21 mills attacked in Lancashire, the 1826 riots.

The 1826 riots were a turning point in 19th-century history. 1826 was a year of depression and unrest as low cloth prices and increasing food prices drove weavers to desperate measures. The threat of revolution led the authorities to adopt brutal tactics, similar to the Nazi regime of the 1930’s. In fact, the military was sympathetic to the textile workers, however, some rioters were killed by gunfire.

The 1826 riots, handloom weavers

What triggered the 1826 riots? The tale of the handloom weavers in Lancashire is a tale of greedy bosses and government indifference. Market forces were left to decimate lives and little was done to prevent starvation. Consequently, desperation drove starving workers to attack mills and destroy power looms.

By the 1820s power looms had driven down the price of cloth. As a result, many handloom weavers were in total poverty. Most small farmers supplemented their income by weaving. Additionally, food prices were rising.

Desperation

By 1826, the price of cloth had dropped from 3s a yard in 1792, to 3 1\2d per yard, while bread had risen from 1 1\2d a pound to 2d. Additionally, the price of meat had nearly doubled. Importantly, 1500 out of 6000 looms in Bolton were idle. Consequently, the weavers of the town stated:

A good workman who formerly earned from six shillings a day cannot now earn six shillings a week by labouring 16 hours a day… with that miserable pittance we have to meet the wants of our hungry and naked families

Smash and break

The powder keg was about to erupt. In April, rioting broke out and lasted for three days. 24 mills were attacked and over 1000 looms were destroyed. A mob armed with pikes, hammers, and even guns marched from Clayton le Moors, through Accrington to Blackburn. Soon soldiers were sighted and some of the 60 or so, rioters threw their pikes into the ditch. Next, the soldiers drew their swords, and the weavers feared a charge. However, the officer just spoke to the rioters. He explained the consequences of their actions and then the troop left.

Day two began early. By 7.00 am 3000 desperate men were approaching a mill at Chatterton, owned by a Mr Aitken. Frightened mill owners now begged for protection and a troop of cavalry was placed to defend the mill. After reading the riot act, the troops prepared for battle. Stones rained down and the soldiers fired into the crowd, six were killed and many injured.

The authorities use “Gestapo” tactics, ringleaders arrested.

Rioting continued. As a result, a reign of terror began as the authorities tried to regain control. Furthermore, spies and agents were used to identify the ringleaders. Soldiers often entered houses in the middle of the night to arrest victims. consequently, workers feared returning home and hid out in mines or left the country. Twenty ringleaders were thus arrested and the rioting came to an end.

Some improvements came about as a consequence of the rioting. Most manufacturers increased the money they paid for cloth. However some “unprincipled wretches” continued to pay 30% less. Eventually peer pressure stopped this.

The 1826 riots

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