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Town Hall, Monday, January 29, 1844

A numerous meeting of the hand-loom weavers took place in the Town Hall on Monday night, for the purpose of memorializing the ministers upon the subject of the distressed condition of the weavers, and bringing their almost hopeless degradation before the Government.   

     On the motion of Mr. HANSON, Mr. MC.KENZIE took the chair.  

Mr. HANSON then moved the adoption of the memorial—and took the opportunity of noticing the mischievous effects of excessive competition upon the operative, and the facilities afforded that competition by the paper currency in extending the use of machinery.  He noticed also, the agitation of the Anti-Corn Law League, and expressed his opinion, that unless attended with other equitable adjustments, he could not see what benefit was to be derived from it, especially by the working man.   He recollected an observation made in parliament by Mr. Joseph HUME, to the effect that he would not care if he saw the green fields of England encrusted with lava provided the corn laws were repealed, but he (Mr. HANSON) felt very differently, and loved his country too well to wish to see her waving cornfields encrusted with lava,—after six days hard labour he loved to hear the larks and thrushes sing, and see the splendour of nature, beaming under a Divine Providence, and he trusted they would still keep their green fields.   Mr. HANSON then moved the adoption of the following memorial:—

 

Memorial of the Hand-loom Weavers of the Borough of Carlisle and      neighbourhood, agreed to at a public Meeting of that body, held in the Town Hall, January 29th, 1844, by permission of Robert BENDLE, Esq., Mayor of the said Borough;—to consider the low rate of wages, and the consequent misery and degradation of those engaged in, and dependent on this branch of native industry.

To the Right Honourable W.E. GLADSTONE, President of the

Board of Trade

 

     Your memorialists have considered it a duty which they owe to themselves and those dependent upon their exertions for a subsistence, to lay their wretched and destitute condition before you, with a hope that you will lay the same before the other members of her Majesty's government, and cause an immediate inquiry to be made into those circumstances which have been the means of causing such unparalleled suffering and destitution amongst your memorialists, with a view of applying such remedies as the result of such an investigation may warrant you in adopting.

     Your memorialists have been the more anxious to pursue this course, in consequence of the measures of fiscal and general policy, which you have already brought into active and beneficial operation; and the strong desire which you have expressed on various occasions to make every inquiry into the condition of the working classes, with a view, if possible, to remove their present suffering.

     Your memorialists have only to lay before you a number of naked and indisputable facts, to prove to your entire satisfaction, that within a period of about twenty years, they have been reduced from a state of comparative comfort and happiness to one of absolute misery and starvation; and which, if much longer continued, must necessarily produce a frightful mass of ignorance, immorality, degradation, and crime.

          Your memorialists will now lay before you the following conclusive facts, which will clearly elucidate their former, as compared with their present condition.

     In the year 1818, a 1200 gingham, of 70 Porter, or 40 inches wide, and 28 yards to the cut, or piece, was paid with the sum of nine shillings.

     In 1843, precisely the same fabric, was 42 yards to the cut or piece, and paid with only six shillings and nine-pence!—being a reduction (considering the difference in the length of the piece). Of just one half, or 50 per cent.

     From this it is clear—if a hand loom weaver in 1818 could earn fourteen shillings per week, that in 1843, he could only earn seven shillings per week; a sum totally inadequate to supply the wants and necessities of a single individual, not to mention those of a wife and helpless family.

     In the year 1838, a Commission of Inquiry into the condition of the Hand-loom weavers was instituted by the Government, when it was shown before Mr. MUGGERIDGE, the commissioner who visited Carlisle, that the average earning of a hand loom weaver did not amount to more (after all necessary deductions were made) than six shillings per week.

     Your memorialists then thought that their cup of misery was filled to overflowing, and that no further reduction could possibly be made in their miserably low rate of wages; but in this notion, they are grieved to say, they have been most woefully disappointed.   Yes! Such has been the reckless spirit of competition and other causes, that since that period the following heavy reduction has taken place—

     In 1838, at the time when the Commission was held in Carlisle, a 1,000 gingham of 74 porters or 52 inches wide, and 60yards to the cut, or piece, was paid with nine shillings.  Now, the very same fabric, 62 yards per cut or piece, is paid seven shillings and eightpence, being a reduction of about fifteen percent .

     To prove to you that this wretched state of things was clearly foreseen and pointed out by some of the wisest legislators that have ever lived in this country, as likely to take place unless Government protection to labour were afforded.—we would direct your particular attention to the following striking portion of evidence from the Report of the Select Committee on the Hand loom Weavers Petitions; August 4, 1834.—(At page 435, Examination of Richard NEEDHAM .)

     You think the question of regulation of wages one of the most important for the well being of the country that the legislature can entertain?   I am satisfied of it from the opinion of one of the greatest men that ever lived in this country, the last Right Honourable William PITT .  I was deputed with Thomas THORPE, now living, to wait upon that gentleman.   We waited upon him, and in the course of conversation, he said, "has not the Chancellor of the Exchequer been stating that your wages must never be any higher?"   I said that he had stated that it was his opinion, that we should never get any more wages, but that the little we had should be secured by good and wholesome laws.   Mr. ADDINGTON, Now Lord SIDMOUTH declared that the little we had should be secured by good and wholesome laws, and that little, instead of being secured by good and wholesome laws, has come down from 24s to 5s 6d.


What was called "the little you had" was 24s, and that is reduced to 5s 6d?   Yes; it was in consequence of this declaration that Mr. PITT put the question, "Had not Mr. ADDINGTON stated so?"  We said he had.  He said, "The time will com, and is not far distant, when all your habits are changed, when you have left your linen and linsey-wolsey manufactures, and your small farms are destroyed, and the population are absorbed in the cotton trade of Lancashire.   Then," said he, "a villain in a town like Bolton, by setting a wicked example, will be followed by all the rest, not because they wish to do it, but because they are forced to do it; then the legislature must bestir itself, and if they are not sitting, they must instantly be summoned, to put an end to that nefarious practice;" and he said, "The moment they assemble, that moment the thing must be done, or you will give your trade away, not sell it; you will give it away to France and America; they will receive you with open arms.   Every man loves his country, but goad an Englishman, and tell him he cannot live comfortably in his own country, and he will then sell his country."
     Some of your memorialists have made a careful and minute investigation of the present earnings of the body, by taking the work done by a number of the most stead, active, and regular workmen for a number of weeks, and have found that their average earning (working from fourteen to fifteen hours per day) do not amount (after all necessary deductions are made) to more than from four to six shillings per week.

     That in the town and immediate neighbourhood of Carlisle there are nearly three thousand human beings out of a population of 22, 000, almost wholly dependant on this branch of industry for a subsistence; consequently a considerable portion of the population must be steeped in the most abject poverty, pining want, and heartless degradation.

     Your memorialists have no hope of relief from an increase of trade; for such is the reckless spirit of competition—the unbounded cupidity of the master manufacturers — and the immense and unlimited powers of machinery, that they cannot even entertain a hope on that head.   Moreover, your memorialists are at present all fully employed, which they could only be under any circumstances.

     In conclusion, you memorialists have now simply and honestly laid before you a correct statement of facts, as regards their deplorable condition, without presuming to suggest any remedy for their present unparalleled suffering, but leave their case entirely in your hands with a hope that you will cause a searching and immediate inquiry to be made into the cause or causes that have produced such a frightful mass of social and physical suffering amongst so numerous a body of her Majesty's subjects.

     Mr. John ARMSTRONG seconded the adoption of the memorial in a long and able speech, in which he gave the political economists a server castigation—and alluding to the low rate of wages received by the hand loom weavers, he drew the attention of the meeting forcibly to the effect of such low wages, in producing misery, destitution, and crime, which were always found in connection with extreme poverty.   (Cheers.)

     The motion was adopted unanimously.

     On the motion of Mr. HANSON the memorial was ordered to be signed by the Chairman on the behalf of the meeting, and forwarded to Mr. GLADSTONE, the President of the Board of Trade.

     Mr. ARTHUR then introduced the case of Mr. OASTLER to the notice of the meeting.   He stated at some length the steps now in progress elsewhere to raise a sufficient sum of money to restore that gentleman to liberty; and having dwelt upon the many claims which Mr. OASTLER had upon the public, in consequence of his opposition to the New Poor Law, and his vindication of the rights of labour, he called upon the inhabitants of Carlisle to assist in procuring for him his liberation; and suggested that a committee should be formed for that purpose, and said that, in the mean time, he would receive subscriptions, and if any gentleman would take charge of a collecting book, several had been sent down to him for distribution, and he would be glad to place them in good hands.

     Votes of thanks were then given to the Mayor for the use of the Town Hall, and to the Chairman for his conduct in the chair, after which the meeting quietly separated.