On this day … 3 March 1854

At the height of the Great Preston Lock Out in early 1854 when workers and mill owners battled it out over pay cuts, crowds of striking workers met each afternoon on the wasteland known as the Orchard, which is where the Covered Market now stands and which is remembered by the naming of Orchard Street.

These meetings unsettled the cotton lords who argued that they ‘were likely to provoke rioting and a breach of the peace’, and they appealed to the mayor. On 3 March, he had the riot act read, the soldiers at Fulwood Barracks put on alert and all public meetings in the town banned.

Gravel Bank on River Ribble at Preston where striking cotton weavers met in 1854
1840s 60inch map of Preston from the National Library of Scotland collection: https://maps.nls.uk/view/231280374

The workers’ response to what at the time was seen by many as an overreaction and evidence of the town authorities colluding with the mill owners, was to transfer their meetings to a gravel bank on the Walton-le-Dale side of the Ribble, beyond the Preston jurisdiction.

In this, they were following the example of their compatriots in Paris, where for centuries aggrieved peasants and workers had met on a similar gravel bank by the Seine to voice their protests. In France a river gravel bank is known as a grève, which quite naturally has given the French their word for a strike, as in ‘Ils sont en grève depuis dix jours’, (they have been on strike for ten days).

A fortnight later, the Preston employers went to court to accuse twelve of the workers’ delegates of conspiring to persuade workers brought in from out of town to join the strike, as the lock out had by then become. These other workers, including many Irish who went on to settle in the town, had been brought in from out of town to replace the striking weavers.

Within weeks, the workers were effectively starved into submission. On May Day 1854 some 10,000 men gathered, again by the Walton Bridge, and agreed to end the strike.

Clemesha’s History of Preston
Dutton and King: https://www.hslc.org.uk/journal/vol-131-1981/attachment/131-5-dutton/

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