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The witty author of Rejected Addresses" asks, in one of his poems, What made the quartern loaf and Luddites rise ?" We purpose trying to answer that question first in this introductory chapter. If any of our readers suppose that the Luddites were all cloth finishers or croppers who had been goaded to fury by the rapid introduction of machinery, which threatened to deprive them of the means of earning a livelihood, they will find, on investigation, that they are mistaken. That the leaders of the movement in the West-riding were chiefly men of that stamp is doubtless quite correct; and that their prime object was the destruction of the obnoxious machines is also true; but there were connected with the risings, numbers of weavers, tailors, shoemakers, and representatives of almost every handicraft, who were, in most instances, on the brink of starvation, and entered the conspiracy in sheer desperation. The condition of the operative class in this country at the time these risings took place was indeed simply frightful ; and if we are to answer satisfactorily the question at the head of this chapter, it will be necessary to enlarge on this point, in order that our readers may understand clearly the cause of the discontent so universally prevalent in the manufacturing districts, and be able to judge if the wholesale condemnation which has been poured upon the heads of these ignorant and misguided men was, in all cases, fully deserved.
Great events were occuring at the time of the Luddite risings. George III had again succumbed to his mental malady, and his son acted as Regent of the kingdom. Napoleon was at the zenith of his power. A son had been born to him, who was crowned “King of Rome" in his cradle. The struggles between Wellington and the French Marshals in Spain and Portugal were getting more and more desperate. The weary war which the aristocracy of England undertook, to crush French Liberalism and to force a king upon the French nation which that high-spirited people would not have, seemed as far from its conclusion as ever. To crush Napoleon we had not only sent our own armies, but we had also in our pay all the hordes of the despots of Europe. Truly it was a revolting and humiliating spectacle.
The hard-earned money wrung from our own working people, till they rose in their misery, and even threatened king and government with destruction, went to be divided among a host of despots and slaves. The'commercial difficulties of Britain were such as might have filled the most sanguine with dismay. Closed ports on the Continent, and defective harvests at home, had caused grain to rise rapidly, until 1812, the year when Cartwright's mill was attacked, the average price of wheat was 155 shillings-a price which it had never attained before, which it has never reached since, and in all human probability will never reach again. Bonaparte had issued his famous Milan decree, by which Britain and its islands were declared in state of blockade, and also its colonies and dependencies
every part of the globe. The mercantile crisis, so often dreaded as the forerunner of national bankruptcy, had arrived, and such was the alarming state of commercial and manufacturing interests that parliament interposed by decreeing a loan of six millions to tide over the difficulty. Our foreign trade during the whole of the century had never been so low, and our home trade had dwindled into the narrowest limits, the starving population being scarcely able to purchase enough to keep soul and body together of the damaged flour at eight shillings per stone, which ran from the oven as they tried in vain to bake it. Encouraged by the high prices of grain, farmers and landlords speculated largely and gained considerable sums, but the commercial part of the community suffered dreadfully, and a more alarming account of bankruptcies was never known, their number amounting in one year to no less than 2,341, of which 26 were banking houses. In the great towns of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, and Nottinghamshire, the poor were seeking for work, or failing work, parading through the streets in gaunt famine-stricken crowds, headed by men with bloody loaves mounted on spears, crying in plaintive, wailing chorus for bread. Goaded to desperation, all sense of loyalty was driven far from them, and they stood at every street corner with lips firm set, and with frowning faces discussing wild, treasonable schemes. The world had dealt hardly with them, and they blindly sought to revenge themselves. They were too ignorant to understand that if they were miserable and starving, their masters were waging a great and glorious war; they knew only that their children were crying pitifully for bread--that the fire had died out on their hearths, and the fire of hope in their hearts. Inhumanity had driven out all better feelings, and need we wonder that they had become a prey to glib advocates of revolution and the dark whisperings of vengeance on their rulers. When trade was prosperous with them, their fare had been poor enough. White bread, which is plentiful now on every working-man's table, was only seen on Sundays, and then it was carefully portioned out. Oat-cake was then the staff of life," and oatmeal porridge an article of constant and universal consumption once a day at least, often twice, and not unfrequently three times. Flesh meat was a luxury in which they could seldom indulge, and then only to a very limited extent. Manufacturers everywhere were availing themselves of the many wonderful inventions that were being brought out for cheapening labour, and as the new machinery threw thousands out of employment when extensively introduced, the poor, misguided wretches, who could not understand how that could be a benefit which deprived them of the means of earning a livelihood and reduced them to beggary, met in secret conclaves, and resolved in their ignorance to destroy them. Had they been better instructed, they would have known that it was their duty to lie down in the nearest ditch and die. The schoolmaster was not abroad in those days, or they might have read how the British soldiers climbed up the bloody walls of Badajoz and impaled themselves upon the gleaming spikes at the top, until their bodies were piled high enough up to cover the cruel blades and their comrades could safely creep over them to victory—they had not probably read of this, we say, or they might have learned that it was their duty to lie down quietly and suffer themselves to be crushed out of existence by the advancing and unpitying wheels of Juggernaut, in order that the march of progress might not be delayed or obstructed. Had these deluded men studied Malthus, they would have at once discovered that they were altogether in the wrong in seeking to cumber the earth with their presence, when they were clearly not wanted ; for the great political economist plainly told them that “a man who is born into a world already possessed, or if society does not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is.” At nature's mighty feast there is no cover for him !" These men, however, clearly knew nothing of political economy, and had probably never heard of Malthus, much less read his famous pamphlet, and having the instinct of the first law of nature strong within them, they could not understand that it was their duty to perish of starvation. Therefore, as we have already said, they resolved to destroy the machines which took away their daily bread, and before the movement could be suppressed, more than a thousand lace and stocking frames were destroyed in Nottingham alone, and a large number of cropping machines in the West-riding of Yorkshire. Up to the time when the cropping machines were invented, cloth was finished by a process that was at once very slow and very costly. The instrument used was a very primitive one and the whole process plainly behind the age; when, therefore, the new machines were introduced, manufacturers at once realised the great gain in time and the great saving of money they would secure by adopting them, and the croppers speedily began to realise also that unless the introduction of the thrice accursed piece of mechanism which did the work so deftly could be prevented, their occupation, like Othello's, was gone. It has been said that the croppers might have turned their attention to some other method of obtaining a livelihood, but as we have shown, trade was almost non-existent, and every occupation seemed to be greatly over-stocked with hands. Every town and village was crowded with paupers, able-bodied men most of them, who would have gladly earned their living honourably had they had the opportunity. In Nottingham alone no fewer than 15,350 individuals, or nearly half the population, were at one time relieved from the poor rates, and though matters were not quiet so bad in Yorkshire, it is well known that our streets were filled with half starved workmen, wandering about in enforced idleness. That matters were bad enough in the West-riding will be evident when we state that at Heckmondwike there were exacted in that black year four poor rates of three shillings in the pound each, and the same would doubtless be the case elsewhere. It was stated in a Parliamentary return that out of a population of 200,000, in the manufacturing districts, no less than 50,000 did not receive more than twopence half-penny per day each for food.
The croppers had the reputation at this time of being a wild and reckless body of men; and the desperate deeds of which some of them were afterwards found guilty seems to show that the accusation had, at any rate, a good foundation of truth. It applied at least to some of the men employed at the finishing mill of Mr. John Wood, of Longroyd Bridge, which workshop seems to have been the chief centre of the conspiracy in this neighbourhood, though meetings of an important character took place, as we shall see, at the St. Crispin Inn, a public house at Halifax, in and around which town were a considerable number of members of the secret organisation, which had been for some months engaged in destroying stocking and lace machines at Nottingham. Their first object was to destroy all the obnoxious machinery, but they had also other purposes in view, such as the coercion, and, if necessary, the destruction of such masters as made themselves obnoxious to the society, either by persisting in introducing the machinery into their works, or by encouraging and supporting those who did. Condemning as they did the bloody war that brought them so much misery, they had also some crude notions about upsetting the Government itself, when their organisation had spread itself throughout the land, and they had collected sufficient arms and perfected themselves in military exercises. In order to carry out these aims, every member of the society was required to bind himself by a terrible oath not to divulge any of the secrets of the conspirators, and to aid in carrying out the objects of the association in every possible way.
The system of machine breaking took its rise, as we have stated, in Nottinghamshire, towards the end of 1811, and was directed against the stocking and lace frames or machines which had been lately introduced and are now most common, neither stockings nor common lace being produced in any other manner except on the domestic hearth by the few who keep up the good old practice of knitting. From Nottinghamshire, Luddism spread into Yorkshire, where the excesses soon rivalled those of the Midland district, culminating in the murder in open day of Mr. William Horsfall, of Marsden, a manufacturer who had often expressed himselt violently against the action of the workpeople. The ire of the handcroppers in this district were directed against a machine termed
" frame"-the shear frame-as was that of the Stockingers and Lacemen of Nottinghamshire. The shear frame was one by means of which the two hand shears could be worked at one and the same time instead of one by the hand cropper. And with this advantage too that while the pair of cropping shears were working across the length of the two pieces, fixed and prepared on the shear boards, the man or boy in attendance had only to stand and watch the operation until the cut was completed.
Then he had to run the shears cff the cloth to their resting place on the shear
board, unhook the cropped portion of the pieces, pull forward the other portions, hook them to the shear boards, "raise the naps” ready for the shears to cut it down to a certain height for finished eloth, and then run in the two shears again into the position necessary for them to perform the operation of cutting. *This, it is not difficult to see, was much easier for the inan than it he worked the shears himself by means of the nog, a most laborious and painful operation, especially so, indeed, until the hoof on the right wrist had been formed, by which any cropper of moderate age could be identified, arising from holding the shears and their action to and fro when impelled by the nog. In fact the shear frame served mainly for the relief of the workmen, performing for them a most arduous portion of duty. Still it was a machine and as such was doomed to destruction. Many of these machines used in this neighbourhood about 1811 and 1812 were constructed by two enterprising and industrious men named Enoch and James Taylor, who had begun life as ordinary blacksmiths, but being of an ingenious turn of mind had gradually developed into machine makers. Their residence was at Marsden and their workshop stood on what is now the site of the town's school. The great hammer used by the Luddites in breaking the frames was always called “ Enoch," after the leading partner in the firm chiefly engaged in their manufacture in this locality, the saying being common,
Enoch has made them and Enoch shall smash them.”