HC Deb 02 April 1833 vol 17 cc18-31
Mr. John Fielden

presented a petition from Padiham, Lancashire, complaining of distress, and stating that the township contains a population of 3,529 persons, and that 246 families, or altogether 1,381 persons, had been visited in January last; that all of these capable of work, excepting four were in full employment; that their average income in wages only amounted to 1s. 9d. and three-eighths of a penny a head per week; that the rent, fuel, light, and repairs, of the implements on which they work, amounted to 6d. and one-eighth of a penny per head per week; leaving these poor persons only 1s. 3d. and one-eighth per head per week for food and clothing. The hon. Member stated, that this was one of those townships of Lancashire where hand-loom weaving formed a principal branch of the employment of the poor, and was one of those comprised in the survey of thirty-five townships, of which he (Mr. Fielden) had circulated the result, and should take an opportunity of placing a copy in the hands of every hon. Member of the House to morrow morning. The petitioners stated further, that the whole sum received by these poor persons in poor-rate, amounted to no more than 10l., 8s. 2½d. a-week. The petition was most respectably signed, having the names of the clergyman of the Established Church of the place, of the Churchwardens and Overseers, and most of the respectable persons in the township, affixed to it. Mr. Fielden presented another from Blachinworth and Calderbrook, complaining of similar distress; and the hon. Member stated that a great proportion of the poor persons in this township were in the employ of himself and his partners; and the allegations contained in the petitions he of his own knowledge knew to be true. The income, for food and clothing, which the families visited in this township received for each person for one week, was only 1s. 6d., that is, for food and clothing; and the Poor-rate distributed amongst them amounts to only 1l. 7s. 5d.; that out of 1,011 persons visited in this township, there were only three out of employ who were capable of working, the others being in full work. Several hon. Members had at divers times expressed doubts as to the truth of the extent of the distress which he had represented to the House. He regretted exceedingly that such doubts should be entertained, because it was calculated to prevent inquiry, and to delay, if not defeat a remedy for this distress. What had been stated by him was either true or false; and if hon. Members residing in the neighbourhood where this distress was represented to exist, would take the pains to inform themselves on the subject, as he (Mr. Fielden) had done, he was satisfied they would arrive at the same conclusions. He had also to present petitions from Langfield, Marsden, and Barrowford, complaining of similar distress: also one from the forest of Rossendale, embracing eight townships enumerated in the survey to which he had before alluded, and one petition from the township of Haslingden; all complaining of the same distress. Upon these the hon. Member remarked that the inhabitants of these townships were engaged in the manufacture of silk, of cotton, and of woollen; the petitions were most numerously and respectably signed, having the names of all, or nearly all, the ministers of the Established Church in the several townships, the Church wardens and Overseers, many respectable professional men, and many of the most respectable manufacturers and tradesmen in the district from which they came, and he could assure the House that the petitioners were labouring under the severest distress. To show the wretchedness of these poor people, nearly the whole of whom were in full employ (a fact which should not be forgotten, and which was the worst feature in the case, because it was not want of employment, but want of adequate wages for that employment), he could not refrain from reading a letter which he had received from a respectable dissenting minister, though in humble life, in which was described the privation and suffering under which they laboured. The hon. Member read the letter as follows: 'The 'distress we have witnessed in taking this 'survey is almost inexpressible. Had I 'not been an eye-witness of the state of 'the labouring poor therein contained, I 'should not have credited their wretched 'and miserable condition. In some fa'milies of six, seven, or eight in number, 'we find only one bed, and a lap or two of straw. The mistress 'of one family in 'particular, of seven in number, said they 'had only one blanket, and that nearly 'worn out, and nothing for the cradle, 'except an old cloak. The clothing of a 'large number of them is not worth more 'than 6s. or 8s., and one or two years' 'rent behind; the nauseous smells, and 'the miserable aspect of some of the in'habitants, are truly distressing, and many 'there are that say they have not the 'means of procuring soap either to cleanse 'themselves or what should be their linen. 'We are conscious that we have not under'rated their income, nor exceeded their 'number.—(Signed) EDWARD ASH'WORTH. P. S.—Potatoes to dinner—half 'a pound of mutton fat served five meals 'for five in a family, thin oatmeal porridge 'for breakfast and supper—bedding and 'clothing miserable—little children in the 'cradle only straw to lie on, and covered with a "cotton fent." The House would perhaps allow him to explain that this cotton fent" was the remnant of the web, at the end of every warp, which is about a yard in length, and is the customary perquisite of the weaver; it was, iii short, a yard of cotton calico. The hon. Member next presented a petition from Castleton—the town of Rochdale being partly situated in that township, and the manufacture there is flannel, woollens, and cotton, but principally the two former—complaining of similar distress, and stating that the earnings of the working people only amounted, after the reduction necessarily incurred, to 1s. 1d. and seven-eighths of a penny per week, for each individual of the families visited, for food and clothing: that, of 2,427 persons visited, there were only seventy-seven persons capable of work who were out of employ. The others were in full employ. He was glad to see the hon. member for Rochdale (Mr. Fenton) in his place; and he would hand over the petition to him, in order that he might bear testimony to the respectability of those who had signed it, there being the names of many of his best friends attached to it. He had also to present petitions from Spotland, Wardle-worth, and Wuerdle and Wardle, all situate in and near Rochdale, complaining of similar distress; and it was worthy of observation, that the work in which these poor people were engaged was of a description which had not much competition from power-looms; and, therefore, the argument that power-looms caused the distress could not bear upon this subject, and was indeed, here shown to be untrue. He had another petition from the township of Blackburn, signed by seven persons who had made the survey before alluded to, which stated that the township contained a population of 27,091 persons: that 1,738 families, containing in all 9,772 persons, had been visited by the petitioners: that there were only 452 persons capable of working, who were not in full employment: that the total weekly wages of the families visited amounted to 828l. 19s. 7d. a-week, being an average of 1s. 8d. and three-eighths of a penny for each person: that the average rent for each person amounted to 3d. and five-eighths of a penny per week, and fuel, light, and other indispensable outgoings were threepence-halfpenny per week; these two last items being 7d. and one-eighth, which, being deducted from Is. 8d. and three-eighths (gross income), left only 1s. 1¼d. for food and clothing for each individual for one week, in the 9,779-persons in the families visited by the petitioners: that the parish relief received amongst the families visited amounted to no more than 24l. 12s. 8d. per week. He had received a letter from a most respectable professional man in the town of Blackburn, stating that the petitioners who had made this survey, were men of respectability in their situations of life, and that he believed that the examinations had been carefully made, and were as correct as it was possible to get up such returns. Mr. Fielden regretted that any attempt to discredit these statements should have been made, for he believed them to be substantially true. He had taken great pains to inform himself on this subject, both amongst those workmen whom he him-self employed, and by inquiring of others in similar employments. In giving directions for these surveys, he had desired the parties to visit those families only whose average income from wages for the whole of the family did not exceed 2s. 6d. a head a-week, and this had been in most instances observed, but in some cases departed from; and there was one which now came to his mind that he could not help adverting to—that was, the township of Trawden, near Pendle-hill, in Lancashire, where the visitors had given the result of the survey of almost all the families in the township. The population is 2,851. and there were 2,480 persons, six-sevenths of the whole number in the township), whose average income per head a-week, applicable for food and clothing, did not amount to more than twopence-halfpenny per head a-day, and the whole of the families visited were in full employment. It was lamentable to him to have to detail an account of such distress; he knew how painful it was to hon. Members to hear such statements repeated in the House; but, believing them, as he sincerely did, to be true accounts, the subject appeared to him to be so important and so worthy of the serious attention of the Legislature, that if he did not make these representations, however unpalatable, he should be guilty of the grossest dereliction of duty. He would only observe, in passing, that he had laboured, for many years, to prevent this reduction in the value of labour, but without success; he and others had petitioned this House over and over again. In 1829, he and a number of other manufacturers, had, through the medium of Lord Stanley, sent a memorial to Mr. Secretary Peel, detailing the distress which had been then of many years' standing; but instead of receiving relief, soldiers, with their accompaniments, were sent down, and consumed the food which was so much wanted for these poor people! This distress, had been, by some, denied, and the argument used was, that the hands employed in mills were better paid for their labour. But this was no answer to rebut the fact of this distress amongst these poor persons. It was true that those families employed in mills did receive better wages; but it should not be lost sight of, that for one person employed in mills, he believed that there were three, at least, employed in this other description of work, which was so inadequately paid for; and the price for labour in mills was being fast reduced to the wages received by those out of the mills. He and his partners had innumerable applications from persons working for masters who paid less than themselves for mill-hands, not because they were out of work, but with a desire to get into better employment. Indeed two or three hours a day were frequently taken up by one or other of his partners in giving answers to such applicants. In one mill, near to the works of himself and his partners, the proprietors got a certain description of work done at 5s. for which he and his partners paid 7s. at least; and the effect would be, that they would be compelled (as they had already been in hand-loom weaving) to adopt the prices of those who paid so much less than themselves, or otherwise abandon their business; for it was impossible to contend successfully against such competitors; and thus the wages of mill-hands would be brought to a level with the labour performed in the cottages of the poor, instead of the wages of the latter being advanced to the wages paid in mills. The petitioners all stated, that the value of their labour had been reduced, as measured in the necessaries of life, more than one half, since the close of the war; and they all prayed for a reduction in the price of the necessaries of life to the altered value of their wages. He had now presented those petitions which had already come into his possession, of about twenty townships comprised in the result of the survey which he had promised to put into the hands of hon. Members to-morrow morning, and he would read to the House the result of that survey:—'That, in thirty-five townships, 'the population is 203,349. The families 'visited are 8,362. The persons in these 'families, 49,294, being nearly one-fourth 'of the whole. The number out of work 'in the families visited, is 2,287. The 'number unfit for work in the same, is '23,060. The number of workers is '23,947. The total weekly wages which 'the families visited earn, are 4,447l. '18s. This sum will give for each of those who 'work, a weekly average of 3s. 8d. and five-'eighths; and for each of the whole 'number of persons visited, a weekly 'average of 1s. 9d. and five-eighths. The 'rent paid by the families visited is, per 'annum, 32,693l. 17s. 5d. This sum 'gives an average of 3d. a-week for each 'individual in the families visited. Fuel, 'light, and wear of implements, will be 'an average for each individual of, at 'least, 3½d. a week; and this, with the 'average rent of 3d., being deducted from '1s. 9d. and five-eighths, the average in-'come of each individual, leaves for food 'and clothing for each individual for a 'week 1s. 3d. and one-eighth. The whole 'parish relief given weekly to the families 'visited is 139l. 7s., or, for each, five-'eighths of a penny; and the average 'income of each for a day, for food and 'clothing, from both wages and relief, is '2¼d.' Mr. Fielden next presented a petition from Thomas Vevers, Christopher Tinker, and George Beaumont, of Huddersfield, confirming the account of the distress in that neighbourhood which he (Mr. Fielden) had stated on a former evening to the House. The petitioners stated that, since the examination made in 1832, the wages for merinos, cassanetts, and woollen cords, had been reduced; that the suffering amongst the poor was extreme: that many hands were out of work, that the poor had to sleep upon straw, and to live upon potatoes and oatmeal and water, which they had aptly called "tremblers," being a composition of oatmeal and water boiled, and which is a little thicker than water-gruel, but not of a consistency to be called porridge; that soma of them scarcely ever tasted animal food; now-and-then, however, obtaining an onion, which they considered a luxury. The statement of the distress at Huddersfield had been denied by the hon. member for Huddersfield, who was reported to have said in his place in the House, that there were very few persons in that neighbourhood who earned less than 2s. a-day, and most of them earned 3s. a day. It no doubt was true, that those employed in mills, in that district, were better paid than those employed at their own homes; but the number of the latter far exceeded that of the former, who might be distressed, to the extent described, while the former were better off. He therefore expressed his doubts as to the correctness of the information of the hon. member for Hudders- field; for the accounts which he had given of this distress had been corroborated by many other individuals, and by the result of a partial survey, taken in February last, by which it appeared that there were 120 families, containing 621 persons, whose weekly income did not exceed 1s. 2d. and seven-eighths of a penny per week; and when the necessary expenses these families had to pay, were made, would reduce their income for food and clothing for each individual to 10d. per week, or less than 1½d. per day; and which went to confirm the allegations of the petitioners, as well as the statement of Mr. Stocks, on which he (Mr. Fielden) founded his account given to the House on an early evening in the present Session, and which he would now read to the House. Mr. Stocks's statement was, that an examination had been made in 1829, and it showed that, out of a population of 29,000, there were 13,226 who had only an average of 2½d. a day for subsistence. He would read what Mr. Stocks gave him in writing in January last—namely, That the con'dition of the above population is worse 'at the present moment; and it is be'lieved that the average at present would 'not exceed 2d. per day for all expenses; 'and that it is believed that 40,000 are in 'the above condition in the upper division of 'Aggbrig, containing 103,384 in habitants.' These statements were appalling; they were either true or false; and it behoved the hon. member for Huddersfield, and the members for the West Riding of Yorkshire, to make inquiry, and to satisfy themselves and this House, whether such distress did exist; and he hoped that during the recess, they would make particular inquiry on this subject; for it was one to which too much attention could not be paid by hon. Members of this House. If the condition of the labouring poor, who should be the consumers of their own productions and the productions of others, could not be improved, it threatened a dissolution of society. He begged to apologize for the time which he had occupied, but what he had stated to the House appeared to him to be so important, that he trusted he should be excused. In conclusion he would beg leave to read to the House the result of a visit to a number of families near Huddersfield, made by Captain Wood in March, 1832, and communicated to him. The hon. Member read the following statement:—

Scamonden township.

  1. 1. Benjamin Sykes—Family seven; weekly income 7s.; live upon potatoes and thin water-porridge; no bed clothes; clothes worn out; and nearly naked; rent 36s.
  2. 2. James Clay—Family seven; in one room, 4 yards by 5; rent 34s.; all sleep in one bed; the room holds their loom also; income 6s. per week; never any bread or animal food.
  3. 3. Mary Sugden—Family of three, weekly income 1s. 9d.; sleep in corner of loom-room, on straw laid on the floor, without covering except the rags they were in the day-time; no furniture.
  4. 4. William Lamb—family four, weekly income 5s.; live upon potatoes, and salt, and thin water porridge; no milk, cannot afford to pay for it; no bread nor meat; has wove 160 yards, and travelled forty-eight miles, for 16s. 4d.
  5. 5. Hannah Parkin, widow—Four children; (left with child, and now incapable of working); income 4s. 6d. per week; live on oatmeal porridge, without milk, or anything else; no furniture of any kind, except bedstead; when asked, replied "don't know how they live," the poor woman distracted, and children in great want; at present receiving 2s. per week from the parish.
  6. 6. James Bailey—Family seven; weekly income 5s.; live on a little oatmeal and water; all sleep in one bed; no blanket.
  7. 7. Joseph Sykes—Family of four; weekly income of 4s.; all in one bed, and one blanket; almost starved to death at night.
  8. 8. James Dyson—Family four; weekly income 3s.; all in one chaff bed, with one blanket; his wife lately confined, and all the nourishment she had was oatmeal and water.
  9. 9. William Bottomley—Family nine; rent 3l. which had just been distrained for (land-lord in possession of all); weekly income 9s.; 2s. 6d. from parish, for which he has to go to Rochdale, twelve miles; labours fourteen hours per day; three beds of straw, with only one blanket in the house; it is nine years old. These wretched beings live on thin water-porridge; they have one gill of milk for breakfast, which the mother mixes among the porridge; for dinner, potatoes; bread never seen in their houses; meat unknown.

Visited about twenty other houses, where the same scenes of misery were found. We took the houses at random. Scamonden has 912 inhabitants; and at least two-thirds will be found in this situation.

A most important feature (showing the hopelessness of their situation), that there was abundance of work, and "more," they said, might be had if they could find time to do it." A man can earn about 5s. clear of expenses of winding, per week; out of which he has rent, clothes, and keeping to provide; and in this district a man has generally eighteen miles to walk with his work:

Mr. Stocks, who led me to these scenes of wretchedness, assured me that a population of about 40,000 may be found in the neighbour hood of Huddersfield, of the poorest class, whose daily income will not average 1d½. for each person. The visit was made March 1832. JOSEPH WOOD.

Mr. George W. Wood

was aware that it was not proper to occupy the time of the House in discussing petitions, because, as the subjects of those petitions could not be brought satisfactorily before them, it was impossible that justice could be done to them. He was aware of the distress which existed in some parts of the country, and he considered it to be a subject well worthy of the most attentive consideration of the House. He would, though most reluctantly, offer a few observations on what had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Oldham, to whom he gave the utmost credit for the purity of his motives, and who, he was sure, would not intentionally mislead the House. He thought, however, that his hon. friend was deceiving himself as to the actual condition of the working people in Lancashire. He had stated what each family had to live on per head per week, and the result of his inquiries appeared to be, that 8,362 families earned only 4,447l. per week, which was something about 10s. for each family. That statement was obtained, he (Mr. Wood) believed, in January—the season when wages were lowest, and the fewest persons were in employ. The facts also were gathered from the individuals themselves whose condition was the subject of inquiry, and, therefore, it was not unreasonable to suppose that they would make the most unfavourable statement they could of their condition. Their statements were, therefore, not likely to be altogether correct. Besides, it was impossible in such a condition of society that the Poor-rates should be so low as they really were. As to the borough which the hon. Member represented (Oldham), he believed that it was on the whole in a prosperous condition; certainly it had increased in population and manufactures more than any other town in the county of Lancaster. The Poor-rates, with every disposition to do what was necessary for the poor, were smaller in Oldham than in any other town in the same county. The persons whose situation the hon. Member referred to, were the hand-loom weavers. No one could doubt that their condition was by no means prosperous, or that it was not one that the House should endeavour to alleviate; but a false statement had been made as to the general condition of the working classes of that part of the country. He (Mr. Wood) believed that the wages of persons who worked in factories, and who formed the largest portion of the population, were as much per head, or nearly so, as the hon. Member had stated them for a whole family. As respected the entire population of South Lancashire, he knew, from his intercourse with it, that they had been for some years more prosperous than formerly, and that there was nothing like the distress which had been described.

Mr. Cornish

felt equally conscious with the hon. Member who had just sat down, of the dislike entertained by the House to have its time occupied by lengthened discussions on the numerous petitions presented to it; but he conceived if any occasion would justify an infringement on its time, it was the important and distressing representation that had just been made. He regretted that such a momentous statement should have been made to so scanty a House—a House scarcely comprising twenty members. ["No, no."] Yes, yes. He had counted the House while the petitions were presenting, and there were not more than a score Members in it. The attention of the House had been frequently called by petitions from all parts of the country to the state of its distress. No Parliament ever met with the people under such excited expectations: yet that Parliament had sat two months, and to this hour not only no efficient remedy had been suggested, but not even an investigation into the cause of the distress had been proposed. Possibly the evil lay too deep for eradication; but he hoped that his Majesty's Ministers would at once proceed to institute an inquiry into the cause of the calamity, and if this were done, although it should be out of the reach of legislative redress, the people would be satisfied that proper exertions had been made, and that this House had done its duty.

Mr. Cobbett

regretted the thinness of the House at the time his hon. colleague was reading the petitions which he had just presented to the House. No details,—no authentic documents, had been brought forward in contradiction of the statements made by his hon. friend. He was satisfied of the truth of every thing which his hon. colleague had stated to the House, and he trusted that the House, at last, would think proper to adopt some measure of permanent relief. Let the taxes be taken off, in order that the poor man might get the pot of porter for a 1d. instead of 4d.—a pound of sugar for 2d. instead of 7d.—and a pound of soap for 2d. instead of 6d. or 7d. "Ay," but said the Government, if you talk about taking off the taxes, "we can't do without the taxes, and we can't afford to take any off."

Mr. Hawes

rose to order. He would ask the Speaker whether the hon. Gentleman was strictly confining himself to the question that was before the House? If an hon. Member was to occupy the House upwards of an hour upon one question, it would be impossible to accomplish the object for which the House then sat, which was the presentation of petitions.

The Speaker

said, since the alteration in the presentation of petitions, when an hon. Member presented a number of petitions upon a variety of subjects, it was difficult for him to say, on the question that they do lie on the Table, whether any hon. Gentleman confined himself to any of the questions embraced by the petitions. In the mean time, he would only say, that there was no species of distress that could exist but what was alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Fielden); therefore the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobbett) was not out of order.

Mr. Cobbett

was merely telling the House the way in which they could relieve the distresses of these poor people. There was the sum of 16,000l. they had voted for the Museum. If that sum were applied in the manner suggested by his hon. colleague, it would double the wages of 938 families, consisting of 4,960 persons, and that by merely taking away from the loungers of the British Museum the privileges they at present possessed. There were the 113 Privy Councillors, who, according to a statement that had never yet been contradicted, divided amongst themselves 650,000l. Let them take that away, and distribute it amongst the people, and it would relieve 180,555 persons. The people could only be relieved by applications of this sort; and this was what the people knew, and must know; and the ladies must be struck off the Pension-list, and the sinecures must be swept away. If they were to take away only the money that was prodigally spent, the people would be greatly relieved; and he believed Ministers were anxious, and would be even glad to do that; and they would get rid of sinecures and pensions if they were supported by this House. They wanted the House to back them, and to support them in putting down the squandering. He believed the money squandered would amount to more than double the wages of these persons in the northern and western manufacturing districts of the country. Nothing was wanted to put down the present waste of the public money, but the House to back the Ministers, and to enable them to do it; and when he brought forward his Motion relative to the Stamps—which he should do to-morrow evening—he should then show how the people became poorer and poorer; for, by inquiring into the causes of poverty, they would be able to prevent people from becoming poor. These poor people had barracks full of soldiers to take care of them; and when they saw a lusty soldier covered all over with fine lace, and a fat, shining horse, that cost as much as seven families of seven children, it was a miracle they suffered so long and so patiently as they did. He hoped the House would take this matter into consideration as soon as possible. He suggested to his hon. friend the propriety of moving for the printing of these Petitions, and for a Committee of Inquiry, that the House might be properly prepared to meet this tremendous subject. He believed there were no hon. Members in that House so hard-hearted as not to be willing to give this subject their closest attention.

An Hon. Member

, in rising to bear testimony to the truth of the statement of the petition which had been presented by the hon. member for Oldham (Mr. Fielden) felt bound to complain of the course pursued by his hon. colleague. Though it might be competent to that hon. Member, if he thought fit to address the House at length, to bring forward statements as to the distress of the country, yet in those statements he thought he ought to avoid introducing discussions which might have a tendency to make the people discontented.

Mr. Fielden

, in reply, said, that the best answer to the hon. member for Lancashire, was contained in a letter which he received yesterday, and which contain- ed a report of a speech of Mr. George Smith who was chairman of one of the Committees for securing the return of the right hon. the Vice-President of the Board of Trade for Manchester. It spoke for itself, and, without saying one word more on the subject, he would only detain the House while he read it. At the election dinner to celebrate the return of Mark Phillips, esq. and the right hon. Poulett Thomson, as representatives for the town of Manchester, on the 28th December, 1832, on the health of the working classes being drunk, Mr. Smith said, 'Being extensively connected with the 'working classes, I beg leave to reply to 'that toast. Our house employs certainly 'upwards of 1,000 of those miserable 'beings, the hand-loom calico weavers, 'and we pay all this host of work-people 'with from 250l. to 300l. per week, pro'bably an average of about 5s. 6d. per head 'per week, [Cries of "Shame, shame;"] 'and lest you should think that our house 'is fattening on the vitals of those poor 'people, I will state to you a fact which 'I would not otherwise have stated—'namely, that the last year our house 'manufactured and sold 200,000 pieces of 'hand-loom calicoes. We conducted our 'business with as much economy as pos'sible. We made no bad debts, and yet, 'at the year's end, we had not gained an average profit of a 1d. per piece. I 'mention this to show you that all that 'can be afforded to the weaver is given to 'him.'

Petitions to lie on the Table.

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