Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: introduction 4c

4. A brief outline of the growth of Preston 1800 – 1870 (cont.)

(c) The cotton industry

Full appreciation of the working of relationships within this society in the process of its formation would depend upon careful examination of the roles, connections, interdependencies and even the geographical locations of a wide variety of occupations. Lawyers of various kinds, who were exceptionally numerous in Preston by comparison with other towns, stand out in particular. Little of importance can happen without lawyers being mixed up in it, purses open and pockets closed. Joiners, as organisers of the building of the town; surveyors and land agents; machine makers and coach makers as partially dependent on superior custom and at the same time employers of men whose skills gave them a certain freedom in relation to their market value, would also be interesting. Tradesmen dependent on different classes of custom – butchers, tailors, cloggers, hatters, for example; coal agents and coal merchants, contracting to feed the melancholy-mad elephants whose ‘wearisome heads went up and down at the same rate in hot weather and cold’ in proud engine-houses, or plodding about the poor streets with horse, cart and scales to keep home fires burning; all these, and perhaps above all the shadowy inhabitants of drawing rooms in Winckley Square or West Cliff, whose occupation as ‘fund holders’ or ‘annuitants’ suggests discretionary views of enterprises and individuals whose ambition or need might repay interested assistance, would have to be studied if we are ever to understand how this society grew and behaved as it did. But when there is neither space nor time for subtleties attention must be focussed on the textile industry which accounted for 48% of the total recorded labour force in 1841 and 50% in 1851 (9); and more than a quarter of the whole population between 1847 and 1862.

The extent of the dependence of the whole community of mid-Victorian Preston on the cotton industry can be seen in the cotton famine. H.B. Farnall, reporting to the President of the Board of Trade, in May 1862 (10), found 10,633 mill hands out of work, compared with about 25,000 ‘usually employed in the mills in Preston’, in a population of 81,058. ‘Present pauperism’ – that is, the number of people who were actually granted relief after having steeled themselves to confront the Guardians – was 6,615, or 8.2% compared with a normal level of 2.0%. But the number of people so reduced by the stopping of the mills was in fact much greater because while Poor Law Union spending on relief was £6,255, that was only a fraction of the total of £27,968 ‘Spent in the township in excess of its usual expenditure’, the difference being accounted for by abnormal withdrawals from the Savings Bank, public subscriptions, and union funds. The charitable versifier already quoted, C.R. Jacson, who, as a manufacturer himself probably had a respect for facts, and as a member of the Relief Committee knew what they were, poetically rounded off the number who clattered up the stair for the help of the Committee at ‘Four tens of thousands’. That would be half the population. Unfortunately Farnall’s curiosity about the indirect economic effects of the cotton famine on Preston trade led him only as far as ‘the Keepers of beer shops frequented by mill hands’ who reported takings reduced to a quarter of the ordinary level.

This huge relative importance of cotton (with some flax) in Preston’s economy runs consistently throughout my period, despite changes within the industry itself. When figures for the number of textile workers are available, they amount to more than a quarter of the total population.

Table  2. Textile workers in relation to population

Year No. textile workers % of population sources and remarks
1841 10,716 all textiles 21.4% 1841 Census (cited by Spencer)
1847 13,851 (mill hands) 22% Preston Guardian 8 May, 1847
1851 18,148 all textiles 26% Census Report
1862 25,000 normally in mills 31% Cotton Famine Report
1881 25,909 all cotton 27% Census Report
1883 28,589 mill hands  — Hewitson History

Equivalent figures for earlier periods are harder to obtain, partly because an unknown proportion of handloom weavers made finite reckoning unrealistic, but in the poll book for the election of December 1830 (11), recording 7,122 voters, spinners and weavers alone totalled 2,032, which is 28.5% of the whole electorate. Spinners and weavers were relatively less likely to remain on the register of electors after 1852 (see below p.374), but (counted together with their employers) comprised 18% on the register in 1838 and 21% of the voters in 1841. Bearing in mind the fact that large numbers of young people, and of migrants who arrived after the Reform Act, were not qualified to appear in lists of electors, I think it is safe to conclude that in the earlier period not covered by reliable statistics, as well as the later, at least a quarter of the population was employed in cotton manufacture.

Quantitative analysis of the nature of the growth in the town’s cotton industry is complicated by a number of important distinctions, for some of which evidence is not available. First, cotton firms and cotton mills do not necessarily y correspond, partly because some firms owned a number of mills, and partly – second – because a number of firms were not mechanised, but put their work out to handloom weavers, especially in the earlier period; and some firms certainly operated both systems. Third, the real number of people who should be counted as employers should include partners by investment as well as active management, whose names do not appear in trade directories. These included men who were classified in other occupations, such as grocer and barrister. Finally, the attempt to distinguish between cotton spinners, cotton manufacturers, and combined firms, as well as between the different kinds of product, is to some extent unrealistic because of the constant need to adapt to changing markets and opportunities.

The crude figures to show the growth of the industry as a whole are given in the table, and illustrated in the graph (12).

Table 3. Numbers of cotton mills and cotton firms 1815-62

Date Total Firms Total Mills Remarks
1815 31
1821 (-) 13; 16 DDPr 140/6 rating of factories; Whittle
1825 40
1834 43 23
1835 (-) 35 for parish not only township
1844 (24) (50) Ratebook – incomplete
1847 40 46
1851 55 42
1854 54 (38) an unreliable source
1861 69
1862 71

To appreciate the relationship between cotton masters and their workpeople it is important to know who employed how many in mills, when and how quickly this was achieved, and what proportion of both masters and hands clung to the old domestic system. This is to view the strictly economic questions of the concentration of capital in fewer hands (by the survival of the biggest), and of a possible contraction of entrepreneurial opportunities towards the middle of the century, which have been examined by Gatrell (13) and Chapman (14), from a slightly different point of view and in a particular local context. To anticipate my conclusion, Preston evidence strongly confirms Gatrell’s finding that ‘contemporary fears about the eclipse of the small producer were palpably groundless’.

Graph of numbers of cotton firms and cotton mills in Preston Lancashire in 1800-62
Fig 5. Numbers of cotton firms and cotton mills 1800-62

Small manufacturers who put work out to handloom weavers, working from only an office or a warehouse, clearly survived for a long time, even into the 1850s. At the beginning of my period total cotton firms heavily outnumbered identifiable ‘mills’: Directories of 1815 (15) and 1825 (16) list 31 and 40 firms respectively, but a surviving poor rate assessment of the annual value of 19 ‘cotton factories and other premises with steam engines and boilers’, in 1821 shows only 13 cotton factories (17), and Whittle (18) described only 16. The trend towards firms which combined spinning and ‘manufacturing’ (19) – 6 in 1825, 14 in 1834 and 26 in 1851 – almost certainly contains within it the investment of traditional manufacturers in spinning, which mechanised much earlier than weaving. Joseph Livesey remembered (20) ‘taking our pieces to Messrs Horrocks and Jacson’s warehouse’. Asked by the Select Committee on Handloom Weavers in 1854 whether he expected a reduction in the numbers of handloom weavers to afford relief of their desperate poverty, John Lennon, answering that he did not expect that because ‘the demand for labour is increasing, and the consumption in increasing, and yet they are dropping our wages’, referred to ‘the man I work for, Mr. Hawkins’. Both these were later spinning firms.

An analysis of all the 188 cotton firms mentioned in directories or any other sources between 1815 and 1869 yields a total of 60 manufacturers who were not occupying mills when first mentioned; 15 of them later did so, or joined partnerships identified with known mills. (One striking feature of the survey is the high proportion of firms which first enter the directory lists in the spinning business, whether manufacturing as well or not. I have not tried to find out if the earliest of them began in manufacturing.) The number who made such a transition after 1825 is small (13) but four managed it between 1834 and 1845, and four even after that date. It cannot have been easy: Joseph Gillow, a ‘manufacturer’ in Friargate in 1834, was occupying a mill in 1847 but had to suspend business temporarily and face a meeting of his creditors (21), but he survived until at least 1854.

But it would be wrong to attach particular significance to the fact that a relatively small number of traditional manufacturers joined the ranks of mill owning capitalists. Far more important for a proper appreciation of the nature of the economy and the society is the number who did not, and particularly the period of their activity. I was tempted to write that among Preston’s manufacturing firms 40 enter the historical record only to be shown to have failed; but viewing the chronological pattern of mill building it seems more useful to observe that they filled a gap (see below p.38). The dates between which firms last appear and then vanish from the trade directories, and the number of cases in each period, were: 1825 – 34 : 16; 1834 – 45 : 13; 1845 – 51 : 7; after 1851 : 4. To these should be added an uncertain number of the seven ‘manufacturers’ who continued in business.

Some of these employed handloom weavers on their own premises. James Park reported to a handloom weaving enquiry in 1838 (22) that ‘at his own dandy loom concern weavers attended from 6 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.’; and a rate assessment of 1844 valued ‘Mr Paley’s Dandy Looms’ at £829 (23).

Too much historiographical interest in the growth of large scale factory enterprises has perhaps masked the pre-modern industrial character of early Victorian towns. The minutes of the general purposes committee of the Preston Local Board in the 1850s record anxiety about the danger of pedestrians in the town centre suffering the pantomimic fate of being crushed by sacks falling on them from warehouse hoists (one member of the elite was killed in this way), and a survey of the addresses of these manufacturing firms shows a .surprising concentration in the town centre either on or close to main thoroughfares: Lord Street, Mount Street, Library Street, Shepherd Street, Back Lane, St John’s Place, Water Street, and, above all, Fishergate itself, where there were seven. It isn’t even safe to assume that these small manufacturers survived by whole-hearted specialisation; a notice of auction of the effects of William Dixon, Tea Dealer and Grocer, bankrupt, includes in Lot 2 at 106 Fishergate ‘counting house, warehouses behind the same, also two large Buildings containing 159 self acting looms’. (24)

Handloom weavers had become notoriously poor by the 1830s, but by the evidence of Robert Crawfurd (25) in 1834 there were then about 3,000 weavers in the town, and another 10,000 in the district ‘though less than 15 or 15 years ago’. In July 1836 the Chronicle reported that ‘The demand for handloom weavers generally was scarcely ever so brisk … manufacturers are hawking their work, from house to house which is chiefly of the common description’.

Despite the catastrophe which befell them as a result of the Spinners’ Strike of 1836-7, when 1050 looms were reported as ‘idle’ (26), when the elderly John Lennon warned a mass meeting that the time was ‘gone past, gone for ever, when it would be prudent for men to depend on handloom weaving as a safe means of procuring a decent livelihood’ (27), and when the Mayor impressed upon a deputation ‘the need to take other employment’, weavers had recovered by September – ‘and there are very few without’. Ten years later, in September 1847, the Guardian rejoiced that ‘Amidst the depression connected with mill work in the cotton business … handloom weaving is unusually brisk’. (28) Handloom weavers were still plentiful enough in 1852 to warrant particular mention by one of the candidates in the election of that year. (see chapters V and VI) Handloom weaving survived partly because of the growth of power loom factories (before 1841, was manufactory): it provided a conveniently elastic external organ to be puffed up or let down as markets expanded or contracted, without disturbing the loyalties of the regular mill hands. But it remained an essentially domestic pre-modern business nevertheless, and a reminder that it is easy to exaggerate the pace and the character of industrialisation. The industrial revolution did not sweep into Preston society like a tidal wave carrying all before it: there were parts of the economy where it crept in like rising damp.

The pattern of growth of the cotton mills in Preston shows a similarly hesitant pattern; perhaps, to continue the watery analogy, like the meteorological effects of a passing depression: a short period of heavy rain, followed by a lull, a shower, a lull, and then a long heavy downpour. The chart below shows the appearance of cotton mills as accurately as I can date them between about 1800 and 1860. The slackening early in the second quarter of the century, dealt with by Gatrell (13) is striking, but even more so is the tremendous boom in the mid 1840s, when, as Chapman (14) points out, ‘credit became abundant in the north of England’. It will be noticed that the virtual gap between 1826 and the early 1840s coincides with the proliferation of small unmechanised firms mentioned above.

Approximate building dates of Preston cotton mills 1800 to 1860

First come, first served: Horrocks, later Horrocks, Miller and Co., dominated the cotton economy of Preston, not only in size, number of mills, capital invested, and number of hands employed (see diagrams below) but also in their connections. It would perhaps be a distortion to suggest that other mill owners were vassals of Horrockses, but a few of the hardiest had learned their trade as apprentices with those men, and later set up on their own (e.g. ‘William Taylor) or became members of the capitalist elite (e.g. John Bairstow); while some banking interests (Richard Newsham) must have rejoiced at their perspicacity in helping John Horrocks through his first recklessly ambitious investment in mills. The scale of the Horrocks enterprise, by comparison with the budgets of local statutory authorities, was vast. Partnership balance sheets for 1836-42 (31) show in 1836 a total (including both capital and .profits) of £423,483 and a profit of £30,432 to be distributed pro rata among the five partners: Thomas Miller, with £128,044 in the firm collected £13,009, while the junior partner, S. Horrocks junior, was allowed £2,891 on his existing share of £3,623. It says something for the uncertainties of the business, however, that in the following year profits totalled only £460-13-0, so Thomas Miller had to content himself with £146, while his son, Thomas Miller junior (later sole proprietor), crept away with a beggarly £41-17-7d. Probably the 1839 profit of £16,662 was more typical than either 1836 or 1837. Such success was almost certainly based not only on the domestic reputation of ‘Horrocks long cloths’ – 2,990 pieces were sold through the Manchester warehouse for £2,375, and 7,221 pieces in the London warehouse for £6,666-17-5d in May 1849, most at the lower end of a price range from 3/- to 15/4d – but also on very wide overseas markets. A book recording export sales from 1840 to 1853 (32), shows under printed headings ‘Batavia’, ‘Bombay’, ‘Calcutta’, ‘Manilla’, ‘Singapore’, ‘Rio’, ‘Valparaiso’ etc (14 in all) total exports rising from 99,457 pieces in 1840 to 132,827 in 1853, by far the largest quantities going to Calcutta (13,134 in 1840, and 31,707 in 1853) and Bombay (8,486 and 21,538). Overseas income from sales was translated into huge quantities of tea, spices, indigo etc. (in Bombay by a merchant called Jahargheir Naiservaija Wadja) which were then sold through London brokers. (33)

But Horrocks Miller and Co. were not typical of Preston mill owners. They were a most striking exception. William Banks, recollecting in 1888 the experience of 67 years as a cotton operative, remembered the heroes of the early days, perhaps with the enchantment of distance:

The early pioneers took a special interest in the welfare and prosperity of the town, and resided amongst the people, and spent their money amongst the tradesmen of the Borough. Their names were Arkwright, Calvert, Goodair, Hawkins, Birley, Simpson, Smith, Adam Leigh, Watson, Horrocks, Miller, Catterall, Ainsworth, Paley, Gardiner, Clayton,  Swainson and Birley and others… (34)

In fact this is a variegated list, including a fair proportion of the second wave of mill builders. None of them even approached Horrockses in scale though Swainson and Birley, Paul Catterall and Ainsworth headed a trailing field. As the diagrams show, the mills of Preston were typically ‘small to middling’. Out of 30 mills valued for rating purposes in 1844 (35), on a scale reaching up to a total of £61,376 for all the Horrocks mills, only one other firm was valued at more than £18,000 (Catterall) and 21 were worth under £8,000. All the spinning mills fell below this line. The diagram above showing number of hands employed in 1847 (36) reflects this pattern. Two employed more than 1,000, 9 others more than 500, and 19 employed fewer than 150 hands.

If, in terms of cotton mills, Preston experienced an ‘industrial revolution’, it was in the 1840s. The factory inspector Leonard Horner reported (37) in 1845 ‘many new factories now building or completed. At Preston alone there are eight’, and his tabular information shows new capital investment in ten new mills in the parish between July 1844 and March 1845. The Guardian (38) reported seven new mills building in that year. No wonder that a reason for urging the improvement commissioners in 1844 to try to obtain cheaper gas and water (for lighting mills, filling lodges, and fighting fires) was that ‘the town was increasing at a very rapid rate, tall chimneys and loom-sheds were rising as if by magic’. (39) There was something archaically reckless about this rush of mill building. Competition must have been intense, and the risks and uncertainties great- Weeding out by bankruptcy – Francis Sleddon in November 1844 (40), Gillow’s suspension and Gardner’s failure in October 1847 despite assets valued at £400,000 – was apparent. Total closure of some and short time running by many early in 1847 resulted from a depression of trade (41). The uncertainty of those days is amusingly recorded on a stone tablet at John Goodair’s mill where the datestone reads ‘Brookfield Mill 184 ‘. Men of surprisingly unlikely background were tempted to join the fray then or later: Humber Brothers were originally corn millers; Lawrence Spencer, gingerly dipping a toe in for a 35 horsepower engine and 55 hands, was a surgeon; Samuel Smith a tallow chandler; Joseph Isherwood a chemist and druggist; James Parker a grocer; and James German, although a nephew of a flax manufacturer, was a barrister. For the sensible ones, it was a short flirtation, and for the unlucky an unhappy marriage.

Only one was killed, falling through the burning floor of his mill on Stanley Street in 1846 (42), but several saw their ambitions vanishing in smoke and flame – Bashall’s mill on Marsh Lane, where a spectacular fire in May 1847 caused at least £4,000 worth of damage, was uninsured – or more suddenly in boiler explosions: Royal Sovereign mill in June, Brunswick mill in August 1848 (43), each killing seven people, and Swainson and Birley’s in November 1849, which killed one person (44).

The makeshift and unbalanced character of the cotton industry in the town‘s economy is perhaps best caught in a description of the efforts of the fire brigade who attended Bashall’s blaze:

Mr Threlfall drove up in a horse and gig to the fire brigade office in Avenham Street, when the police bell was rung… despatched the Victoria engine, upwards of two tons weight, and owing to no horses being kept on the premises, the firemen … set out without waiting for horses … dragged it three quarters of the way before the horses overtook them … the members of the force arrived on the spot completely worn out

twenty minutes after his alarm, to find two engines belonging to Horrocks Miller and Co. already at work (44).

The map below shows in symbolic form the colonisation of the outskirts of the town by these hopeful entrepreneurs. I shall deal with the ambiguous and contradictory evidence of the relationships between them and their ‘hands’ in chapter III.

Map showing position and date of cotton mills in 19th-century PrestonPrevious | Next

Notes (Cont.)
9. Spencer, op. cit. pp.75-7.
10. Cotton Famine Reports PP 1862 (413) XLIX Pt. I, pp.90 sqq.
11. Alphabetical List of Persons who Polled … at the Contested Election 8 Dec 1830 (Preston 1831), Lancs C.R.0.
12. Directories as listed in bibliography; also Preston Guardian, 8 May 1847; Cotton Famine Reports loc. cit.; Lancs C.R.0. DDPr 140/6; Spencer, op. cit., p.80.
15. V.A.C. Gatrell, ‘Labour, Power,and the Size of Firms in Lancashire Cotton in the Second Quarter of the 19th century.’ Ec.H.R 30, 1977
14. S.D. Chapman,’Financial Restraints on the Growth of Firms in the Cotton Industry 1790-1850.’ Ec.H.R. 32, 1979
15. Wardle and Bentham, Commercial Directory 1814-15.
16. Baines, History, Directory and Gazeteer.
17. Lancs C.R.0. DDPr 140/6.
18. Peter Whittle, History of the Borough of Preston, 2 Vols., 1822 and 1837.
19. Spencer, op. cit. p.67.
20. Livesey, op. cit.
21. Preston Guardian (hereafter P.G.) 30 October 1847.
22. Preston Pilot (hereafter Pilot) 2 June 1838. See also ref. 25 below, p.465, evidence of Robert Crawford, Q. 5880 and 5884 ‘handlooms called dandies have increased considerably’.
23. Assessment of Cotton Mills c.1844, Harris Library, Preston (P.677.2.)
24. Pilot 15 December 1832.
25. PP 1834 (556) X Report of the Select Committee on Handloom Weavers’ Petitions, Q. 5862-5.
26. Pilot 10 June 1837.
27. Pilot 3 June 1837.
28. P.G. 18 September 1847.
29. op. cit. p.
30. op. cit. p.
31. Lancs C.R.O. DDHs 76.
32. Lancs C.R.O. DDHs 75.
33. Lancs C.R.O. DDHs 76.
34. Banks, op. cit. p.15.
35. See reference 23 above.
36. P.G. 8 May 1847.
37. Factory Inspector’s Report quoted by Spencer, op. cit.
38. P.G. 28 July 1847.
39. P.G. 9 November 1844.
40. P.C. 2 November 1844. P.G.
41. P.G. 24 April and 8 May 1847.
42. P.C. 19 September 1846.
43. P.G. 17 and 24 June 1848; 5 August 1848.
44. P.G. 24 November 1849.

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