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


The year 1808 commenced on Friday, wich was a windy, cloudy day, and an uncomon gloomy appearance for Christmas, for the weaving trade in all its branches in the ebb, wich as put the poor into a very deplorable situation, and there is no hopes of better times until a general peace takes place.

We have repeated proof in these annals of the fact that the old trade of the country was, to a great extent, dependent on the conditions of peace being maintained. The war which was being waged on the Continent brought misery and starvation to many English homes, though so far away from us. Tabbys, 17s. to 21s. per cut; all sorts of weaving very low, especially light goods; roof calicoe, 3s. 6d. a cut.

Hatting in a declining state; factory work moderately brisk.

Factory work brisk &c. Compton’s mule was at this time making great progress. It was in this year or the year after that the scutching machine of Mr. Snodgrass, of Glasgow, invented in 1797, was introduced into Lancashire, and it came into general use according to Mr. John Platt, in 1810. Before the invention of the scutching machine by Mr. Snodgrass, the raw cotton, says Mr. Baines, “was opened and cleansed by being placed upon cords stretched on a wooden frame, and then beaten by women with smooth switches” – an employment not only very fatiguing, but one looked upon as exceedingly degrading. The scutching machine not only relieved the hands of this dirty occupation, but it did the work a good deal better, and at one-twentieth of the cost. The cotton after being beaten by the switches, which were generally made of willow branches, hence the term “willowing” which is the first process now of opening cotton, was “fed on” behind the carding engine by a continuous lattice made of calico, the invention of John Lees, of Oldham. Our export trade received a great impetus at this time. The yarns sent abroad were brought into competition with those used for our home trade, which was chiefly carried on in the old hand system. This had a great depressing effect on the home trade, though it would seem great fortunes were being made in the factory business.

Select observations; -
The poor at this time are in a wretched situation, such as was seldom known before; all sorts of work both scarce and a very little for working it, and all sorts of provisions at an enormous price, makes the state of the poor to be miserable behind discription, and a great deal of families in a state of actual starvation.

May 24th - Great riots took place in Manchester this day, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, in consequence of the Weavers’ Bill being rejected in the House of Commons. These poor distressed people assembled in St. George’s Fields, near Newton-lane, to the number of 10,000 or 15,000, but did not threaten anny mischief, but beged something to be done in order to mend their wages, which are now shameful low. The magistrates called out the military, Col. Silvester’s, and the rifle coar, with the 4th Light Dragoons from the barracks, who dispersed the mob each day. Several were cut and slased to a great degree, and one poor man shot dead on the spot. Similar comotions took place in Stockport, Bolton, Bury, &c., but have not heard of any lives being lost at these places.

Wheeler says,
“In 1808 there was a renewal of disputes between the masters and the weavers with respect to wages. A meeting of the latter was held in St. George’s Fields, on the 24th of May, and was resumed the following day with such an accession of numbers that it was deemed expedient to order out the civil and military forces. This manifestation and the reading of the Riot Act not having produced the desired effect, the military were ordered to clear the ground, when one of the weavers was killed, several were wounded, and others arrested. In the course of the proceedings, Colonel Hanson addressed the populace, though previously desired to leave the ground. The officers and soldiers of the 4th Dragoon Guards presented a day’s pay to the widow of the weaver who was killed. A new list of prices was arranged, but did not prove satisfactory, and to preserve the peace of the town, it was necessary to plant military patrols for several miles on the different roads. In Rochdale the prison was destroyed, acts of violence were also committed at Ashton and Oldham. The military power was consequently augmented, and large rewards were offered for the apprehension of the ringleaders. An indictment was preferred against J. Hanson, Esq. for his share in the proceedings at Manchester.” The great friend of the weavers was Joseph Hanson, Esq., of Strangeways Hall, but such was the state of public feeling that it was even dangerous to be a friend of the poor
.Then as now, great social changes brought misery as well as happiness. Two causes were operating here. First, the ruinous war, and second, the changes in the industrial world. The weavers were anxious that parliament should interfere to raise wages, and a petition was presented to parliament to cease hostilities, and pressure was brought upon public men to get wages raised. The question had to be submitted to the arbitrament of magistrates and dragoons, and we always know how they settle such things. Several “were cut and slashed” we are told. We have not yet done with like questions. Let us hope they may be settled in a more reasonable way, and let magistrates and dragoons, and the unemployed as well, take lessons from the past in settling present and future disputes.

May 30th -
At Rochdale, the mob was very numerous. They collected the weavers’ shuttles to near a cart load. The magistrates dispersed them, put some in the prison there, but the mob released them, and burned the prison to the ground. The magistrates requested the aid of the Oldham vollonteers. The drums beat to arms, and about ninety mustered at the Royal Oak, Maygate-lane, but both the officers and men were pelted with mud and stones by the populace, and some windows were broken.

This collecting of weavers’ shuttles was to prevent those working who would have worked. This riot was, therefore, after the nature of a strike.

June 1st - A very numerous mob assembled at Oldham Edge, from wence they came down to Oldham, where they paraded the streets, broke the windows of Mr. Lees, Church-lane, and compeled the masters to sign a paper to raise the wages for weaving.

Rioting is universal all over the country where they follow weaving. A deal of damage has been done all over the country. At Bury the prison was demolished, but now the soldiers are arrived they are taking up the rioters and putting them in prison. It is believed that the cause of the riots was the Weavers’ Bill, which prayed relief to the poor weavers.

June 19th -
Rioting, although the country is full of soldiers, the weavers still manifest an inclination for riot, but the millitaria as promptly disperse them. Great numbers are daily sent to the jails, for on Monday last, the 20th, 9 were sent to New Bayley, and 4 to Lancaster from Rochdale, being the party who burned the prison on the 30th of May last.

July 4th -
The weavers at present are in a more calm state, for great numbers have been sent to different prisons, and the great militari force which is all over the country seems to keep them in awe. In Oldham, besides the vollonteers, there are a troop of the 6th Dragoon Guards and several companys of the Hereford Militia. The rest of these regiments are dispersed all over the country – viz; at Rochdale, Middleton, Bury, Heywood, &c.

September 9th
Sudden rise of cotton has thrut the country into greatest consternation, for white cotton, which a few months since was 1s. 6d., is now 3s. a pond wich has caused a deal of manufacturers to stop their workpeople of all denominations, and the poor are in a state of actual starvation.

This annal gives me a text for an interesting historical note. Napoleon had not yet spent his Spite against England, and in the previous year, on the 17th December, he issued his famous Milan decree “that any vessel clearing out from, or attempting to enter the ports of England, might be lawfully captured.” We were having a deal of cotton from America at that time... What does America do but pass a Non Intercourse Act in March, 1808, suspending all trade between France or England and the United States. The effect of this “Embargo,” as it was called, was to diminish the import of American cotton from 74,925,306 lbs. In 1807, to 43,605,982 lbs., in 1808, and raise the price from 17 1/2d. to 23 1/2d per lb. We see that to the Oldham spinner it doubled the price of American cotton. No wonder that the country was “thrut” (what an expressive word, meaning thrown) into the greatest consternation.

Cotton still keeps rising. Now selling at 3s. to 3s. 3d. of the lowest quality, and goods not rising in proportion causes the utmost confusion and distress in the cotton business. A deal of factories are now at stand, and some running four days per week. A deal of poor people are now out of employ, and consequently are starving for bread.

October 30th
The misery of the poor at this time is without parallel, for a deal are out of employ in the cotton business, especially those that are employed at the factories, and those that are employed to work at all are only allowed in work – some three and some four days per week. Weaving is most shocking bad; very good work is now only paid 2s. a pond; for weaving tabbys generally 18s. a cut; some indeed give as high as 20s., but then these must be made very good ones. Nankeens, calicoes, &c., are at a very low ebb, sand to add more misery to the poor, a deal of the necessaries of life are in riseing state, particularly flour and potatoes. Flour, 3s. 4d. a peck, potatoes 10d. a score. Cotton wool bale, 3s. a pond, and of a finer quality proportionately higher, so that the masters have very small stocks on hand, which adds more misery to the weavers, who are very much put about for want of weft.

Not only was this want of weft caused by the dearness of cotton, but export yarn was an ever growing factor, and, though foreign ports were supposed to be closed, a large contraband trade spring up, and while our cotton yarns were smuggled abroad, by a strange irony of fate Napoleon’s army were actually clothed with great coats from Leeds and boots from Northampton, under the guise of foreign manufacture.

November 9th -
The times are the most wretched ever experienced, provisions rising, price of labour falling, and a deal with no work at all, especially those that worked at factories, and a deal of failures, and taking a deal to Lancaster never were such miserable times.

This “taking” to Lancaster was not for crime but for debt.

December 8th -
The most wretched and miserable times ever experienced. Weaving never so low, and all sorts of provisions so high. Mr. Ralph Taylor, of Thorp, is now only giving 14s. a cut for 6 ponds of upwards of 50 hanks in the pond, and the cuts, 30 yeards long then, fell for the situation of the poor.

Two shillings and fourpence a pound was the price paid then for weaving 50’s into tabby velvets probably. This would be for hand weaving. It is now woven by power loom weavers for little more than one-fifth of the price, which is the lowest I have seen. In October, this year, 3s. 4d. a pound was paid. In those days it was nothing thought of to reduce the price for weaving 1s. a pound it seems.

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