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 1818 began on Thursday, wich was a fine frosty day, but the distress in general much surpassed last Christmas, for provisions being so dear, and all kinds of labour so very low, placed the poor in a lamentable situation.

The distress of the poor was now beginning to be sharpened by a knowledge that much of it was preventible. There can be no doubt that the good feeling which had existed for the most part between the various classes of society was being seriously disturbed by the disappointed hopes of the poor, who could not understand why peace and plenty (I mean plenty of work) their condition should not have been ameliorated. We see what the causes were, however, namely, low wages and dear provisions.

January 26th -
The demand for tabbys is very brisk, and masters have advanced wages from 18s. to 20s., a cut genarly 40 yards with 7lb. 8 oz. of weft in.

Trade of all sorts rather brisk, but wages low; hatting very brisk, but wages low.

[Ref the January cost of provisions]

Coals could not have been very dear at 5s. to 7s. 6d. per ton at the pit. Tabby weaving at that time was all by hand, and the Advance Of 2s. a piece shows the good condition of the trade. What the weavers of tabby suffered from most was the increasing fineness of the yarn without a corresponding increase in prices. An old local song puts this in its truest light, from which I quote a couplet:-

There’s owd Jack ut Thorpe’s, his weft is so smo,
If he spins any finer, there’ll be noan ut o’”

Jan. 30th -
Ended Manchester quarter Sessions wich begun on the 20th, when there were upwards of 200 prisoners tried, when 42 received sentence of transportation. Squire Brooks, for receiving stolen twist from Butterworth Factory, Northmoor, 14 years transportation; John Ashworth, of Northmoor, for the same offence, acquited

All sorts of provisions are rising, except meal and flour.

Select observations. Butter, chees, bacon, beff, and mutton, are rising in price. Hatting is very plentiful, and wages are something better, but the materials to work are very bad, and require a deal of labour from the workmen. Weaving of all denominations is very brisk, also all kinds of factory work, but wages are low, particularly weaving of all denominations. Tabbys are as nigh 6d. per yard as can be calculated – namely, 20s. per piece for 40 yards, with 7lb. 8oz., some 7lb. 12oz., in, strong goods are low wages, from 15d. to 18d. per pond for velveteens or cords; light goods are much wanted, and wages rather higher than they where some time since.

Tabbies 20s., or 6d. a yard for weaving. Sixteen yards a week would be fair average work, say about 8s. for the weaver, but we shall see a change shortly.

April 15th -
Was a very large meeting at Bent Green, Oldham, on purpose to petition for reform in Parliament. The meeting disolved in the most peasable order.

Local meetings on reform were evidently conducted with great decorum. Whether they were expected to dissolve in any but the most peaceable manner is not stated; but it would almost seem as if tumult was expected. A great spirit of distrust was shown by the authorities, both local and imperial. The system of espionage adopted by the Government was the source of a vast amount of mischief, and prevented Government from learning the real wants of the people

May 24th -
At Liverpool, in the course of last week, there arived at that place from America, 70,120 barrels of flour, 109,900 bushels of wheat, which as caused a reduction in price

In the years 1816-17-18 the harvests were deficient , and to compensate for this in 1817 and 1818 American and other wheat and flour were imported. Of course, the price of wheat was above the protective value, otherwise foreign wheat could not have been imported. The average price of wheat in 1816 was 72s. 2d., in 1817 94s., in 1818 83s. 8d. The protective price was 80s. In after years the price of wheat fell to such a degree as to close our ports to foreign corn.

July 30th -A meeting took place at Four Lane Ends, Northmoor, to consider of the propriety of advancing the prices of fustian weaving.

A very great number of spinners have struck work at Manchester, Stockport, Bolton, &c., in order to raise the price of labour. The hatters have succeeded in raising the price of ruffing. The dyers have succeeded in raising their wages.

We here see what revenge the working classes were taking on their employers. There can be no doubt that much of this feeling was prompted by the fact of dear provisions which had been caused by the passing of the Corn Laws. The landlords had raised the price of corn by combination. Why should not poor people raise the price of labour by the same means?

August 25th -
The drought still continues, and so scarce is water, that people have to fetch it a long way even for comon uses, and so great is the want in above Oldham that they are winding the water out of several old coal pits to relieve the factorys and other domestic uses. There is but very little after grass or edige, and the pastures are burned up for want of rain.

Up to this time Oldham seems to have derived its water supply from its native springs. In a period of drought such as this people had to carry water for domestic uses, in some cases for long distances, waiting up during long nights at the local pumps or wells for turns to get a canful of water to supply the daily family need.

September 6th -
This last week has been a week of tumult, wonder, and trouble by the colliors, weavers, and spiners having struck working at Manchester. They where very tumultious, and one man was killed, and several wounded by being shot from a factory on the 3rd. A large number of weavers from Chadderton up Burnley-lane, with a flag, with the inscription upon it, “7s. in the pound.” They went to Ashton Moss, where they where joined by the weavers from Ashton, Stockport, &c. There were thirty-one flags flying all at once, so numerous were the weavers, and at Oldham some of the masters met the weavers, and agreed to give 1s. 11d. for every twenty-four hanks, and for tabbies 27s. a cwt., or 2/4d a hank.

This great strike was the cause of dismay and alarm throughout the country. It was about three months in duration, and workpeople asserted their right to combine in such a manner as to convince employers that they were desperately in earnest. It affected some thirty to forty thousand workpeople, chiefly weavers, although the spinners began the trouble first. The spinners were employed in factories, but the weavers were chiefly hand weavers, who worked at home, hence it took some time to unite weavers and spinners, but both eventually joined the battle, though operative spinners were doing very well at this time, while weavers were only doing badly. From the Manchester newspapers of that period I gather that fine spinners were earning 32s. a week, but from other sources, I learned that weavers could only earn about 8s. a week. Same portion of the factory people were content with their wages, and only wish to work on undisturbed. These were called at this time “nob sticks” working by forcible means, visiting the mills in a great force, and putting the willing workers in bodily fear...

The price for weaving tabby was three farthings per hank of 840 yards. The price was, therefore, 3s. 6d. a lb., for weaving 56’s weft and 3s. 9d. for 60’s. This would prevent an employer from using finer weft and not paying the extra prices. 56’s is today the basis for counts for weaving tabbies and the price is regulated by the width of the loom. The average price today is about one-seventh of what it was then. So much for the difference between hand-weaving and power loom.

Tabby weavers were the most careful of their class, and as the work was done at home they would have to find candles and houseroom.

The inscription “Seven shillings in the pound” on the flag, named in this annal was a demand for an advance of weavers’ wages of 7s. in the pound. We find by a previous annal in this year that the price for weaving tabby immediately before this strike was 20s. a piece. The price was now advanced to 27s. or 35 per cent at one stroke. Evidently trade was improving, but handloom weavers were only badly paid at this price. The lowest price for weaving tabby in this year were advanced from 18s. to 27s., or 50 per cent.

September 16th -
Spinners, weavers and colliers, are all returned to their work again, the masters in general having agreed to give them a little more on the 21st. They gave 25s. for tabbys, 55 or 60 hanks, 40 yards long, 7lb. 8oz. To 8lb. of weft in 24 hanks. They gave from 1s,. 10d. to 2s. according to kinds, &c. Light goods where rose in general about 2s. 6d. in the pound.

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