Celebrating the Luddites’ 200th anniversary

November 2011 – January 2013 is the 200th anniversary of the Luddite uprisings: a “great opportunity to celebrate this struggle for workers’ and working-class rights, and to redress the wrongs done to them and their name”. In a guest post, David King introduces the history of the Luddites in Manchester and Lancashire and highlights some of the upcoming events in the commemoration.

In the case of the Luddites, history has been written by the victors. Nowadays the word ‘Luddite’ means someone opposed to all technology and progress. In fact, the Luddites opposed only technology ‘hurtful to Commonality’, (i.e. the common good): they destroyed some machines whilst leaving others alone. The current meaning was invented in the 1950s when Britain was shifting its economy away from manufacturing and towards high technology. The aim was to stigmatise those with valid concerns about issues like nuclear power, and automation in the workplace.

In Lancashire the Luddites were fighting the introduction of power looms to the cotton industry, which were undercutting the cloth produced by handloom weavers, who largely worked in their own cottages. As in other parts of the North and Midlands, the weavers were suffering severely from a depression in trade, caused by the wars with France, and a series of bad harvests which had drastically increased food prices. The weaving communities around Manchester had petitioned Parliament repeatedly in the period before 1811, asking for measures to relieve their situation, but were ignored by Tory governments obsessed with the then-new free market economic doctrines.

In Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire the Luddite raids followed a guerrilla warfare pattern, involving night raids by small bands of disciplined men. However in Lancashire, Luddism involved large riots, with much more violence on both sides. This was partly because the new industrial production in Lancashire was based in massive mills, with hundreds of machines that could not be easily destroyed by small groups, except by burning the whole mill. The Luddite riots in Lancashire often took place in the daytime and involved hundreds of people from many different trades, including women. Because there were fewer large mills to defend, the thousands of troops that the government had stationed throughout the North (more soldiers than were currently fighting with Wellington in Spain) were able to defend the mills more easily, and this led to a great deal of bloodshed, most notoriously at the Burton mill in Middleton, where up to thirty people were killed.

In May 1812 at the Assizes in Chester 10 were hanged, 38 transported and 18 imprisoned. Overall, the Luddite attacks were less successful, with one mill (at Westhoughton) largely destroyed, and one warehouse burned. Thus, although Lancashire Luddism involved more sound and fury than in Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire, it was considerably less effective. It burned brightly between February and April 1812, but then died away.

The Luddites200 group is aiming to encourage local celebrations of the Luddite uprisings around the country, because we believe that this is an extremely important episode in English social history, and as EP Thompson argued, a key stage in the creation of the English working class. It also has important lessons for today as, for example, technology continues to be deployed in order to implement the public sector cuts. Workers, from librarians to court stenographers and even coastguards are being replaced by digital machines.

We were very surprised to find that, whilst in Yorkshire a consortium of local museums and archives and Huddersfield University are organising a programme of activities to celebrate the anniversary, there is very little happening in Lancashire. In particular, we were astonished that the People’s History Museum, the obvious place for such activities, has no plans to celebrate the anniversary, and no permanent exhibits on the Luddites. In fact, they have a timeline of the development of trade unions and the movements for parliamentary reform in the 19th century, that has a large blank space exactly where the Luddites should be.

How can this be? It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that the PHM, like much of the conventional Left, shares the popular misconception of the Luddites as reactionary, as well as somehow not ‘really’ being part of the organised working class. Despite the efforts of Marxist historians like EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm to situate the Luddites firmly within working class and trade union history, many still subscribe to these outdated misconceptions. The Luddites can hardly be blamed for not forming trade unions, since they were illegal at the time, but like the Yorkshire croppers and Nottinghamshire framework knitters, the cotton weavers maintained a well organised quasi-legal organisation for petitioning parliament, and were often highly politicised, sometimes going so far as to openly and seditiously support the revolution in France. As Hobsbawm has pointed out, this tradition of ‘collective bargaining by riot’ and machine breaking had a long history in the labour disputes of the 18th century, and was often a highly effective method of forcing employers to accede to workers’ demands.

Luddites200 will be holding a workshop at the Manchester & Salford Anarchist Bookfair on December 3rd, where you can learn more about the history of the Luddites and their significance for debates about technology today. We hope you will be able join us.

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The Suffragette Attack on Manchester Art Gallery, April 1913

On 3rd April 1913 three suffragettes – Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester – attacked a number of pictures in the Manchester Art Gallery as part of the militant campaign for votes for women which by this period had escalated to the use of violent tactics, including mass window-smashing, attacks on politicians, damage to property and arson.

The Manchester Guardian reported the event as follows:

“Just before nine ‘clock last night, when the Manchester Art Gallery was about to close and few people were about, an attendant in a room leading to the big room of the permanent collection heard crackings of glass follow each other rapidly. He immediately rushed into to the big room followed by another attendant, who was nearby. They found three women making a rush around the room, cracking the glass of the biggest and most valuable paintings in the collection. They had already completed their work on the right side of the room going in, where pictures by such great artists as Watts, Leighton, Burne- Jones and Rossetti were hung , and were going around the top of the room. The outrage was quickly and neatly carried through, and when the attendants came running in the women were within reach of two more large pictures – one by Millais, the other by Watts. The attendants at one rushed to arrest them but as there were three to two of the women escaped from the room. The attendants, however, called to the door-keeper and immediately the big doors were closed and the retreat cut off.
The women were quietly kept within closed door while the Town Hall were informed. The Chief Constable and a superintendent at once went across and took the women to the Town Hall. There they questioned them and, after charging them, allowed them out on bail until this morning, when they will appear before the stipendiary magistrate.”

The pictures damaged were
— The Last Watch of Hero – Leighton
— Captive Andromache – Leighton
— The Prayer – Watts
— Paola and Francesca – Watts
— The Hon J L Motley – Watts
— Astarte Syriaca- Rossetti
— The Flood – Millais
— Sybilla Delphica – Burne-Jones
— The Flood- Millais
— Birnam Woods – Millais
— The Last of the Garrison – Briton-Miliere
— The Golden Apples of Spring – Strudwick
— The Syrinx – Arthur Hacker
— The Shadow of the Cross – Holman Hunt

The women appeared at the magistrates’ court charged under the Malicious Damage Act and were bailed to appear for trial later that month. Lillian Forrester made a statement stating that “we broke the glass of some pictures as a protest but we did not intend to damage the pictures”. They had supporters in the gallery who unfurled a “Votes for Women” banner.

The attack was part of a wave of protests across the country against the sentence passed on Mrs Pankhurst on 3rd April at the Old Bailey. She was sentenced to three years in prison for “inciting persons unknown” to burn down building. As well as the attack on the paintings some eleven post boxes in Manchester were attacked with black liquid which damaged 250 letters.

Other “outrages”, as the press called them, included:
– The blowing up of a carriage on an empty train at Adswood, Stockport
– An explosion at the railway station at Oxted, Surrey
– The destruction by fire of an unoccupied house in Hertfordshire.

The women’s trial took place on 22nd April at the Manchester Assizes. The accused were stated to be members of the WSPU and were charged with “unlawfully and maliciously damaging” thirteen pictures in the gallery. Annie Briggs was 48 and a housekeeper, Lillian Forrester was 33 and married (her occupation was not given) and Evelyn Manesta was 25 and a governess.

Evidence was given by the police and the art gallery staff. It was stated that the cost of repairing the glass was £85 and repairing two of the canvasses was £25.

The three women did not deny the charges and did not therefore enter the witness box but chose to make speeches to the jury.

Annie Briggs said that she was not guilty of the charges brought against her. “I gave my comrades my fullest support but in no way aided them. Our women take their course on their own deliberate responsibility. This is not a personal but a world question.” She added that women had to protest against things which were intolerable to them. If she were sentenced she would feel she was sentenced because she was a member of the WSPU.

Lillian Forrester made a long speech, beginning by saying she did not stand there as a malicious person but as patriot. She thought motive was taken into account in the actions of all lawbreakers. She was political offender and the fact of being a political offender had led to the imprisonment only in the First Division in such cases of the late Mr W T Stead and Mr Jameson, who was responsible for a raid that caused the loss of life. Motive in those cases had been taken into account. She would make a stirring appeal to the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. If it was desired to inflict punishment they had already been punished by appearing before the courts three times and going through the present ordeal. Such a decision would redound to the credit of Manchester where the present movement had begun. She praised Mrs Pankhurst and said that after the sentence on her she had thought that Manchester should make some protest and she had considered whether she and other should speak in Albert Square. She added that her husband approved of what she did . She had a degree in history and her knowledge of history had spurred to this fight for women’s freedom.

Evelyn Manesta referred to women in the streets and said that the laws applying to men and women were unequal, particularly the divorce laws. She said that she was a political offender.
In his summing up the judge said that the jury should be impartial and not decide because they agreed or disagreed with their views. They had to administer the law and the jury had to say that they were satisfied on the evidence that the prosecution had proved the guilt of these ladies.

After a brief retirement the jury acquitted Annie and convicted Lillian and Evelyn. Lillian was sentenced to three months imprisonment and Evelyn to one month. The judge stated that if the law would allow he would send them round the world in sailing ship as the best thing for them.

Manchester suffragettes wrote to the Chief Constable, Mr Peacock, asking for permission to hold a demonstration in Stevenson Square on Sunday 4th May followed by a procession to Strangeways in protest at the raid on WSPU head-quarters in London and also at the sentences on Lillian and Evelyn. The Manchester Guardian reported that the WSPU had received a letter from the prison governor stating that as the two women were refusing to do any prison work, they would not be allowed to receive any letters or visitors and would not be receive any remission of sentence.

Mrs Pankhurst was released on special licence after 10 days and taken to a nursing home because she had refused to eat. She was not forcibly fed as had happened to many other suffragette prisoners. The government was perhaps fearful of the consequences.

Many years later there was a postscript to the Manchester story. In 2003 Home Office files revealed that in September 1913 the Home Office had ordered that photographs of all the suffragette prisoners be secretly taken without their knowledge. This was done because many of the women had refused to have their pictures taken. The files include a disturbing picture of Evelyn Manesta taken in prison. She has the arm of a prison warder around her to hold her still. The picture was used in a wanted poster of Manesta circulated by Scotland Yard but on publication the image had been doctored to hide the arm.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Manchester Mechanics Institute

The Mechanics Institute began with a meeting between William Fairburn, Thomas Hopkins and Richard Roberts, who agreed to each contribute £10 towards the foundation of an Institute to teach young men the application of science to manufacturing and art. Fairburn was a noted engineer, born in Scotland, who had come to Manchester in 1813 where he made mill-machinery before moving into making boilers and ship-building. Roberts was also an engineer, born in Wales, who came to Manchester about 1815 and made his money in manufacturing high precision machine tools and also through inventions such as the self-acting spinning mule. All three men were members of the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, at which Hopkins had contributed a number of papers.

Following this initial meeting, a public meeting was held at the Bridgewater Arms public house on High Street on 17 April 1824, chaired by Benjamin Heywood, the banker. Those present resolved to set up an institution to be known as the Manchester Mechanics Institute with the object of delivering lectures on the various sciences and their application to the arts and also to establish a reference and circulating library. Sufficient funds were pledged to allow land to be purchased on Cooper Street, where a building costing £7,000 was put up.

Control of the Institute was firmly in the hands of Manchester’s self-made manufacturing class who firmly rebuffed any suggestions for change from the working people attending the lectures. In March 1829 Rowland Detrosier led a breakaway group who founded their own Institute. Detrosier had been abandoned as a child and brought up in Manchester by Charles Barnes, a member of the Swedenborgian church. He worked as a clerk and also lectured at the Swedenborgian Sunday school. For a time he was connected with the Stockport Bible Christian church.

Although Detrosier moved to London where he lectured and became secretary of the National Political Union, he retained his links with Manchester and on 25 March 1831 he gave a lecture at the New Mechanics Institute which was later published as a pamphlet entitled On the Necessity of an Extension of Moral and Political Instruction among the Working Classes with the assistance of Francis Place, one of his London friends.

Lacking the funds of its wealthy parent, the New Mechanics Institute was based in a joiner’s shop in a timber yard near the top of Brazenose Street. It was run on democratic lines and had a small library. This group of working people appears to have connections with the Owenite movement for they were amongst those who encouraged the Owenites to build the Hall of Science in Campfield. The New Mechanics Institute appears to have lasted ten years and it seems likely that once the Hall of Science was opened they transferred their classes and library to the new building which survived until 1844.

The original Institute held regular classes in music , French and German, nature study, art appreciation and science. In 1837 it was agreed to hold classes for women for, as one of the directors pointed out, “much good would arise from the proper cultivation of their minds”. Victorian notions of the proper place of women were much in evident, however, for their classes included how to make wax flowers and household management. In addition to classes for adults the Institute also ran a school for boys and girls from 1834, which was attended by several hundred pupils.

In August 1847 a meeting was held in the Institute to set up the Lancashire Public School Association with the aim of “promoting a general system of secular education”. At this time there was no state education, only private schools which few could afford. There were religious schools but, of course, these naturally promoted the particular religion they were affiliated to.

The Institute was able to attract well-known personalities including the actors William Macready (famous for his Shakespeare performances) and Fanny Kemble (who was active in the anti-slavery movement) and Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Institute eventually outgrew its original building and a new building was constructed on Princess Street (then called David Street), costing £20,000 which opened in 1857. The architect was John Edward Gregan. It opened with a major exhibition which thousands visited.

In June 1868 the Institute was used for a congress of trade unions, the first such meeting to be held and which annual meeting continues to-day

In 1870 the government passed an Education Act which for the first time made education compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 12, establishing elected School Boards were set to build and run the new schools. This made some of the work of the Mechanics Institute unnecessary as basic provision for children was now under the aegis of the School Board. In September 1883 a Technical School was opened in the building by Oliver Heywood (son of Benjamin, who was continuing his father’s charitable work and whose statue can be seen in Albert Square). It was absorbed into the Manchester education system in 1892.

In 1910 a Day Training College was opened in the building to train teachers properly for there had been complaints for many years of the poor standard of teaching in schools., especially by pupil teachers who often had no formal training at all.

In 1917 another change took place when the building was designated the Municipal High School of Commerce. It ran day and evening classes for those hoping to pursue careers in business and included foreign languages in the curriculum. It moved out of the building in the 1960s.

By the mid 1970s the Institute was in a very bad state of repair although registered as a grade 2 listed building. Concerned trade unionists set up a campaign called MANTUC with the aim of restoring the building and re-opening it but after several years work this was not successful.

Another attempt succeeded some years later when, as the building neared collapse, a Trust was formed with backing from the City Council and the trade unions which restored the building and re-opened it as a trade union centre with meeting rooms, a main hall and a bar. The restoration included a meeting room set out with furniture, wallpaper and portraits in the style of 1868.

In 1990 the National Museum of Labour History moved its labour history archives into the ground floor of the building. (The galleries were in the Pumphouse). The official opening was on 7 May 1990 when the opening address was given by Jack Jones, former general secretary of TGWU and chair of the museum’s Trustees. In his speech he said

“I strongly believe that this gem of a museum is going to prove of great benefit to Manchester and the North of England, because of its special interest to trade unionists, members of the Co-operative movement and activist in the cause of women’s equality and progress will attract visitors from Germany, France, the other European countries and America as well as people from all parts of these islands.One of our prized possessions in Tom Paine’s table on which he wrote important parts of his famous work The rights of man. This writing of his made an enormous contribution to the American revolution and had some influence on the French revolution….

The many colourful and unique items on show to-day and others which we will be exhibiting will, I believe, demonstrate the real history of working people and their efforts to rise out of their poverty. This, I suggest, is much more important and educational than the drearysome recounting or reciting of dates of Kings and Queens and battles of the past.

All of us have a responsibility to cherish and preserve the essentials of historical development. It would be foolish to and indeed criminal to ignore and neglect that responsibility. Instead of respecting our past all too often very many objets of considerable historical value have been wantonly or inadvertently destroyed in the past by trade unions…It surely behoves both sides of industry and citizens generally to assist in avoiding the destruction of significant relics of people’s history.”

In March 2010 the labour history archives were moved out to a new home in the extended People’s History Museum (as the NMLH had by now rebranded itself). The Mechanics Institute remains open for meetings and other functions. For information on facilities offered in this historic building, please visit their website.

Article by Michael Herbert

The 1842 Strike, Part II

This article continues the history of the 1842 Strike begun on this page.

Thursday 11 August

At 6.30am a crowd of over 10,000, many of whom, it was noted, were women, assembled in Granby Row Fields. The main speaker was Christopher Doyle who urged the strikers not to return to work until their demands had been met. As he was speaking the Mayor Mr Neil and a number of magistrates rode up to the cart and told them that the meeting was illegal and must disperse. The Riot Act was then read and one hundred soldiers appeared, fully armed and with two six pound artillery pieces. The crowd fled but there was no violence or casualties. Companies of soldiers were then stationed in Hunt Street, on Oxford Road near Little Ireland, and also opposite Esdaile’s Buildings.

A meeting took place at the Carpenter Hall attended by mechanics, engineers, millwrights, moulders and smiths which passed resolutions in favour of the People’s Charter which they declared “contains the elements of justice and prosperity and we pledge ourselves never to relinquish our demands until that document becomes a legislative enactment”. They also pledged not to return to work “until the decision of the trades of Manchester be ascertained.”

During the morning thousands of workers marched from Ashton and Stalybridge to Rochdale and brought out most of the mills and factories. A mass meeting passed a resolution declaring that they would not resume work until they had obtained a fair price for a fair day’s labour. They then marched to Heywood and turned out the mills and factories there.

At about 1pm Sergeant Dale was sent with a few policemen and a number of Chelsea Pensioners, who had been sworn in as Special Constables as reinforcement to police stationed near Charles Street, Oxford Road. As they passed through the crowd some stones were thrown and the pensioners fell back and then ran off. (The pensioners were disbanded on 23 August).

Friday 12 August

There was a meeting of various trades and mill hands at the Fustian Cutters room, 70 Tib Street at 10am which passed two resolutions, one declaring that the strike was for the Charter and the other declaring that the operatives offer themselves as “conservators of the public peace”.

The mechanics met at Carpenters’ Hall at 2pm where they heard reports from delegates from Lancashire and Yorkshire on the situation in their trades and their attitude to the strike. The conference concluded by passing a resolution which stated “that the only remedy for the present alarming distress and widespread destitution is the immediate and unmutilated adoption and carrying into law of the document known as the People’s Charter, that this meeting recommends the people of all trades and callings forthwith cease work until the above document becomes the law of the land.”

Saturday 13 August

The weekly Manchester Guardian, published on Saturday, carried an editorial which practically frothed at the mouth:

“…we have seen the resolutions passed at the meeting of delegates at the Sherwood Inn and the Carpenters’ Hall yesterday. To us, who well knew the real objects of the agitators, these resolutions convey no information. But to parties who have hitherto, either wilfully or ignorantly, shut their eyes to the truth, we recommend a perusal of the resolutions; and especially the second, recommending that the present forced cessation of work shall be continued until what is called “the charter” becomes the law of the land. Disguise it as we may the present movement is rising against the government and the law. Call it by what name we please, IT IS REALLY AN INSURRECTION.” (The Manchester Guardian 13 August 1842)

The Queen issued a proclamation referring to “great multitudes of lawless and disorderly persons have lately assembled themselves together in a riotous and tumultuous manner, and have , with force and violence, entered into certain mines, mills, manufactories, and have, by threats and intimidation, prevented or good subjects therein employed from following their usual occupations and earning their livelihood” and offering £50 reward for all offenders brought to justice.

Monday 15 August

At 10am the most important trades meeting of this period known as the Great Delegate Conference opened at the Sherwood Inn, Tib Street. Alexander Hutchinson who represented the Manchester wiredrawers and card makers, was elected chairman. There was intense public excitement with a large crowd gathered outside who were advised to go home for fear of an attack by the military.

The conference was attended by 143 delegates. Due to the number it was agreed to adjourn and move to the Carpenters Hall, the conference re-opening at 1pm. The credentials of delegates were examined which took some time after which reports from them were heard. A draft of an address was put to the meeting and agreed and a committee of three delegates appointed to redraft it.

The meeting was adjourned until the following morning.

Tuesday 16 August

Alexander Hutchinson opened the second day of the trades conference by stating that he had seen “a great change in the opinion of working men of Manchester… They were as earnest as ever and appeared to see more than ever the necessity of a great struggle for their political rights…they would not be men if they did not adopt every measure they could to ensure a triumph and gain political rights.”

The Northern Star reported that the gallery was “occupied by parties from the country who took great interest in the important business for which the meeting had been convened.”

Hutchinson read the address which had been agreed to and already published and expressed his hope that they would conduct the proceedings with calm and caution since the eyes of all England were upon the day’s proceedings.

“To the trades of Manchester and the Surrounding districts
Fellow citizens…we hasten to lay before you the result of our sittings. We find, by reference to the reports of the delegates assembled from various parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire …that no sufficient guarantee is afforded to the producers of wealth, but from the adoption and establishment of the people’s political rights, as a safeguard for their lives, liberties and interests of the nation generally…we, your representatives, call most emphatically upon the people to discontinue the production of the creation of wealth, until the result of our deliberations is made known to the people whom we represent… For ourselves, we have no other property than our labour; but in the midst of you we live and have our being; our parents, our wives and children are the hostages we present to you as our securities that we will do nothing ourselves, nor recommend anything to others inconsistent with their safety, nor recommend anything to others inconsistent with their safety, or your interest.”
Alexander Hutchinson, chairman; Charles Stuart, Secretary.

The assembled delegates continued to present reports which explained the attitude of those they represented to the strike and the Charter. Most were in favour of both. The Royston Powerloom delegate said he represented not just the weavers, but the whole village where meeting of 3,000 had voted for the Charter. The Ashton delegate said he represented 25,000 whom he believed were unanimous for the Charter. The delegate from Mossley said he represented a dozen factories.

There was long debate on whether to make the Charter the object of the strike. As this drew to a close the delegates became aware that magistrates, police and soldiers had surrounded the building. Richard Beswick, the Chief Superintendent of the Manchester Police, entered the hall and said that there had been alarm in the neighbourhood over the large crowds surrounding the hall and proclamations had been issued prohibiting all large assemblies. Alexander Hutchinson insisted that the meeting was legal, that the gallery was open to the public and that the press had been allowed to attend. Over some further argument two magistrates entered and declared that the meeting was illegal and must disperse within ten minutes. After they left the meeting resumed and a resolution in favour of the Charter was passed by over 120 votes, moved by Joseph Manory a bricklayer of Manchester, and seconded by A F Taylor, a power loom weaver. It was agreed to meet the following day at the Sherwood Inn, Tib Street at 10am

That same date the National Charter Association met in Manchester, the date having been chosen some months before to coincide with the anniversary of Peterloo. They issued two addresses in support of the strike which included the following.

“We have solemnly sworn and one and all declared, that the golden opportunity now within our grasp shall not pass away fruitless, that the chance of centuries afforded to us by a wise and all-seeing god, shall not be lost; but that we now do universally resolve never to resume labour until labour’s grievances are destroyed and protection secured for ourselves, our suffering wives and helpless children by the enactment of the People’s Charter.”

The government at first taken aback by the strike but now set in motion plans to crush it. On 23 August Lieutenant- General Sir Thomas Arbuthnot arrived in Manchester, having been sent by the Home Secretary Sir James Graham to take charge of the Midlands and the North.

Strike leaders and delegates to the trades conference were arrested, as were local Chartists. The strike gradually ran out of steam as strikers returned to work. The Manchester weavers held out to the last and did not return to work until the end of September.

At least 1500 strikers were arrested and were brought before magistrates’ courts. Many were imprisoned. On 29 August the Salford Intermediate Session opened at the New Bailey with 31 magistrates on the bench. Before them were 199 prisoners committed on charges of felony and another 159 on charges of misdemeanour. The chairman of the bench J F Foster stated that “…the tumult and disturbances, such as were recently witnessed in this neighbourhood, should be put down with the strong hand of the law, and the parties convicted of taking part in them severely punished.”

In March 1843 59 leading Chartists, including Feargus O’Connor, were tried in Lancaster, charged on nine accounts of inciting strikes, riots and disorder. Most were convicted but curiously they were never sent to prison, the sentences being suspended because of what was claimed was “a technicality”. It seems likely that the government, having defeated the strike and jailed many local leaders, was content to let matters lie.

Article by Michael Herbert