TROUBLE AT T’MILL. 1895

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Stanley
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TROUBLE AT T’MILL. 1895

Post by Stanley » 17 Jul 2019, 02:20

TROUBLE AT T’MILL. 1895

How many of you have heard the term ‘Round Robin’? Do you know where the name comes from? For those of you who don’t, it was a way of sending a communication to someone without identifying who the ringleaders were. This was often important so as to avoid victimisation. A circle was drawn on a piece of paper, the message was written in the circle and then all the participants signed it, but the signatures radiated out from the circle like the spokes of a wheel indicating collective responsibility.

In the course of digging into local history you find some strange and sometimes exciting things. Years ago I was given a copy of a Round Robin which was sent to J Slater Edmondson on October 9th 1895. At the time he was a manufacturer at Long Ing Shed with about 420 looms. The message in the centre reads: ‘To Mr J Slater Edmondson, Long Ing Shed Barnoldswick. This is to give notice that it is our intention to leave your employ in seven days from today, October 9th 1895. Yours respectfully,’. This message is surrounded by 89 signatures, there are eight repetitions and at least one, Enoch Sockett, that looks like a false name. Now then, here’s your chance to do a bit of family history, look through the list of names and see if you can pick out any of your grandparents or great-grandparents and then I’ll tell you the story. The surname is the first name.

Anderson Ralph, Barnes Thomas, Berry ?, Brennand Mary, Broughton Jane, Broughton Maggie, Broughton Mary, Brown A M, Brown George, Brown Mr, Brown Mrs, Campbell C, Cook John, Demaine B, Duckworth Mrs, Eley George, Fort Annie, Fort Jonathan, Fort Lizzie, Fort Sarah Ellen, Gill Clara, Green Mary A, Green Thomas, Hacking ?, Hacking Alice, Hacking Grace, Hacking Lizzie, Hacking Stark, Heally Florence, Hill Agnes, Hill Charles, Hill Lavinia, Hill W, Hoskin Joseph, Hurst Arthur J, Hurst Joseph H, Hurst Mary J, Hurst Thomas, Ireland William, Marshall Abel, Nightingale W, Orange Elizabeth, Orange Mary A, Parker Mrs E, Peel Ada, Perrin Peter, Robinson Olive A, Roche Arthur, Sanderson John, Simpson J, Simpson James, Sockett Enoch, Stanley Bracewell, Stanley James, Suthers Mrs, Taylor David E, Taylor Edith, Taylor Helm, Thornber T , Townson J H, Townson John, Townson Richard, Townson Thomas, Turner Hartley, Waddington Henrietta, Waddington Miriam, Waddington Rebecca, Waddington Thomas, Warren Albert E, Watson J, Whipp Ada, Whipp Alfred, Whipp Annie, Whipp Carr, Whipp Emma, Whipp Fred, Whipp John, Whipp Stephen, Wilkinson James, Windle Elizabeth, Windle J Slater.

Right, that’s the list of names, have you picked anyone out? Now then, what was it all about? We haven’t got space here to go into the full story of how the employers and their workers were organised so this will be very brief. As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in the late 18th century workers realised that in unity there was strength and started to combine in the early trade associations so that they could negotiate collectively with employers at the local level. This was seen by the government as restraint of trade and in 1799 the first of the Combination Acts was passed which made any form of organised collective bargaining illegal. These Acts were repealed in 1824 but there was still much opposition to combination and as late as March 1834, six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle in Devon were sentenced to seven years transportation for organising a union, the sentence was remitted after two years of violent protest all over the country. By 1840 we begin to see the formation of trade associations in the cotton industry and in 1892 the Colne district association formed a branch in Earby.

One interesting result of the Combination Acts was the rise of the Friendly Societies like the Order of the Golden Fleece (became the Ivory Hall Club), the Foresters and other societies which ran mutual support schemes and paid sick pay and unemployment benefit. Loosely based on Masonic ritual, these organisations played a very important role in helping working people survive periods of hard times. The Salvation army wasn’t founded until 1865 and though I don’t know the exact date yet, probably arrived in Barlick very late in the 19th century. Remember that there was no such thing as social security, the only safety net was the Poor Law, Parish Relief. This didn’t kick in until you were absolutely destitute.

So, the advent of the unions was, as far as the workers were concerned, a timely event. From the very beginning, one of the main areas the unions concentrated on was the formation and adoption by agreement with the manufacturers of Uniform Lists of wages to be paid for every cloth type. Barnoldswick worked under the Burnley Weaving List for Plain Cloths. This list was first formulated in 1843 and was one of the first. A crucial element of the way the lists were used was that, by agreement between the trade associations and the manufacturers, Local Disadvantage could be applied. This was a reduction of 10% on list prices if the manufacturers could prove they were working under some form of disadvantage such as being in a remote location or at the end of a railway line. This was always a bone of contention and the Round Robin we started with was a direct result of a dispute between the manufacturers and the unions about how much should be deducted.

1895 wasn’t the first of these disputes. Spinners at Butts Mill came out on strike in November 1886 when the masters slowed the machines down, effectively cutting wages. They claimed it was because of bad cotton but there is some doubt about this. Whatever, the spinners went back after a fortnight without gaining any advantage. In 1887 the weavers in Barlick were out for 22 weeks in protest against underpayment on the Burnley List.

The dispute of 1895 was very serious for the town. It started at Long Ing Shed late in 1895 after a summer of discontent in the town as the manufacturers had combined to drop wages at every mill in the town. There is little doubt that our Round Robin was a direct result of this unrest. If you found any of your relations on the list of names you can be sure of two things: They were under pressure because of low pay and they were courageous enough to do something about it. By March 1896 1,200 weavers were on strike in the town. The union were paying ‘Loom Pay’ which was about two shillings a loom, eight shillings a week if you were on strike. This money was raised by a levy of up to £1 per hundred members in the other unions in the district.

Billy Brooks could remember this strike and he told me that the employers brought weavers into the town to run the mills. Extra police were drafted into the town to keep order and protect the ‘Knobsticks’ or strikebreakers many of whom never reached the town because Billy said the union hired bruisers to waylay the outsiders as they made their way over to Barlick. They were discouraged by being given a good hiding. These toughs were also encouraged to frighten anyone who was still weaving. Billy Tells how his mother and father and about a dozen other weavers were in the Fosters Arms one night having an informal meeting when some toughs burst in and started a fight. The police were called and locked the troublemakers up, Jim Brooks, Billy’s father, and another man at the meeting had to go to Skipton to stand witness against the union’s thugs.

The manufacturers were frightened of sabotage, they knew that the one sure way for the weavers to stop the mills was to sabotage them. Billy says that police slept in Long Ing engine house for two years while the disputes were on. The strike spread from Long Ing to Butts Mill and Billy says that someone got into the weaving shed during the night and slashed all the warps thus stopping the mill. The police over-reacted at times and the union complained to the Home Secretary about their conduct.

Billy was fourteen at the time and he says that him and his mates thought it was all very exciting. The strikers used to gather in Church Street and boo the strikebreakers as they came away from Butts. He said that people used to bring old kettles and pans to bang on them. He mentions a bloke called Bill Crew who used to sell boiled peas, Billy said he usually had a boiler or two about that were ‘buggered’ and the weavers used to borrow these to use as drums.

The end of the strike wasn’t necessarily the end of problems for some of the weavers. Billy said that in the end they had to go back for the same money they had struck against. Many weavers had come into the town as strikebreakers and some of them stayed to replace weavers who were ‘black listed’ and had to leave the town as they knew they would never get another job. Billy said he knew of whole families that had to leave. Of course, this wouldn’t be the end of it. We can’t know what bad blood was created between opposing parties during the strike. We’ve seen similar things in recent years in pit villages but unfortunately these things leave no written record so we can only guess at them.

Whether you found a name you knew in the list or not, I hope this small glimpse into the past has intrigued you. If you have found a relation just think what courage (or desperation!) it took to stand up against the manufacturers with no backstop beyond the charity of your neighbours and fellow workers. Those two years must have been grim times for many people and we can only wonder what debts were taken on and the length of time it took to get straight again. The main point I want to convey this week is that we have to be honest when we look at history. It wasn’t all ‘the good old days’, the social fabric of our town was built on bitter struggle just as much as on good times.


SCG/29 December 2000
1754 words.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at talktalk.net

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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