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


Poor people, as may reasonable be expected, never left off working, and not a poor person in this neighbourhood that had pies, ale or rast beff. On the conterary, they had hard work and light meals. Weaving of all sorts is brisk, but wages lowe; but hatting is extreme bad – worse than was ever known before, for a deal of hatters are entirely without work, and those that have any are limited to one half, but as many as can are turned to weaving and other trades. Mule spinning is very good, and wages high.

From the newspapers of 1801 it is easily inferred that weaving wages were very low. It was proposed to settle wages question by boards of arbitration. The poverty would be very widespread, as most of the people were hand-loom wavers, and almost every house had its hand-loom. It has already been shown what the earnings were per head, and as provisions rose in price, the poor would be in a sad plight.

The one bright spot in the horizon was “mule spinning” which commanded high wages. The factory system was very different then to what it is now, the carder being paid by the weight of yarn turned out, he paying his own cardroom hands. The spinners were paid by the score of pounds weight, finding candles and paying for turning.

Prentice says:- Old inhabitants of the industrial classes shudder at the recollection of the sufferings endured in 1800 and 1801, when wheat which was before the war was 6s. a bushel, had risen to 16s. 8d., and this without any other advance of wages than such as could be attributed to the competition for labour occasioned by the introduction of new manufactures, the result of new mechanical inventions, while the wages of agricultural labour actually declined; and the poor rates, which at the commencement of the war amounted to £2,167,748, had risen to an average of £5,300,000. Mr. Hopkins, in his “Great Britain During Forty Years”, says:- “By the aristocracy, the clergy, the magistracy, and even the press, the war had been declared just and necessary, and the shouts at the Stock exchange had been echoed by the capitalists in every part of the country. Poorhouses and jails admonished them that something was rotten in the state of Denmark; short-sighted selfishness triumphed, and the most industrious and highly productive people on the face of the earth were doomed to bring into existence in abundance all that is necessary for the support and solace of man, only to have it abstracted by those around them.”

Referring to the report of the Lords’ committee in the year 1800, I find they were unanimously of opinion that the entire use of pure wheaten flour and the use of pure wheaten bread other than such as shall be made of the whole meal (the bread bran only being excluded) should be wholly discontinued, and that a mixture of at least one third of other grain should be used when it can be procured. And, further, that such reduction in the consumption even of bread so mixed should be made from the usual allowance in families (when other articles of food can be provided) as may bring it to one quarter load per head per week, or even less, as your committee are of opinion, from information they have received, that less will be sufficient in such families. The wheat might be adulterated by a mixture of barley oats and rye, any or all of them might be used. As the government were offering bounties on low-priced grain, no wonder that any sort of rubbish was imported for human food form any part of the world. No wonder also that Horn Tooke should characterise this Brown Bread Bill as the “Poisoning Act”. It was soon repealed, however, when Pitt went out of power and the Addington ministry came in. What Oldham greybeard has not heard of “Billy grund deawn”?

May 3rd
E. Butterworth says: - In the early part of 1801 numbers of individuals who were anxious for a change of Government were so misguided as to form secret associations throughout the country to effect their object. Three persons connected with this conspiracy being discovered at Oldham, they were apprehended in May that year, and at the succeeding Lancaster Assizes were sentenced to seven years’ transportation each, for having administered the oaths of the association. A report being in circulation that a political meeting was to take place at Bucton Castle, near Stalybridge, Mr. Entwistle, of Foxholes, proceeded from Bolton to Oldham at the head of 300 horse soldiers, on the 3rd of May, 1801, but finding on his arrival here the meeting he was in quest of had been dispersed, the soldiery returned to Bolton.

E. Butterworth says: - At this period the use of greatly improved machinery enabled the manufacturer to produce his commodities with so small an expenditure of labour as gave him the power to undersell the manufacturers of other countries, and yet to command high profits for himself. With these high profits he extended his business, and accordingly paid high wages compared with general rate throughout the country. But these comparatively high wages soon attracted labour from other parts, and though the increase of population showed that there was a great extension of business, yet in a short time wages in them partook of the general decline,

October 12th – PEACE
This most happy event took place on the 1st day of this month in London. It arived at Manchester on the 3rd day, where universal joy shone forth with the greatest splendor.

November 16th -
Universal happiness has once more shewed its face in this land, and has placed the poor in an enviable situation in comparisons of some of the periods since the cummencement of the late war, for what by the fall of every necessary of life, excepting butcher’s meat, and the rapid career of every sort of business, especially fustian weaving, wich was never brisker; yet wages have been much higher, although those that weave mule-spun weft will get 1 1/4d. per hank, wich is considered good wage, and those that make their own – and a deal at this time do, to the no small mortification of their old masters – make a deal better wages by 10s. a piece. Spinning, &c., at the factory is very brisk, and wages never better, so is the weaving of light goods very brisk and wages good. Hatting is not as brisk as other kinds of trade, altho’ wages are torable, but upon the whole, the very countinance of the poor is altered; for, instead of the thin, meagre, dejected countinance, we meet with nothing worse than courtious smiles. So much for this blessed peace.

Some masters give as high as 1 1/2d. per hank for weaving mule weft.

We see the silver lining to the dark cloud. The factory system was growing. I am not quite sure what the 1 1/4d. per hank means. I expect it means 1 1/4d. for every 840 yards. I rather think the weft was 20’s. The weaver would hardly earn his 2d. per hour, even at the higher rate, which was exceptional.

Dec 3rd
A Nemesis was waiting for them in the shape of the power-loom. Perhaps neither Pitt nor they dreamt of this.

Despite the doleful accounts given of the distressful state of the country, the population of Oldham increased between 1778 and 1801 faster than it ever did before, or has done since. In 1778 the population of the four townships was estimated at from 8,000 to 10,000 people. If we take 9,000 and compare it with the first official return in 1801, it shows an enormous increase of 12,000 in 23 years, the several townships numbering in 1801 as follows:- Oldham 12,024; Crompton 3,482; Chadderton 3452; Royton 2719; total of four townships 21,677, being an increase of 6 per cent, per year since 1778, the population doubling itself once every 16 ½ years

... In Oldham township only, it seems in 1801, out of 12,000 people, 5906 were engaged in trade and manufacture, and 42 solely in agriculture. Thus one half of the population worked for their living; the other half, no doubt, would be mostly children.

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