- Written by Clive Hamer
POVERTY AND POPULATION EXPLOSION in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars drove large numbers of people to America, Canada and Australia in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The population of England and Ireland, almost 24 million in 1831, grew by about two million every ten years. Industrialisation and the enclosure movement were making major changes in the way people lived. Land was owned by aristocratic families and leased to tenant farmers. Except in Ireland, landowners were not absentee landlords, as their counterparts were on the continent, but were farmers themselves; and in England there were usually good relations between aristocrats and the people, who associated regularly in church and village activities; but the farmer and labourer knew how to keep their places. Farming families supplemented their incomes with domestic spinning and weaving. In the eighteenth century, life on the farms was particularly happy; families were well fed and well clothed. Weavers' pay was quite high and weavers were relatively prosperous; but this situation changed dramatically in the nineteenth century. Farms were progressively subdivided in an attempt to provide a living for younger sons; and this process went to unrealistic lengths to the point where farms were not economically viable. Farms of two and a half to five acres could scarcely keep a family of eight to ten children. Spinning, carding, bleaching, dyeing and weaving of cotton and wool and the cloth made from them went on largely in factories by this time, but the domestic system whereby members of the family did piecework for local manufacturers still provided some meagre income for those who could not find work on farms, in factories or in coal pits.
Rent Rolls for the Lordship of Bradshaw, in Lancashire, show that tenancy of farms was passed on within the same families for generations. The Hamer family, specifically our direct ancestors, held the same two farms, “The Hollins” and “Pillings”, and later also “Harry Fold” – probably a corruption of “Higher Fold”, from 1694 to the nineteenth century, and may have done so even before that time, if records could be found. (There is some uncertainty about the identification of “Pillings” and “Harry Fold”, which may have been two different names for the same farm.) These Rolls indicate that the landlord was benevolent. They show that when James Hamer, who was leasing the demesne lands at Bradshaw Hall, (1733 to 1753) he was allowed to hold over rent from one year to the next, presumably until he could meet his commitments. His was the largest rental of all Bradshaw’s tenants, and it appears that varying economic conditions required some leniency in allowing him to defer payment of rent. Another of our family, John Hamer [probably TH131], was occupying a house on the estate rent free for several years. He was born in 1680 and by 1755 perhaps he was growing old and unable to carry on farming. This demonstrates the benevolence of the system in these particular instances. Such examples in the treatment of tenants could have been multiplied throughout England, in contrast to other cases, increasing in number as the Industrial Revolution progressed, where the poorer classes were regarded as dispensable. This attitude was more prevalent where absentee landlords prevailed, as in Ireland. Despite the evidence of the Bradshaws’ generosity to the Hamer family and to their own distant relatives still living on the Estate, Thomas Hamer [TH121] (of “Pillings”) and Roger Bradshaw were among the petitioners seeking financial assistance for rebuilding the Chapel in 1774 who complained that the local people were “greatly burdened with poor” and were “chiefly tenants at rack-rents”.1
As families grew and farms were subdivided to a point where further subdivision was no longer feasible, many moved to the growing industrial towns in search of work. Manchester, in Lancashire, and Bradford, in Yorkshire, were typical towns that grew rapidly at this period. Manchester's population grew from 90,000 in 1801 to 230,000 in 1831 and 400,000 in 1851. Steam looms began to monopolise weaving and hand loom workers starved. The consequent growth in the building industry provided a lot of employment but in all trades wages were very low and for most people employment was intermittent. Working hours were long, education sparse and leisure pursuits were crude or non-existent. Religion was the only distraction from a fairly drab life. New houses in these ugly, unplanned towns were gerry-built, drab and unhygienic; people lived and worked amid dirt and stench and overcrowded conditions. Because of utter poverty, weavers, woolcombers and other textile workers had no option but to carry on their occupations in their living quarters which typically comprised one room used for cooking, eating, sleeping and working. Because of the intense cold they had a coal or charcoal fire constantly burning, creating deadly vapours in ill-ventilated rooms, often leading to death from asphyxiation.2 Bradford, where the Peacocks, one of our immigrant families, lived was also apparently a filthy place in the 1830s and 1840s. A Commission set up to report on the health of English Towns reported that it was "the dirtiest and worst regulated town in the United Kingdom", and James Smith, a campaigner for sanitary reform, said in 1845 that it was the "most filthy town I visited".3
A document entitled "Report of the Bradford Sanatory [sic] Committee" (Bradford Woolcombers' Report of 1845)4 lists several examples of such combined living and working conditions. Cases taken from the New Leeds District of Bradford (where the Peacocks lived prior to emigration in 1840), give summaries of conditions such as the following: (a) Five people living in an apartment 15 feet by 12 feet 2 inches, where three people work over a charcoal fire and the five sleep in two beds. (b) Seven people living in an upstairs room 14 feet by 12 feet 4 inches, with bad drainage and poor ventilation, with four people working over a coal fire, the seven sleeping in three beds. (c) Five people living in a cellar four feet below ground level, with walls black with damp in which four people work over a charcoal fire and all five sleep in one bed, amidst an intolerable stench. The Bowling Iron Works created a constant atmosphere of smoke and sulphur fumes that permeated the whole New Leeds area. It was a polluted atmosphere which the Peacocks would have been glad to get out of.
A medical observer writing in 1832 about conditions in Manchester reported: "The population is crowded into one dense mass, in cottages separated by narrow, unpaved and almost pestilential streets; in an atmosphere loaded with smoke and exhalations of a large manufacturing city. The operatives are congregated in rooms and workshops during twelve hours in a day, in an enervating, heated atmosphere, which is frequently loaded with dust or filaments of cotton, or impure from constant respiration, or from other causes. They are engaged in an employment that absorbs their attention, and unremittingly employs their physical energies. They are drudges who watch the movements, and assist the operations, of a mighty material force, which toils with an energy ever unconscious of fatigue. The persevering labour of the operative must rival the mathematical precision, the incessant motion, and the exhaustless power of the machine. Hence, besides the negative results - the abstraction of moral and intellectual stimuli - the absence of variety - banishment from the grateful air and the cheering influences of light, the physical energies are impaired by toil and imperfect nutrition. The artisan seldom possesses sufficient moral dignity or intellectual or organic strength, to resist the seductions of appetite. His wife and children, subject to the same processes, have little power to cheer his remaining moments of leisure. Domestic economy is neglected, domestic comforts too frequently unknown......His house is ill furnished, uncleanly and often ill ventilated, perhaps damp; his food, from want of forethought and domestic economy, is meagre and unnutritious; he generally becomes debilitated and hypochondriacal, and unless supported by principle, falls the victim of dissipation."5
The diet of farmers and workers was largely bread and cheese and potatoes, supplemented by vegetables in season. Those who could not find work were given meagre poor relief, and often the elderly saw out their time in Workhouses. Virtually the only hospitals were those provided by the Workhouses, but nurses were available to call on the extremely ill in their homes. The Workhouse was regarded with fear and contempt, and only rock-bottom starvation, ill-health or despair would induce people to go there. Most, however, shunned the Workhouse until they were almost on the point of death, when they had themselves admitted for the benefit of burial in a pauper's grave. Adults, children, criminals and the insane were not segregated in Workhouse dormitories; and inmates were not allowed out at all, not even to go to church. Typhus and cholera spread in Workhouses. Many died on the road as they tried to reach the Workhouse, or died shortly after entry, from malnutrition and general privation.
Canals were built and roads improved considerably by 1830, maintained by municipal and private trusts. Tolls and turnpikes were gradually disappearing. Railways began to develop after 1825, at first private railways linking coalmines and factories. The work on the roads was done by paupers employed by the parish in return for poor relief; but railways required more expert work. The Enclosure Movement was completed by 1830: noblemen enclosed the land and every small farm was fenced or hedged. Noblemen lived in noble houses and leased out most of their land to small farmers. The growing towns provided increasing markets for flour, dairy produce and vegetables.
INCREASED POPULATION BROUGHT ON FAMINE which was particularly severe in Ireland (including Northern Ireland where two of our emigrant families came from). The Irish migrated in large numbers to the north-west of England, particularly Lancashire, creating a further burden on pauper provision in the parishes there. The Great Famine in Ireland dates from about 1845 to about 1852. The government of Lord John Russell, believing Adam Smith's and Bentham's doctrine that the market forces should not be interfered with, did little to feed those who were starving. Poverty was regarded as a self-imposed and disgraceful condition, undeserving of relief. Voluntary bodies were founded by philanthropic noblemen to relieve distress. Potato blight spread in Ireland between 1845 and 1847, and starvation was at its worst at that time. Limited public works were embarked on to provide some employment but this had little impact. Prices of food were so high that the scanty wages provided little relief. The government was forced to open soup kitchens in Ireland in 1847; up till then some local landlords had set up soup kitchens. Sir Robert Peel's government imported Indian corn (maize) from America, and Indian corn meal replaced potatoes as the staple food during the Potato Famine. The corn was so hard that people found it virtually impossible to eat it unground, but in time meal was supplied from central mills; but the Irish regarded it as a disgrace to fall so low as to condescend to eat it. Starvation was accompanied by typhoid, carried by lice, which made life almost unbearable. Public works on canals and roads employed many for a pittance, but this provided very little relief. Corn meal diets were sometimes supplemented by eating rats and birds, or by boiling nettles, sorrel and dock leaves. Carts taking grain to markets were robbed, but still people starved to death, often with no one to give them a burial.
The British government set up a number of Select Committees to examine ways of relieving distress in Ireland, but little came of the recommendations except some emphasis on emigration. There were Enquiries in 1819, 1826, 1827, 1836 and 1842, but little was done. The Devon Commission (chaired by the Earl of Devon) made a very thorough investigation of conditions in Ireland in 1845.6 They interviewed witnesses all over Ireland, and their Report gives, besides a general summary of conditions, the verbatim evidence of every witness. It observed that the system of land tenure in Ireland was still in a more feudal state than elsewhere in Britain; and that the extensive settlement of Scottish and English people in Ulster and Munster had introduced habits and customs different from those in other parts of Ireland. This is of interest in this History since two of our pioneer families came from County Armagh in Ulster.
The landed proprietors set up in Ulster by James I and Cromwell were by and large not absentee landlords as in other parts of Ireland. There were laws discriminating against Catholics and religious non-conformists which imposed restrictions on farming. A law of 1771 allowed a Catholic to lease no more than ten acres for no longer than 61 years, or more than 50 acres of bog, with half an acre of arable land for a house, provided it was not within a mile of a town. From this arose the slighting reference to "Bog Irish"; but what chance did they have of a good life? This law was eased in 1777 and 1782. Middlemen usually arranged tenancies, making a commission for themselves; but this system declined after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 because poverty became so acute that it was hard to find tenants who could afford the rent.
Tenancy of farms in Ireland was for life in most instances, but tenants were evicted if they defaulted in paying the rent. In Ulster, there was a system of paying a large sum for goodwill (called "tenant-right") when a farm changed hands. This left a new farmer with little capital for improvements such as drainage, which was desperately needed in most parts of Ireland. Farms in most instances were very small, in some cases only one or two roods, although some of the better-off farmers held twenty, or even 40, acres in a few cases.7 Rarely did proprietors provide houses, buildings or fences. Because the tenant lacked security of tenure he usually built only a primitive house and made only rudimentary improvements to the farm. Labourers were even worse off. Some landowners, however, provided a house for regular workmen, but this consisted of one room and an outshot, or bay, for sleeping. No work was available for a labourer in winter. He could rent a small area to grow potatoes, but few could afford this. The result was that many grew vegetables and ran pigs on public roads, for which they could be fined or imprisoned. Some owners at this period were consolidating farms that had been subdivided to absurdly uneconomic sizes, but this meant that many tenants had to be evicted. They moved to towns (in both Ireland and England), where they lived in crowded, diseased conditions, often several families to one room or in a cellar, and either lived by theft or starved to death. It was a moot point whether they were better off remaining as paupers on one or two roods trying to exist by subsistence farming or dying in squalor in towns.
Poor rates and County Cess (an old name for tax, short for assessment) had to be paid, and few owners made any attempt to help tenants pay these rates. Eviction frequently led to violence and murder. Between 1849 and 1851, nearly 45000 families were evicted from their homes in Ireland. There was much more bitterness between the landlord, or his agent, and the tenant in Ireland than there was in England. Absentee landlords were less concerned about the welfare of their farmers and got as much money out of them as they could. The landlords had their own surveyors to measure the farms and frequently the farmers did not trust them. Roads going through a farm were measured as part of the farm and had to be paid for in rent. If the proprietor or middleman took over a farm he frequently refused to pay tenant-right which a farmer would have received if he sold his tenancy to a third party. When a farmer made improvements the rent was usually increased.
THINGS WERE LITTLE BETTER in the industrial parts of the northern counties of England. In 1841, the year that Andrew Hamer arrived in Australia as a refugee from poverty and typhus in Manchester and Bolton, the British government set up an Enquiry into reports that several people had died of starvation in Bolton. These reports emanated from a local doctor and a group agitating for the repeal of the Corn Laws but were largely discounted as being politically motivated, despite evidence that the families concerned were living in conditions of direst poverty. The Report recorded evidence that the children of unemployed weavers were observed lying in crowded rooms and cellars on beds of straw without covering and surrounded by filth. The Board of the Bolton Poor Law Union defended their activities in relieving distress at the rate of two shillings and threepence per head per week. The wives and families of the deceased people investigated confirmed that this relief had been received and in some cases members of the families had jobs that were bringing money into the homes. Nevertheless, one witness reported that he had seen one of the victims of starvation pick up rotten potatoes that had been discarded in the street and boil them for food. The Workhouse in Bolton was most inadequate and the "guardians" refused to consent to the erection of a new one. This led, according to the Report, to "aggravation of the sufferings of the sick, the torment of the aged, and the corruption of the young".8 The only hospitals in most towns were those provided by the Workhouse, but Bolton Workhouse had no hospital. The Poor Law commissioners argued that provision of excessive relief led weavers to be less industrious because they could make as much money from relief as from weaving. Farmers often put labourers on half wages and the labourers then claimed the deficiency from poor relief. Because of unemployment, which it was claimed was actually caused by the fact that poor relief was available, children were at large in the streets - the point being made was not that their unemployed parents were neglecting them but that the children themselves were unemployed. These children thus acquired bad habits such as petty pilfering and prostitution. It was claimed by some witnesses that poaching was the product of idleness, not hunger. The Workhouse was seen as a handy threat to stop people complaining at times when they could not get work and no relief work could be done because heavy snow made it impossible to dig ditches. The great depression worsened in 1841 and people "beat about the country" looking for work. Aid, it was claimed, produced "idleness, mendicity and juvenile delinquency, at the expense of hard-working ratepayers". After people had been on relief it was difficult to create in them afterwards a habit of independence. "It deteriorates the workman because it makes him indifferent about his work". In the Bolton Workhouse people were sleeping three in a bed, with poor ventilation, surrounded by cases of typhoid fever. There were 87 beds for 236 men, women and children. Children had to share beds with adults, and they frequently wet the beds. On the ground floor there were eighteen to twenty people per room. It was believed that making Workhouse conditions unattractive and poor relief hard to get would force starving people to seek work which, of course, was just not available. The Poor Law of 1834 (not introduced to Lancashire and Yorkshire until 1837) had made conditions harder than they had been previously. The law required that a man and his wife in the Workhouse must be separated to prevent breeding; and poor relief was not available outside the Workhouse. The economic depression from 1838 to 1842 caused severe unemployment but the poor resisted attempts to persuade them to enter Workhouses. Local Guardians - the forerunners of local government - were appointed to administer Workhouses and poor relief.
There were cholera and typhoid epidemics throughout England in the 1830s and 1840s. The Medical Officer at the Bolton Union (responsible for unemployment relief) reported that there were 200 to 300 cases of typhus amongst paupers in Bolton in 1840 (the year that Andrew and Sarah Hamer left). Because of the absence of any hospital they had to be treated in their own dwellings, which in most cases were overcrowded and unclean cellars, poorly ventilated. Usually the whole family was sick with typhus at the same time, and a nurse had to be provided for each family.
One Richard Haslam gave evidence that he had resigned from his position as relief officer in protest against relief being handed out too freely, without provision for employing the recipients in breaking stones; and, furthermore, mothers of bastards, on the increase in Bolton, were given the same relief as mothers of legitimate children. It was suggested that workers who refused to accept lower wages in their employment should not be given relief, but the Poor Law Commissioners ruled that the only criterion for relief was to be the level of destitution. Weavers objected strongly to being put to work at quarrying or draining; and this drove many to find work for themselves. Paupers often left road-making jobs before the project was finished. Unemployed weavers often rioted and smashed power looms, while agricultural workers rebelled against the introduction of threshing machines.
THE PERIOD FOLLOWING THE NAPOLEONIC WARS was also a time of political repression. The Habeas Corpus Act was suspended and public meetings were banned. Up until 1829, Roman Catholics and Dissenters were not allowed to worship within five miles of the centre of a town (under the 1662 Act of Uniformity and the Five Mile Act of 1665). Thus we find non-conformist chapels built outside the towns, in the surrounding villages. The Whig Party replaced the Tories in government in 1830, and the slow process of political and social reform began. The Whigs were a middle class party greatly influenced by the humanitarian principles that had been fostered in the eighteenth century by John Wesley and Charles Fox, and carried into the nineteenth century by the Evangelicals of the Church of England such as Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce (although Wilberforce, while sympathetic with the suffering of the poor, was opposed to factory reforms because he accepted the contemporary economic doctrine of the sanctity of the market), and by literary men like Southey and Dickens.
Up to 1832 the aristocracy dominated politics, with much corruption and abuse. The 1832 Reform Act eliminated rotten and pocket boroughs disenfranchising towns of less than 2000 inhabitants and increasing representation in larger towns, some of which had had no parliamentary representation up to that time. Bolton, a rapidly growing town, was first enfranchised by this Act. The spare seats were re-distributed to the new industrial towns like Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Manchester in Yorkshire and Lancashire. Every householder in these towns who paid an annual rental of £10 or had a leasehold valued at £50 and over per year was given the vote. Although the poor gained nothing from the 1832 Reform Act, the influence of the middle class persuaded parliament to introduce reforms in law, church, municipal government, poor relief and factory conditions and to abolish slavery. Parliament recommended, however, that Workhouse conditions and Workhouse food should be kept at a low standard to discourage people from becoming poor. Workhouses were formidable places like prisons, surrounded by high walls, from which few people emerged before death. They were feared by the poor. Shaftesbury's Royal Commission into the working conditions of women and children in mines reported in 1842 that boys and girls from the age of eight and sometimes younger were working underground for up to sixteen hours a day, crawling on all fours to drag loaded coal-skips along tunnels thirty inches high over floors covered in mud. An Act to prohibit this was passed in 1842 but met opposition not only from the coal mine owners but also from the parents of children who desperately needed the children's meagre wages. The Factory Acts of 1819 had controlled child labour in cotton mills, but this did not apply to bleaching and dyeing work until 1857. Acts passed in 1819 had placed severe restrictions on political activities by the working classes, since the governing classes were afraid of the hordes of unemployed men returned from the Napoleonic Wars. Inspired by the writings of Tom Paine, the workers were left little option but agitation and violence. Repression was severe: the worst example of this was the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in 1819, when yeomanry soldiers attacked with sabres an unarmed crowd killing eleven and wounding 600. Many were executed in retribution for daring to stage a protest demonstration.
Bitterly disappointed by the 1832 Reform Act, the lower and middle classes immediately began to form networks of Workingmen's Associations throughout the country which, as further political reform was denied, became the basis for the Chartist movement. These groups organised mass meetings in key towns, especially in industrial centres, and began collecting signatures for a Petition to Parliament. The meeting in Manchester in 1838 attracted a crowd of over 300000 from all the neighbouring towns, including Bolton. The speeches of agitators became more and more violent in language, though often couched in veiled terms. Chartist groups spread, at first largely inspired by humanitarian and Christian workers; but the movement was soon taken over by those who incited the workers to violence, and the Chartists were seen as dangerous radicals. Meetings were often held in churches and chapels (including the Chapel of the Jumping Ranters, in Bradford) and frequently centred around prayer meetings. However, this degenerated into a handy front for revolutionaries plotting violence. The incongruity of inciting violence with prayer was not lost on many of the workers. The working class had no political representation and no progress was made in bringing about increased wages or of dealing with problems of starvation and oppression. Their consequent desperation made them ready tools for people wanting to foment revolution. The leaders of the Chartist movement were divided on the question of the use of force and some of them prevaricated on the issue. Nevertheless, wild speeches were calculated to stir up the people. One of the most virulent agitators, Rev Joseph Stephens, a Methodist minister expelled by his church for his violent advocacy of reform, was arrested in Manchester for sedition in 1839 and taken before the magistrates. His exceptional popularity with the people led to large and excited gatherings in the streets not only in Manchester and surrounding towns but also all over the country. The Hamer family, living in the centre of Bolton only ten miles away, would have witnessed these stirring scenes, which would have aroused apprehension amongst the law-abiding members of the population. Before his trial in Chester, Stephens recanted and considerably moderated his language, but was nevertheless imprisoned for eighteen months. All of this, added to the constant threat of unemployment and the spread of typhoid in Bolton, could well have encouraged Andrew Hamer to seek more peaceful and more promising surroundings in Australia.
Afraid of the excesses of the mob and concerned that radical reform would encourage unrest, the Whigs became more conservative, so much so that they earned the persistent contempt of the working classes, and the poor soon lost confidence in their capacity and will to achieve reform. In the words of a resolution of a Chartist rally, the people regarded them as "a greedy, grasping, grinding, canting, shuffling, lying, hypocritical, two-faced, double-distilled party of political imposters."9 Other avenues of reform were pursued, the most popular being the Anti-Corn Law League. Trade unions, encouraged by Robert Owen, a wealthy factory owner in Scotland who later moved to Rochdale where he started the cooperative movement, began to flourish.
The Poor Law of 1834, implemented in Lancashire and Yorkshire in 1837, brought little relief because it was still based on the principle that relief encouraged idleness and the poor needed to be disciplined. The law also tended to keep paupers in the villages because the Parish would give help only to those who had resided there for several years. The Chartists had a six-point programme which seems to us today to be very mild: universal male suffrage, annual parliaments, payment of members of parliament, secret ballot, abolition of property qualifications, and equal electorates. The Chartist leaders were imprisoned in 1839 and 1840 following riots in a number of places including Bradford. Working people themselves deserted the Chartist ranks for fear of the effects of violence.
A booklet called Bradford Chartism 1838-1840, by A J Peacock, gives details about the abortive Chartist riot in Bradford in 1840. The incidents surrounding this could well have been a direct cause of William and Rebecca Peacock's leaving Bradford for Australia in the following year. When the Poor Law was implemented in Bradford in 1837, at a time of serious unemployment, the workers, led by the Bradford Radical Association, demonstrated in front of the Court House when the Board of Guardians met for the first time, and a pitched battle took place between workers and special constables recruited for the occasion. A Chartist Convention was held in London in 1839 and a Petition was prepared for presentation to parliament. A meeting of over 3000 in Bradford had adopted the petition in 1838, and also set up the Bradford Northern Union, which expanded rapidly. Anticipating that the petition would not be accepted, Chartists advocating physical force began to prepare for uprisings throughout the country. There was eager expectation of revolution in Bradford from January,1839, in response to the activities of an agitator named Bussey. A man named John Peacock, a draper, was prominent amongst the Bradford Chartists. Leaders were being arrested throughout the country and the Chartists were squabbling amongst themselves on the questions of strike action and the use of violence. Bradford was generally in favour of a general strike and also of forming associations for the purchase of weapons. Armed men began drilling, grinding pikes and making grenades in Bradford from April, 1839. Shopkeepers were asked to contribute to a fund to buy weapons and any refusing to cooperate were to be boycotted. In the event, the idea of a general strike was abandoned; and the Chartist movement lost a great deal of support from workers who opposed violence, despite the holding of weekly, and even nightly, meetings and rallies. Fearing arrest, Bussey, the Bradford leader, fled to America. The economic depression that began in 1837 was greatly intensifying, unemployment worsened, wages continued to fall, and there was much suffering from poverty and starvation, typhus, smallpox and crime. There were constant rumours of an impending uprising, but only minor incidents occurred. In January, 1840, Chartist mobs seized and detained two watchmen, in separate incidents. When confronted by a large group of special constables the insurgents dispersed, throwing away their weapons as they ran, without a single shot being fired. The Bradford Observer reported that "scarcely any of the inhabitants were aware of what was passing".10 Nevertheless, news of the incident spread and alarmed the Bradford people. Arrests were made and prisoners were kept in the heavily guarded Court House. Some were discharged and others received sentences varying from one to three years. The Anti-Corn Law League, led by Cobden and Bright, replaced the Chartists in popular support in 1840. Chartism did not discontinue but became an underground movement which went on for another ten years, but was seriously weakened by internal division. Disaffected Chartists were induced to support the Anti-Corn Law League, which was largely a middle class movement. Bradford remained the centre of Chartist activity in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The government planted an agent provocateur in the Chartist ranks after the abortive uprising in Bradford to spy on their activities and to incite them to commit indictable offences.
The Corn Law prevented the import of cheap grain, maintaining the local market in the interests of British landowners. The new industrialists (including Bright and the Entwistles at Rochdale) were looking for export markets for their manufactured cloth, and so opposed restrictions on trade and demanded tariff reform. Cotton manufactures from the mills of the Midlands and northern counties of England made up over half of Britain's exports. British iron and coal were also exported in large quantities. Because of this, there was more chance of persuading parliament to address the problem of starvation by removing the Corn Laws than of persuading it to extend the franchise so as to introduce further reform. The middle classes who stood to benefit by repeal of the Corn Laws therefore enticed many of the working classes to support Free Trade rather than the potentially explosive cause of Chartism. A new Tory government from 1841 gradually abolished the Corn Laws and simplified the tariff system and repealed the Navigation Acts which gave English ships a monopoly of sea trade with England. Thus the Corn Laws were removed in the interests of the wealthy rather than because of any compassion for the poor, although rotten potatoes in Ireland finally hastened the process. While the Anti-Corn Law League was a middle class movement, many workers still put their faith in the Chartists, but this movement was suppressed after 1848, following further Chartist riots in Bradford, London, and other cities.11
A group of politicians known as the Theorists began to advocate emigration to the colonies in 1830 to relieve distress amongst the working class. They were Lord Durham, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Charles Buller and Sir William Molesworth. They urged that the colonies in Canada and Australia be given self-government, that land in the colonies should be sold, not granted free, and that emigration should be financed from the proceeds.12 Increasing trade in grain and wool from the colonies encouraged support for these proposals. Australia was the main source of fine wool from 1835. Canada was given self-government in 1846 despite the problem there of racial tension between English and French settlers. The problem of the convict system in Australia was more difficult; but Molesworth was working on that, and transportation to New South Wales ceased in 1840, but, despite this, self-government for New South Wales, South Australia (where there were no convicts), Tasmania and Queensland was not granted until 1856.
MOST EMIGRATION WAS INDIVIDUAL AND UNORGANISED except for that arranged by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners after 1840. The provision of assisted passages applied mostly to migrants to Australia. Assisted passages cost each passenger £8 and each family £15. A total of 656,000 emigrated from Britain in the decade 1831 to 1841; one and a half million from 1841 to 1851; and two million between 1851 and 1861. This level of emigration was maintained until 1890 when a downturn began.13 Sixty percent went to America; the rest went to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Landlords in Ireland and prosperous settlers in Australia also helped to finance migration. Private and church institutions were also formed for this purpose.
Lord Bathurst and Lord Goulburn had set up the Colonial Office in 1832 and began careful planning and administration of the colonies for the first time. Free emigration to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land had been encouraged from that time, but was mainly restricted to people with capital who were prospective landowners relying on convict labour. In 1840, Lord John Russell established the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission which provided assisted passages for migrants, and the numbers of migrants increased dramatically.
The building of railways began in England in 1825. The first public railways (about 10 miles long) were the Bolton to Leigh Railway in the north west of England, which opened in 1828; and the Stockton to Darlington Railway on the east coast. The London to Birmingham Railway, the first major line, opened in 1837. The economy boomed in 1836 and 1837, but a severe depression set in from 1838 to 1843. After this, recovery was slow until 1848, and the expansion of railways did not proceed very far until after 1850. The Midland Railway Company controlling lines to Lancashire and Yorkshire was the most flourishing. The heyday of canals was over, and most of them became simply feeders for the railways. Navvies (inland navigators) who had been trained to work on canals transferred to the railways.
Steam power replaced water power in mills almost totally by 1850. This increased the demand for coal production which grew from 15 million tons annually in 1815 to 50 million tons annually in 1850. Shallow pits were soon exhausted and coal mines developed only in areas with deep coal seams. In 1851 agriculture was still the biggest employer of labour, followed by domestic service and the cotton industry.
1848, the year in which Karl Marx's Manifesto appeared, was a year of revolutions across Europe. English radicals, in large public meetings, expressed support for their continental brethren, and some leaders travelled to various European countries to make contact with the democratic movements there. The "revolution" in Britain, though characterised by Chartist-inspired riots and unrest, and a half-hearted quixotic incident in Ireland, was not the large-scale violent uprising that it was on the continent, chiefly because the Chartist movement had become divided and debilitated. Other reform movements were active in England, but the people generally had reached the point where they despaired of a quick, comprehensive improvement in their living conditions through parliamentary reform, which nevertheless occurred slowly over the next fifty years or so. Employers and workers in Britain were prepared to compromise. Factory reform was gradually introduced. After 1827, women and children were not to work more than ten hours a day; but this requirement was more often evaded than not, often as a result of the demands of the workers themselves. Cooperatives (started by Robert Owen in Rochdale), Friendly Societies, Lodges and Mutual Aid Societies flourished, providing for workers to band together for mutual self-help. Trade unions employed strikes as a weapon, but not revolution. The notion of the class struggle had a brief run in the 1830s in the proposal for the Grand National Union which would form an alternative government and eventually replace the existing corrupt and unreformed parliament; but this movement, inspired largely by Robert Owen, which gained considerable support in Bradford, was short-lived. Trade unions, which were legalised in 1820, tended to be organised locally, not nationally, and their aim was to improve their own working conditions, not overthrow their oppressors.
In the early part of the nineteenth century education in Britain was fairly backward. Elementary education was provided by private or church schools. Apart from the Great Public Schools which were restricted to the sons of the wealthy there were Dame Schools run by women who charged about threepence per week. Some were efficient, neat and clean; some, like Dotheboys Hall,14 were dirty, severe and deleterious. Church schools were run by the Church of England and non-conformist churches, with a few Roman Catholic schools. The churches also set up societies to teach reading and the study of the Bible for the poor. Much of this was done in Sunday Schools since working children had only Sunday free. These were funded by public subscription, with some state aid after 1832. The monitorial system of teaching was the most common: a headmaster taught the daily lesson to senior students or monitors who in turn taught it to classes. Discipline was severe and standards of learning were low. Only half could read by the time they left school. Most of those who attended school at all - and they were a minority - stayed at school for an average of about eighteen months. In 1846 teacher training was introduced, together with a rigid examination system. Education was not greatly improved until 1870 following the 1867 Reform Act which improved the parliamentary franchise.
IT SO HAPPENS THAT WE HAVE A DETAILED RECORD OF WAGES for workers in the cotton industry for Bolton in Lancashire (where one of our settler families came from).15 Domestic spinning was virtually completely replaced by factory spinning by 1780 as a result of the inventions of Kay, Hargreaves, Wyatt, Arkwright and Crompton (most of whom operated in Bolton), but the various activities associated with weaving still continued in homes well into the nineteenth century. Handloom weavers could not cope with the cotton supply that came from Crompton's spinning mules; wages rose and there was a rush of workers into the trade. In about 1800 cotton weavers' wages in Bolton were 25 shillings a week. Cartwright built a factory using a power loom in 1787, first using horsepower (with a whim) and later steam power. However, early experiments with power looms were failures. When Crompton and Grimshaw set up a factory using power looms in Manchester in 1791 skilled workers burnt it down; and until the power loom was fully proven most manufacturers were reluctant to introduce it. However, following improvements by Samuel Horrocks and William Radcliffe (also of Bolton), power looms were in widespread use in Lancashire by 1820. The Napoleonic Wars, however, had interrupted the supply of cotton from America. This and the spread of power looms led to a sharp decline in the wages of handloom weavers. By 1810 they had fallen to 15 shillings a week. In 1814 (one year before the end of the Napoleonic Wars) they recovered to 24 shillings a week, but collapsed again in 1818 to nine shillings a week. Wages in Bolton were usually higher than in Lancashire as a whole; and this was starvation level. Handloom weavers could only get work if they accepted these desperately low wages. Skilled workers operating Crompton's spinning mule, however, were receiving 26 shillings in 1806 and 24 shillings and sixpence in 1832. Power loom weavers were receiving 14 shillings in 1816 and 11 shillings in 1832.
The period from 1837 to 1842 was particularly lean when there was widespread unemployment, low wages and high food prices. Wages were lowest in Lancashire, but were also at starvation level in Yorkshire. In 1837, the York Courant (a Yorkshire newspaper) reported that there were seven hundred families in Bradford whose total weekly earnings were less than two shillings per head.16 Despite this, handloom weavers persisted in their trade and lived, like the unemployed, in utter poverty. A meeting in Leeds, in Yorkshire, in October, 1841, was told that there were almost 20,000 people in that city who were required to live on 11 pence farthing per head per week.
The population of industrial towns grew rapidly in the first half of the nineteenth century. The population of Bradford, where the Peacocks lived after the 1820s, increased 253 per cent between 1801 and 1841, by 32 per cent between 1831 and 1841.17 The population of Bolton, where the Hamers lived from the 1820s, grew from 5600 in 1773 to 18,000 in 1801, to 42,000 in 1831 and 61,000 in 1861. Thousands of new insanitary terrace houses were built. Streets were largely uncleaned; in Bolton, horse and cattle dung was left to rot in the streets from where it was washed into the River Tonge and Bradshaw Brook where it stank and bred disease. Children were frequently unwashed. Leisure pursuits were crude and sparse except for those who followed the strict tenets of a religion that imposed a fierce morality and the reading of devotional literature. Desperate times required strong discipline. Nevertheless, Englishmen generally were very fond of sport. Cricket developed considerably throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but football was still fairly crude. One wonders whether any of our ancestors participated in the strange game of football in Bolton (that pre-dated the kind of football played by the Bolton Wanderers). In 1793 the local poet James Orrell wrote a stringent criticism of this football in rhyming couplets. The game was played in wooden clogs (a common footwear in Bolton, no doubt introduced by the Flemish weavers who settled in the town in the fourteenth century); the ball was a pig's bladder in a leather case kicked up and down the street, the players breaking windows and frequently kicking the ball into the river. Orrell saw this as sport on a par with cock-fighting and lopping the ears and tails off farmers' cows. It is more likely that our ancestors followed the instructions of John Wesley to avoid sport altogether and to abstain from "reading plays, romances or books of humour, from singing innocent songs or talking in a gay, diverting manner". This restrictive and narrow outlook was perhaps the only way the poor could be saved from succumbing to depravity and despair. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) in her novel Middlemarch, published in 1871 but set in the 1820s and 1830s was critical of the role of Methodism and Evangelicalism which, she claimed, "cast a certain suspicion of plague-infection over the few amusements which survived in the provinces". She was speaking more of the middle classes than the working class; and in Adam Bede her heroine, Dinah Morris, is based on a female local preacher named Elizabeth Evans, a Methodist of particularly strong character and powerful influence.
Sport ranged from skittles and bowls to badger-baiting, cudgel-playing and quarter-staff. Prisoner's base and cock-a-lorum were games that were exported with emigrants to Australia where they persisted well into the twentieth century. Bare-knuckle fighting was extremely popular throughout England, regarded as a test of manliness. Sometimes this caused serious injury and death, and during the nineteenth century boxing gloves and the Marquess of Queensbury rules were introduced. There was a strange custom peculiar to Bolton by which working class people settled their differences in a form of single combat called "up and down fighting", which allowed "purring" (that is, kicking any part of the body) and throttling. Like duelling amongst the upper and middle classes at an earlier period, this frequently led to manslaughter; it persisted until about 1850. It was no wonder that Wesley was not keen on sport.
Wesley visited Bolton on five occasions: in 1748, 1749, 1752, 1753 and 1790. On the first occasion he preached at the Market Cross18 in Churchgate, outside the Man and Scythe Inn, the old coaching inn dating at least from the seventeenth century and still existing today, where Lord Derby awaited his execution in the street outside on October 15, 1651. Wesley recorded in his Journal for August 28, 1748: "There was a vast number of people, but many of them utterly wild. As soon as I began preaching they began thrusting to and fro; endeavouring to throw me down from the steps on which I stood. They did so once or twice, but I went up again and continued my discourse. They began to throw stones; at the same time some got up on the cross behind me to push me down, on which I could not but observe how God over-ruled even the minutest circumstances. One man was bawling just at my ear, when a stone struck him on the cheek, and he was still. A second was forcing his way down to me, till another stone hit him on the forehead, it bounded back, and blood ran down and he came no further. The third being got close to me stretched out his hand and in the instant a sharp stone came upon the joints of his fingers, he shook his hand, and was very quiet until I finished my discourse and went away."
On his last visit, when he was 84 years of age, Wesley recorded in his Journal a remarkable tribute to the character of the Bolton children: "Saturday, April 19, : We went on to Bolton, where I preached in the evening in one of the most elegant houses in the kingdom19 and to one of the liveliest congregations. And this I must avow, there is no such set of singers in any of the Methodist congregations in the three kingdoms. There cannot be; for we have nearly a hundred such trebles, boys and girls, selected out of our Sunday Schools and accurately taught, as are not found together in any chapel, cathedral or music room within the four seas. Besides the spirit with which they all sing and the beauty of many of them so suits the melody that I defy any to exceed it, except the singing of the angels in our Father's house.
Sunday, 20: At eight and at one the house was thoroughly filled. About three I met between nine hundred and a thousand of the children belonging to our Sunday schools. I never saw such a sight before. They were all exactly clean, as well as plain, in their apparel. All were serious and well-behaved. Many, both boys and girls, had as beautiful faces, I believe, England or Europe can afford. When they all sang together, and none of them out of tune, the melody was beyond that of any theater; and what is best of all, many of them truly fear God and some rejoice in His salvation. These are a pattern to all the town. Their usual diversion is to visit the poor that are sick (sometimes six, or eight, or ten together) to exhort, comfort and pray with them. Frequently ten or more of them get together to sing and pray by themselves; sometimes thirty or forty; for they are so earnestly engaged, alternately singing, praying and crying, that they know not how to part. You children that hear this, why should you not go and do likewise? Is not God here as well as at Bolton? Let God arise and maintain his own cause, even "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings".
There had been much progress in the 42 years since Wesley had first visited Bolton, carried on by local preachers and class leaders. Singing was popular in Lancashire, especially among Methodists; and the Lancashire weavers were famous for their music, a pastime encouraged by all the dissenting churches. Perhaps the next generation had already seen a decline, however, if we accept the evidence of a story in Turton Tales.20 The Rev John Winder was a school teacher at Edgeworth Charity School in 1807. One day he was met by a group of boys, one of whom shouted to the others: "Does tha' know this felli?" "Neaw", came the answer. "Then stone him." Winder remonstrated with the boys and asked them was there no Sunday School in their neighbourhood. When he learnt that there was not he started one.
On his 1790 visit, Wesley preached at John Lomax's house at Nab's Farm Fold, between Chapeltown and Turton, which can be identified by a date stone over the door lintel bearing the inscription: “J.L. 1748". One of the Hamer family married Alice Lomax, but the relationship with this John Lomax has not been established.
1 Francis, J J - Bradshaw Chapel Part 1 (Turton Local History Society) p 8
2 See George Eliot’s novel, Adam Bede, for a description of such an incident.
3 Both of these are quoted by A J Peacock in his booklet, Bradford Chartism 1838-1640.
4 Supplied by the Bradford Local Studies Librarian,
5 James Philip Kay, MD: The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester, 2nd ed., pp 100 - 104; quoted in: Baines, E: The History of the County Palatine of Lancaster, Vol 2, pp 515 - 6.
6 British Parliamentary Papers, Vol 19, 1845 - Reports from Commissioners: Occupation of Land (Ireland).
7 The Irish Plantation acre, which was 7840 sq yd, was bigger than the English Imperial acre, which was 4840 sq yd . (The Economist Systems of Measurement)
8 British Sessional Papers, House of Commons, 1846, Vol 36, pp 295-348.
9 Quoted in A J Peacock: Bradford Chartism 1838-1840, University of York Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 1969.
10 January 23, 1840.
11 A magnificent carved bookcase presented to John Bright by his fellow mill owners in gratitude for his work in having the Corn Laws repealed can be seen in Rochdale Library.
12 See Madgwick, R.B : Immigration Into Eastern Australia 1788 - 1851, Longman's, 1937..
13 Carrothers, W A : Emigration from the British Isles, King, London, 1929.
14 In Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby.
15 G R Porter : Progress of the Nation,A Bohn, London, 1838-46..
16 Quoted in AJ Peacock's booklet, Bradford Chartism 1838-1840.
24. Ibbetson's Directory of the Borough of Bradford 1845. Quoted in A J Peacock's Bradford Chartism 1838-1840
18 The ancient cross was still there at that time but was replaced by a new one in 1776.
19 Wesley speaks elsewhere of visiting the home of John Lomax, who was connected by marriage to the Hamer family.
20 R Lindop: Turton Tales, Turton Local History Society, 1978, p 28.