The History of Trade Unionism/II. The Struggle for existence 1799-1825

CHAPTER II THE STRUGGLE FOR EXISTENCE [1799-1825]Edit

THE traditional history of the Trade Union Movement represents the period prior to 1824 as one of unmitigated persecution and continuous repression. Every Union that can nowadays claim an existence of over a century pos- sesses a romantic legend of its early years. The midnight meeting of patriots in the corner of a field, the buried box of records, the secret oath, the terms of imprisonment of the leading officials all these are in the sagas of the older Unions, and form materiaj out of which, in an age untroubled by historical criticism, a semi-mythical origin might easily have been created. That the legend is not without a basis of fact, we shall see in tracing the actual effect upon the Trade Union Movement of the legal prohibitions of combinations of wage-earners which prevailed throughout the United Kingdom up to 1824. But we shall find that some com- binations of journeymen were at all times recognised by the law, that many others were only spasmodically interfered with, and that the utmost rigour of the Combination Laws was not felt until the far-reaching change of policy marked 'by the severe Acts of 1799-1800, which applied to all indus- tries whatsoever. This will lead us naturally to the story of the repeal of the whole series of Combination Laws in 1824-5, the most impressive event in the early history of the movement.

6 4


The Society to enforce the Law 65

There is a clear distinction at any rate, as regards England between the various statutes which forbade com- bination prior to the end of the eighteenth century, and the general Combination Acts of 1799-1800. In the numerous earlier Acts recited anci .repealed in 1824 the prohibition of combination was in all cases incidental to the regulation of the industry. It was assumed to be the business of Parlia- ment and the law courts to regulate the conditions of labour ; and combinations could, no more than individuals, be per- mitted to interfere in disputes for which a legal remedy was provided. The object primarily aimed at by the statutes was not the prohibition of combinations, but the fixing of wages, the prevention of embezzlement or damage, the enforcement of the contract of service or the proper arrange- ments for apprenticeship. And although combinations to interfere with these statutory aims were obviously illegal, and were usually expressly prohibited, it was an incidental result that combinations formed to promote the objects of the legislation, however objectionable they might be to employers, were apparently not regarded as unlawful. 1

Thus one of the earliest types of combination among journeymen the society to enforce the law seems always to have been tacitly accepted as permissible. Although it is probable that such associations came technically within the definitions of combination and conspiracy, whether under the common law or the early statutes, we know of no case in which they were indicted as illegal. We have already described, for instance, how, in 1726, the woollen weavers of Wiltshire and Somersetshire openly combined to present a petition to the King in Council against their masters, the broad clothiers. The Privy Council, far from deeming the action of the weavers illegal, considered and dealt with their complaint. And when the employers per- sisted in disobeying the law, we have seen how, in 1756, the

1 An elaborate account of this legislation will be found in Labour Legislation, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders, by G. Howell, 1902, pp. 21-42.

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66 The Struggle for Existence

Fraternity of Woollen Clothweavers petitioned the House of Commons to make more effectual the power of the justices to fix wages, and obtained a new Act of Parliament in accord- ance with their desires. The almost perpetual combinations of the framework knitters between 1710 and 1800 were never made the subject of legal proceedings. The com- binations of the London silkweavers obtained a virtual sanction by the Spitalfields Acts, under which the delegates of the workmen's organisations regularly appeared before the justices, who fixed and revised the piecework prices. Even in 1808, after the stringency of the law against com- binations had been greatly increased, the Glasgow and Lan- cashire cottonweavers were permitted openly to combine for the purpose of seeking a legal fixing of wages, with the results already described. Nor was it only the combina- 1 tion to obtain a legally fixed rate of wages that was left unmolested by the law. Combinations to put in force the sections of the Statute of Apprentices (5 Eliz. c. 4), or other prohibitions of the employment of " illegal workmen," occurred at intervals down to 1813. In 1749 a club of journeymen painters of the City of London proceeded against a master painter for employing a non-freeman ; and the proceedings led, in 1750, to a conference of thirty journey- men and thirty masters with the City Corporation, at which the regulations were altered. 1 No one seems to have ques- tioned the legality of the 1811-13 outburst of combinations to prosecute masters who had not served an apprenticeship, or who were employing unapprenticed workmen. One reason, doubtless, for the immunity of combinations to, enforce the law was that they included employers and| sympathisers of all ranks. For instance, the combinations in 1811-13 to enforce the apprenticeship laws comprised both masters and journeymen, who were equally aggrieved

1 Act of Common Council, November 22, 1750 : Hughson's London, p. 422. There is evidence of at least one other club of painters in London dating back to the eighteenth century, the " Original Society of Painters and Glaziers " existing in 1779, which afterwards became the St. Martin's Society of Painters and Glaziers (Beehive, October 24, 1863).


The Law of Conspiracy 67

by the competition of the new capitalist and his " hire- lings." 1 The Yorkshire Clothiers' Community, or " Brief Institution," to which reference has already been made, included, in some of its ramifications, the " domestic " master manufacturers, who fought side by side with the journeymen against the new factory system.

On the other hand, combinations of journeymen to ^regulate for themselves their -wages and conditions of ^employment stood, from the first, on a different footing.

The common law doctrine of the illegality of proceedings

" in restraint of trade," as subsequently interpreted by the judges, of itself made illegal all combinations whatsoever ,of journeymen to regulate the conditions of their work. ' Moreover, with the regulation by law of wages and the conditions of employment, any combination to resist the order of the justices on these matters was obviously" of the nature of rebellion, and was, in fact, put down like any individual disobedience of the law. Nor was express statute law against combinations wanting. The statute of 1305, entitled, " Who be Conspirators and who be Champertors " (33 Edw. I. st. 2), was in 1818 held to apply to a combina- tion to raise wages among cotton-spinners, whose leaders were sentenced to two years' imprisonment under this Act. The " Bill of Conspiracies of Victuallers and Crafts- men " of 1549 ( 2 anc * 3 Edw. VI. c. 15), though aimed primarily at combinations to keep up the prices charged to consumers, clearly includes within its prohibitions any com- binations of journeymen craftsmen to keep up wages or reduce hours.

It is some proof of the novelty of the workmen's com- pinations in the early part of the eighteenth century, that neither the employers nor the authorities thought at first resorting to the very sufficient powers of the existing law igainst them. When, in 1720, the master tailors of London

1 This term was used to denote men who had not served a legal appren- iceship. See " Rules and Regulations of the Journeymen Weavers," eprinted in Appendix No. 10 to Report on Combination Laws, 1825.


68 The Struggle for Existence

found themselves confronted with an organised body of journeymen claiming to make a collective bargain, seriously " in restraint of trade/' they turned, not to the law courts, but to Parliament for protection, and obtained, as we have seen, the Act " for regulating the Journeymen Tailors within the bills of mortality " (7 Geo. I. st. I, c. 13, amended by 8 Geo. III. c. 17). * Similarly, when the clothiers of the West of England began between 1717 and 1725 to be in- convenienced by the " riotous and tumultuous clubs and societies " of woolcombers and weavers, who made bye-laws and maintained a Standard Rate, 2 they did not put in force the existing law, but successfully petitioned Parliament for the Act " to prevent unlawful combinations of workmen) employed in the Woollen Manufactures " (12 Geo. I. c. 34).! Indeed, prior to the general Acts of 1799 and 1800 against all combinations of journeymen, Parliament was, from the| L beginning of the eighteenth century, perpetually enacting 1 statutes forbidding combinations in particular trades. 3

In the English statutes this prohibition of combination

was, as we have seen, only a secondary feature, incidental

to the main purpose of the law. The case is different with!

\regard to the early Irish Acts, the terms of which point to

a much sharper cleavage between masters and men, due]

perhaps, to difference of religion and race. The very firs!

statute against combinations which was passed by the Irislj

I Parliament, the Act of 1729 (3 Geo. II. c. 14), contained nd

provisions protecting the wage-earner, and prohibited com-j

1 The case of R. v. the Journeymen Tailors of Cambridge in 1721 (8 Mod. 10) is obscurely reported ; and it is uncertain under what law thtl men were convicted. See Wright's Law of Criminal Conspiracies anc Agreements, p. 53.

1 See the petitions from Devonshire towns, House of Commons Journals! 1717, vol. xviii. p. 715, which, with others in subsequent years, led to e Select Committee in 1726 (Journals, vol. xx. p. 648, March 31, 1726).

  • See, for instance, the Acts regulating the woollen industry, 12 Geo. I 1

c. 34 (1725) ; against embezzlement or fraud by shoemakers, 9 Geo. I| c. 27 (1729) ; relating to hatters, 22 Geo. II. c. 27 (1749) ; to silkweavers 17 Geo. III. c. 55 (1777) ; and to papermaking, 36 Geo. III. c. in (i795)| Whitbread declared in the House of Commons that there were in 1800 nwas intended to have an effect namely, the shoemakers, printers, papermakers, shipbuilders, tailors, etc., who have had their regular societies and houses of call, as though no such Act was in existence ; and in fact it would be almost impossible for many of those trades to be carried on without such societies, who are in general sick and travelling relief societies ; and the roads and parishes would be much pestered with these travelling trades, who travel from want of employ- ment, were it not for their societies who relieve what they call tramps." z

But although clubs of journeymen might be allowed to take, like the London bookbinders, " a social pint of porter together," and even, in times of industrial peace, to provide for their tramps and perform all the functions of a Trade Union, the employers had always the power of

1 The Edinburgh Book of Prices for Manufacturing Cabinet Work (Edinburgh, 1805, 126 pp.). " as mutually agreed upon by the Masters and Journeymen." In 1825 the journeymen prepared a Supplement, which, after the masters had concurred in it, was published by the men (Edinburgh, 1825). Both these are in the Goldsmiths' Library at the University of London.

  • A Few Remarks on the State of the Laws at present in Existence for regu-

lating Masters and Workpeople, 1823 (142 pp.), p. 84. Anonymous, but evidently by George White and Gravener Henson.


78 The Struggle for Existence

- meeting any demands by a prosecution. Even those trades in which we have discovered evidence of the unmolested existence of combinations furnish examples of the rigorous application of the law. In 1819 we read of numerous prosecutions of cabinetmakers, hatters, ironfounders, and other journeymen, nominally for leaving their work un- finished, but really for the crime of combination. 1 In 1798 five journeymen printers were indicted at the Old Bailey for conspiracy. The employers had sent for the men's leaders to discuss their proposals, when, as it was complained, " the five defendants came, clothed as delegates, representing themselves as the head of a Parliament as we may call it." The men were in fact members of a trade friendly society of pressmen " held at the Crown, near St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street," which, as the prosecuting counsel declared, " from its appearance certainly bore no reproachable mark upon it. It was called a friendly society, but by means of some wicked men among them this society degenerated into a most abominable meeting for the purpose of a conspiracy ; those of the trade who did not join their society were summoned, and even the apprentices, and were told unless they conformed to the practices of these journey- men, when they came out of their times they should not be employed." Notwithstanding the fact that the employers had themselves recognised and negotiated with the society, the Recorder sentenced all the . defendants to two years' imprisonment. 2

Twelve years later it was the brutality of another prose- cution of the compositors that impressed Francis Place with

I the necessity of an alteration in the law. " The cruel persecutions," he writes, " of the Journeymen Printers employed in The Times newspaper in 1810 were eajried to an almost incredible extent. The judge who tried and

1 See, for instance, The Times from iyth to 25th of June 1819.

2 An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Dispute between the Masters and Journeymen Printers exemplified in the Trial at large, with Remarks Thereon, 1799, a rare pamphlet, in the Goldsmiths' Library at the Univer- sity of London.


"Bloody Black Jack" 79

sentenced some of them was the Common Sergeant of London, Sir John Sylvester, commonly known by the cogno- men of ' Bloody Black Jack.' ... No judge took more pains than did this judge on the unfortunate printers, to make it appear that their offence was one of great enormity, to beat down and alarm the really respectable men who had fallen into his clutches, and on whom he inflicted scandalously severe sentences." 1 Nor did prosecution always depend on the caprice of an employer. In Decem- ber 1817 the Bolton constables, accidentally getting to know that ten delegates of the calico-printers from the -various districts of the kingdom were to meet on New Year's Day, arranged to arrest the whole body and seize iall their papers. The ten delegates suffered three months' imprisonment, although no dispute with their employers was in progress. 2 But the main use of the law to the employers was to checkmate strikes, and ward off demands for better conditions of labour. Already^ in- i-7&6 r 4he~ law of conspiracy had been strained to convict, and punish with two years' imprisonment,, the .. five London bookbinders who were leadnSglT strike to reduce hours from twelve to eleven. 8 When, at the Aberdeen Master Tailors' Gild, in 1797, " it was represented to the trade that their journeymen had entered into an illegal combination for the purpose of raising their wages," the masters unanimously " agreed not to give any additional wages to their servants," and backed up this resolution of their own combination by getting twelve journeymen prosecuted and fined for the crime of combining. 4 In 1799 the success of the London shoemakers in picketing obnoxious employers led to the prosecution of two of them, which was made the means of inducing the men to consent to dissolve their society, then

1 Place MSS. 27798 8 ; Times, November 9, 1810.

2 Report in Manchester Exchange Herald, preserved in Place MSS. 27799156.

8 Bookfinishers' Friendly Circular, 1845-51, pp. 5, 21. 4 Bain's Merchant and Craft Gilds of Aberdeen, p. 261. An earlier combination of 1768 is also mentioned.


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The Struggle for Existence


seven years old, and return to work at once. 1 Two other shoemakers of York were convicted in the same year for the crime of " combining to raise the price of their labour in making shoes, and refusing to make shoes under a certain price/' and counsel said that " in every great town in the North combinations of this sort existed." 2 The coach- makers' strike of 1819 was similarly stopped, and the " Benevolent Society of Coachmakers " broken up by the conviction of the general secretary and twenty other members, who were, upon this condition, released on their own recognisances. 3 In 1819 some calico-engravers in the service of a Manchester firm protested against the undue multiplication of apprentices by their employers, and enforced their protest by declining to work. For this " conspiracy " they were fined and imprisoned. 4 And though the master cutlers were allowed, with impunity, to subscribe to the Sheffield Mercantile and Manufacturing Union, which fixed the rates of wages, and brought pressure to bear on recalcitrant employers, the* numerous trade clubs of the operatives were not left unmolested. In 1816 seven scissor-grinders were sentenced to three months' imprison- ment for belonging to what they called the " Misfortune Club," which paid out-of-work benefit, and sought to main- tain the customary rates. 5

1 R. v. Hammond and Webb, 2 Esp. 719 ; see the Morning Chronicle report, preserved in Place MSS. 27799 29.

2 Star, November 26, 1799.

8 R. v. Connell and others, Times, July 10, 1819.

4 R. v. Ferguson and Edge, 2 St. 489.

5 Sheffield Iris, December 17, 1816. The men's clubs often existed under the cloak of friendly societies. In the overseers' return of sick clubs, made to Parliament in 1815, the following trade friendly societies are included, many of these, at any rate, being essentially Trade Unions :

Tailors, with 360 members, and ^740

Braziers,

Masons,

Scissorsmiths,

Filesmiths,

United Silversmiths,


Cutlers, Grinders,


664 693 550 260 240

65 283


1768 1852 1309 600 299 450


Sheffield Iris, 1851.


Legal Persecution 81

But it was in the new textile industries that the weight J, of the Combination Laws was chiefly felt. White and Henson describe the Act of 1800 as being in these trades " a tremendous millstone round the neck of the local artisan, which has depressed and debased him to the earth : every act which he has attempted, every measure that he has devised to keep up or raise his wages, he has been told was illegal : the whole force of the civil power and influence of the district has been exerted against him because he was acting illegally : the magistrates, acting, as they believed, in unison with the views of the legislature, to check and keep down wages and combination, regarded, in almost every instance, every attempt on the part of the artisan to ameliorate his situation or support his station in society as a species of sedition and resistance of the Govern- ment : every committee or active man among them was regarded as a turbulent, dangerous instigator, whom it was necessary to watch and crush if possible." 1 To cite one only of the instances, it was given in evidence before Hume's Committee that in 1818 certain Bolt on millowners suggested to the operative weavers that they should concert together to leave the employment of those who paid below the current rate. Acting on this hint a meeting of forty delegates took place, at which it was resolved to ask for the advance agreed to by the good employers. A fortnight later the president and the two secretaries were arrested, convicted of conspiracy, and imprisoned for one and two years respectively, although .their employers gave evidence on the prisoners' behalf to ithe effect that they had themselves requested the men to .attend the meeting, and had approved the resolutions passed. 2 In the following year fifteen cotton-spinners of Manchester, who had met " to receive contributions to bury their dead," under " Articles " sanctioned by Quarter Sessions in 1795, were seized in the committee-room by the police, and committed to trial for conspiracy, bail being

1 A Few Remarks, etc., p. 86. 8 Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 395.


82 The Struggle for Existence

refused. After three or four months' imprisonment they were brought to trial, the whole local bar seven in number being briefed against them. Collections were made in London and elsewhere (including the town of Lynn in Norfolk) for their defence. The enrolment of their club as a friendly society availed little. It was urged in court that " all societies, whether benefit societies or otherwise, were

' only cloaks for the people of England to conspire against the State/' and most of the defendants were sentenced to

1 varying terms of imprisonment. 1

But the Scottish Weaver's' Strike of 1812, described in the preceding chapter, is the most striking case of all. In the previous year certain cotton-spinners had been con- victed of combination and imprisoned, the judge observing that there was a clear remedy in law, as the magistrates had full power and authority to fix rates of wages or settle disputes. In 1812 many of the employers refused to accept the rates which the justices had declared as fair for weaving ; and all the weavers at the forty thousand looms between Aberdeen and Carlisle struck to enforce the justices' rates. The employers had already made overtures through the sheriff of the county for a satisfactory settlement when the Government arrested the central committee of five, who were directing the proceedings. These men were sentenced to periods of imprisonment varying from four to eighteen months ; the strike failed, and the association broke up. 2 The student of the newspapers between 1800 and 1824 will find abundant record of judicial barbarities, of which the cases cited above may be taken as samples. No statistics exist as to the frequency of the prosecutions or the severity of the sentences ; but it is easy to understand, from such reports as are available, the sullen resentment which the working cla.ss suffered under these laws. Their repeal was

1 See the Gorgon for January and February 1819.

2 Second Report of Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 62. For other cases, see The Town Labourer, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1917, Pp. 130-33


A Labour Aristocracy 83

a necessary preliminary to the growth among the most oppressed sections of the workers of any real power of pro- tecting themselves, by Trade Union effort, against the degradation of their Standard of Life.

The failure of the Combination Laws to suppress the / somewhat dictatorial Trade Unionism of the skilled handi- craftsmen, and their efficacy in preventing the growth of permanent Unions among other sections of the workers, is explained by class distinctions, now passed away or greatly modified, which prevailed at the beginning of the present century. To-day, when we speak of " the aristocracy of labour" we include under that heading the organised miners and factory operatives of the North on the same superior footing as the skilled handicraftsman. In 1800 they were at opposite extremes of the social scale in the wage-earning class, the weaver and the miner being then further removed from the handicraftsman than the docker or general labourer is from the Lancashire cotton-spinner or Northumberland hewer of to-day. The skilled artisans formed, at any rate in London, an intermediate class between the shopkeeper and the great mass of unorganised labourers or operatives in the new machine industries. The substantial fees demanded all through the eighteenth century for apprenticeship to the " crafts " had secured to the members and their eldest sons a virtual monopoly. 1 Even after the repeal of the laws requiring a formal appren- ticeship some time had to elapse before the supply of this class of handicraftsmen overtook the growing demand. \ Thus we gather from the surviving records that these trades , . have never been more completely organised in London than between 1800 and 1820. 2 We find the London hatters,

1 Throughout the century it seems to have been customary in most handicrafts for the artisan to be allowed the privilege of apprenticing one son, usually the eldest, free of charge. For other boys, especially for the sons of parents not belonging to the trade, a fee of ^5 to 20 was exacted by the employer. The secretary of the Old Amicable Society of Wool- staplers thirty years ago informed, us that, as his brother had already entered the trade, his father had to pay ^100 for his indentures.

8 To take, for instance, the cabinetmakers and millwrights. When


84 The Struggle for Existence

coopers, curriers, compositors, millwrights, and shipwrights

\ maintaining earnings which, upon their own showing,

amounted to the comparatively large sum of thirty to fifty

shillings per week. At the same period the Lancashire

weaver or the Leicester hosier, in full competition with

steam-power and its accompaniment of female and child

labour, could, even when fully employed, earn barely ten

^ shillings. We see this difference in the Standard of Life

i.. reflected in the characters of the combinations formed by

Ej the two classes.

In the skilled handicrafts, long accustomed to corporate government, we find, even under repressive laws, no unlaw- / f ul oaths, seditious emblems, or other common paraphernalia Nof secret societies. The London Brushmakers, whose Union apparently dates from the early part of the eighteenth century, expressly insisted " that no person shall be admitted a member who is not well affected to his present Majesty and the Protestant Succession, and in good health and of a respectable character." But this loyalty was not incon- sistent with their subscribing to the funds of the 1831 agitation for the Reform Bill. 1 The prevailing tone of the > superior workmen down to 1848 was, in fact, strongly j ; Radical ; and their leaders took a prominent part in all the ' working-class politics of the time. From their ranks came such organisers as Place, Lovett, and Gast. 2 But wherever

Lovett came to London in 1819 he found that he could not get employment without joining the Union (Life of William Lovett, by himself). The millwrights at the beginning of the century were so strongly organised this probably led to the engineering employers' petition in 1799 out of which the Combination Acts sprang that when Fairbairn (after being actually engaged at Rennie's works) was refused admission into their society, he was driven to tramp out of London in search of work in a non-union district (Life of Sir William Fairbairn, by himself, 1877, PP- 89, 92). For the last three-quarters of the century a considerable proportion of the cabinetmakers and engineers employed in London have been outside the Trade Union ranks.

1 Articles of the Society of Journeymen Brushmakers, held at the sign of the Craven Head, Drury Lane, 1806 ; Minutes, April 27, 1831.

? John Cast, a shipwright of Deptford, was evidently one of the ablest Trade Unionists of his time. We first hear of him in 1802, when there was a serious strike in London that attracted the attention of the Government


John Gast 85

f we have been able to gain any idea of their proceedings, (their trade clubs were free from anything that could now [be conceived as political sedition. It was these clubs of handicraftsmen that formed the backbone of the various " central committees " which dealt with the main topics of Trade Unionism during the next thirty years. They it was who furnished such assistance as was given by working men to the movement for the repeal of the Combination Laws. And their influence gave a certain dignity and stability to the Trade Union Movement, without which, under hostile governments, it could never have emerged from the petulant rebellions of hunger-strikes and machine- breaking.

The principal effect of the Combination Laws on these well-organised handicrafts in London, Liverpool, Dublin, -and perhaps other towns, was to make the internal disci- pline more rigid and the treatment of non-unionists more k arbitrary. Place describes how " in these societies there are some few individuals who possess the confidence of their fellows, and when any matter relating to the trade has


(Home Office Papers in Record Office, 65 i, July and August 1802), as the author of a striking pamphlet entitled A Vindication of the Conduct of the Shipwrights during the late disputes with their Employers (1802, 38 pp.). In 1818 he is found advocating the first recorded proposal for a general workmen's organisation, as distinguished from separate trade clubs to be described in our next chapter ; and his Articles of the Philanthropic Hercules for the Mutual Support of the Labouring Mechanics, which were printed in the Gorgon, attracted the attention of Francis Place, who de- scribed him (Place MSS, 27819 23) as having " long been secretary to the Shipwrights' Club : he was a steady, respectable man. He had formed several associations of working men, but had been unable to keep up any one of them." He became one of Place's most useful allies in the agitation for a repeal of the Combination Laws, and when, in 1825, their re-enactment was threatened, his " committee of trades delegates " was Place's strongest support. Gast was the leading spirit in the establishment of the Trades Newspaper in July 1825, and became chairman of th committee of management, as well as a frequent contributor. In the same year he was actively engaged in the shipwrights' struggle for a " Book of Rates," or definite list of piecework prices, and the energy with which he counter- acted the design of the Board of Admiralty,' of allowing the London ship- builders to borrow men from the Portsmouth Navy Yard, contributed mainly to the success of the fight.


86 The Struggle for Existence

been talked over, either at the club or in a separate room, or in a workshop or a yard, and the matter has become notorious, these* men are expected to direct what shall be done, and they do direct simply by a hint. On this the men act ; and one and all support those who may be thrown out of work or otherwise inconvenienced. If matters were to be discussed as gentlemen seem to suppose they must be, no resolution would ever be come to. The influence of the men alluded to would soon cease if the law , were repealed. It is the law and the law alone which causes ^ the confidence of the men to be given to their leaders. Those who direct are not known to the body, and not one man in twenty, perhaps, knows the person of any one who directs. It is a rule among them to ask no questions, and another rule among them who know most, either to give no answer if questioned, or an answer to mislead." 1

In the new machine industries, on the other hand, the repeated reductions of wages, the rapid alterations of pro- > cesses, and the substitution of women and children for I adult male workers, had gradually reduced the workers to I a condition of miserable poverty. The reports of Parlia- mentary committees, from 1800 onward, contain a dreary record of the steady degradation of the Standard of Life in the textile industries. " The sufferings of persons employed in the cotton manufacture/' Place writes of this period, " were beyond credibility : they were drawn into combina- tions, betrayed, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and monstrously severe punishments inflicted on them : they were reduced to and kept in the most wretched state of existence." 2 Their employers, instead of being, as in the older handicrafts, little more than master workmen, recog-

1 Place MSS. 27800 195.

2 Place MSS. 27798 u ; and The Town Labourer, 1760-1832, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1917. Between 1798-1803 and 1804-16 the piecework wages for handloom cotton weaving were reduced in some cases by 80 per cent at a time of war prices (Geschichtc der englischen Lohn- arbtit, by Gustav Steflfen, Stuttgart, 1900, vol. ii. pp. 19-20). See History of Wages in the Cotton Trade d^tr^ng the Past Hundred Years, by G. H, Wood, 1910 ; and Cunningham, Growth, etc., 1903, p. 634.


The Luddites 87

nising the customary Standard of Life of their journeymen,

were often capitalist entrepreneurs, devoting their whole

energies to the commercial side of the business, and leaving their managers to buy labour in the market at the cheapest .possible rate. This labour was recruited from all localities and many different occupations. It was brigaded and 'controlled by despotic laws, enforced by numerous fines I and disciplinary deductions. Cases of gross tyranny and heartless cruelty are not wanting. Without a common standard, a common tradition, or mutual confidence, the workers in the new mills were helpless against their masters. Their ephemeral combinations and frequent strikes were, Its a rule, only passionate struggles to maintain a bare subsist- ence wage. In place of the steady organised resistance to encroachments maintained by the handicraftsmen, we watch, in the machine industries, the alternation of out- bursts of machine-breaking and outrages, with intervals of abject submission and reckless competition with each other J or employment. In the conduct of such organisation as there was, repressive laws had, with the operatives as with the London artisans, the effect of throwing great power into -the hands of a few men. These leaders were implicitly ..obeyed in times of industrial conflict, but the repeated 'defeats which they were unable to avert prevented that 'growth of confidence which is indispensable for permanent ^organisation. 1 Both leaders and rank and file, too, were largely implicated in political seditions, and were the victims of spies and Ministerial emissaries of all sorts. All these circumstances led to the prevalence among them o fearful oaths, mystic initiation rites, and other manifestations of a sensationalism which was sometimes puerile and sometimes -criminal.

The most notorious of these " seditions," about which little is really known, was the " Luddite " upheaval of 1811-12, when riotous mobs of manual workers, acting

1 See on all these points the evidence given before the Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824 ; especially that of Richmond.


88 The Struggle for Existence

/

, under some sort of organisation, went about destroying \ textile machinery and sometimes wrecking factories. To what extent this had any direct connection with the Trade Union Movement seems to us, pending more penetrating investigation of the unpublished evidence, somewhat uncertain. That the operatives very generally sympathised with the most violent protest against the displacement of hand labour by machinery, and the extreme distress which it was causing, is clear. The Luddite movement apparently began among the Framework-knitters, who had long been organised in local clubs, with some rudimentary federal bond ; and the whole direction of the Luddites was often ascribed, as by the Mayor of Leicester in 1812, to " the Committee of Framework-knitters, who have as complete an organisation of the whole body as you could have of a regiment." * But money was collected from men of other trades, notably bricklayers, masons, spinners, weavers, and colliers, as well as from the soldiers in some of the regiments stationed at provincial centres ; and such evi- dence as we have found points rather to a widespread secret oath-bound conspiracy, not of the men of any one trade, but of wage-earners of all kinds. We find an informer stating (June 22, 1812), with what truth we know not, " that the Union extends from London to Nottingham, and from thence to Manchester and Carlisle. Small towns lying between the principal places are not yet organised, such as Garstang and Burton. Only some of the trades have taken the first oath. He says there is a second oath taken by suspicious persons." 2 On the other hand, it looks as if the various local Trade Clubs were made use of, in some cases informally, as agents or branches of the con- spiracy.

General Maitland, writing from Buxton (June 22, 1812) to the Home Secretary, says that, in his opinion, " the whole of this business . . . originated in those constant efforts

1 Letter to the local Major-General, June 15, 1812, in Home Office Papers, 40 i. z Ibid.


"KingLud" 89

made by these associations for many years past to keep up the price of the manufacturers' wages ; that finding their efforts for this unavailing, both from the circumstances of the trade and the high price of provisions, they in a moment of irritation, for which it is but just to say they had con- siderable ground from the real state of distress in which they were placed . . . began to think of effecting that by force which they had ever been trying to do by other means ; and that in this^ state the oath was introduced. ... I believe the whole to be, certainly a most mischievous, but undefined and indistinct attempt to be in a state of pre- paration to do that by force which they had not succeeded in carrying into effect as they usually did by other means." The whole episode has been too much ignored, even by social historians ; and " Byron's famous speech and .'Charlotte Bronte's more famous novel give to most people )their idea of the misery of the time, and of its cause, the Idisplacement of hand labour by machinery." 1

The coal-miners were in many respects even worse off than the hosiery workers and the cotton weavers. In -Scotland they had been but lately freed from actual serfdom, the final act of emancipation not having been passed until 1799. In Monmouthshire and South Wales the oppression of the " tommy shops " of the small employers was extreme. In the North of England the " yearly bond," the truck

1 The Town Labourer, 1760-1832, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1917, p. 15. Whether Gravener Henson, the bobbin-net maker of Nottingham, subsequently author of a History of the Framework-Knitters (1831), who had long been a leader of the Framework-knitters, was the " King Lud " under whose orders the machine-breakers often purported to act, is yet unproven (Life of Francis Place, by Prof. Graham Wallas, revised edition, /i 9 1 8). The Report of the House of Commons Committee on the Frame- 4 work-knitters' petitions (1812) affords evidence of the all-pervading misery 'of the time. For other glimpses of the Luddite organisation, see An Appeal to the Public, containing an account of services rendered during the disturbances in the North of England in the year 1812, by Francis Raynes. - 1817 (in Home Office Papers, 40) ; Report of Proceedings under Commission of Oyer and Terminer, January 2 to 12, 1813, at York, by J. and W. B. Gurney, 1813; Digest of Evidence of Committee on A rtizans and Machinery, by George White, 1824 (seep. 36, Richmond's evidence as to the appeals of the Luddites to the Glasgow cotton-spinners) ; and Annual Register, 1812


90 The Struggle for Existence

(

system, and the arbitrary fines kept the underground workers in complete subjection. The result is seen in the turbulence of their frequent " sticks " or strikes, during which troops were often required to quell their violence. The great strike of 1810 was carried on by an oath-bound confederacy recruited by the practice of " brothering," " so named because the members of the union bound themselves by a most solemn oath to obey the orders of the brotherhood, under the penalty of being stabbed through the heart or of having their bowels ripped up." l

< /Notwithstanding these differences between various

  • classes of workers, the growing sense of solidarity among

/ the whole body of wage-earners rises into special prominence ^ during this period of tyranny and repression. The trades in which it was usual for men to tramp from place to place in search of employment had long possessed, as we have seen, some kind of loose federal organisation extending throughout the country. In spite of the law of 1797 for- ' bidding the existence of " corresponding societies," the various federal organisations of Curriers, Hatters, Calico- printers, Woolcombers, Woolstaplers, and other handi- craftsmen kept up constant correspondence on trade matters, and raised money for common trade purposes. In some Ceases there existed an elaborate national organisation, with geographical districts and annual delegate meetings, like that of the Calico-printers who were arrested by thej Bolton constables in 1818. The rules of the Paper-makers, 2 which certainly date from 1803, provide for the division oi England into five districts, with detailed arrangements for

1 Evidence of a colliery engineer in the Newcastle district before Committee on Combination Laws, 1825 ; summarised in Report on Tradt\ Societies, 1860, by Social Science Association. See also A Voice from tht^ Coalmines, 1825 ; A Candid Appeal to the Coalowners and Viewers oj\ Collieries on the Tyne and Wear, including a copy of the Cottier's Bond, witfl Animadversions thereon and a series of proposed Amendments, from tht\ Committee of the Colliers' United Association, 1826 (in Home Office Papers H.O. 40 (19), with Lord Londonderry's letter of February 28, 1826) ; Tht\ Miners of Northumberland and Durham, by Richard Fynes, pp. 12-16 (1873) ; An Earnest Address . . . on behalf of the Pitmen, by W. Scott, 1831'

2 See Appendix to Report of Select Committee on Combinations, 1825


The Liverpool Ropemakers 91

representation and collective action. This national organi- sation was, notwithstanding repressive laws, occasionally very effective. We need cite only one instance, furnished by the Liverpool Ropemakers in 1823. When a certain firm attempted to put labourers to the work, the local society of ropespinners informed it that this was " contrary to the regulations of the trade," and withdrew all their members. The employers, failing to get men in Liverpool, sent to Hull and Newcastle, but found that the Ropespinners' Society had already apprised the local trade clubs at those towns. The firm then imported " blacklegs " from Glasgow, who were met on arrival by the local unionists, inveigled to a " trade club-house," and alternately threatened and cajoled out of their engagements. Finally the head of the firm went to London to purchase yarn ; but the London workmen, finding that the yarn was for a " struck shop/' refused to complete the order. The last resource of the employers was an indictment at the Sessions for combina- tion, but a Liverpool jury, in the teeth of the evidence and the judge's summing up, gave a verdict of acquittal. 1

This solidarity was not confined to the members of a particular trade. The masters are always complaining that one trade supports another, and old account books of Trade Unions for this period abound with entries of sums contributed in aid of disputes in other trades, either in the same town or elsewhere. Thus the small society of London Goldbeaters, during the three years 1810-12, lent or gave substantial sums, amounting in all to 200, to fourteen other trades. 2 The Home Secretary was informed in 1823 that

1 R. v. Yates and Others, Liverpool Sessions, August 10, 1823. See newspaper report preserved in Place MSS. 27804 154.

  • The entries in this old cash-book are of some interest :

May 29, 1810 Paid ye Brushmakers . ^1500

Lent ye Brushmakers . Paid ye Friziers


June 26, 1810 Paid ye Silversmiths .

Expenses to Pipemakers July 24, 1810 Paid ye Braziers


Paid ye Bookbinders Paid ye Curriers .


10 o o

20 o o

10 o o 0410

10 10 o

10 O O

10 O O


92 The Struggle for Existence

a combination of cotton-spinners at Bolton, whose books had been seized, had received donations, not only from twenty- eight cotton-spinners' committees in as many Lancashire towns, but also from fourteen other trades, from coal-miners to butchers. 1 A picturesque illustration of ihiaJ^rotherly help in, need occurs in the account of an appeal to the Pontefract Quarter Sessions by certain Sheffield cutlers against their conviction for combination : " The appellants were in court, but hour after hour passed, and no counsel moved the case. The reason was a want of funds for the purpose. At last, whilst in court, a remittance from the clubs in Manchester, to the amount of one hundred pounds, arrived, and then the counsel was fee'd, and the case, which, but for the arrival of the money from this town, must have dropped in that stage, was proceeded with." 2 And although the day of Trades Councils had not yet come, it was a common thing for the various trade societies of a particular town to unite in sending witnesses to Parlia- mentary Committees, preparing petitions to the House of Commons and paying counsel to support their case, engaging solicitors to prosecute offending employers, and collecting subscriptions for strikes. 3 This tendency to form joint


Aug. 21, 1 8 10 Lent ye Bit and Spurmakers Lent ye Scalemakers . Paid ye Leathergrounders .

Oct. 26, 1 8 10 Paid ye Tinplate Workers


500 500 30 o o 10 o o 500 o 12 6


Dec. ii, 1 8 10 Lent ye Ropemakers

May 30, 1811 Received of Scale Beam-makers

June 25, 1811 Expenses with Papermakers

July 20, 1812 Lent ye Sadlers 10 o

Oct. 12, 1812 Paid to Millwrights . . . . 50 o Dec. 7, 1812 Borrowed from the Musical Instru- ment-makers . . . .200

1 Home Office Papers, 40 18, March 31, 1823.

2 See report in the Manchester Exchange Herald, about 1818, preserved in Place MSS. 27799156.

  • See, for instance, the witnesses delegated by the Glasgow and Man-j

Chester trades to the Select Committee on Petitions of Artisans, etc., reporlj of June 13, 181 1 ; or the joint action of the Yorkshire and West of England! Woollen- workers given in evidence before the Select Committee of 1806. These cases are typical of many others.


The Class War 93

'committees of local trades was, as we shall see, greatly strengthened in the agitation against the Combination Laws from 1823-25. -With the final abandonment of all legis- lative protection of the Standard of Life, and the complete divorce of the worker from the instruments of production, the wage-earners in the various industrial centres became indeed ever more conscious of the widening of the old separate trade disputes into "the class war" which has characterised the past century. x x

It is difficult to-day to realise the nai've surprise with which the employers of that time regarded the practical development of working-class solidarity. The master witnesses before Parliamentary Committees, and the judges in sentencing workmen for combination, are constantly found reciting instances of mutual help to prove the exist- ence of a widespread " conspiracy " against the dominant classes. That the London Tailors should send money to the Glasgow Weavers, or the Goldbeaters to the. Ropespinners, seemed to the middle and upper classes little short of a crime.

The movement for a repeal of the Combination Laws began in a period of industrial dislocation and severe political repression. The economic results of the long war, culminating in the comparatively low prices of the peace for most manufactured products, though not for wheat, led in 1816 to an almost universal reduction of wages throughout the country. In open dejiance-of the law the masters, in many instances, deliberately combined in agreements to pay lower rates. This agreement was not "confined to the employers in a particular trade, who may have been confronted by organised bodies of journeymen, but extended, in some cases, to all employers of labour in a particular locality. The landowners and farmers of Tiver- ton, for instance, at a " numerous and respectable meeting at the Town Hall " in 1816, resolved " that, in consequence of the low price of provisions," not more than certain specified wages should be given to smiths, carpenters,


94 The Struggle for Existence

masons, thatchers, or masons' labourers. 1 The Compositors, Coopers, Shoemakers, Carpenters, and many other trades record serious reductions of wages at this period. In these cases the masters justified their action on the ground that, owing to the fall of prices, the Standard of Life of the journeymen would not be depressed. But in the great staple industries there ensued a cutting competition between employers to secure orders in a falling market, their method being to undersell each other by beating down wages below subsistence level an operation often aided by the practice, then common, of supplementing insufficient earnings out of the Poor Rate. This produced such ruinous results that local protests were soon made. At Leicester the authorities decided to maintain the men's " Statement Price " by agreeing to wholly support out of a voluntary fund those who could not get work at the full rates. This was bitterly resented by the neighbouring employers, who seriously contemplated indicting the lord-lieutenant, mayor, alder men, clergy, and other subscribers for criminal conspiracy to keep up wages. 2 And in 1820 a public meeting of the ratepayers of Sheffield protested against the " evil of parish pay to supplement earnings," and recommended employer* to revert to the uniform price list which the men had gainec in i8io. 8 Finally we have the employers themselves publicly denouncing the ruinous extent to which the cutting of wages had been carried. A declaration dated June i6| 1819, and signed by fourteen Lancashire manufacturers

1 Printed handbill signed by thirty-two persons, issued in the summe: of 1816, preserved in Place MSS. 27799 141. Place has also preservec the rejoinder of the workmen, which is unsigned, as he notes, for fear o prosecution.

2 The Stocking Makers' Monitor, January 1818 ; A few Remarks on thA State of the Law, etc., by White and Henson, p. 88 ; An Appeal to the Publi on the subject of the Framework-Knitters' Fund, by the Rev. Robert Haljt (Leicester, 1819) ; Cobbett's Weekly Register, vol. xxxix. ; A Reply to th^ Principal Objections advanced by Cobbett and Others, by the Rev. Rober,( Hall (Leicester, 1821) : Digest of Evidence before the Committee on Artizan i 2nd Machinery, by George White, 1824.

8 Proceedings at a public Meeting of the Inhabitants of the Township oiJ Sheffield, held at the Town Hall, March 13, 1820 (Sheffield, 1820, 16 pp.).


The Weavers' Provident Union 95

regrets that they have been compelled by the action of a'few competitors to lower wages to the present rates, and strongly condemns any further reduction ; whilst twenty-five of the most eminent calico-printing firms append an emphatic approval of the protest, and state " that the system of paying such extremely low wages for manufacturing labour is injurious to the trade at large." l At Coventry the ribbon manufacturers combined with the Weavers' Provi- dent Union to maintain a general adherence to the agreed list of prices, and in 1819 subscribed together no less than 16,000 to cover the cost of proceedings with this object. This combination formed the subject of an indictment at Warwick Assizes, which put an end to the association, the remaining funds being handed over to the local " Streets Commissioners " for paving the city. These protests and struggles of the better employers were in vain. Rates were reduced and strikes occurred all over the country, and were met, not by redress or sympathy, but by an outburst of prosecutions and sentences of more than the usual ferocity. The common law and ancient statutes were ruthlessly used to supplement the Combination Acts, often by strained"^ constructions. The Scotch judges in particular, as an eminent Scotch jurist declared to the Parliamentary Com- mittee in 1824, applied the criminal procedure of Scotland to cases of simple combination, from 1813-19, in a way that he, on becoming Lord Advocate, refused to counte- nance. 2 The workers, on attempting some spasmodic pre- parations for organised political agitation, were further coerced, in 1819, by the infamous " Six Acts/' which at onej blow suppressed practically all public meetings, enabled the magistrate to search for arms, subjected all working- class publications to the crushing stamp duty, and rendered more stringent the law relating to seditious libels. The whole system of repression which had characterised the

1 Times, August 5, 1819.

2 Evidence of Sir William Rae, Bart., before Select Committee on Artisans and Machinery, 1824, p. 486.


96 The Struggle for Existence

statesmanship of the Regency culminated at this period in a tyranny not exceeded by any of the monarchs of the " Holy Alliance." The effect of this tyranny was actually { to shield the Combination Laws by turning the more ener- 1 getic and enlightened working-class .leaders away from all specific reforms to a thorough revolution of the whole system of Parliamentary representation. Hence there was no popular movement whatever for the repeal of the Com- bination Laws. If we were writing the history of the English working class instead of that of the Trade Union Movement, we should find in William Cobbett or " Orator " Hunt, in Samuel Bamford or William Lovett, a truer representative! of the current aspirations of the English artisan at this time than in the man who now came unexpectedly on the scene to devise and carry into effect the Trade Union Emancipation of 1824.

Francis Place was a master tailor who had created a successful business in a shop at Charing Cross. Before] setting up for himself he had worked as a journeymc breeches-maker, and had organised combinations in his owr| and other trades. After 1818 he left the conduct of the business to his son, and devoted his keenly practical intelleclj and extraordinary persistency first to the repeal of tl Combination Laws, and next to the Reform Movement! In social theory he was a pupil of Bentham James Mill, and his ideal may be summed up as politk Democracy with industrial liberty, or, as we should n< say, thoroughgoing Radical Individualism. No one wl has closely studied his life and work will doubt that, wil the narrow sphere to which his unswerving practicality coi fined him, he was the most remarkable politician of his His chief merit lay in his thorough understanding of art of getting things done. In agitation, permeati( wire-pulling, Parliamentary lobbying, the drafting oil resolutions, petitions, and bills in short, of all those artifi fices by which a popular movement is first created and theJI made effective on the Parliamentary system he was ai I


Francis Place 97

inventor and tactician of the first order. Above all, he possessed in perfection the rare quality of permitting other people to carry off the credit of his work, and thus secured for his proposals willing promoters and supporters, some of the leading Parliamentary figures of the time owing all their knowledge on his questions to the briefs with which he supplied them. The invaluable collection of manuscript records left by him, now in the British Museum, prove that modesty had nothing to do with his contemptuous readi- ness to leave the trophies of victory to his pawns provided his end was attained. He was thoroughly appreciative of the fact that in every progressive movement his shop at Charing Cross was the real centre of power when the Parlia- mentary stage of a progressive movement was reached. It remained, from 1807 down to about 1834, the recognised meeting-place of all the agitators of the time. 1

It was in watching the effect of the Combination Laws in his own trade that Place became converted to their repeal. The special laws of 1720 and 1767, fixing the wages of journeymen tailors, as well as the general law of 1800 against all combinations, had failed to regulate

vages, to prevent strikes, or to hinder those masters who wished in times of pressure to engage skilled men, from

ffering the bribe of high piecework rates, or even time vages in excess of the legal limit. Place gave evidence

s a master tailor before the Select Committee of the House

f Commons which inquired into the subject in 1810 ; and t was chiefly his weighty testimony in favour of freedom

f contract that averted the fresh legal restrictions which

combination of employers was then openly promoting. 2

This experience of the practical freedom of employers to

ombine intensified Place's sense of the injustice of denying

like freedom to the journeymen, whilst the brutal prose-

1 An admirable biography has now been written, The Life of Francis ^lace, 1771-1854, by Prof. Graham Wallas; first edition, 1898; revised dition, 1918.

2 Place MSS. 27798 8, 12, etc.; Times, November 9, 1810; The "ailoring Trade, by F. W. Galton, 1896, pp. no-ii.



98 The Struggle for Existence

cution of the compositors -of the Times in the same year brought home to his mind the severity of the law. Four years later (1814), as he himself tells us, he " began to work seriously to procure a repeal of the laws against combina- tions of workmen, but for a long time made no visible progress." The employers were firmly convinced that combinations of wage-earners would succeed in securing a great rise of wages, to the serious detriment of profits. Far from contemplating a repeal of the Act of 1800, they were in 1814 and 1816 pestering the Home Secretary for legis- lation of greater stringency as the only safeguard for their " freedom of enterprise." x The politicians were equally certain that Trade Union action would raise prices, and thus undermine the foreign trade upon which the pros- perity and international influence of England depended The working men themselves afforded in the first instance no assistance. Those who had "suffered legal prosecutior wer^Thopeless of redress from an unreformed Parliament and offered no support. One trade, the Spitalfields silk weavers, supported the Government because they enjoy what they deemed to be the advantage of legal protectio: from the lowering of wages by competition. 2 Others wer< suspicious of the intervention of one who was himself employer, and who had not yet gained recognition as friend to labour. But Place was undismayed by hostilit; and indifference. Knowing that with an English publi the strength of his cause would lie, not in any abstr

1 See the petitions of the Master Manufacturers of Glasgow, Lane and Nottinghamshire, in the Home Office Papers (42 141, 149, 150, i< etc.).

2 When Place in 1824 urged the " Committee of Engine Silk-weaA of Spitalfields to petition for a repeal of the Combination Laws, the meel " Resolved, that protected as we have been for years under the salul laws and wisdom of the Legislature, and being completely unappreher of any sort of combination on our part, we cannot therefore take any of notice of the invitation held out by Mr. Place." When this resolul was put by the chairman, " an unanimous burst of applause follow with a multitude of voices exclaiming, ' The law, cling to the law, it protect us 1 ' " Place MSS. 27800 52 ; Morning Chronicle, February 1824.


Joseph Hume 99

easoning or appeal to natural rights, but in an enumeration >f actual cases of injustice, he made a point of obtaining

he particulars of every trade dispute. He intervened, as

le says, in every strike, sometimes as a mediator, sometimes is an ally of the journeymen. He opened up a voluminous correspondence with Trade Unions throughout the kingdom, ind wrote innumerable letters to the newspapers. In 1818 le secured a useful medium in the Gorgon* a little working- class political newspaper, started by one Wade, a wool- comber, and subsidised by Bentham and Place himself. Fhis gained him his two most important disciples, event- lally the chief instruments of his work, J. R. McCulloch ind Joseph Hume. McCulloch, afterwards to gain fame as m economist, was at that time the editor of the Scotsman, perhaps the most important of the provincial newspapers. \ powerful article based on Place's facts which he con- iributed to the Edinburgh Review in 1823 secured many converts ; and his constant advocacy gave Place's idea a weight and notoriety which it had hitherto lacked. Joseph Hume was an even more important ally. His acknow- .edged position in the House of Commons as one of the eaders of the growing party of Philosophic Radicalism gained for the repeal movement a steadily increasing support rith advanced members of Parliament. Among a certain ection in the House the desirability of freedom of com- ination began to be discussed ; presently it was considered racticable ; and soon many came to regard it as an inevit- ble outcome of their political creed. In 1822 Place lought the tune ripe for action ; and Hume accordingly ave notice of his intention to bring in a Bill to repeal all ife laws against combinations.

Place's manuscripts and letters contain a graphic ccount of the wire-pullings and manipulations of the next wo years. 2 In these contemporary pictures of the inner

1 The volumes for 1818-19 are in the British Museum. 8 The story has now been well told in The Life of Francis Place, by 'rof. Graham Wallas, revised edition, 1918, ch. viii. ; . and in The Town


ioo The Struggle for Existence

workings of the Parliamentary system we watch Hume cajoling Huskisson and Peel into granting him a Select Committee, staving off the less tactful proposals of a rival M.P., 1 and finally, in February 1824, packing the Com- mittee of Inquiry at length appointed. Hume, with some art, had included in his motion three distinct subjects the emigration of artisans, the exportation of machinery, and combinations of workmen, all of which were forbidden by law. To Place and Hume the repeal of the Combination Laws was the main object ; but Huskisson and his colleagues regarded the Committee as primarily charged with an inquiry into the possibility of encouraging the rising manu- facture of machinery, which was seriously hampered by the prohibition of sales to foreign countries. Huskisson tried to induce Hume to omit from the Committee's reference all mention of the Combination Laws, evidently regarding them as only a minor and unimportant part of the inquiry. ! But Place and Hume were now masters of the situation;! and for the next few months they devoted their whole time! to the management of the Committee. At first no one seems to have had any idea that its proceedings were going!

Labourer, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1917, ch. vii. A few other details! will be found in Digest of Evidence before the Committee on Artisan&\ and Machinery, by George White, 1824, and in Labour Legislation, Labour, Movements, and Labour Leaders, by G. Howell, 1902, pp. 43-57.

1 In 1823 George White, a " clerk of committees " of the House o Commons, had formed an alliance with Gravener Henson, the bobbin-no'; maker of Nottingham, who had long been a leader of the framework-knitters combinations, to whom reference has been made in preceding pages; Together they prepared an elaborate Bill repealing all the Combinatioi Acts, and substituting a complicated jraujunery for regulating pieceworl and settlinglndustriaTaispj^tes. "Some of these proposals were meritoriou anticipations of subsequent factory legislation ; but the time was no ripe for such measures. This Bill, promptly introduced by Peter Moore the member for Coventry, had the effect of scaring some timid legislators and especially alarming the Front Bench. Hume was at a loss to knoA how to act ; but Place, in a letter displaying great political sagacit} advised him to baulk the rival Bill by putting its author on the Committe of Inquiry, explaining that " Moore is not a man to be put aside. Thj I only way to put him down is to let him talk his nonsense in the Committee where, being outvoted, he will be less of an annoyance in the House. See Place MSS. 27798 12.


Packing the Committee 101

to be of any moment ; and no trouble was taken by the Ministry with regard to its composition. " It was with difficulty," writes Place, " that Mr. Hume could obtain the names of twenty-one members to compose the Com- mittee ; but when it had sat three days, and had become both popular and amusing, members contrived to be put upon it ; and at length it consisted of forty-eight mem- bers." l Hume, who was' appointed chairman, appears to have taken into his own hands the entire management of the proceedings. A circular explaining the objects of the inquiry was sent to the mayor or other public officer of forty provincial towns, and appeared in the principal local newspapers. Public meetings were held at Stockport and other towns to depute witnesses to attend the Committee. 2 Meanwhile Place, who had by this time acquired the con- fidence of the chief leaders of the working class, secured the attendance of artisan witnesses from all parts of the kingdom. Read in the light of Place's private records and daily corre- spondence with Hume, the proceedings of this " Committee on Artisans and Machinery " reveal an almost perfect

example-xif political manipulation. Although no hostile

witness was denied a hearing^lt was evidently arranged that the employers who were favourable to repeal should be examined first, and that the preponderance of evidence should be on their side. And whilst those interests which would have been antagonistic to the repeal were neither professionally represented nor deliberately organised, the men's case was marshalled with admirable skill by Place, and fully brought out by Hume's examination. Thus the one acted as the Trade Unionists' Parliamentary solicitor, and the other as their unpaid counsel. 3

1 Place MSS. 2779830.

J This attracted the attention of the Home Secretary (Home Office Papers, 40 18).

8 Place offered to act as Hume's " assistant " ; but the members of the Committee, whose suspicions had been aroused, refused to permit him to remain in the room, on the double ground that he was not a member of the House, nor even a gentleman I


IO2 The Struggle for Existence

Place himself tells us how he proceeded : " The delegates from the working people had reference to me, and I opened my house to them. Thus I had all the town and country delegates under my care. I heard the story which every one of these men had to tell, I examined and cross-examined them, took down the leading particulars of each case, and then arranged the matter as briefs for Mr. Hume, and as a rule, for the guidance of the witnesses, a copy was given to each. . . . Each brief contained the principal questions and answers. . . . That for Mr. Hume was generally accompanied by an appendix of documents arranged in order, with a short account of such proceedings as were necessary to put Mr. Hume in possession of the whole case. Thus he was enabled to go on with considerable ease, and to anticipate or rebut objections." x

The Committee sat in private ; but Hume's numerous letters to Place show how carefully the latter was kept posted up in all the proceedings : " As the proceedings of the Committee were printed from day to day for the use of the members, I had a copy sent to me by Mr. Hume, which I indexed on paper ruled in many columns, each column having an appropriate head or number. I also wrote remarks on the margins of the printed evidence ; this was copied daily by Mr. Hume's secretary, and then returned to me. This consumed much time, but enabled! Mr. Hume to have the whole mass constantly under hisi view ; and I am very certain that less pains and care would j not have been sufficient to have carried the business 1 through." 2

From Westminster Hall we are transported, by these! private notes for Hume's use, all now preserved in the British Museum, into the back parlour of the Chi Cross shop, where the London and provincial witnesses came for their instructions. " The workmen,' as Place tells us, " were not easily managed. It reqi great care and pains not to shock their prejudices so

1 Place MSS. 27798 22. a Ibid. 27798 23.


Repeal Triumphant 103

to prevent them doing their duty before the Committee. They were filled with false notions, all attributing their distresses to wrong causes, which I, in this state of the business, dared not attempt to remove. Taxes, machinery, laws against combinations, the will of the masters, the conduct of magistrates these were the fundamental causes of all their sorrows and privations. ... I had to discuss everything with them most carefully, to arrange and pre- pare everything, and so completely did these things occupy my time that for more than three months I had hardly any rest." x

The result of the inquiry was as Hume and Place had . ordained. A series of resolutions in favour of complete freedom of combination and liberty of emigration was adopted by the Committee, apparently without dissent. A Bill to repeal all the Combination Laws and to legalise trade societies was passed through both Houses, within - less than a week, at the close of the session, without either debate or division. Place and Hume contrived privately to talk over and to silence the few members who were alive to the situation ; and the measure passed, as Place remarks, " almost without the notice of members within or news- papers without." 2 So quietly was the Bill smuggled through Parliament that the magistrates at a Lancashire town un- wittingly sentenced certain cotton-weavers to imprison- ment for combination some weeks after the laws against that crime had been repealed. 3

Place and Hume had, however, been rather too clever. Whilst the governing classes were quite unconscious that any important alteration of law or policy had taken place, the unlooked-for success of Place's agitation produced, as Nassau Senior describes, " a great moral effect " in all the industrial centres. " It confirmed in the minds of the

1 Place MS. 27798 22.

8 The Act was 5 George IV. c. 95. The question of the exportation of machinery was deferred until the next session.

3 Letter in the Manchester Gazette, preserved in the Place MSS. 27801 214.


IO4 The Struggle for Existence

operatives the conviction of the justice of their cause, tardily and reluctantly, but at last fully, conceded by the Legis- lature. That which was morally right in 1824 must have been so, they would reason, for fifty years before. . . . They conceived that they had extorted from the Legislature an admission that their masters must always be their rivals, and had hitherto been their oppressors, and that combina- tions to raise wages, and shorten the time or diminish the severity of labour, were not only innocent, but meritorious." l Trade Societies accordingly sprang into existence or emerged into aggressive publicity on all sides. A period of trade . inflation, together with a rapid rise in the price of provisions, favoured a general increase of wages. For the next six months the newspapers are full of strikes and rumours of strikes. Serious disturbances occurred at Glasgow, where the employers had been exceptionally oppressive, where the cotton operatives committed several outrages, and where a general lock-out took place. The cotton-spinners were once more striking in the Manchester district. The ship- ping trade of the North-EasTToasT:~was temporarily para- lysed by a strong combination of the seamen on the Tyne and Wear, who refused to sail except with Unionist seamen and Unionist officers. The Dublin trades, then the best organised in the kingdom, ruthlessly enforced their bye- laws for the regulation of their respective industries, and formed a joint committee, the so-called " Board of Green Cloth/' whose dictates became the terror of the employers. The Sheffield operatives have to be warned that, if they persist in demanding double the former wages for only three days a week work, the whole industry of the town will be ruined. 2 The London shipwrights insisted on what their employers considered the preposterous demand for " book of rates " for piecework The London coo] demanded a revision of their wages, which led to a long-

1 MS. Report of Nassau Senior to Lord Melbourne on Trade Combii tions (1831 ; unpublished; in Home Office Library). 1 Sheffield Iris, April 2, 1825.


The Capitalist Reaction 105

sustained conflict. In fact, as a provincial newspaper remarked a little later, " it is no longer a particular class of 'journejnnen at 'some single point that have been induced ) to commence a strike for an advance of wages, but almost sthe whole body of the mechanics in the kingdom are com- 'bined in the general resolution to impose terms on their \employers." 1

The opening of the session of 1825 found the employers throughout the country thoroughly aroused. Hume and Place had in vain preached moderation, and warned the Unions of the danger of a reaction. The great shipowning and shipbuildingjnterest, which had throughout the century preserv^d^mtarMts reputation for unswerving hostility to Trade Unionism, had poss^s^iolT75i~tKe"ea.F"of Huskisson, then President of the Board of Trade and member for Liverpool. Early in the session he moved for a committee of inquiry into the conduct of the workmen and the effect of the recent Act, which, he complained, had been smuggled through the House without his attention having been called to the fact that it went far beyond the mere repeal of the special statutes against combinations. 2 This time the composition of the committee was not left to chance, or to 'Hume's manipulation. The members were, as Place com- plains, selected almost exclusively from the Ministerial benches, twelve out of the thirty being placemen, and many being representatives of rotten boroughs. Huskisson, 3

1 Sheffield Mercury October 8, 1825 ; see th'e Manchester Guardian for August 1824 to a similar effect.

8 Later in the year Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, and Lord Eldon, the Lord Chancellor, protested in debate that they had been quite unaware of the passing of the Act, and that they would never have assented to it.

8 The Annual Register for 1825 gives a fuller report of Huskisson's speech than Hansard's Parliamentary Debates. Further particulars are supplied in George White's Abstract of the Act repealing the Laws against Combinations of Workmen (1824) ; in Place's Observations on Mr. Huskis- son's Speech on the Law relating to Combinations of Workmen, by F. P. (1825, 32 pp.) ; in Wallas's Life of Francis Place, revised edition, 1918, ch. viii. ; in Hammond's The Town Labourer, ch. vii. ; and in Howell's Labour Legislation, Labour Movements, and Labour Leaders, pp. 51-7.

E 2


106 The Struggle for Existence

Peel, and the Attorney-General themselves took part in its proceedings ; Wallace, the Master of the Mint, was made chairman, and Hume alone represented the workmen. Huskisson regarded the Committee as merely a formal pre- liminary to the introduction of the Bill which the shipping .interest had drafted, 1 under which Trade Unions, and even Friendly Societies, would have been impossible. For the inner history of this Committee we have to rely on Place's voluminous memoranda, and Hume's brief notes to him. According to these, the original intention was to call only a few employers as witnesses, to exclude all testimony on the other side, and promptly to report in favour of the repressive measure already prepared. Place, himself an expert in such tactics, met them by again supplying Hume daily with detailed information which enabled him to cross-examine the masters and expose their exaggerations. And, if Place's account of the animus of the Committee and the Ministers against himself be somewhat highly coloured, we have ample evidence of the success with which he guided the alarmed Trade Unions to take effectual action in their own defence. His friend John Cast, secretary to the London Shipwrights, called for two delegates from each trade in the metropolis, and formed a committee which kept up a persistent agitation against any re-enactment of the Combination Laws. Similar committees were formed at Manchester and Glasgow by the cotton operatives, at Sheffield by the cutlers, and at Newcastle by the seamen and shipwrights. Petitions, the draft of which appears in Place's manuscripts, poured in to the Select Committee and to both Houses. If we are to believe Place, the passages leading to the committee-room were carefully kept thron by crowds of workmen insisting on being examined to rebu the accusations of the employers, and waylaying individu members to whom they explained their grievances. All thi

1 This included a provision to forbid the subscription of any funds to trade or other association, unless some magistrate approved its obj< and became its treasurer.




Re-enactment 107

energy on the part of the Unions was, as Place observes, in marked contrast with their apathy the year before. The workmen, though they had done nothing to gain their freedom of association, were determined to maintain it. Doherty, the leader of the Lancashire Cotton-spinners, C writing to Place in the heat of the agitation, declared that 'any attempt at a re-enactment of the Combination Laws would result in a widespread revolutionary movement. 1 The nett result of the inquiry was, on the whole, satisfactory. The Select Committee found themselves compelled to hear a certain number of workmen witnesses, who testified to the good results of the Act of the previous year. The ship- owners' Bill was abandoned, and the House of Commons was recommended to pass a measure which nominally re-established the general common-law prohibition of combinations, but specifically excepted from prosecution associations for the purpose of regulating wages or hours of labour. The master shipbuilders were furious at this virtual defeat. The handbill is still extant which they distributed at the doors of the House of Commons on the day of the second reading of the emasculated Bill. 2 They declared that its provisions were quite insufficient to save their industry from destruction. If Trade Unions were to be allowed to exist at all, they demanded that these bodies should be compelled to render full accounts of their expen- diture to the justices in Quarter Sessions, and that any diversion of monies raised for friendly society purposes should be severely punished. They pleaded, moreover, 4 ) that at any rate all federal or combined action among trade clubs should be prohibited. Place and Hume, on the other hand, were afraid, and subsequent events proved with what good grounds, that the narrow limits of the trade combinations allowed by the Bill, and still more the vague terms " molest " and " obstruct/' which it contained, would be used as weapons against Trade Unionism. The Government, however, held to the draft of the Committee

1 Place MSS. 27803299. * Ibid. 27803212.


io8 The Struggle for Existence

The shipbuilders secured nothing. Hume induced Ministers to give way on some verbal points, and took three divisions in vain protest against the measure. Place carried on the agitation to the House of Lords, where Lord Rosslyn extracted the concession of a right of appeal to Quarter Sessions, which was afterwards to prove of some practical value.

The Act of 1825 (6 Geo. IV. c. . 129) 1 which became known among the manufacturers as " Peel's Act " though it fell short of the measure which Place and Hume had so skilfully piloted through Parliament the year before, effected a real emancipation. The right of collective bargaining, involving the power to withhold labour from the market by concerted action, was for the first time expressly established. And although many struggles remained to be fought before the legal freedom of Trade Unionism was fully secured, no overt attempt has since been made to render illegal this first condition of Trade Union action. 2

It is a suggestive feature of this, as of other great re- forms, that the men whose faith in its principle, and whose indefatigable industry and resolution carried it through, were the only ones who proved altogether mistaken as to its practical consequences. If we read the lesson of the century aright, the manufacturer was not wholly wrong when he protested that liberty of combination must make the workers the ultimate authority in industry, although his narrow fear as to the driving away of capital and commercial skill and the reduction of the nation to a dead level of anarchic pauperism were entirely contradicted by subse- quent developments. And the workman, to whom liberty to combine opened up vistas of indefinite advancement of

1 Home Office Papers, letter of January 3, 1832 (H.O. 40 30).

2 It is pleasant to record that some of the workmen expressed their gratitude for Francis Place's indefatigable services. " Soon after the proceedings in 1825 were closed," he writes, " the seamen of the Tyne and Wear sent me a handsome silver vase, paid for by a penny-a-week sub- scription ; and the cutlers of Sheffield sent me an incomparable set of knives and forks in a case " (Place MSS. 27798 66).


The Result 109

his class at the expense of his oppressors, was, we now see, looking rightly forward, though he, too, greatly miscalcu- lated the distance before him, and overlooked many arduous stages of the journey. But what is to be said of the fore- casts of Place and the Philosophic Radicals ? " Combina- tions," writes Place to Sir Francis Burdett in 1825, " will soon cease to exist. Men have been kept together for long periods only by the oppressions of the laws ; these being repealed, combinations will lose the matter which cements them into masses, and they will fall to pieces. All will be as orderly as even a Quaker could desire. ... He knows nothing of the working people who can suppose that, when left at liberty to act for themselves without being driven into permanent associations by the oppression of the laws, they will continue to contribute money for distant and doubtful experiments, for uncertain and precarious benefits. If let alone, combinations excepting now and then, and for particular purposes under peculiar circumstances will cease to exist." l

It is pleasant to feel that Place was right in regarding the repeal as beneficial and worthy of his best efforts in its support ; but in every less general respect he and his allies were as wrong as it was possible for them to be. The first disappointment, however, came to the workmen. Over and over again they had found their demands for higher *\ wages parried only by the employers' resort to the law, and they now saw the way clear before them for an organised attack upon their masters' profits. Trades which had not vyet enjoyed permanent combinations began to organise in

  • the expectation of raising their wages- to the level of those

(of their more fortunate brethren. The Sheffield shop- assistants combined to petition for early closing. 2 The cotton-weavers of Lancashire met in delegate meeting at Manchester in August 1824 to establish a permanent organisation to prevent reductions in prices and to secure

1 June 25, 1825. Ibid. 27798 57. z Sheffield Iris, September 27, 1825.


no The Struggle for Existence

a uniform wage, the notice stating that it was by their secret combinations that the tailors, joiners, and spinners had succeeded in keeping up wages. 1 In the same month the Manchester dyers turned out for an advance, and paraded the streets, which they had placarded with their proposals. 2 The Glasgow calender-men struck for a regular twelve hours' day, and carried their point. The success of the ship- wrights on the north-east coast 3 induced the London ship- wrights to convert their " Committee for conducting the Business in the North " into the " Shipwrights' Provident Union of the Port of London," which existed continuously until its absorption in the twentieth century by the national society dominating the trade.

" Such is the rage for union societies," reports the Sheffield Iris of July 12, 1825, " that the sea apprentices in Sunderland have actually had regular meetings every day / last week on the moor, and have resolved not to go on board their ships unless the owners will allow them tea and sugar." Local trade clubs expanded, like the Manchester Steam- Engine Makers' Society, into national organisations. In other cases corresponding clubs developed into federal bodies. The object in all these cases was the same. The preamble to the first rules of the Friendly Society of Opera- tive House Carpenters and Joiners of Great Britain, which was established by a delegate meeting in London in 1827, states that, " for the amelioration of the evils attendant on our trade, and the advancement of the rights and privileges of labour," it was considered " absolutely necessary that a firm compact of interests should exist between the whole of the operative carpenters and joiners throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain." 4

1 Handbill preserved in Place MSS. 27803 255.

8 Manchester Guardian, August 7, 1824 ; see also On Combinations of Trades (1830).

8 This is expressly stated in the preamble to the rules adopted at the meeting on August 16, 1824, and recorded in the first minute-book.

4 This society afterwards developed into the existing General Union of Carpenters and Joiners of Great Britain.


A Commercial Slump in

Nor was it only in the multiplication of trade societies

that the expansion showed itself. A committee of delegates

from the London trades meeting during the summer of

< 1825 set on foot the Trades Newspaper and Mechanics'

\ Weekly Journal, a sevenpenny stamped paper, with the

\ motto, " They helped every one his neighbour, and every

one said to his brother, ' Be of good cheer.' " * A vigorous

C" attempt was made to promote Trade Union organisation

^ in all industries, and to bring to bear a body of instructed */

I working-class opinion upon the political situation of the

Uay. 2

The high hopes of which all this exultant activity was the symptom were soon rudely dashed. The year 1825 S closed with a financial panic and widespread commercial V

disaster. The four years that followed were years of con- fraction and distress. Hundreds of thousands of workmen in all trades lost their employment, and wages were reduced all round. In many manufacturing districts the operatives were kept from starvation only by public subscriptions. 3 Strikes under these circumstances ended invariably in disaster. A notable stand made by the Bradford wool- combers and weavers in 1825 resulted in complete defeat and the break-up of the Union. 4

During the greater part of the following year all Lanca- shire was convulsed by incessant strikes of coal-miners and textile workers against the repeated reductions of wages to

1 Two rival journals, The Journeyman's and Artisan's London and Provincial Chronicle, and The Mechanic's Newspaper and Trade Journal, were also started, but soon expired.

2 The Trades Newspaper was managed by a committee of eleven delegates from different trades, of which John Cast was chairman, and was edited, at first by Mr. Baines, son of the proprietor of the Leeds Mercury, and afterwards by a Mr. Anderson. The Laws and Regulations of the Trades Newspaper (1825, 12 pp.) are preserved in the Place MSS. 27803 414. Tne issues from July 17, 1825, to its amalgamation with The Trades Free Press in 1828, are in the British Museum.

8 232,000 was raised by one committee alone between 1826 and 1829. See Report of the Committee appointed at a Public Meeting at the City oj London Tavern. May 2, 1826, to relieve the Manufacturers, by W. H. Hyett, 1829.

  • Wool and Wool-combing, by Burnley, p. 169.


112 The Struggle for Existence

which the employers resorted strikes which were marred by - serious disorder, the destruction of many hundreds of looms, and severe repression by the troops. 1

At Kidderminster, three years later, practically the whole trade of the town was brought to a standstill by the carpet- weavers' six months' resistance to a reduction of 17 per cent in their wages 2 a resistance in which the operatives received the sympathy and support of many who did not belong to their class. In the same year the silk-weavers of London and other towns maintained an embittered resist- ance to a further cut at wages. 3 The emancipated com- binations were no more able to resist reductions than the secret ones had been, and in some instances the workmen

  • again resorted to violence and machine-breaking.

For a moment the repeal seemed, after all, to have done nothing but prove the futility of mere sectional combina- tion, and the working men turned back again from Trade Union action to the larger aims and wider character of the Radical and Socialistic agitations of the time, with which, from 1829 to 1842, the Trade Union Movement became inextricably entangled. This is the phase which furnishes the theme of the following chapter.

1 Home Office Papers, 40 20, 21, etc. ; Annual Register, 1826, pp. 63, 70, in, 128 ; Walpole's History of England, vol. ii. p. 141.

  • A Letter to the Carpet Manufacturers of Kidderminster, by the Rev.

H. Price (1828, 16 pp.) ; A Letter to the Rev. H. Price, upon the Tendency of Certain Publications of his, by Oppidanus, 1828 ; and A Verbatim Report of the Trial of the Rev. Humphrey Price upon a Criminal Information by the Kidderminster Carpet Manufacturers for Alleged Inflammatory Publications during the Turn-out of the Weavers, 1829.

8 Resolutions of the Meeting of Journeymen Broad Silk Weavers at Spitalfields, April 16, 1829 ; in Home Office Papers, 40 23, 24. See, for this period, Cunningham's Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, 1903, pp. 759-762 ; and also The Skilled Labourer, by J. L. and B. Hammond, 1919, published too late for us to make use of its interesting descriptions of the principal trades.