Law, afterwards
Lord Ellenborough ; Gurney, who advised the men, taking
the opposite view that the reduction of wages on this scale
was a proper subject for the operation of the Act. When
Holcroft was asked if it was the favourite wish in Whitefield
that there should be a regulation of wages, he replied : ' It
was not only the favourite Wish of the People at Whitefield,
but the favourite Wish of the Four Counties of Lancaster,
Cheshire, York, and Durham.'
Another witness, James Draper, gave an instance of the
dismissal of a workman because he had appointed an arbi-
trator, and it came out very clearly in the inquiiy that the
masters thought it beneath the dignity of an arbitrator of
their class to meet a workman, that they resented workmen
being allowed to administer oaths, and that dishonesties and
frauds of the meanest kind were very common on the part
of the employers. One master, Richard Cliff, in defending
his conduct in choosing a remote and non-effective arbitrator,
said, ' I don't know who I could have got to attend against the
People who were appointed on the Weavers' Side.'
It is clear that there was a good deal of uneasiness amongst
the authorities about the attitude of the weavers, law-abiding
and even anti-Jacobin though the latter at this time were.
Prices were leaping up, food riots were occurring all over the
country, and sedition of the stomach and sedition of the mind
were often confounded by the anxious friends of law and
order. When hunger prompted the composition of the many
doggerel rhymes 1 sent up by the recipients in alarm to the
Home Office during these years, it was in truth difficult to
distinguish the two. Any attempt of the working classes to
assist themselves in the ' Wants and Distresses arising from
the various Events which Divine Providence may permit to
chasten us ' 2 was regarded with suspicion, hence it is not sur-
prising to find Mr. Bayley, who at this time wrote constantly
1 e.g. ' The Bishops, Vicars, Curates,
Parliament and Kings
Not only Evils are
But worthless Things.' H.O., 42. 55.
Salford magistrates' handbill, H.O., 42. 48.
THE COTTON WORKERS 65
to the Home Office, declaring that 'much of sedition has
mixed itself with the Weavers' Petition and Bill. It will not
have escaped your Observation,' he adds, ' that Mr. Gurney is
their Counsel and Mr. Foulkes their Solicitor.' *
' Cavalry should be stationed near Bolton and an eye kept
on whole quarter' is the official endorsement of an enclosure
in Mr. Bayley's letter. The enclosure, from Mr. Fletcher of
Bolton who figures in our pages elsewhere, had amongst other
things urged the taxation of the export of cotton twist, a
measure which was constantly being pressed by the weaving
interest, and as constantly opposed by the spinning interest,
Mr. Bayley's fears were not allayed by the receipt of an anony-
mous threatening letter a few weeks later. 2 There is of course
no reason to connect this letter with the weavers or their
organisation, but as a type of the letters that were showered
upon the magistrates all over England wherever famine was
rife, it is worth while to quote part of it. These letters are
interesting as showing how far the poor were from taking the
same view as their betters about the chastening mercies of
Divine Providence. We have altered the spelling and punc-
tuation. ' And the people said unto Joshua, the Lord our
God will we serve and His voice will we obey. You Magis-
trates and Gentlemen of old England, by God's laws and the
church we mean to stand, and men's laws to destroy. Unless
the price of provisions comes to a fair price, a famine appears
in the midst of plenty. Betwixt the Badger and the huxter
the poor do starve. As a caution take this writ. For a fare
living on our bended knees to God we will call.' Unless this
comes about the writer threatens ' a civil war ' and ' your fine
halls and your pleasure ground we will destroy either by fire
Throughout the year 1801 there was great distress among
the workers in the cotton district, and great alarm among
the authorities. There seemed indeed cause for alarm lest
hunger should drive the manufacturing population, ill-policed
as it was, into open rebellion against law and order. 8 There
were rumours that the cotton factories at Bolton would be
burnt, tales were told of large bodies of men, some said fifty
1 H.O., 42. 50. * Ibid.
3 The sums paid for the prosecution of felons in the county of Lancaster rose
from .583 in 1798 to ^1429 in 1799, and 2764 in 1800. Of these sums
nearly two-thirds were paid at Manchester. H.O., 42. 55 (Mr. Bayley,
66 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
thousand, bound together by illegal oaths. The magistrates
were not the only alarmists. Thomas Ainsworth, the manu-
facturer, wrote to Sir Robert Peel (1st Baronet) from Bolton : l
' There is nothing to fear from Jacobinism further than avail-
ing themselves of the distracted state of the country and the
common saying of the poor is better to die in a battle than be
starved in our houses.' With reference to a rising he adds :
' If ever there is an invasion or other commotion to employ
the regular force of the country I make no doubt but that
opportunity will be seized.' Mr. Yates, Peel's partner, wrote
in equal alarm two days later, giving an account of food riots
at Bury : 2 ' I am sorry to say that what I have seen and
heard to-Day, convinces me that the Country is ripe for rebel-
lion and in a most dangerous situation, and I firmly believe
that if provisions continue at the present high prices, a
Revolution will be the consequence . . . my heart bled
this morning,' he adds, ' to see so many Children not more
than half Fed.' Both these gentlemen share the magistrates'
doubts of the Volunteers. In the Bury food riot it was thought
wiser not to call them out. Mr. Ainsworth went so far as to
declare ' great doubts are entertained as to Volunteers acting
and some are supposed to be corrupted. I am of opinion not
one Corps in Lancashire would [act] 3 in their own Towns
against their neighbours and perhaps relatives.'
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the
magistrates were alarmed. Seditious language was not
wanting, 4 but more dangerous than mere seditious language,
doctrines subversive of the foundations of society were being
circulated in the cotton district, 5 and opinions unfavourable
to the Government seemed to be gaining ground. This was the
belief of Mr. Fletcher of Bolton, who wrote that he had ' en-
couraged several loyal masters who employ great numbers of
servants in different Branches of the Cotton manufacture,
to examine into the political opinions of their workmen, and
to discharge such as are known to be Jacobin from their
1 H.O., 42. 61, March 12, 1801. 2 H.O., 42. 61. 8 Torn out.
4 e.g. One Dyson was sent to the Salford House of Correction for saying
'Damn the King and Country.' When told he would be informed against,
thinking perhaps he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, he not only
damned the magistrates but damned the volunteers for a set of damned fools.
He had further announced that it was 'time to take Billy Pitt's head off.'
II. O., 42. 62.
f See Town Labourer, p. 315. 8 H.O., 42. 62.
THE COTTON WORKERS 67
It is in the year 1801 that the first mention is made in the
Home Office Papers of that unhallowed band of informers and
spies, of whom the magistrates henceforth made continual
use. The Rev. Mr. Hay, J.P., who will figure later in the
Luddite chapters, rejoices in having found an informer to
attend the secret meetings, although it cannot be said that
the information he furnished was very exciting. 1 Mr. Fletcher
of Bolton also begins to send up informers' tales. 2 It is in this
year that we first hear of Mr. Bent, alias ' B.,' so long the
trusted informer of Mr. Fletcher and the trusted confidant of
the discontented. 3
Meanwhile the organised weavers directed their efforts to
obtaining by lawful means an amendment of the Arbitration
Act. Now an application for amendment involved concerted
action, and concerted action, however law-abiding, in this
atmosphere of suspicion and fear, was at once attributed by
the magistrates to sedition and Jacobinism, and hence the
weavers worked under difficulties. Their meetings, too, were
constantly stopped or dispersed.
' The intention of a second application to Parliament to
amend what is called the Weavers' Bill,' wrote the Rev. Mr.
Bancroft of Bolton, 4 ' has I believe been made a means of
combining and stimulating the People. It was mentioned
before that Correspondencies were carried on between a Leader
here (Holcroft) and the People of Scotland. I expect that
Holcroft has of late abated in his exertions.'
Mr. Fletcher of Bolton wrote to the same effect early next
year : 5
' In this neighbourhood (Bolton) the seditious seem to be
mostly occupied about the intended application to Parliament
for regulating the cotton manufacture. This application
(although perhaps some small alteration may be necessary
in the existing Laws as to that Trade) certainly originates in
the Jacobin Societies and is intended as a means to keep the
1 H.O., 42. 62. * H.O., 42. 62, and 42. 65.
J See Chapter x. B.'s name occurs in some papers sent up to the Law
Officers about the prosecution of persons for sedition. The suspected persons meet
in public-houses to redreas grivances ; they talk vaguely about the regulation of
wages, and Bent the chairman, who always dealt in large figures, declared that
he could raise 50,000 women and children in three days. The Law Officers
discouraged the idea of prosecuting without more facts than those disclosed.
H.O., .12. 61.
4 May 2, 1801, H.O., 42. 62. * Apiil 3, 1802, H.O., 42. 65.
68 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
minds of the Weavers in a continual Ferment, and as a Pre-
text to raise Money from them which will probably be em-
ployed in part at least, to seditious purposes.'
Parliament was less suspicious of the weavers' intentions
than were the magistrates, and a Special Committee, from
whose report we have already quoted, heard evidence from
both masters and men. The result of the inquiry was the
passing of an amending Act designed, not as the weavers had
hoped, to oblige the masters to carry out the law, but to soften
their hearts towards it by removing some of the features that
were particularly repugnant to them.
In the course of the debate Rose made a significant speech
commenting upon the ' extraordinary way ' in which the
masters had behaved and suggesting the application of an
Act like the Spitalfields Act to the cotton manufacture.
* That law might be extended to the cotton trade with much
less difficulty, and in the silk trade there were above 1000
articles to become the object of the wages of workmen, whilst
in the cotton trade there were not above 100.' 1
The amending Arbitration Bill, as introduced in 1803, pro-
vided that the J.P. was to choose two arbitrators, one to be a
master or manager or foreman, the other to be taken from a
list drawn up by the workmen. The Act 2 in its final form
empowered the magistrate to choose a panel (not less than four
or more than six, half to be masters or their agents, the other
half to be weavers) from which the two sides should each
choose an arbitrator. Another provision in the Act sought
to protect the workman from a common method of fraud by
obliging the masters to give out tickets, if required, stating
the quality, nature, and price of the work assigned to a work-
man. The new Act seems to have been practically inopera-
tive. Richard Needham indeed declared later that it had
answered its purpose to a great extent and that thousands
of pounds had been recovered under it, 3 but Needham's views
were not shared by his fellow weavers. From this time he
became closely allied with the authorities and represented
what they termed the ' loyal ' weavers, whilst the great mass
of his fellow workers were gradually becoming convinced that
application to an unreformed Parliament was useless. A
1 Parliamentary Register, February 13, 1804.
8 44 George in. c. 87.
3 Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 544 ; Committee on
Hand-loom Weavers, 1834, p. 421.
THE COTTON WORKERS 69
petition from the cotton weavers at Bolton in 1813 described
the Act as ' unavailing inasmuch as no one conviction before
a Magistrate under this Law has ever been confirmed at any
Quarter Sessions of the Peace ' ; l and in the Reform agita-
tion of 1819 the uselessness of the Act was constantly men-
tioned as an illustration of the necessity for a radical reform
of Parliament. 2
The clause requiring the masters to give out tickets was
evaded by giving tickets with ' no wages promised.' A
witness before the Committee on the Cotton Weavers' Petitions
in 1808 described how one master, who had suffered defeat
in an arbitration, indemnified himself by a general reduction
of wages. Arbitration, in fact, without the right and the
power of combination was worthless from the moment the
masters had set their faces against it. Moreover, apart from
the Combination Laws, organised action amongst the weavers
was particularly difficult, and every year the difficulty increased.
The Decline of the Weavers
Before describing the renewed and persistent applications
of the weavers, and of many of their employers, for a regula-
tion of wages, it will be well to discuss some of the peculiar
circumstances of the weaving trade, and to glance ahead at that
future of long-drawn-out misery which the victims were
striving in vain to elude. From the prosperous men described
by Radcliffe 3 who believe, in the depression of 1799, that
Government has only to be told the truth to restore them to
their former condition, the hand -loom weavers become by
1832 perhaps the most wretched and famished class in the com-
munity. The figures given in the Report of the Committee on
Hand-loom Weavers in 1835 illustrate that decline graphically. 4
Assuming that the wage was spent in equal proportions on
1 House of Commons Journal, February 25, 1813; cf. p. 87. Needham
wanted the power of appeal to Quarter Sessions against the penalty taken away.
See Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 544.
2 e.g. In 1819 the Stockport weavers spoke of it as a law ' granted them after
spending many thousands of pounds to obtain it ; which law professes to redress
their grievances, and then to protect them from oppression in future. But the
magistrates would not act upon it.' See Manchester Observer of July 3 in H.O.,
42. 189. Cf. Broadhurst's speech at Blackburn Reform Meeting : see Manchester
Observer, July 10, in H.O., 42. 189.
1 See p. 58 above.
4 Parliamentary Papers, 1835, xiii. p. 13, quoted by Chapman, op. cit. t p. 43.
70 THE SKILLED LABOURER, 1760-1832
flour, oatmeal, potatoes, and butcher's meat, the Committee
worked out the comparative wages as follows :
1797-1804 price 26s. 8d. amt. of provs. 281 Ibs.
1804-1811 20s. 238
1811-1818 14s. 7d. 131
1818-1825 8s. 9d. 108
1825-1832 6s. 4d. 83
There were many causes at work to bring about this disas-