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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Cheshire Luddites

The spring of 1812 was a time of huge industrial unrest in north west England. Families were starving; food prices had risen to unprecedented levels, and wages had fallen. Wheat had reached the famine price of 152s 3d per quarter, and potatoes (the staple food of the working classes) were three times their usual price. Starving handloom weavers blamed the introduction of steam-powered looms for depressing the cost of their labour.
The workers decided on direct action. In February 1812, arsonists attacked Peter Marsland’s steam loom factory at Stockport, and unsuccessfully torched William Radcliffe’s steam loom factory in March. Manufacturers weren’t even safe in their own homes. In early April, Peter Marsland’s house windows were broken, and the homes of mill owners William Radcliffe and Mr Hindley were also attacked. Macclesfield, too, saw riots by angry cotton workers in the same month. The Cheshire Yeomanry had a full-time job keeping public order. You can find out more about the riots and the rioters’ fate in Regency Cheshire.

Image: Harrison’s Improved Powerloom, exhibited by Harrison’s of Blackburn at the Great Exhibition. Illustrated London News, 23 August 1851.


Anonymous said...

William Radcliffe is my ancestor.

Sue Wilkes said...

You are very lucky to have such an interesting ancestor!