The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

The Peterloo Massacre - Manchester 16th August 1819

Rowbottom's Comments on Trade and Politics - 1800 to 1819
As Recorded in the Diary of William Rowbottom
Comments and additional information (in italics) are from the transcription by Samuel Andrew,
serialised in the 'Oldham Standard' between 1887 & 1889
Cost of Provisions HERE


March 3rd
This time we find these annals begin to mention “barley flour”; perhaps it was the best substitute for wheat flour, better perhaps than potatoes, but poor toiling man could not pay for wheat flour, and, therefore, he must be fed on hen meat. Potatoes, of course, were out of his reach, as well as wheat flour.

March 19
The poor are in a most shocking situation; a great deal are starving for bread, and very few can get anything better thanbarley bread, barley pottage, barley dumplins, potatoes being so excessively dear that the poor cannot buy them.

It’s all among the barley! The extremely wet weather in 1799 had had its effect both on the quantity and quality of the corn, and ushered in what are known as ‘barley times’. Flour was both bad and dear. One of my grandmothers, Mrs. Kitty Wrigley, at that time kept the Grapes Inn, Hey, and many is the story I have heard of these ‘barley times’. In outside places like Hey as much as 7s. a peck was paid for flour during these barley times, which was so bad that people in these days would hardly think the wheat from which it was made good enough to feed the hens with. It was not only discoloured, but unripe and sometimes rotten.... ometimes the wheat was ground into flour without being cleared of its outer shell, and this made the flour coarse and dark coloured, and as the wheat had lain so long in the field the bread was almost black. What the barley bread was like I never heard tell, but no doubt wheat flour and barley flour were largely mixed together. There was a certain kind of coarse flour used at this time called “Billy ground down” in allusion to William Pitt, the once popular but now unpopular Prime Minister.

April 9th
In the latter part of the last and the beginning of the present century, says E. Butterworth, a large number of weavers in Oldham, and the neighbourhood, particularly at Heyside, possessed spacious loom shops, where they not only employed many journeymen weavers, but a considerable proportion of apprentice children, procured from the parish workhouses of the metropolis and other equally distant populous places. Hundreds of these poor children, from the age of seven to fourteen, were sent down into the North, and the utmost possible quantity of work was exacted from them. They were subjected in many instances to extremely cruel treatment, although the master weavers and journeymen were at the same time gratifying their own love of independence just as their feelings or inclinations led them. This lamentable system continued to prevail more or less until the power loom transferred the weaving business from the cottage to the factory, from 1824 to 1834.

October 30th
It is with great concern that we see, after the poor have suffered so much by famine, it has pleased the Almighty to visit the poor in Oldham Workhouse with a most vilont fever, wich as carried of a great number, especelly old people. It is said that 25 are already dead and more are dying. It is now advancing in the neighbourhood, and a deal have already victims to its rage, wich I, for want of time, cannot particularize.

December 31st
The weather is exalent fine; it has been a small quantity of snow, with a keen frost, but it is now dissolved, and the earth dry and the air warm, but the miserys of the poor I am not able to describe, and it is with great concern that I state that the poor are in a very weakly condition, and that the fever is very prevalent all over the country, and as ended the miserys of many. The general distress of the poor, I leave futurity to judge.

Return to Commodities & Trade Page