Workers starve in Blackburn, the 1826 trade slump

Lead image from a drawing by Dorothy Tennant (1855-1926).

Two hundred years ago handloom weavers were in extreme distress in East Lancashire. At the time committees were formed by the Government to look at living and working conditions as well as the option to emigrate.

An 1827 emigration committee reported that Six percent of hand loom weavers were in a state of famine. Giving evidence, the wife of a committee member, on visiting a house in Lancashire, stated:

“I found a young man who had not made a meal in twenty four hours”

Thomas Duckworth a Handloom weaver from Haslingden stated later in life:

“All farmers had loom shops and they fancied the power-loom was going to starve them to death”

Thomas Duckworth

The factory system had begun to erode the role of handloom weavers and a severe trade slump in 1826 made it very difficult for the weavers in Lancashire to survive. Wages had been driven down by unscrupulous employers. Of 10,686 weavers in Blackburn 6.412 were out of work. There was no state support or benefits. The only relief came from charities or the Church.

Home working weavers

There was a transition period in the 1820s where most weavers worked from home, often on small farms. However, power looms and factories were gradually taking over and this had begun to depress wages. Cloth could be produced more cheaply in the factories. Notably, at the time textile mills were relatively small and there were no vacancies for more workers.

The machine breaking riots

Horse soldiers restore order, Wikimedia

The situation reached breaking point on the 24th of April 1826. Rioting began in East Lancashire and power looms were attacked. disturbances continued for three days. Disgruntled weavers armed themselves with Pikes, hammers and even guns. They set out from Clayton le Moors through Accrington to Blackburn. Thomas Duckworth was among them. However, the military had been tipped off and approached the prospective loom breakers.

With remarkable restraint the commander of the horse soldiers explained what would happen if they were to proceeded. The weavers explained that they were starving and had no option but to protest. The soldiers handed out some of their rations to the protesters and moved off. Undaunted the weavers proceeded to attack Higher Grange mill in Accrington Where looms were destroyed. The destruction carried on for days.

Ringleaders arrested.

Lancaster prison gaol cells,

The disturbance were ended by using some very brutal tactics. Special Constables had been sworn in and they proceeded, at the dead of night, to arrest the ring leaders. they were dragged out of their beds and sent to Lancaster Castle prison to await their fate.

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