Saturday, 26 March 2011

26th March 1811: Public Meeting between Hosiers & Stockingers - an agreement is reached

15 days after direct action by Framework knitters had begun in Arnold, and the Hosiers in and around Nottingham were beaten: a public meeting was called for the 26th March to attempt to settle grievances. Our last post reported a letter published in the Nottingham Journal (NJ) on the 23rd March from an anonymous writer who called for "GENERAL MEETING of the TRADE, and come to a decided resolution on which to act, and publish the same," so it's a moot point whether this person was a clairvoyant or merely influential. The 30th March edition of the NJ contained the following report:
AT a numerous meeting of Manufacturers, (held this day at the Exchange) 
RESOLVED, That this meeting do recommend to the Trade in general, to give for all full-fashioned Work the OLD prices, according to the annexed statement, and that the Deductions, in the inferior Goods for Work taken out, be also followed, agreeably to the Prices there specified. 
At the same time they see, with Concern, the illegal measures which have been resorted to by some of the Frame-work Knitters; and are determined to support and aid the Civil Power in its Exertions to bring the Offenders to Justice (a measure in which every Rank in Society is equally interested), and for which purpose a large subscription has this Day been entered into. 
Nottingham, March 26, 1811.
The Hosier's statement attempts to 'divide and rule' the Framework knitters between those they felt they could do business with and the 'criminal element', and there is still much unresolved debate amongst historians between how far the 'legal' and 'direct action' methods of redress for the Framework knitters represented either different tactics or different ideological standpoints. There will be much more time to devote to this in the coming months.

Nevertheless, the statement was true to its word, and the Hosiers did fund a reward of 50 guineas1 for information leading to conviction of the proto-Luddites, and a broadsheet was distributed on the same date (see above). As far as is known, no-one ever claimed the reward.

The agreement held (with one or two hiccups, which will be reported here) over the next 7 months until November 1811.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

'A friend to peace and good order' - 23rd March 1811

The following letter was printed in the 23rd March 1811 edition of the Nottingham Journal:
To Persons concerned in the Nottingham Manufactory
It is alarming to hear of the mischief which has been done, and is yet doing, in the villages around us, in almost every direction; and which seems likely to wear a more serious aspect. 
Surely it is the duty of those in office to give full information to the Cost of these proceedings; that it may immediately take effectual measures to check designs which may yet be only in contemplation. 
The folly of the Stocking Weavers, in destroying the Frames belonging to their masters (but many of them the property of persons no way concerned in the trade), is indeed most absurd and infamous. 
It is the most effectual way of injuring themselves; by throwing out of work for month, or years, the machines by which they gain a livelihood. 
It reminds us of children, who quarrel with their bread and butter, throw it into the dirt in a pet, and then cry because they have nothing to eat. 
It is much to be regretted, that the Hosiers should avowedly be at variance at such a crisis. 
If, instead of reproaching each other in the public prints, they would convene a GENERAL MEETING of the TRADE, and come to a decided resolution on which to act, and publish the same with the signatures of their respective names at the foot, as has been the usual custom on similar occasions, there can be no doubt when the Workmen saw these Resolutions founded upon general consent, that they would consider it vain to oppose the unanimous determination of their Employers, and quietly return to their work. 
It would otherwise be "kicking against the pricks." 
A friend to Peace and good Order. 
Nottingham, March 22, 1811.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

22nd March 1811: suicide of a frame-work knitter

From the Derby Mercury, 28th March 1811:

On the 22d inst. the body of a young man was found lifeless at Long Eaton, in this county, suspended by the neck to the branch of a tree; he was first discovered by a boy who procured the assistance of a stranger he accidentally met near the spot, whose first care was to rifle the pockets of the deceased, the contents of which together with his hat & neck handkerchief he carried away; but not satisfied with his booty he soon afterwards returned for the deceased's small clothes, and then made off.—The deceased who committed suicide proved to have been a resident of Nottingham of the name of Jon Peats, by trade a frame-work knitter, whose mind, naturally of a melancholy and desponding cast, has been entirely overset by the difficulties which that class of manufacturers are experiencing.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

16th - 23rd March 1811: 'outrages in the villages' - 100 frames broken

Sources of information about exactly what happened following the Arnold attack on 11th March are somewhat thin on the ground. Several authors allude to the fact that the disturbances carried on for two weeks, before being checked by the events of the 26th March (a post will follow on that date), and the information is drawn from local newspapers, as well as a report by two Bow Street magistrates, Nathaniel Conant and Robert Baker written almost 12 months later.1

In his timeline2, Thomis report that frames were broken in this period at Sutton-in-Ashfield, Kirkby, WoodboroughLambley, and Bulwell in Nottinghamshire and also at Ilkeston in Derbyshire. Citing Conant & Baker, Darvall tells us that:
"Night after night in the surrounding villages mobs collected and entered various workshops in order to break the frames of unpopular hosiers. All over the north-western part of Nottinghamshire, in the various hosiery villages, often in several different places on the same night, and sometimes even by day, cases of framebreaking were reported."3
In Nottingham, the local magistrates ordered regular patrols by "six regular and six special constables", these being augmented by small parties of the military in some of the villages. Meanwhile, the Derby Mercury of 28th March 1811 has reports of large troop movements, with three whole divisions moving into Nottinghamshire:
"The 2d division of the first Royal Lancashire Militia, on its rout from Worcester to Hull on arriving here this morning, received a counter order to proceed to Nottingham, where the 3d division will follow it, to assist the civil power in preserving the tranquility of the town and neighbourhood. The 1st division which arrived here yesterday, was ordered to proceed to Mansfield, & halt there till further orders."
In a report on the 23rd March (below), the Nottingham Journal expresses alarm at the continuing disturbances, and notes that 100 frames have been broken4 in the past 14 days:
It is with great concern we hear, that the mischievous proceedings which took place at Arnold last week, have been extended to most of the manufacturing villages in the north western parts of this county, where upwards of one hundred stocking frames, the property of individuals have been destroyed. These outrages are the more to be deprecated, since they will be attended with less evil to the proprietor, than the unfortunate workman, who must for a length of time be thrown  entirely out of employment. The persons engaged in these depredations, proceed in small companies, disguised so that their persons may not be known; in some instances, however, their designs have been frustrated by the determined resistance of those who were in employ. We hope, shortly to be able to announce a happy adjustment of existing differences between the workmen and their employers.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

15th March 1811: 'Statement of several Hosiers of Nottingham'

The following statement appears to have been issued by the same four hosiers that had earlier in January asked the stockingers not to accept work from hosiers paying low prices. You'll also remember that one of the firms, Brocksopp & Parker, were identified by the owner of their frames, a Mr Bolton, as renting his frames to them, and that the Nottingham Journal reported that his frames had been broken in the initial attack at Arnold on 11th March: the statement has the four firms complaining about the "destruction of our property."

The statement was presumably issued as a broadsheet or public notice, because it doesn't appear in the Nottingham Journal, but it does appear in the appendix of a Parliamentary Select Committee Report issued in May 1812.1 William Felkin also alludes to some of the negotiations that are implied in the statement in his 1867 book.2
STATEMENT of several Hosiers of Nottingham, to the Framework Knitters of that Town; respecting the reduction of their Wages, &.c. 
IT appears, from the violent proceedings that have taken place within these few days past' in the destruction of our property, that you are led to suppose that we are the cause or the reduction of your Wages.—It is well known to you, that a great number of Hosiers had reduced their workmen, by direct and indirect methods, a long time before we gave notice of our intention of reducing the prices. Some have been making slender Womens Hose, in size, at the price of Maids, and other sizes in the same manner; others have been taking off 5s. and 6s. per dozen for work left out, which, to the workman, was not worth more than 3s. per dozen; others have been making 38 gauge Hose on 40 gauge Frames, and so on downwards till they have actually made Maids Hose on a 30 gauge Frame, at 10d. and 101/4 d. per pair; at the same time asserting their disapprobation of any reduction in the price of workmanship. 
It is a notorious fact, that the workmen of Arnold have been working for a person there considerably under the stated and regular prices, which enabled him to sell his goods, to the Hosiers for less money than we could make them for. 
These things made it absolutely necessary, for the preservation of our trade, that something should be done to counteract this system, which was destroying us. We had the choice of the following methods—either to reduce the full-fashioned work more to a level with the low-priced work, or to make the same work at the same price it was made at by our neighbours, or to let our frames stand still. 
We have given our workmen their choice, and they have taken the full-fashioned work at reduced prices; they acknowledged it was still the best work, and they preferred it. This has been invariably confirmed to us by the numerous workmen we have since conversed with on the subject, but more particularly by your Committee, who we always supposed were properly appointed by yourselves to settle this business. 
When the reduction of the price of full-fashioned work had taken place in January, we were called upon by the Hosiers to sign their advertisement of the 26th of that month, stating their disapprobation of a reduction. We declined, because we there saw the names, of those who had, for a length of time, taken every method in their power to get their work made at less price than their neighbours, by craftily undermining their workmen wherever they could. We were then told by them, that we should have pursued the same system, and then no notice would have been taken of it. Our answer was, "that we despised the system, and never would adopt it;" because, we were certain that, if that system were to be generally adopted, the most dreadful consequences would ensue to the workmen; and those Hosiers who had the hardest hearts and the least conscience, would get their work made at the lowest prices. We therefore determined to make our reduction, accompanied with such restrictions and regulations as we hoped would protect the workmen effectually from any imposition. Had those gentlemen been really anxious to prevent the reduction taking place, which they attributed to us, why did not they come forward and agree to pay the Standard price for standard sizes, and to pay a proper and fair price for the low-priced work? [We had promised to raise our price to the full standard, and return every farthing we had deducted from the work people.] 
This has never been explained, but instead of so doing, they gave notice of their intention to reduce their Wages; thus by their conduct openly contradicting their own assertions in the public papers, (viz.) that they disapproved of the reduction of the price of workmanship. Several reasons might be given for their conduct; but their main object was to oblige us to raise our prices, that they might still continue to possess the advantages they had obtained over us, and be enabled to send their Goods to market on better terms than their neighbours, who were giving standard prices for standard sizes. 
Your Committee afterwards waited upon us, and at their request we signed an Agreement, stating, that we would give the old standard price for full-fashioned work, provided the rest of the trade would agree not to continue the practice of making sham Hose on 30 Gauge Frames, and fine work on super Frames, &c.; nor to make Slender Womens Hose for Maids price; nor to deduct for fashion left out, more than that fashion was really worth. 
Your Committee then expressed themselves perfectly satisfied with us, and went away filled with the most sanguine expectations that those gentlemen who had voluntarily come forward to express their decided disapprobation of the reduction, would have signed that Agreement without hesitation. But after the most urgent solicitation, they found themselves unable to procure even a single Signature to it. 
We have thought proper thus to state to you publicly the motives for the reduction, and the steps taken to prevent it. We do not wish to possess any unfair advantage over our neighbours, in manufacturing our Goods on better terms than they; and on the other hand, we can by no means allow any exclusive advantage to them, of manufacturing their Goods at a lower price, by substituting one size or one gauge for another—as, in so doing, we are not capable of entering the market on equal terms with them. 
Having thus given you a fair statement of Facts, we leave you to determine who are the real cause of the Reduction. 
Nottingham, March 15, 1811.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Review: John Beckett 'The Luddites: 200 Years On', for the Thoroton Society of Nottingham

Having never attended any meeting of a local history society before, I didn't know what to expect from this event - other than perhaps the stereotype of what such occasions may be like: average age mid sixties, tweeds, conservative ('small c' and 'big C'). The stereotypes didn't let me down after all. Despite my valiant attempt to lower the average age by 25 years or so, I was simply outnumbered - the organisers had underestimated the interest, and extra seats were called for.

What we got was a talk with a very high quota of dates and names and events, but with perhaps less analysis than you'd expect of a professor of history. In the circumstances, he was probably giving this audience what they wanted, and there is a lot to get through in a potted history of Midlands Luddism after all. A scholar of Luddism wouldn't have learned too much that was new here, but one nugget that did come out of it for me and explained a lot was the contemporary legal limitations on the Nottingham authorities which prevented an effective response to the events of Arnold on 11th March 1811: the Nottingham City authorities simply had no remit to stray over the Nottinghamshire County borders without obtaining permission from the Home Office - obviously impossible at such short notice.

Given that one of the Thoroton Society's most famous scholars is the author of several works about Luddism, Malcolm Thomis, it's perhaps unsurprising then that the conclusion that John Beckett reached chimes with Thomis' ultimately conservative historical analysis - that the Luddites were simply opposed to change, and that any resistance to innovation can only succeed in the short-term. There's a certain amount of truth to that - Luddites did oppose changes that would reduce them to penury & destitution, and who can blame them? Thomis saw the Luddites as apolitical and reactionary, and whilst Beckett didn't exactly go quite that far, one joke aimed at his conservative audience ('small c' but particularly 'big C') went down well, but was actually ahistorical and ignorant - he joked that perhaps local miners and Arthur Scargill had Luddite DNA, given the Miners' Strike of 1984-1985 . No doubt E.P. Thompson would delight in the parallels being drawn between the potentially revolutionary actions of Miners in the 1980s and the pseudo-revolutionary actions of the Luddites 170 years before, but that isn't what Beckett meant. The irony is that Nottinghamshire was the home of the scab Union, the Union of Democratic of Mineworkers - whilst their members may well indeed be ancestors of Nottinghamshire Luddites, their actions in breaking the strike 25 years ago prove they have nothing else in common with them, a parallel conveniently missed by professor Beckett.

In the meantime, let's hope there's a veritable festival of events to look forward to in Nottingham come November 2011, the anniversary of things getting really serious in the area 200 years ago.

Friday, 11 March 2011

John Beckett - The Luddites: 200 Years On - a lecture in Nottingham tomorrow

John Beckett, the Chair of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, is giving a talk tomorrow in Nottingham on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Luddite uprisings today. Entitled 'The Luddites: 200 Years On', this is the Maurice Barley Lecture. Here's the blurb from the press release:
In March 1811, two hundred years ago, the first stocking frames were broken by protesters who came to be called Luddites. In this lecture, John Beckett will recall the events of 200 years ago, the context in which they occurred, and the legacy of the Luddite disturbances in and around Nottingham and Loughborough.
Scholars of the Luddites will know that the Thoroton Society issued a fine publication from their 'Record Series' in 1972 by the historian Malcolm Thomis. Entitled 'Luddism in Nottinghamshire', the slim volume features transcripts of official government correspondence, Luddite threatening letters, reports of direct action etc. Whilst it's not as extensive as Kevin Binfield's 'Writings of the Luddites', it is equally essential, though it is long out of print.

The lecture is being held at Nottingham Mechanics Institute at 3 North Sherwood Street, Nottingham NG1 4EZ at 2.45 p.m. The venue has full disabled access and facilities. A bookstall is available from 2.15 p.m.

11th March 1811: the first Luddite attack at Arnold, Nottinghamshire

What became the first instance of Luddism in the year 1811 began during the daytime on Monday 11th March. Hundreds of stockingers gathered in the market place in Nottingham, where "angry speeches were made and the crowd was ‘vociferous in condemning their Employers and clamouring for work and a more liberal price' "1. Thomis continues "constables were called out and a troop of Dragoons paraded until nine o’clock in the evening"2. The crowd then dispersed, but continued on to march to Arnold, north of Nottingham. Once there, they set about frame-breaking in earnest:
"between dusk and dawn, no less than sixty stocking frames were broken by the mob, swarming around the town, entering the houses of unpopular stockingers, and breaking the frames of special, hated hosiers. The general populace so far from preventing actually aided and abetted the disturbance, cheering on the frame-breakers and obstructing the authorities. It was necessary to call out the Dragoons the following morning in order to clear the town. The whole neighbourhood had been fired by these riotous outbursts."3 
The Nottingham Journal of 16th March carried a report about what had taken place:
We are sorry to observe, that a disposition to riot and tumult has manifested itself amongst the most operative manufacturers in this neighbourhood, owing to the present depressed state of trade, which has occasioned an abatement in the workmen’s prices, and reduced them to the greatest distress. A number of individuals from the adjacent villages in this town on Monday last, with a view of representing to their employers the hardships they were subject to, and of intimidating others into a compliance with their demands, by which alone they would be enabled to obtain a subsistence for themselves and families. The assembling of such numbers induced an apprehension on the part of the Mayor and Magistrates, that some violation of the public peace was intended. They, therefore, adopted the most prompt and vigilant measures, by calling out the civil power, and ordering a troop of horse from the barracks, to be in readiness to act in case of necessity. But happily, in the evening, these precautions were rendered useless, by the whole retiring quietly to their homes. 
In the neighbourhood of this place, however, we are concerned to say, that considerable mischief has been done, and the folly of a deluded multitude was, perhaps, never more conspicuous than at Arnold on Monday; when they proceeded with a premeditated determination to destroy some stocking frames employed there, by hosiers of this town, and rented by them of Mr. Bolton, who had retired from business above two years since, & had let his frames on a lease, and engaged to keep them in repair at his own expence; consequently the loss, which we hear will amount to several hundred pounds, will fall entirely upon Mr. Bolton. The avowed motive of these people to commit acts of so flagrant a nature, was to injure the hosiers who rented the frames; but though they were told by the workmen, in whose hands the frames were, that they belonged to Mr. Bolton, whose name were stamped on the front bars, they persisted in their determination, and nearly demolished upwards of fifty frames, intending by so doing, to suspend the manufactory until the frames could be repaired, to the prejudice of the hosiers who had engaged them to rent: whereas the fact is, that it will have quite a contrary effect, and be to their advantage, by enabling them to refrain from manufacturing more goods than are really wanted, until the demand for them shall increase.
The Journal clearly identified that the hosier who had particularly suffered from the attacks - actually the ex-hosier, Bolton, who had previously written to the Journal in January to state that his frames were rented to Brocksopp & Parker, and warned anyone against frame-breaking. The stockingers were clearly not intimidated by this.

The Morning Chronicle of  Friday 15th March 1811, contains more details about the numbers  of people involved (emphasis added):
RIOTOUS EXCESSES AT NOTTINGHAM.—It is with the deepest regret we have to communicate the occurrence of alarming disturbances and outrageous excesses in the neighbourhood of Nottingham. Letters from the place state, that on Tuesday last the workmen, to the number of one thousands, assembled in the market place, and from thence proceeded in a body to Arnold, a distance of about five miles, when their numbers were increased to between two and three thousand. Thus augmented in strength, they shortly evinced a determination to adopt measures of violence, and parties proceeded to enter the houses and destroy frames of several of the manufacturers. The cause assigned for these afflicting outrages was the extreme distress suffered by themselves and families, in consequence of the stoppage of work. With any further particulars we are at present unacquainted, but we have to express our sincere hopes that these mistaken men must have been made sensible that by the destruction of the property of others, they not only could not alleviate their own misery, but that, on the contrary, they must materially increase it.
Direct action in the form of frame-breaking was back.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Rising tensions in Nottinghamshire - Winter to Spring, 1811

"Class alignments hardened month by month, and the goodwill which had formerly existed between those employers who were political reformers and their journeymen was dissipated"1

E.P. Thompson sets the scene for the months leading up to the first outbreak of violent direct action which took place on March 11th 1811. This period of shifting phases of negotiation is important enough to spend some time examining.

Scan the pages of the Nottingham Journal between January and March 1811, and one can virtually feel the rising tension and the "dissipation of goodwill." The editions of 19th and 26th of January, and the 2nd of February contain the same advert taken out by a long list of hosiers with this statement at the head:
We, the under-signed, feel ourselves called upon (to state) publicly our decided DISAPPROBATION of ANY ATTEMPT to REDUCE the PRESENT STATED PRICES OF MAKING SILK and COTTON HOSE.2
What was compelling them to "state publicly" their negative feelings towards other hosiers? William Felkin relates the tale that before frame-breaking began in earnest, a group had been removing the jack wires from the frames of hosiers who were not paying the full prices. This act rendered the frames useless, but was clearly not as severe a measure as frame-breaking, since the wires could be restored later3. He also relates that the wires were hidden in churches, in particular in Arnold, as 'hostages'.

Nevertheless, the previous statement from the multitude of hosiers did not go unappreciated by some framework knitters, and the 26th January edition of the Nottingham Journal carried the following statement:
IMPRESSED with the most lively Emotions of Gratitude to those Gentlemen Hosiers who have generously stepped forward at this moment, so awful to the Working Classes, and signified their Intention not to reduce the Price of making Plain Stocking, beg leave to State to these Gentlemen, that the prayers of our Wives and Children shall be put up to heaven for their prosperity for so great and good a Deed―The Frame-work Knitters further hope that the other Gentlemen Hosiers will follow so generous an Example, and thereby merit the Approbation of all good men. 
The Frame-work Knitters 
January 24th, 1811
In the same edition, some soon to be familiar names crop up – a clearly rattled hosier very plainly states his case:
To Frame-work Knitters, &c. 
From circumstances of a Public Nature which are occurring in the Trade, Mr BOLTON thinks it proper to state that since the Time he relinquished his Manufactory (about two years ago), he has not, nor does he receive any Annuity, Advantage, or Allowance of any Kind Whatever, from Messrs. BROCKSOPP and PARKER, his Successors. 
His STOCKING FRAMES were LET to them on LEASE; some years of which are unexpired; he being at the Expense of keeping them in good repair. 
By an Act of Geo III "Any Person whom shall wilfully and maliciously break, destroy, or damage any Stocking Frame, shall be adjudged guilty of Felony." 
Nottingham, January 23, 1811.
Bolton is shifting the blame onto Brocksopp & Parker who are speculators. In the same edition of the Nottingham Journal, there is a long statement signed by Brocksopp and Parker, as well as other hosiers which makes their position plain. They urge the framework knitters as a body to not accept work from those hosiers who were paying low prices:
SIR,—There appeared in your last week’s paper an Advertisement, signed by a number of the Manufacturers in this town, stating their disapprobation of any reduction in the prices of making Silk and Cotton Hose; we see amongst them the names of several Houses who have, for a length of time, been ion the habit of making Women’s Hose at the price of Slender Women’s, and Slender Women’s at the price of Maids’, and other sizes in proportion; this, undoubtedly, is a reduction.—There are others amongst the, who, under a pretence of leaving out the fashion, have considerably reduced the prices: we will just name one article—the standard price of Slender Women’s, 30 guage, Cotton Hose is 17s. per dozen; this article is now making at 12s. per dozen, Welted, under the pretence of deducting 1s. for leaving out the shape, 1s for being bound in down the leg, instead of being narrowed, and the remainder for having slit partings, in lieu of being spliced and having out the bindings at the heel and beginning of the foot bottom; so that 5s. per dozen is deducted from the Workman, for work left out, which is not worth more to him than 3s. at the utmost, other qualities are also made on the same principle. 
Now, we would ask those Gentlemen who thus publicly avow their disapprobation of reducing the price of making Hose, what they call this but a Reduction.—We have had much conversation with the Workmen on this subject, and they all say that the fashion thus left out is by no means adequate to the price deducted for it; in which opinion we most decidedly agree with them. 
It is well know, that Stocking-makers who have frames of their own, or independent frames, have taken work at very reduced prices, for the sake of employment: this essentially injured both us and out Workmen; and it became necessary for us to consider, whether we would discharge our old Workmen, let out own frames stand still, and employ the independent frames at the reduced prices, or whether we would give our own Workmen the preference of work, at such a price as would enable us to cope with those Manufacturers who, by employing independent frames, and marking their goods on the plans above described, have hitherto possessed such great advantages over us. These reasons, therefore, made it indispensible for us to reduce the price to our own Workmen, leaving it entirely at their option, whether they would take the prices we offered them, or work on the same principle as the independent frames. 
We have been told by some Gentlemen who have signed that Advertisement, that we should have followed the same system that others have done; then no notice would have been taken of it:—to which we answer, that, never having been accustomed to reduce the stated prices given by the Trade at large, by any such mode as making one size and paying for a less, we do not choose now to adopt such a ruinous measure. 
It remains only for us to state, of those Gentlemen are really anxious to prevent any reduction in the price taking place, they will return to the old standard mode of making and paying for their Work; then there will not be found any Individual amongst them who will not pay the old price with greater pleasure than 
 J. and T. WATSON, NELSONS, and Co.
At the time, Gravenor Henson – later a focus of much 'legal' activity to do something about the situation of the framework knitters, in contrast to the Luddites 'illegal' activity – had attempted to get this group of hosiers prosecuted under the Combination Acts. He related this before a Parliamentary Select Committee4 thirteen years later in 1824:
Do you think there would have been any difficulty in prosecuting them (the hosiers) for the meeting, at which they came to resolutions at the post office? – Yes; I had a case in point: in 1811 the masters met at Nottingham, in the spring of that year. 
How did they manifest their resolutions? – They published them in the public papers, week after week, signed by four distinct persons, to reduce the wages three-pence per pair, unless the workmen could induce the rest of the masters to make the stockings in the same way, as to forming them, as they made them.
…and later, Henson relates the mood of the framework knitters and his attempts to pursue a legal course:
…the manufacturers would not listen to those committees, and they at last came in crowds; and very soon it was supposed that the men would begin to break the machinery, because a person had advertised, in the public papers, that the frames which particular masters rented were not the masters’ property; I went myself, seeing this disturbance, to lay information against those four persons. 
To whom did you go? – To the magistrates at the Town Hall; the magistrates told me, that I had not got sufficient evidence; I produced the newspaper, I told them, I thought they might summon the printer, under the Combination Act, and he would give evidence; they said, their opinion was, that I had better not go on. I went again and the magistrates said, they would grant me a warrant against them; but when I went to the town clerk, he refused to grant me a warrant, because I could not prove the parish where they had met in; the reason was, that part of the penalty is to go to the poor of the parish. 
You gave up the prosecution? – Yes.
Thomis tells us that despite their public protestations, Brocksopp & Parker and the others eventually "introduced a cut in their own wages, protesting their reluctance to do this but justifying it on the ground of their inability otherwise to compete with their undercutting rivals"5. But they were exposed by the proclamations of the no-doubt unnerved hosiers that had stated their intention to abide by the “stated prices”. The statement of the five hosiers now looked hollow and manipulative. What was to follow will be related in the next post.

Earlier echoes of frame-breaking

Frame-breaking was not a new form of direct action undertaken by workers within the frame-knitting industry. Felkin1 traces the history back to London in 1710, with 100 frames being broken by unemployed journeymen, protesting about the use of a large number of apprentices by a hosier named Nicholson. The tactic was successful, so much so that "none of the rioters were punished, it is said not even apprehended." But widespread rioting over similar practices led to the House of Commons making machine-breaking a capital offence in 1727.

Shortly afterwards, much of the trade moved North to Nottingham: echoing practices of over one hundred years later, speculators had bought up frames, renting them to stockingers and paying them for cheaper products which broke the standards laid down by the London Company of Frame-work Knitters. The Nottingham magistrates refused to recognise the authority of the London Company, and the speculators moved their trade there.

Predictably, the worst capitalist practices led to grievances and further direct action followed. In 1778 & 1779, the stockingers had looked to Parliament and lobbied for the introduction of a Bill to regulate prices and afford them a degree of protection. The Bills failed, in part because of the connivance of some Nottingham hosiers who enlisted the help of MPs for rotten boroughs in Cornwall.

The response from the stockingers in Nottingham and the Midlands was prolonged and violent. Between 10th-19th June 1779, frame-breaking and rioting was widespread, with the houses & mills of offending hosiers being attacked. Randall2 describes a diversionary attack being mounted against the factory of one hosier, a Mr Need, whilst another force wrecked his house and broke 50 frames in a workshop he owned in the Nottinghamshire village of Arnold, (a place we’ll return to shortly). The house of another hosier who had given evidence against the Bill before parliament, was burnt down. Felkin3 tells us that this convinced the hosiers to agree to terms: "provided an immediate cessation of violence took place, to remove every oppression from their workmen, and to bring all the manufacturers up to a fair price." 300 frames were broken during the disturbances: "rioting in fact had proved more successful than applications to Parliament"4

Nottinghamshire & The Midlands in 1811

It was early in the spring of 1811 that the phenomenon of Luddism first manifested itself in the Midlands and, in particular, Nottinghamshire. Yet if the popular understanding of Luddism is as a response to labour-saving technology, then what took place in Nottinghamshire does not necessarily provide a good example. In the early nineteenth century, the destruction of machinery was the response to a number of factors which were leading to the exploitation of working-class artisans in the hosiery trade at this time.

Unlike some of the other mechanical devices that Luddites in other areas attacked, the mechanical knitting machine ('stocking frame') was not a new device, having been invented over 220 years before by William Lee in the Nottinghamshire village of Calverton in 1589.

The men who worked the machines, stockingers, were skilled artisans, but their economic status was as outworkers, and that status was deteriorating. The trade was controlled by master hosiers, who acted as merchants selling the products produced by the artisans. Some of the hosiers owned factories in the town but, by and large, hosiery was a domestic system, and the stockingers either worked from home in the villages surrounding Nottingham or in the workshops of ‘small masters’. Most of them rented their stocking frames from either the hosier or independent speculators who had invested in machinery during the boom years, meaning that despite their ‘artisan’ status, in reality stockingers had relatively little autonomy.

The early 1800s saw a declining market for hosiery and lace, chiefly influenced by the closing of foreign markets with the introduction of the Orders in Council in 1807. Unemployment was severe: William Felkin1 records 4248 families receiving relief from the poor rates in Nottingham in early 1812 – a total of 15,350 people – half the population. Also in 1807, the expiry of a 20 year-old agreement between stockingers and hosiers regarding prices paid for work led to a veritable 'race to bottom' amongst hosiers, with the least scrupulous employing up to three main methods to either cheapen production or economise labour:

Truck – or payment in goods or in kind. Payment in goods was frequently via the hosier’s store, in which the price of provisions was much higher than in the marketplace. Payment in kind saw hosiers giving their stockingers material: Darvall2 has the example of one stockinger being owed two weeks ages amounting to £2 8s., being paid with cloth and buttons to the value of £2 12s. 6d., but which could only be sold for 10s 6d. In both ways, the stockinger was being exploited and had no freedom to spend their own money as they chose.

Colting – the employment of unskilled labour, or of too many apprentices, resulting in a fall in quality of the goods, which affected both the reputation of the trade and the stockinger.

Cut-ups – or the rise in production of large pieces of material on wide stocking frames which were then 'cut up' and sewn together to make stockings, rather than being formed as a tube in the case of 'full wrought' work. The result was a vastly inferior product which not only grossly offended the artisans' sense of pride in their craftsmanship, but also made his skill less necessary. Cheap techniques encouraged cheap labour.

The various grievances now coalesced around a dispute with four particular hosiers in the early months of 1811.

The Broad Context of Luddism

Luddism belongs to a specific time and specific context. Understanding, or at the very least appreciating, that context is important if we are to properly consider the relevance of the uprisings that took place 200 years ago.

As Adrian Randall1 has pointed out, the Luddite disturbances "share economic and political context which shaped both their development and the response that greeted them." External events in France and Europe prior to and during the period are the key to understanding this.

Britain had been at war with France since 1793, following the revolution of 1789. The fear amongst the English ruling classes that something similar may occur here was reflected in their attempts to stifle both political and industrial activity. The Combination Acts of 1799 & 1800 attempted to circumscribe workers’ organisations by prohibiting trade unions and collective bargaining. But the effect of this repression was merely to drive activity largely underground. E.P. Thompson2 argued that repression helped to dissolve "the remaining ties of loyalty between working people and their masters," with illegal trade unionism being "the stock upon which Jacobinism had been grafted."

The economic context was also strongly shaped by the position with France. Napoleon’s dominance of continental Europe lead to economic warfare: a series of tit-for-tat measures resulted in the Orders in Council of 1807, whereby Britain effectively blockaded the ports of France and her allies, resulting in a severe depression of trade. This was made worse by the American Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which closed American ports to British ships. In turn, this hit the cotton and woollen industry of the North of England particularly hard, and affected the internal market as well. Unemployment rose and allied to the absence of imports, bad harvests in 1810 & 1811 increased the price of food, in particular the basic staples that most working people relied upon, with the price of corn reaching a peak in 1812 that it never saw for over 100 years. Distress and starvation was all too common.

Albeit a brief summary, this is the wider context for the emergence of Luddism in 1811.