Tyldesley and District Historical Society ( Founded 1972)
did Tyldesley cotton spinners go on strike in 1823?
In 1823 a bitter strike erupted in
Tyldesley when the spinners of Messer's Jones Tyldesley new Mills withdrew
their labour for an increase in their wages. During the strike blacklegs were
employed, troops called onto the streets and authors of the national standing
of William Cobbett wrote about it. But the strike involved much more than a
stoppage for an increase in wages and the whole issue of factory work and the
condition of the workers began to be discussed.
Britain today is an urban and industrial
country. Most people live in or near a large town or city. We are used to
manufactured goods surrounding us in our homes, at school or work. Most of
these goods are made in factories. We all have an idea of what a factory is: a
large building, lots of workers, power-driven machinery and rules about health
and safety and punctuality.
new and by 1800 there were many opinions about their value and about the
conditions in which people worked. Some people believed that the new factory
system provided great opportunities for workers and businessmen. The factories
gave jobs to thousands of people and produced goods more cheaply. Others
however hated the discipline and the child labour. They saw factory workers as
little better than 'slaves', working long hours in terrible conditions for low
wages. Employers in the first mills often found it difficult to recruit
workers who did not like the 'factory system'. Many therefore employed orphan
new Mills and Messer's Jones
'Messer's Jones Brothers and
Co's mills are another Saltaire on a smaller scale. That is to say the mills
and sheds and tidy dwelling houses for the majority of operatives form a
colony by themselves' (Industries of Leigh 1885)
from J.Buckley 'Chronological History of Tyldesley
(John Buckley was a self
-educated Tyldesley man from a poor family. He was teetotal and a Methodist.
He wrote the first published History of Tyldesley)
the 18th of January 1823, all the spinners employed under Messrs.
Jones, of Tyldesley, struck work for an advance of wages, and vowed they would
never enter the mill again until they paid the same prices as the masters at
Bolton. The operatives had many
little things against Messrs. Jones, which caused them to use rather bad
language. This irritated
their employers so much that they locked up the mills, and made it publicly
known that they would not allow any of their old spinners to resume work any
more. Thus things went on, the spinners walking the streets and the
mills closed till the 2nd of March, when Messrs. Jones determined
to open the mills and allow any person to come and learn to spin.
In a very short time the mills were full of hands, and they were termed
Knobsticks, which is a vulgar name given to men who work at reduced
the new hands left off work at night, the old spinners used to lie in wait for
them and beat them unmercifully. This
led Messrs. Jones to provide beds, which they placed in the mills and many of
the new hands slept in the mills, while others lodged at the houses near them;
but even these means failed to restore peace, for there were many battles
fought and windows smashed in all directions.
Instead of things mending they grew considerably worse, which led
Messrs. Jones to apply for a few soldiers, who came to Tyldesley about the 6th
of March, and they guarded the new hands to and from their work both at
mealtimes and at night when they ceased work.
The soldiers remained at Tyldesley four or five weeks, and often were
their services required in keeping the people from breaking the peace.
By this time it was generally believed that Messrs. Jones intended to
carry out their resolution, and not allow their old hands to start again.
Seeing this many of them began to seek work elsewhere, and in a short
time nearly all of them had quitted the village.
Now that things were settled, the soldiers were sent off, and the works
went on much as usual. But the
effects of this strike for an advance of wages was felt for a long time in the
village, for many shopkeepers and publicans lost large sums of money, while
the operatives had scarcely anything to subsist on.
How much better would it be, both for masters and men, if the former
would allow the latter to come and state their grievances in a kind and
friendly manner, instead of looking at the operatives as something below them,
while it is evident to every reasonable and thinking man that their interests
fortunate to have a description of the mill supplied by another cotton master,
Richard March of Leigh. This hints at the Jones's paternalism but must be
treated with caution as it was produced at the height of the strike by a
writer who had an interest in supporting the factory owners.
Extract from Report by Richard Marsh Esq. to Robert Peel
Home Secretary October 1823 (Richard Marsh was a Leigh Magistrate and
cotton Manufacturer who was responsible to the Government for reporting on
whether the 1819 Factory Act was being applied in the Leigh/Tyldesley area)
in the factory of Messrs. Jones and Co., of Tyldesley, there were no
apprentices, nor any child under the age of 9 years employed therein. That all the persons, as well under as above the age of 16
years, were called to work at 6 oclock in the morning and ceased at ½ past
7 in the evening. That they were
daily allowed ½ hour for breakfast, and 1 hour for dinner between 11 and 2.
A Time Book was kept and they were limited to 72 hours per week.
Time lost at the Wakes was made up by ½ hours advance of day.
The ceilings and interior stalls were washed with quick lime and water
twice in every year. The factory
is lighted with gas, manufactured by Messrs. Jones, within the building on a
principle which causes no smell. A
thermometer was kept in every room, and the heat regulated so as not to exceed
72Ί. Every window had a swivel
sheet, which ventilated the room.
any of the workpeople fell sick, which seldom happened, they were maintained.
Messrs. Jones had established a sick club in their factory, and each
person subscribing one penny per week received, when sick, four shillings
weekly. That they also
maintained, at their own expense, a Sunday School for their work children, and
any others who chose to attend. The
machinery in this factory, and also the steam engine by which it was worked,
were of highly polished steel and brass, the wood principally mahogany, and
the floors, and every part of it, remarkably clean and neat, no flue was
perceptible, the atmosphere was pure; and the work people appeared to have
every comfort, and their labour to be only that of attending to the regularity
and order of the tasks during the number of hours required.
Two copies of the Act were kept as desired.
wrote about the strike in 1823. His attack on William Wilberforce was the
motive but his invective against factory labour is clear to see.
from 'Cobbetts Political Register August 1823'
Cobbett was a famous Radical politician.
Cobbett here is using evidence from the strike at Tyldesley to
criticize William Wilberforce who was trying to persuade parliament to abolish
slavery in British colonies. Cobbett believed Wilberforce should look at the
conditions of the 'free labourers' of Britain before campaigning to abolish to
the peculiar hardships which spinners have to undergo in
their employ, cooped up in factories heated by steam for 14 hours in each day
(save the nominal dinner hour) during which they are subject to such rules as
have before been related, and at night in winter they have to inhale with
every respiration the effluvia of the
noxious gas mixed with steam; and the whole day, the
dust and cotton flyings, which, with incessant labour, renders them old
men when others are hale and strong; then, unless they have been peculiarly
careful, they can turn to no business, but pine in a work-house.
of the horrid state of things when a fine for the two men being together, can be thought of as a thing necessary to be
imposed! Think of a fine,
amounting to a large part of a weeks wages, for a mans opening a window
to get a breath of cool air, after having been shut up for many hours in a
heat of from eighty to eighty-four degrees!
Look at the regulation to prevent the thirsting creatures from drinking
even the rainwater! Look at the SHOP; in short look at all
the artifices, all this ingenious mixture of force, menace and fraud; look at
the wretched creatures; look at their miseries; look at their
perishing and emaciated frames.
themselves produced a pamphlet detailing their grievances. It contains the now
well-known list of Rules at Tyldesley mill
written by strikers 1823
Tyldesley, we work 14 hours per day, including the nominal hour for dinner; - the
door is locked in working hours, except half an hour at
tea time; - the work people are not allowed to send for water to drink, in
the hot factory; - and even the rain
water is locked up, by the masters order, otherwise they would be happy
to drink even that.
night and in the winter they have to inhale with every respiration the
effluvia of the noxious gas mixed with steam and the whole day the dust and
cotton flyings which with incessant labour makes them old men when others are
hale and strong. . .. so they can turn to no business but the workhouse.
One poor, sick man was stopped 4s. because he could not work.
.. The mill owners make an extravagant charge for house-rent, and the
public will see, that whatever is cheap in Tyldesley, rents
are not. Cottages of
exceeding small dimensions are let to the workmen at the factory, at £1. 2s. per year; but they have the rent stopped, or rather,
they pay it each fortnight.
A cellar is 2s. 6d..
Cobbetts Political Register and in many books and school textbooks as an
example of factory rules in the early 19th century)
The mills closed from January until
March. Troops were called who stayed in Tyldelsey for four or five weeks. Many
of the strikers began to drift away from Tyldesley. The effect of the strike
on the town was severe. Businesses lost money, workers families went hungry.
Similar scenes were seen during the Great Depression of 1826 when once again
Jones's spinners went on strike. Once again strikebreakers were used, workers
sacked and violence ensued. Some of the strikers were imprisoned and many
never worked in Tyldesley again.