A note from the “dark satanic mills”

My ancestors on my Father’s side of the family came from the north of England, working in the textile factories of Lancashire, the “dark satanic mills”.

English: Pilot Mill, Bury

Pilot Mill, Bury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the early 19th century cotton was the predominant textile industry in the area. The railways were built and farmers’ fields were replaced by rows of terraced housing, beside the factories and mills.

The houses were of the most limited kind without basic facilities, sewers or proper streets. The result was the rapid spread of disease and high mortality rates in crowded areas. In 1838 out of 1,058 workers’ houses in Bury investigated by the Manchester Statistical Society 733 had 3-4 people in each bed, 207 had 4-5 and 76 had 5-6. Social reformers locally and nationally were concerned about such issues. One street had 10 houses, each with one bedroom, and a population of 69. The average age of death in Bury was 13.8 years.

A street in Bury, 1958

A street in Bury, 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Towns like Bury, and around Tottenham where my forebears lived, were likened to ‘camps’ where newcomers sought work in mill, mine or forge. The terraced houses above would probably have been built in the Victorian era, after the economic crisis caused by the American Civil War, which is discussed in this letter, a remarkable little piece of social history. These ancestors were probably not at the bottom of the working class ladder, but they were not factory owners either.

They seem to have been solid Methodist citizens, who taught Sunday school and held literacy classes for workers within the factories. This would have been the only eduction available to them.

James Hargreaves, his wife and one young son left England and came to Australia in the early 1850s. The following letter is from a family friend, telling him of the conditions back home.

Letter to James Hargreaves

November 22th 1862.

My dear Sir,

I think it is now time that I should give you my annual letter. I dare say you think it aught to be a good one with having a whole year to record; well I can only say for self that at present I don’t know what to put in, but I suppose I must let it be long and full of interest; how time does but roll on, we shall be getting into old men very soon, it only looks like the other day since we parted, and what changes we each have had, yours has been rather rougher, I suppose it will be folly for a man to come to your district with carpet slippers, and kid gloves etc., to work for a living. I should think he would fare very poorly against one that is accustomed to strong manual labour, at all events you must not expect me, I should prefer your present business to any of your former occupations if it answers in a money point of view.

I may as well tell you that I have had an increase of family since I last wrote, a son, 4 months old now, so that now I am blessed with a daughter 2 years and 3 months and a son, you see we are both likely to have a good family, I will engage to supply either a boy or a girl to match yours if you will not go on too fast, it will be very nice for us in our old age to have our grandchildren prattling around us, I received your letter along with some newspapers, you speake of my former letter being good, but I must say that I was very well satisfied with the one from you, I was glad to hear of your good health and prosperity, and I hope and trust that you are still blessed with a continuence of the same, you interested me very much with your sketch of events which you have had to pass through since leaving here.

I was very sorry to hear of the sad fate which befell to the men that formed the overland expedition; well done old Tottington for furnishing a finance minister in the person of J Verdon, I think we aught to feel very proude in the honour that as been conferred upon him, I read very attentively his speech in reply to the attacts that were made upon it, it was a very good speech and I was sorry that the votes were against him; to understand the question properly, one should know a little of the parties, their views upon general questions, because if you don’t know them as a party, you cannot form a correct opinion upon the question in dispute, because for parties purposes they can almost make black look white.

What a good reception you gave our cricketers, they were entertained like princes; I hope you may be able to get hold of a good lump of that hard and valuable metal and return to us again, follow your brother Sam’s example, come and build us a lot of houses with your money. They are very scarce now in Tottington, perhaps I may be a tenant of your yet, your brother has built  a lot at corner of copt-hill; there is nothing new much about Tottington; school will interest you as much as anything else I can say, it is going on very well, and is in a prosperous condition, my father is the superintendant this year, in fact he has had it ever since you left with the exception of 2 years which Samuel Lomas fulfilled, I am very glad to say that he is well, of course he is beginning to look like an old man, my mother is very well, I have only two sisters at home, now Fanny and Sarah, I lost my brother William  3 years next January brother John is still at Oakenshaw, he has a very good place of it, Samuel Lomas is working at Walker foundry, he his very well and family, he occasionally hears from there Harry, who is doing very well in your country.

I may just say that R Hacking is dead, of Bury. Benjamin Howarth and family are very well, he has very little work now, perhaps a day a week, his son James has been out of work for a long time, engraving is entirely done up, they do it now by pentegraph, Eli Spencer is still a teacher in the school, and at the same work at the mill, George Holt his very well he has had another increase of family, I think it makes 4 now, he has the management of this new process of engraving by pentegraph.

There is great uneasiness in the school with regard to the singing – about 3 years ago B Howarth gave it up, (while you were with us express himself many time he should like to give it up) so George was appointed and all went right until the Hoyles came here, who are factory masters and teachers in the school, then Ben found that he had made a mistake in giving it up, it made him only a common man, and this would not do for him, so what does he do but commences again in the singing pew and in the course of time the school sermons were coming on, and he made sure of having it; when your Will and A Howarth and the young teachers saw what his motives were they appointed George again, and 0 what a row it cost with Ben, but they were too many for him, and I never enjoyed singing better than I did under George at the sermons.

I went over that Sunday, he had from 50 to 60 females, 18 or 19 Bass, 9 Tenors, and 8 Altos and I never heard tunes go so grandly, he had a very good selection of full and steady going tunes, and he gave general satisfaction, he makes a very good leader, and I wish I could say it for Ben, he his having this Christmas, but very few of the girls are singing with him, they are all in favour of George, there has been a little bother at the teachers meetings, with him and the young teachers, he has fallen very much in the estimation of his fellow teachers who are determined that the school shall be governed according to the rules, and not one to say I will have it this way or that according to his wims, he has been detected in being untruthful, perhaps you think this is all small talk, but you asked for more news about the school and that is the reason why I have given you this, I have just been informed that George has been appointed leading singer at Tottington church at a salary of 5£ per annum.

Samuel Howarth and Esther are very well, they have a family of two (girls) he his now a local preacher, with is name on the plan, along with James Heap (? the e is blotted), he makes a model of a husband for Esther, as she herself will acknowledge, if she is a little cross and out of temper with him, for not doing more household work, he takes it all in good part, knowing that if he has not taken his full share of the duties devolving upon him as a man at the head of a family (which I am sure you will pray that it may be largely increased) it has not been because he has not had the will, but because he has had no opportunity of showing it, for instance if he is willing to clean her boots, or any other odd job same as you and I have to do, he is generally too late. I think I may say that they both send you their love and best wishes for your happiness.

I cannot tell you anything of your parents as I have not seen them for some time. Your brother William is secretary at the school, he is a nice young man, he is one that I admire very much, I call him the old general, he has not much to say, but what it is, it is to the point. I can assure you, you have reasons to be proud of having such a brother to support and comfort your mother; I was over at Astley one Saturday afternoon about three weeks they kindly asked how you and Jane were, they are all very well, Jane has lost her husband about 6 months since.

You will have heard the sad calamity that has overtaken us through the scarcity of cotton, it is painfully distressing to hear of the amount of suffering in the various parts of Lancashire, and the noble manner in which they bear their loss is the little that is given to them, they know what is the cause of their distress, it is one that no-one in England is answerable for, it is all on account of the American war, and as long as that lasts, so will their sufferings continue.

To give you an idea of the amounts of distress I will give you the returns for last week, operatives employed when all are working, 354,000, out of this number there are 40,000 working full time, 134,000 working short time, and 180,000 wholly unemployed; for the Bury district, which includes Tottington, Elton etc., No. Of mills 187, usually employing 29,201 hands, of the mills 17 are working full time, 109 short time, and 61 stopped. Hands working full time 1,267; five days a week 928; four days 1,499; 3 ½ days 900; 3 days 4,289; 2 ½ days 114; and 2 days 5,255; wholly unemployed 14,959; the district is considered to have a population of 100,00, the guardians are giving relief at a cost of 660£ (a week) or 600£ more than the same week last year.

There has been sewing schools opened, to teach the females the use of the needle, writing, reading, and accounts, in all the places and they give them so much per head, as their funds will allow them. The returns from the other towns are similar to Bury, with this difference, some has had it for 12 months, Blackburn, Preston and Wiggan were the first to feel it, there are 336,000 persons receiving relief from the Guardians, and relief committees. It is calculated that the work people are losing at the rate of 641,000£ per week in the loss of wages, and that must effect the small shop keepers and owners of cottages, and some of the mill owners must be suffering much, it is said that they are at present time losing 130,000; per week. This was excluding depreciation of property and interest on capital, and most of them were cottage owners, and therefore they could get no rent, beside the damage done to the machinery with not being kept working. A good many masters have kept their mills working to stop their hands from suffering. In one case I know of, they lost 12,000£, and not one penny of this has been charged for interest upon capital, which is 80,000£; but has been entirely lost through cotton being so high in price, and they cannot get proportionate prices after it has been made some thousands of pounds, and there are a good many more cases similar to this here, as well as in other part of the country.

Cotton has risen very much in value, what had used to be sold at 6’ (pence) per lb, you must give about 2 shillings now for the same, and same proportion according to the quality, about 2 years ago we had a stock of cotton in Liverpool of one million and a quarter, and about a month since it got reduce to 70,000 bales, or as much as would be consumed in 49 days if all were working full time, but since then we have had some large arrivals from India which has increased it to 300,000 bales, and this has been the reason of prices getting up so, we see no probability of getting from America until the war is over, it is said there are 4 million bales now in the Confederate States, but it cannot get out through the blockade, if they would let us have their cotton they may go on fighting as long as the wish, but it is hard that we should suffer through their stupid work, they get no nearer in subduing them, but rather worse, they are so blinded with their passion, that they have lost their senses or they would give it up as useless in trying to force them back again in the union. They are creating a very heavy National debt which will make them remember their folly.

We have relief committees established in every town in Lancashire, each town has raised a local fund of its own, they have raised a considerable sum in Bury; and each district sends deputy to Manchester to sit upon the head committee, which is called the Central Executive committee, and from this committee, the local one’s received assistance from a General fund, Earl of Derby is chairman of the central committee, and it meets every Monday; J R Kay of Summerseat is the representative for Bury an its district; the General fund has now been increased to 540,000£, of this amount 40,000£ has been received from the colonies, and from the United Kingdom 100,000£ and the remainder (400,000£) has been collected in Lancashire, in Manchester they have collected up to this date 100,000£, and they have not done yet; and it is estimated that the manufacturers have given privately to their hands 250,000£.

And then there is another committee in London, called Lord Mayors Relief Fund, which has received more than 200,000, and is receiving now at the rate of 30,000£ to 40,000£ per week at the present time, it works independently of the Manchester one, and it has done a great amount of meeting this week held at Manchester, Lord Sefton (Lord-lieutenant) in the chair, Lord Derby, other Nobleman and landed proprietors attended, when Lord Derby headed the list with a subscription of 5,000£, and when the meeting was over 70,000£ had been given, all the sums added together amounts to nearly a million pounds, that is what I call doing the thing grandly, and money still keeps flowing in; the Wesleyans have had received, they intend distributing it among their poor members. We have a clothing committee both here and in London to receive cast of clothing and send them for distribution to the distress parts of Lancashire. From the central one in Manchester they have sent 2,800 packages up to this time, they have a very large warehouse to assort them in, with a large staff of hands to manage them, if you have any clothing to give away we shall be very glad to receive them. There is a relief committee in Tottington, for the females, and they allow them 8’ per day; and they have formed a reading and newsroom for the men in the Saints room, and there is soup made at the Wesleylan chapel and sold at one penny per quart.

Hoyles factory is working full time, but the weavers cannot get much money with this surat cotton. My friend Mnason has been stopped 3 months, Mill at Leemans Hill, is stopped, since I commenced with this letter there has been an increasing rappedly at the rate of 10,000 weekly, you see what havvock this scarcity cotton plenteously, we have had some cotton at the exhibition from Queensland, and it has been sold to a firm in Manchester at 4s , 4.6’, and 5 per lb according to quality. It would be a very good investment for you to grow a large quantity, and sell it at the price just named.

I must think of concluding, I have nothing particular to tell more. I am all well in health, and so are my family, and I have weathered the crisis very well so far, I shall be very glad to hear from you, my wife joins me in wishing you, your wife, and family good health, so now good bye.

Yours Affectionate friend,

James Taylor

P.S. When you write, direct to, 34 Inkerman Grove Greenbreys, Manchester

Your brother William has disagreed with your father through drink, and has left home, He is living with Sam and Esther, your mother is better satisfied with him going there than if he had gone somewhere else.

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