It was early on a fine morning in July when I next set off to see Preston again; … I never saw FISHERGATE … look better than it did then. On my arrival there I called upon the Secretary of the Trinity Ward Relief Committee. … We had a few minutes’ talk about the increasing distress of the town; and he gave me a short account of the workroom which has been opened in KNOWSLEY STREET, for the employment of female factory operatives out of work. This workroom is managed by a committee of ladies, some of whom are in attendance every day. The young women are employed upon plain sewing. They have two days’ work a week, at one shilling a day, and the Relief Committee adds sixpence to this 2s. in each case. Most of them are merely learning to sew. Many of them prove to be wholly untrained to this simple domestic accomplishment. The work is not remunerative, nor is it expected to be so; but the benefit which may grow out of the teaching which these young women get here—and the evil their employment here may prevent, cannot be calculated. I find that such workrooms are established in some of the other towns now suffering from the depression of trade.
I went to see the factory operatives at work upon Preston Moor. Preston Moor is a tract of waste land on the western edge of the town. It belongs to the corporation. A little vale runs through a great part of this moor, from south-east to north-west; and the ground was, until lately, altogether uneven. On the town side of the little dividing vale the land is a light, sandy soil; on the other side, there is abundance of clay for brickmaking. Upon this moor there are now fifteen hundred men, chiefly factory operatives, at work, levelling the land for building purposes, and making a great main sewer for the drainage of future streets. The men, being almost all unused to this kind of labour, are paid only one shilling per day; and the whole scheme has been devised for the employment of those who are suffering from the present depression of trade. The work had been going on several months before I saw it, and a great part of the land was levelled. When I came in sight of the men, working in scattered gangs that fine morning, there was, as might be expected, a visible difference between their motions and those of trained ‘navvies’ engaged upon the same kind of labour. There were also very great differences of age and physical condition amongst them—old men and consumptive-looking lads, hardly out of their teens.
As I lounged about amongst the men, a mild-eyed policeman came up, and offered to conduct me to Jackson, the labour-master, who had gone down to the other end of the moor, to look after the men at work at the great sewer—a wet clay cutting—the heaviest bit of work on the ground. We passed some busy brickmakers, all plastered and splashed with wet clay —of the earth, earthy. Unlike the factory operatives around them, these men clashed, and kneaded, and sliced among the clay, as if they were working for a wager. But they were used to the job, and working piece-work.
Jackson’s office as labour-master kept him constantly tramping about the sandy moor from one point to another. He was forced to be in sight, and on the move, during working hours, amongst his fifteen hundred scattered workmen. It was heavy walking, even in dry weather; and as we kneaded through the loose soil that hot forenoon, we wiped our foreheads now and then.
[Jackson said] ‘Come with me down this road. I’ve some men cutting a main sewer. It’s very little farther than where the cattle pens are in the hollow yonder; and it’s different work to what you see here. The main sewer will have to be brought clean across in this direction, and it’ll be a stiffish job. The cattle market’s going to be shifted out of yon hollow, and in another year or two the whole scene about here will be changed.’
Images of the various places and streets mentioned can often be found in either the Preston Digital Archive or the Red Rose Collection
Note: in the 1860s a shilling was roughly equivalent to £3 in today’s money.
Jackson and I both remembered something of the troubles of the cotton manufacture in past times. We had seen something of the ‘shuttle gatherings,’ the ‘plug-drawings,’ the wild starvation riots, and strikes of days gone by; and he agreed with me that one reason for the difference of their demeanour during the present trying circumstances lies in their increasing intelligence. The great growth of free discussion through the cheap press has done no little to work out this salutary change. There is more of human sympathy, and of a perception of the union of interests between employers and employed than ever existed before in the history of the cotton trade. Employers know that their workpeople are human beings, of like feelings and passions with themselves, and like themselves, endowed with no mean degree of independent spirit and natural intelligence; and working men know better than beforetime that their employers are not all the heartless tyrants which it has been too fashionable to encourage them to believe. The working men have a better insight into the real causes of trade panics than they used to have; and both masters and men feel more every day that their fortunes are naturally bound together for good or evil; and if the working men of Lancashire continue to struggle through the present trying pass of their lives with the brave patience which they have shown hitherto, they will have done more to defeat the arguments of those who hold them to be unfit for political power than the finest eloquence of their best friends could have done in the same time.
The labour master and I had a little talk about these things as we went towards the lower end of the moor. A few minutes’ slow walk brought us to the spot, where some twenty of the hardier sort of operatives were at work in a damp clay cutting.
‘This is heavy work for such chaps as these,’ said Jackson; ‘but I let them work by the lump here. I give them so much clay apiece to shift, and they can begin when they like, and drop it the same. The men seem satisfied with that arrangement, and they have done wonders, considering the nature of the job. There’s many of the men that come on to this moor are badly off for suitable things for their feet. I’ve had to give lots of clogs away among them. You see men cannot work with any comfort among stuff of this sort without something substantial on. It ruins poor shoes in no time. Beside, they’re not men that can stand being wetshod like some. They haven’t been used to it as a rule. Now, this is one of the finest days we’ve had this year; and you haven’t seen what the ground is like in bad weather. But you’d be astonished what a difference wet makes on this moor. When it’s been rain for a day or two the work’s as heavy again. The stuff’s heavier to lift, and worse to wheel; and the ground is slutchy. … men that are weakly get knocked out with it. But those that can stand it get hardened by it. There’s a great difference; what would do one man’s constitution good will kill another. Winter time will really try them.’
‘You should have been here last Saturday,’ said he; ‘we’d rather a curious scene. One of the men asked if I’d allow them to have an hour to hold a meeting about having a procession in the guild week. I gave them consent, on condition that they’d conduct their meeting in an orderly way. … The speakers stood on the edge of that cutting, close to CHARNOCK FOLD. … They finished with ‘Rule Britannia,’ i’n full chorus, and then went back to their work. You’ll see the report in today’s paper.’
This meeting was so curious, and so characteristic of the men, that I think the report is worth repeating here:—
On Saturday afternoon, a meeting of the parish labourers was held on the moor, to consider the propriety of having a demonstration of their numbers on one day in the guild week. There were upwards of a thousand present. An operative, named John Houlker, was elected to conduct the proceedings. After stating the object of the assembly, a series of propositions were read to the meeting by William Gillow, to the effect that a procession take place of the parish labourers in the guild week; that no person be allowed to join in it except those whose names were on the books of the timekeepers; that no one should receive any of the benefits which might accrue who did not conduct himself in an orderly manner; that all persons joining the procession should be required to appear on the ground washed and shaven, and their clogs, shoes, and other clothes cleaned; that they were not expected to purchase or redeem any articles of clothing in order to take part in the demonstration; and that any one absenting himself from the procession should be expelled from any participation in the advantages which might arise from the subscriptions to be collected by their fellow-labourers. These were all agreed to, and a committee of twelve was appointed to collect subscriptions and donations. A president, secretary, and treasurer were also elected, and a number of resolutions agreed to in reference to the carrying out of the details of their scheme. The managing committee consist of Messrs W. Gillow, Robert Upton, Thomas Greenwood Riley, John Houlker, John Taylor, James Ray, James Whalley, Wm. Banks, Joseph Redhead, James Clayton, and James McDermot. The men agreed to subscribe a penny per week to form a fund out of which a dinner should be provided, and they expressed themselves confident that they could secure the gratuitous services of a band of music. During the meeting there was great order. At the conclusion, a vote of thanks was accorded to the chairman, to the labour master for granting them three-quarters of an hour for the purpose of holding the meeting, and to William Gillow for drawing up the resolutions. Three times three then followed; after which, George Dewhurst mounted a hillock, and, by desire, sang Rule Britannia, the chorus being taken up by the whole crowd, and the whole being wound up with a hearty cheer.
There are various schemes devised in Preston for regaling the poor during the guild; and not the worst of them is the proposal to give them a little extra money for that week, so as to enable them to enjoy the holiday with their families at home. It was now about half-past eleven. ‘It’s getting on for dinner time,’ said Jackson, looking at his watch. ‘Let’s have a look at th’ opposite side yonder; and then we’ll come back, and you’ll see th’ men drop work when the five minutes’ bell rings. There’s many of ’em live so far off that they couldn’t well get whoam and back in an hour; so, we give’em an hour and a half to their dinner, now, and they work half and hour longer i’th afternoon.’
We crossed the hollow which divides the moor, and went to the top of a sandy cutting at the rear of THE WORKHOUSE. This eminence commanded a full view of the men at work on different parts of the ground, with the time-keepers going to and fro amongst them, book in hand. Here were men at work with picks and spades; there, a slow-moving train of full barrows came along; and, yonder, a train of empty barrows stood, with the men sitting upon them, waiting. Jackson pointed out some of his most remarkable men to me; after which we went up to a little plot of ground behind the workhouse, where we found a few apparently older or weaker men, riddling pebbly stuff, brought from the bed of the Ribble. The smaller pebbles were thrown into heaps, to make a hard floor for the workhouse schoolyard. The master of the workhouse said that the others were too big for this purpose—the lads would break the windows with them. The largest pebbles were cast aside to be broken up, for the making of garden walks. Whilst the master of the workhouse was showing us round the building, Jackson looked at his watch again, and said, ‘Come, we’ve just time to get across again. The bell will ring in two or three minutes, and I should like you to see them knock off.’ We hurried over to the other side, and, before we had been a minute there, the bell rung. At the first toll, down dropt the barrows, the half-flung shovelfuls fell to the ground, and all labour stopt as suddenly as if the men had been moved by the pull of one string. In two minutes Preston Moor was nearly deserted, and, like the rest, we were on our way to dinner.