Today in Notts Histreh: Officials demand loyalty to the ‘established Constitution’ (27th December 1819)

The Nottingham Date Book (used edition published 1884) gives account of a meeting of the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire and a number of other officials on 27th December 1819. More interesting is the passage afterwards, reflecting on the economic situation and providing an insight into workers’ working and living conditions.

The Date-Book of Remarkable & Memorable Events connected with Nottingham and its Neighbourhood; Part II 1750-1884; pp. 330-2.

‘December 27.-The Duke of Newcastle, the Duke of Portland, […] and thirty or forty of the county magistrates, met at the Shire Hall, and resolved unanimously, “That in the present emergency, it is the duty of every loyal subject to testify his determination strenuously to maintain the inviolability of our established Constitution, and to guard the people against the baneful delusions of designing persons, calling themselves Radical Reformers, whose aim is equally subversive of civil and religious liberty.” […]

Few years are more distinctly remembered by the working classes than this. It was one of deep and widely diffused distress. In the winter and spring, the demand for our manufactures was very inactive, and as the summer advanced it became almost stagnant. The outward manifestations of suffering, amongst the framework knitters especially, assumed various forms and excited general commiseration. Many solicited contributions from door to door, crowds besieged the overseers’ offices, and some, it is believed, sank altogether beneath the pressure of their calamities. In August, the two-needle hands paraded the streets in procession almost every day. On the 13th, upwards of 600 were thus assembled together, and on the 16th, a gentleman who had the curiosity to count them as they marched by, numbered 5057 men. As the procession passed through the chief streets on the 19th, it attracted more than usual attention from the circumstance of a great number of women marching at its head. In the course of same week, the unemployed published an appeal to the Lord Lieutenant and the noblemen and gentry of the county, in which they stated, amongst other things, “From the various and low prices given by our employers, we have not, after working from sixteen to eighteen hours per day, been able to earn more than from four to seven shillings per week, to maintain our wives and families upon, to pay taxes, house-rent, &c., which has driven us to the necessity of applying for parochial aid, which after all has not in many instances left us sufficient to supply the calls of nature, even with the most parsimonious economy; and though we have substituted meal and water, or potatoes and salt, for that more wholesome food an Englishman’s table used to abound with, we have repeatedly retired, after a hard day’s labour, and been under the necessity of putting our children supperless to bed, to stifle the cries of hunger : nor think that we would give this picture too high a colouring, when we can most solemnly declare, that for the last eighteen months we have scarcely known what it is to be free from the pangs of hunger.” Subsequently, bodies of men, with their wives and children, perambulated the streets, carrying boards, on which were inscribed, “ Pity our distresses !” “We ask for bread !” “Pity our children !” Appeals like these naturally excited attention, and of the numerous projects devised to meet them, and to permanently improve the men’s condition, there are several to which reference must be made.

One of these remedial measures was an attempt to procure the interference of the Legislature. A petition was presented to the House of Commons, and in answer to it, a Committee was appointed to institute an inquiry. Witnesses were examined, and the Committee reported against the manufacture of “cut-ups.” A bill, founded on the report of the Committee, was soon after introduced, and passed the Commons, but was thrown out by the House of Lords, after its second reading, on the motion for going into committee.

It was the opinion of others, shared in by the workmen themselves, that a statement of prices for each description of work, liberally devised and stringently carried out, would be an efficient means of permanently benefiting the trade. Accordingly, after much consultation, the schedule known as “the 1819 statement,” was prepared for adoption. The hosiers, however, expressed a grave doubt whether they should be able to realize the prices demanded, and at first held out against them. To compel them, the men proceeded to the most energetic measures. Early in September, they resolved to bring in their frames. These were drawn to the warehouses in borrowed waggons and carts, to which long ropes were attached, the workmen themselves pulling them along. Great numbers, many of them from the country, were thus left in the streets, at the hosiers’ doors. The latter, finding it necessary to do something, held a three counties meeting of their own body, on the 13th, at the Exchange Hall, Mr. Wm. Lowe in the chair, and after considerable discussion, came to the resolution, “That so long as the stocking makers do not manufacture for themselves; as long as parish officers do not find it necessary to turn hosiers, but employ the surplus labour out of the trade ; as long as no irregular mode shall be made use of to reduce the rate of wages ; so long will this meeting adhere to the prices exhibited in the statement, which the hosiers present cheerfully accede to.” But excellent at this was, it had not, nor could it be expected to have, any immediate effect in mitigating distress occasioned by an absolute want of demand in the market.

Another proposition emanated from the Duke of Newcastle, to whom had been forwarded a copy of the framework knitters’ appeal. His Grace came over to Nottingham, and had interviews with the magistrates, the workmen’s committee, and several of the hosiers. He recommended that the surplus hands should emigrate to the Cape Colony, and promised effectual assistance for the purpose. A subscription list was at once opened, to which his Grace contributed £500, the Duke of Portland £500, Earl Manvers £500, the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle £150, the Earl of Surrey £100, Viscount Galway £100, the Hon. and Rev. J. Lumley Saville £100, the Hon. J. Simpson £100, Admiral Sotheron £100, H. G. Knight, Esq., £100, and others, smaller amounts. The whole amounted to nearly four thousand pounds, and with the assistance of Government, about three hundred families were removed to the Cape.

But the plan which gave the most sensible and immediate relief was the institution of large public subscriptions to provide out-door employment for the suffering operatives, For this noble purpose, in town and county, between six and seven thousand pounds were soon raised. From November till the following spring, great numbers were set to labourers’ work. Some of them cleared out the Tinker’s Leen ; others cleared and levelled a piece of land on the Forest, near to the Alfreton-road, that it might be planted with potatoes ; numbers toiled on the St. Ann’s and other roads ; and the remainder were engaged .in levelling Mapperley Plains,. and inclosing them partially with a rude stone wall, a small portion of which still remains.’

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