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 1813 comenced on a Friday, wich was a fine, warm, calm sunshiny day, and such scenes of distress and misery where exhibited in all poor familys as never where heard of before; not the least simtoms of ancient English hospitality or Christmas cheer was to be seen, poverty, misery, and want was the general order of the day – no ale, pies, roast or boiled beef was to be met with. People in general took no notice at all of the holiday, and all poor people continued at their different occupations. What with the price of provisions and the lowness of trade, a general gloom hung on the countenances of the poor, and the country in general are in a state of actual starvation. It is impossible to convey to posterity the lamentable situation of the country, and there is no very visable hopes of a speedy change for the better.

A darker picture than this could hardly have been drawn, even by the pessimistic pen of Rowbottom. A poor man himself, he wrote of the poor, and this annal must be taken as applying only to the condition of the poor. How faithfully he drew his outlines contemporary history abundantly testifies. These sombre lines are to be found in that most recent production of John Richard Green “A Short History of the English People” in which are focused his account of this period all the effects of light and shade which only a skilful painter can produce. To show how nearly the two artists agree, though writing at periods nearly a century apart, I produce here some of the darker shades of Green. “The war,” says he, “enriched the landowner, the capitalist, the manufacturer, the farmer, but it impoverished the poor. It is indeed from the fatal years which lie between the Peace of Amiens (1802) and Waterloo (1815) that we must date that war of classes, that social severance between rich and poor, between employers and employed, which still forms the great difficulty of English politics.”

Again while labour was thus thrown out of its older grooves (by the introduction of machinery) and the rate of wages kept down at an artificially low figure by the rapid increase of population, the rise in the price of wheat which brought wealth to the landowner and farmer, brought famine and death to the poor, for England was cut off by the war from the vast cornfields of the Continent or America, which now-a-days redress from their abundance the results of a bad harvest. Scarcity was followed by a terrible pauperization of the labouring classes. The amount of the poor-rate rose fifty per cent, and with the increase of poverty followed its inevitable result – the increase of crime –pp. 805-6.

January 10th -
white cotton, that is called boads, 2s. 2d. per pond. Weaving strong fustian is very low indeed; velveteens and cords are wove from 18d. to 22d. a pond, 24 hanks, and light goods are equally as bad. Hatting very, very scarse and wages low, and the materials very bad to be worked. Factory work is very bad, and a great number out of employ; the country in the greatest distress, and a deal of familys in a state of actual starvation.

January 20th -
The Sessions commenced at the Bayley, and ended on the 28th, when twelve received sentence of transportation. John Andrew, a banksman, of Edge-lane Colliery, for defrauding his business, two years’ imprisonment. George Mash and William Jump, two bayliffs of Oldham, for fraud and cruelty in the execution of their duty at the house of John Daniels, of Roundthorn, near Glodwick, one year each in Lancaster Castle, and at the expireation of the term to find bail for their future good behaviour.

A special commission was opened at York. There where sixty-six prisoners to try that where connected with the late disturbances in the West Riding. Three where executed for the murder of Mr. Horsfall, January 8th, and fourteen others where executed on the 16th, at half-past eleven, and the other at half-past one. These where for attacting Bawford Mill, in April last, and some for breaking into houses and stealing alms &c. Six where transported for seven years, some acquitted, and some released on bail. The judges where Sir Simon Le Blanc and Sir Alexander Thomson, knights. Counsel for the Crown where Mess. Park, Topping, and Richardson; for the prisoners, Mess. Hullock, Williams, Broughton, Courtney, and Fitzgerald.

For an account of the trial of the Luddites I must refer my readers to the historical account before referred to. The names of those hanged on the 8th were George Mellor, William Thorpe, and Thomas Smith, for the murder of Mr. Horsfall. The names of those hanged on the 16th were John Swallow, John Batley, Joseph Fisher, Job Hey, John Hill, William Hartley, James Hey, Joseph Crowther, and Nathan Hoyle, for burglary and robbery in a dwelling-house, and James Haigh, Jonathan Deane, John Ogden, Thomas Brook, and John Walker, for beginning to demolish a mill of Mr. Cartwright’s. For the part taken by him as a magistrate in suppressing these riots, Joseph Radcliffe (formerly “Pickford”) of Royton Hall, but at this time of Milns Bridge, was made into a knight and baronet.

This month concludes with very wet and cold weather, and as been so for some time. The wind for most part as been uncommonly high at south-west, and been extremely cold. The distresses of the country are behind all description; labour of all kinds is so scarse, and wages so low; weaving for cords or velveteens from 16d. to 20d. a pond 24 hanks. Tabbys with 6 pond 8 oz. in 18s., and so in proportion. Day labourers are working for 2s. a day.

Weaving of all denomination still continues very bad, especially strong goods. Hatting is a deal brisker and work more plentiful, but the sufferings of the poor is behind all description, provisions being so dear and so little for their labour

On the night of the 31st [March]
a gang of villains soon soon after dusk entered the house of David Atkinson, of Springs, within Chadderton. They forced him into the pantry, where they locked him up. They then robed the house of money and goods. They even took his wearing apparel, and they then get their supper, and decamped about one o’clock in the morning with their booty. They were armed and disguised. They fried a large quantity of bacon and eggs, and drank all his milk, and took his lantern and the sheets off his bed.

Green remarks of this period that “with the increase of poverty, followed its inevitable result, increase of crime.” This quite agrees with the many accounts given in these annals of petty burglaries. Indeed they seem to have been altogether beyond the control of the ordinary constable. Watch and ward had been, as we have already seen, kept in this district, showing the disturbed state of the country at this time.

May 21st - It appears in the Manchester papers of this date that there are 1,160 houses unoccupied, whose rents amount to £1,300. and with other premises unoccupied amount to £27,000.

Perhaps there could be no better evidence than this of the depressed state of the cotton trade, which at that time found its head emporium at Manchester. A previous annal shows how the trade shrunk during this year, chiefly on account of the distressed state of the country.

July 22nd -
Trade of nearly all sorts was never worse, especially cotton trade. At factories it is very scarse, and the wages much reduced. Weaving is very low, the best not more than 20d. a pond for up to 26 hanks in the pond. Tabby'’ are 18s. to 20s. a cut. The country in a most wretched state, few families being able by industry to get a sufficiency of bread.

The dreadful state of the country at this time is a striking contrast to what we call hard times now. The distress at this time affected nearly all the trading classes of the people, as trade seems to have been at a standstill. All the usual authorities agree on this point. Ellison says: “During this period there was considerable distress in the manufacturing districts, the suffering occasioned by the scarcity of employment being aggravated by a general rise in the price of provisions.”

August 9th -
Hatting at this time is exceedingly brisk, much more so than it has been for many years before.

Spinning is low, and so is all kinds of factory business. Weaving is very bad, and wove for a little money. Tabbys, with 6lb. 6oz. in of 50 to 60 hanks weft, for 19s. The very best of velveteens or cords are wove for 20d. a pond from 24 to 28 hanks, and inferior pieces are wove for less, but there is no scarcity of work.

Rowbottom watched very carefully the ebbing and flowing of the local trade, and in this respect his annals are truly valuable. There was evidently great irregularity at this time in all branches of trade.

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