Chapter Four


Countdown to the Reform Act of 1832, the GNCTU and the Derby Turnout of 1833-4

1 “Blackguard villains of that now radical town”

The Whigs dominated Derby politics throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, almost unchallenged. On one rather memorable occasion in 1776, Parliament reversed the result of an election in which the Whigs were accused of securing the member for Derby on the grounds of bribery. One hundred witnesses attended and investigating committee at the House of Commons which eventually found for the Tory, Daniel Parker Coke. It was the only time the Whig monopoly was broken. Generally, elections were uncontested. For thirty years before the passing of the Reform Act there was no contest for the representation of the 655 electors of Derby. At election times the local papers always displayed the paradox of a letter of thanks from the elected members, appearing in the same issue as the official advertisement announcing the nomination of candidates!

Pic: The Turnout of 1833-4 still remembered today by Derby Area Trades Union council in its banner, proudly displayed every May Day.

Elections were practically a family affair. H F C (Henry) Cavendish and Samuel Crompton had been elected unopposed in 1826 for the Derby seat. In 1830 and 1831, Henry Cavendish and Edward Strutt had a similar easy ride. For the Derbyshire seat, Lord George Cavendish and Francis Mundy were elected unopposed in 1826 and 1830. The following year, Lord Cavendish was joined by George Vernon and William Cavendish as unopposed MPs. The Whigs maintained their local supremacy whenever they looked like being outnumbered by the simple device of creating honorary freemen (who thus received the vote) from amongst their supporters, whenever they looked like being outnumbered (124 in 1806, 132 in 1819). Politics was still largely a kind of gentlemen’s game, to be played between the Tory representatives of the landed aristocracy and the Whigs who acted for monied and propertied mercantile and industrialist classes. It was a system that excluded the mass of the people, more especially the wealth creating working class, newly being formed. The Whigs, however, had at least developed the political sensitivity to drop their rather aristocratic sounding name in favour of ‘The Liberals’ in 1828, in deference to the growing demands for political reform. (Although the word has nothing to do with wigs in its derivation, being probably an abbreviation of “Whiggamer”, Gaelic for “driving a mare”, a reference to Scottish rebels in 1648; it is suggestive of their attitude to the relationship between absolute monarchy and a constitutional democracy: i.e. the King should be `whiggamered’, or driven along a route to be followed.)

The sheer absurdity of Britain’s electoral system was appalling. Parliamentary seats were allotted without any regard to population; Derbyshire had only two members at the end of the 18th century, while thinly populated Cornwall had 42. The system was in no way an accurate reflection of reality. As a result of this basic unfairness, a very small number of voters were able to control Parliament. The 254 seats estimated to command a majority represented 5,732 people. [1] However, the political reform movement, which had earlier faded in the face of repression, began to re-emerge. The Birmingham Political Union (BPU), founded in 1830 by a banker, was designed to divert the rebellious discontent, borne out of the economic circumstances after the Napoleonic Wars, into a parliamentary reform movement. The election year of 1830 was characterised by sharp popular indignation at the undemocratic nature of the electoral system. Locally, this gave rise to personal attacks on those seen to be most profiting from the system.

Riotous behaviour was still very much the order of the day, as far as being a means of expressing popular opinion. Illicit direct action swept the southern and eastern counties of England in the winter of 1830-1 and this movement became known as the Captain Swing rebellion. This was a sort of agricultural labourers’ version of Ned Ludd and, whilst its focus was mainly to the south of the county, Derbyshire was affected to a degree. The destruction of threshing machines was one tactic employed that is redolent of Luddism, agricultural wages had dropped locally from 14s 6d in 1815 to 11s 0d in 1830. Threatening, anonymous letters were sent to important people in the county, backing the Swing movement and rick burning took place in villages near to Derby. At Breadsall, the school master, Samuel Rowbottom, identified the motives of the incendiarists as being dissatisfaction with their wages. A series of scattered incidents took place in the county, perhaps more reflecting solidarity with the more unsettled position in Lincolnshire. Although two strikes occurred in Derbyshire and, at the beginning of December 1830, a “gentleman” was the target of arson at Long Eaton. Another case of arson, against a maltster, was reported to have taken place at Ockbrook, close to Derby, in 1831. The one case of transportation from Derbyshire to New South Wales must have generated local resentment.

Only a few months after this, a political `riot’ against the failure of the authorities to progress political democracy took place in Derby itself but, before this could happened tensions built up. A contemporary account, written on 24th November by Edward Soresby of Brailsford Hall to his son, then at school at Rugby, told of a procession organised to ‘greet’ Sir Roger Gresley, an unsuccessful Tory candidate in the parliamentary elections, at the turnpike on the Burton Road. [2] A mile or two out of Derby there was an “immense number upon the road of the most blackguard villains of that now radical town. They began hissing and throwing mud the moment Sir Roger Gresley’s carriage was in sight. When we got near the town, where stones and bricks were placed it appears on the other side of the hedge, the brutal work began and continued to St. Peter’s Street”.

Gresley’s party was pelted with missiles and the “farmers threatened revenge…neither constables, militia or even the Radbourne troop…came to our assistance”. Soresby reported that various local ‘gentlemen’ – Meynell, Curzon, Gell – all had “severe blows with bricks and stones”. His wife, Elizabeth Cox, wrote on the back of the letter a short note to her son, Willie, in which she revealed that his “friend, Mr Deane, is a staunch Tory and was on horseback in the procession. He dealt blows freely with his stick on the radical villains, and while he was doing so a man named Tunnaling (a dancing master) called to him and said ‘Sir! You are beating your friends’. This was a trick; they were not of his party”. Tunnaling was, it seems, subsequently seen “aiding and encouraging the mob” and strenuous efforts were begun to “take away his commission as a member of the Yeoman Cavalry”.

Such was the general mood of the ordinary people. The Liberals found themselves pressured by such enthusiasm and anger into proposing a Reform Bill in the Commons. A national trial of strength developed and a working class version of the political unions was formed – the National Union of the Working Classes – which merged the radical republicanism of earlier years with co-operativism and a vague moral socialism. While the former bodies aimed simply for some extension of the franchise, the NUWC wanted universal suffrage (i.e. the vote for all). Even more controversially, it adopted a socialist stance according to an unsympathetic contemporary and believed that: “Everything which was produced belonged to those who by their labour produced it and ought to be shared among them, that there ought to be no accumulation of capital in the hands of anyone to enable him to employ others as labourers, and thus by becoming a master make slaves of others under the name of workmen”. [3] Tensions between the political unions and NUWC existed everywhere, for if the style of the latter did not feel totally uncomfortable in the face of the kind of hostility shown to Roger Gresley, the political unions favoured a much lower profile. One of the first expressions of this sedate style in Derby was the organising of a petition to the Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, signed by local magistrates, clergy and farmers, appealing for something to be done to improve the lot of the poor by means of relief. Pic: working a spinning machine, or `engine’

The second attempt to progress a Reform Bill through Parliament was made in 1831. The abolition of the rotten boroughs and the extension of the franchise to the middle-classes, tenant and leasehold farmers were proposed. But it all fell short of universal suffrage; despite this, the expectations of the people were considerable and all eyes were on Parliament. In Derby there was tremendous excitement about the vote on the Bill, especially as it reached the Lords – the last stage necessary to make it an Act and thus the law of the land. A great crowd gathered in the Cornmarket to hear the result on Saturday evening, 8th October. An express rider, travelling from London to Manchester, arrived in Derby about seven o’clock and was carrying copies of the special edition of the ‘Sun’ newspaper. The details of the rejection of the Bill by the Lords, with a vote of 199 to 158, were in the paper. [4]

As the realisation spread, there grew substantial discontent amongst the crowd. However, all was entirely peaceful until anti-reformers began to provoke them by giving three cheers for the majority. As a sign of their sadness the crowd ensured that the bells of All Saints’, St. Alkmund’s and St. Peter’s churches began the muffled peals of traditional mourning, which lasted until three o’clock the next morning. Meanwhile, by ten o’clock on the Saturday night, an even bigger crowd was assembled in the market place and was again taunted by the anti-reformers. The crowd responded by attacking the shop of William Bemrose, a Tory anti-reformer who owned and edited the `Derbyshire Courier’. Bemrose had provocatively and enthusiastically displayed an anti-reform petition in his shop. Every window was broken with stones and damage caused to stock and premises. The crowd spilt into groups, which attacked the houses of prominent anti-reformers. Mr Eaton and the Reverend C S Hope of St. Alkmund’s had windows smashed and doors and shutters damaged. Some tore down palisades to arm themselves with rough and ready `spears’. Thomas Mozley, a Tory solicitor, who had the anti-reform petition printed, had his house attacked; while some of the crowd moved to Sir Robert Wilmot’s Chaddesden Hall, others went to the Mundy’s Markeaton Hall on the Ashbourne Road where the mansions and grounds were attacked and damaged. Much of the furniture of the hall was thrown into the fishpond, but Mrs Mundy’s main complaint later was that, as all the windows were broken, she could not undress for bed for four nights until the necessary repairs!

On Sunday, the morning after the outburst, C M Lowe the Mayor and the town officials met at nine o’clock to discuss the affair. While this was happening a large crowd gathered in the market place, immediately beneath the council chamber. There had been some arrests the previous night and the people had gathered to demand the release of those concerned. On the Mayor’s refusal they marched to the borough gaol in Friar Gate where a lamp post was pulled down to break open the prison door. Immediately the crowd ensured the release of the 23 people in gaol. The populace then moved to the then new County Prison where Governor Eaton had an armed group of men to frighten them off. Several were wounded and a young man called Garner died that evening from his injuries. The crowd dispersed only to reform again that night. Some 1,500 made another attempt to release those held in the County Prison. A troop of the 15th Hussars had arrived from Nottingham and stood in the path of the crowd. The people then diverted across to Little Chester where they again began to cause damage to the anti-reformers houses. Throughout that night the soldiers marched the streets to stop further crowd assembly. The troops met with fierce resistance around All Saints’ Church where great numbers of stones were thrown at them. In retaliation for this, one soldier deliberately followed one of the members of the crowd who had thrown a stone at his chest into King Street; there the soldier calmly and ruthlessly shot him in the thigh. Very soon the troops controlled the streets, but only by sheer force of arms.

On the following day, Monday, the people rallied yet again in the market place. This time the Mayor had stalls set up with a petition calling on the King to redress grievances and leaflets expressing the concern of the town. Such conciliatory measures could not make up for the fury of the people at the violence of the troops and those responsible for calling them out. The stalls were pushed over and the petitions and leaflets trampled underfoot. The Mayor hurriedly began to read the Riot Act, which in itself was always an incentive to violence; for the reading of the Act meant that troops would attack anyone still present in an hour’s time. The Mayor’s action only generated the contempt of the crowd and, sensing this, the Cavalry charged straight away without waiting the hour stipulated by law. A man named Hicking, who was simply an innocent bystander, was shot dead in the melee. Many people received sabre wounds and the crowd melted away in fear of their lives.

In a letter dated 10th October 1831, written from Ockbrook, the Reverend Samuel Hay described the position at Derby to his son in Leeds. “The town had all the air of a besieged palace … the Mayor was at the entrance (to the town) riding in haste between two Hussars”. Every house in Queen Street was shut up, the “upper story windows defended with planks”. At Lord Scarsdale’s residence there were 150 armed men, and several pieces of cannon, placed to repel any potential marauding crowd. In one of the clashes, a cavalry officer cut off a man’s arm at the shoulder with one blow of his sword. All public houses were closed for three days by military orders, and soldiers were instructed to shoot anyone seen on the streets after six o’clock in the evening.

Special constables patrolled the town all through Monday and Tuesday. Houses along the main street were ordered to light up at the front for the very few street lamps Derby then possessed had been broken in the street battles. At midnight on Tuesday two troops of Yeomanry arrived from Leicestershire to stay in the town for some time in a show of major military force. Some arrests were made and, at the Assizes in March 1832, eleven people were charged with breaking into the Borough Gaol. The jury found most of the accused ‘not guilty’ – to cheers in the crowded court. Two others, one of which was only 17 years old, were sentenced to seven years transportation for housebreaking and robbery. The events were so traumatic that the authorities decided it was necessary to reinforce the military security of the local prisons; eight Martello towers, each containing an arsenal of firearms, were erected over the new prison in preparation for any future attack. [4]

Such fury as these events revealed gave rise, subsequently, to a major stepping up of the campaign for reform a formally established Derby Political Union (DPU) began to act “without reference to Birmingham”, after it was set up as an independent body with the BPU’s assistance late in 1831. A crowded public meeting was convened at the Ship public house in Ford Street one Tuesday evening, late in December. A William Baker, of Bag Lane, chaired the meeting and called upon the two existing members of a political union (presumably the BPU) to speak. Mr Vickers, of Belper, proposed the formation of a local Derby Political union, receiving the support of Mr G Mart, probably George Mart, a pottery worker who became prominent in the Chartist movement in the Potteries area of Stoke-on-Trent in the late 1830s. He was also probably the Mart involved in the 1833-34 Derby Turnout, of which more later. An excited debate ensued, during the course of which a Belper activist, called Meakin, declared that he was “one of that class which Lord Brougham had designated the mob, and another statesman, the swinish multitude”. Skevington, later to become a key figure in Derby Chartism, was elected the president of the DPU.

The 1832 Reform Act, which eventually followed, granted the vote to male urban inhabitants paying a rent of not less than £10 per annum. However, the total number of new voters nationally was only 130,000, for such a rent was only paid by fairly well to do people. Only 1,384 voters were created in Derby, slightly more than double the pre-reform electorate, in a population of 23,607. The working class, which had played such a decisive role in the struggle for reform, got little out of the advance; it only benefited their middle strata allies within the political unions. Yet the celebrations were in themselves occasion for the demonstration of the organising ability of the people, for it had been a big step forward. The election of 1832 was the first seriously contested election in Derby. The Liberals, Henry Cavendish and Edward Strutt were re-elected with 884 and 716 votes respectively. The sole Tory candidate for the two seats, Sir C Colville, gained only 430 votes.

A Reform Bill Rejoicings Committee was set up and held meetings at the Town Hall throughout December 1832. Over £900 was collected to enable the Committee to organise joyful celebrations. William Bourne’s pottery firm of Belper and Denby, which normally manufactured ginger beer and spirit bottles, using clay from a local bed, produced a celebratory gin flask. This bore the likeness of the above-mentioned Lord Brougham, one of the key figures in the Liberal-Whig establishment behind much of the 1832 Bill. The bottle was labelled “Brougham’s Reform Cordial”; while the likeness of Brougham bore a scroll entitled “The Second Magna Charta” (i.e. Carta). Brougham later proved his position on the ‘mob’ when, as Lord Chancellor he supported the prosecution of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

Some 24 trades unions appointed committees in Derby to ensure the biggest “display of flags and banners that was never witnessed before in this country”. The printers of Derby produced a highly illuminated scroll in commemoration of the enactment of reform, on the streets and actually during the celebratory procession. The scroll greatly extolled the virtues of the freedom of the press. The procession was a huge affair – a galaxy of the trades: smiths, weavers, bookbinders, brushmakers, moulders, silk hands, lace operatives and compositors marched through the streets of the town. Everywhere throughout the county, victory receptions were held. At Wirksworth, a dinner at the Crown took place for the well to do, while 300 working men dined at different public houses in the town. 500 buns were distributed to the children and 300 women had a celebration tea. Similar events were laid on for 70 at Bolehill and 50 at Steeple House. At Newbridge the men dined on beef at the ‘Working Miners’ public house. At Wash Green, 30 men had a dinner at the Ship Inn, while 50 children had plum pudding and ale for their treat. Hatters, employed by Thelwall at Millhouses Green, had a feast and Evans’ millhands did the same. A whole sheep was roasted at Matlock Bath while 40 sat down to a dinner. £300 was collected in Belper, and Strutt gave “2 fat oxen worth £60” for the feast. [5]

Even in the festivity, a symbolic, even perhaps practical, difference between those who had won the vote and those who had helped them to achieve it was underlined by the two-tier events that predominated. For many, the understanding that this was only the start of political reform was clear. The high to middle-income strata, which had the fruits of success, were satisfied and believed the issue to be settled. For they believed the mercantile and industrial basis of their trade enabled them to represent fairly the interests of the mass of the people who were often their own employees.

Whilst this was only a marginal advance, at least the elections were no longer “settled at the Bell Inn, Derby” as one contemporary put it. Previously, one MP had been “generally nominated by the Duke of Devonshire and one by the Tories”. [6] Now some measure of democratic control had been provided, however slight. Despite this, the election that followed the Act was marked by stories of intimidation and violence. Lord Chesterfield’s steward was supposed to have threatened the pottery firm of Floyd, Hill and Wilding at Chesterfield that he would pull down the works, which were on his land, unless they voted the right way. One of Lord Anglesey’s tenants was threatened unless he voted for Anglesey’s preferred candidate. [7]

Thus, the limited success of 1832 only served to stimulate the reform movement further and it reached a massive degree of support. 230,000 people attended one of the largest demonstrations ever held in the Midlands at Newhall Hill, Birmingham, on 20th May 1833. Many from Derby attended this regional demonstration. The battle for the vote was now to assume a distinctly different character. The political unions, which continued the suffrage campaign, acted quite distinctly from the trades unions, which had, historically, prohibited political and religious discussions at their meetings. This had been partly a protective measure designed, on the surface at least, to distance the trade protection societies from radical revolutionary activities and consequently ward off the unwelcome attention of the law. In the wake of the Reform Act, trades unionism was given a new lease of life. [8]

The resurgence of the trades union movement in 1830-34 was possible only because of the struggles of the earlier period of illegality. While many ordinary workers joined a union for the first time during the period of GNCTU’s ascendancy, the organisations themselves were based on a core of trades unionists, schooled by the experience of previous years. A new courage was required of Derby’s working class, one well described by Friedrich Engels, a sympathetic commentator and the political collaborator of Karl Marx, who believed it self-evident: “That courage is required for a turnout (i.e. strike or lockout) … much loftier courage … than for an insurrection”. It was no trifle, he argued, to endure hunger and wretchedness for months with wife and children. This perseverance of the British working class developed that side of the character that, for Engels, “commands most respect”. [9]


Twenty-five years of illegality had ensured that few had experience or knowledge of how to actually run an organisation. The massive body that was the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union (GNCTU), the first TUC or even perhaps the `one big union’ of later, syndicalist years, was to rely strongly on the maturity of existing societies which gave support to the idea of ‘general unionism’, while retaining their own specific identity. As we have seen, in Derbyshire, the Friendly Iron Moulders’ Society was amongst those who provided this source of strength. Even before the heady events of the Derby Turnout, the moulders had established themselves as a local vanguard. For example, when the textile employers at Ashton cut the wages of their workers, forcing action, in Derby it was the Iron Moulders who immediately set up a local defence fund.

The concept of GNCTU developed out of the ideas of Robert Owen, the philanthropic Utopian socialist. Himself a textile manufacturer – a cotton spinner and merchant – Owen grew to adopt co-operative ideals and transformed his New Lanark Mills into a model factory. Prior to 1817, he was no more than a philanthropic employer, but, as he looked at the world of work with a critical eye, he saw that the very system of competition was the cause of much of the misery of the working class. Influenced by French philosophers, Owen evolved a Utopian ideal rooted in concepts of co-operation and conciliation. He saw it as essential that the masters be convinced by the force of logic alone of the errors of the system that they benefited from. His own evidence to an 1816 enquiry revealed that, while his views on the degree to which child labour ought to be exploited differed from most manufacturers, he did not hold very modern views on children. He himself employed children from the age of ten upward, working for ten and three quarter hours exclusive of mealtimes – twelve hours at the mill. Owen believed twelve years of age was the best time for children to start work, but only for ten and half hours at the most! The unpalatable truth, for those who would bask in the distant glow of Owen’s supposed socialism, that whilst his theories were based on co-operation, they were centred upon a “purely business foundation, the outcome, so as to say, of a commercial calculation. Throughout it maintained this practical character.” [10]

Whilst Owenism was concerned with how to best employ the wages system, rather than a root and branch struggle against the system, it did not oppose combination as a means of working class improvement. For a time Owen saw trades unionism as an ally in his struggle for a more enlightened approach from the masters. In a sense GNCTU was at once a trades union and a co-operative society. Its aim was to supplant capitalism by a co-operative system of workers’ control. At first a very informal body, it spread dramatically, enrolling half a million members in no time, thus increasing total union membership in Britain by 50% – a strength not attained again until the 1890’s. Distrust of parliamentary forms of struggle was particularly strong in Derby after the partial advance of the 1832 Reform Act. Flirtation with co-operativism, however, soon cooled as Owenism’s concepts of class reconciliation collided sharply with the practical experience of hardheaded trades unionists. Indeed, some unions refused to join GNCTU because of Owen’s views and, as GNCTU grew, a conflict between the two views developed. Despite this, GNCTU’s influence spread rapidly and it seemed that nothing could stop the trend. “The whole country is astir with what are called TRADE UNIONS…” wrote Cobbett, “Better call for a law to prevent those inconvenient things called Spring Tides.”

Clearly, from the employers’ point of view this massive body had to be stopped, or it could undermine the entire system. The masters, or as Marx dubbed them, the Millocracy, recognised the importance of the outcome and chose their battleground carefully. In November 1833, the employers in Derby, where GNCTU was just becoming very strong, presented a ‘document’ to their workers. It was a tactic of presenting a statement renouncing the union; those who refused to sign would be locked out. The use of the `document’ tactic had sharply increased after the 1825 repeal of anti-union legislation. The choice of Derby as the site of battle was possibly no accident, since it was quite a centre for textiles, lace and silk in particular. While the invention of new machines deprived thousands of employment elsewhere, it created an entirely new field of employment, especially for women, in Derbyshire. In 1830 there were thirteen silk mills in Derby and five or six in Glossop and Chesterfield. By the following year there were some forty lace manufacturers in the county, employing almost 5,000 people. [11]

Pic: working a machine for fixing tags to laces at the Silk Mill

The industry thrived on exploitative child labour. Doherty, the founder of the GNCTU’s immediate predecessor, the National Association for Protection of Labour, had found that “in the area of Glossop…not more than one manufacturer obeyed the law”. At Hatfield in Derbyshire, he saw children going into factories at five o’clock in the morning and not returning until nine in the evening. The children told him that they were “stopped 2d for every ten minutes they were late”. [12] Karl Marx described the silk manufacturers in particular as believing they had “special seigniorial (feudal rights of the Lord of the manor) rights over the children of the proletariat”. They uncaringly ensured the day-long spinning of silk “out of the blood of little children, who had to be placed on stools” in order to work. Only in 1833 was the employment of children under the age of nine years prohibited by statute, much to the rage of the silk magnates. The campaign of pressure began to win legislation to control hours of work of all textile workers to eight hours and won much support amongst all the hands. But the masters had already found ways around even the first restrictions, particularly the sections limiting the employment of under-14 year olds to nine hours a day. The manufacturers “howled out in threatening fashion (that) ‘if the liberty of working children of any age for ten hours a day were taken away, it would stop their works'”; for the masters claimed they would not be able to find enough youngsters to work the mills. One report on the death of a girl who had reached the age of fourteen only to die of ‘fever’, revealed their conditions of life. Working at Milford or Darley Mills for 15d a week, starting work at 4am and finishing at 8pm, the “deficient sustenance and clothing obtained by the miserable pittance of her wages were causes quite sufficient to render this poor child unusually liable to fever.” Somewhat lamely, the report recommended porter or black beer, which would supposedly give added strength, as a solution to the problem. [13]

Against this background it proved easy to win the textile factory workers – men, women and, yes, children – to the idea of taking matters into their own hands. Robert Owen found a sympathetic, indeed even adulatory hearing, initially, amongst the newly organised working class. The new and powerful Builders’ Union saw in Owenism a theoretical justification to their practical activities, while Owen saw them as a basis for a broader unionism that would in turn be the catalyst for his ideas. The Builders actually held aloof from a formal merging into GNCTU, but it proved very popular with unorganised textile workers in Derby, where by November 1833 societies had been formed under the GNCTU umbrella for “framework knitters of plain silk hose and the shoemakers”.
Pic: cutting and hollowing tags at the Silk Mill

The precise organisational form of GNCTU remained somewhat uncertain – even after the founding conference it was unclear – some societies saw themselves as at once members of GNCTU and still independent bodies. The “rallying of the bricklayers and plasterers to the Builders’ Union” was in this category and was particularly noted in Derby. James Morrison, the Birmingham builders’ leader, speaking in London in early 1834, recalled that those seeking to create GNCTU had “great prejudices to contend against, arising from the partiality of many or the operatives to their own particular trades, and from the pride which had sprung from the possession of large funds, which had also given rise to the feeling that (such societies) ought to have superior power” in the larger consolidated union. Moreover, massive recruitment came in so fast that it proved impossible to effectively control the new membership. The first Derby lodge met at the ‘Pheasant’, started with 37 members and rose to 1,500 within seven weeks. Derby had a town’s committee of two delegates from each lodge. Particular trades had their own lodge – silk throwsters, weavers, hosiery workers, building operatives and ironworkers. The Friendly Society of Weavers, a lodge of GNCTU, met for example at the ‘Fox and Owl’. The town’s District Secretary was John Hall, and the GNCTU’s journal, “The Pioneer or Trades Union Magazine”, circulated widely in the town. [15]

Pic: part of a modern mural celebrating the Turnout

The immediate cause of the ‘Derby Turnout’ was when a workman at a City Road silk mill refused to accept a fine for disputed faulty work. The employer, the Derby silk manufacturer Frost (of Frost & Stevenson’s, Queen Street), dismissed the man, without hesitation, on the 21st November 1833. Immediately 800 workers came out in solidarity, a vast number considering Derby’s population, then some 24,000 of which perhaps not more than perhaps a couple of thousand were factory workers. Even more were to turn out. Representatives of the twenty employers in Derby from the silk trade met at the Kings Head on 25th November. A decisive resolution was adopted [see appendix A to this chapter]. While superficially acknowledging the right of workers to withhold their labour, they argued that unions damaged trade. Moreover, they objected to what they saw as dictation to them on matters at work – what today we would call management prerogative. Pre-empting the example of Tolpuddle, the employers concentrated on the secret oath which bound trades unionists – a mystical ceremony calculated to “overawe the minds of credulous and unsuspecting men, and render them the unconscious slaves and ready tools of their more crafty leaders”. [16]

This was used as an excuse to immediately lock out not only the 800 ‘turnouts’, but also all who were in support of GNCTU unless they signed what the ‘Pioneer’ considered the “scrawl of ignominy”. In the process, a few workers were, quite falsely, believed to be unionists and wrongly locked out. Such an attitude merely served to alienate an entire community. The document tactic didn’t work either; not only did the ‘turnouts’ and those locked out remain firm, but by the end of November other workers had struck in solidarity. They included the GNCTU organised builders, pottery workers, weavers and also the iron moulders of Britannia Foundry. By the 4th December 1,300 were out and strike pay of 7/- a week was being paid. Clearly, finance would be crucial to the success of the dispute.

While a troop of the 2nd Dragoon Guards was immediately stationed in the town and large numbers of special constables were sworn in, the “public peace was not in the slightest degree interrupted.” [17] There was no need for violence; the frustration that usually fuels such a response did not arise since the town’s workers were solid. Early in December a very few workers went back at S J Wright’s, but it was mostly new employees that helped start the mills up again. Generally, the masters remained inflexible, refusing to take any union members back. Indeed Wright and Baker’s silk mill in Agard Street was more than honest when advertising for ‘staffmen’, overlookers and mill men in the Reporter on December 5th. “No person need apply who is not willing to sign a declaration that he is not a member of the “Trades Union”, nor a contributor, directly or indirectly, to its funds.” Such actions could have only hardened attitudes, for despite the hardships vast numbers stayed out solidly, with some new people joining the turnouts.

Men Women Children
Smallware weavers 176 24 –
Silk throwsters 71 449 376
Silk twisters 53 – 53
Bobbin net or lace 130 25 25
Tailors 3 – –

Bricklayers 25 – –
Masons 3 – –
Labourers 10 – –
Carpenters/joiners 24 – –

TOTAL 495 498 454

GRAND TOTAL= 1447 – this would rise to two thousand by February

In the face of this, the employers tried to box clever. They had to admit the right to combination in some form, but to attack the secret oath could be a way out, implying sinister forces behind the innocent dupes that were the turnouts. The masters published a copy of an alleged oath, asking all who loved their country to “consider what might be the secret and ultimate designs, which require to be disguised by this dreadful oath”! Hints of evil French Revolutionary practice were clearly intended. A revolt at the gigantic silk mill in Lyons in France in 1831 (and again, later, in 1834) was bloodily suppressed and the repercussions were felt all across Europe. The masters can hardly have not taken this into account. But, in reality the oath was fairly innocent, the member swearing not to work with non-unionists and to keep from the employer the secrets of the lodge. Failure to honour this would “plunge ones soul into eternity”. [See Appendix B for full text]. [18]

In fact unions had tried to abolish the secret oaths, which had their origins in the Friendly Societies. The oath acquired a special solemnity during the period of the Combination Acts. Leaders of the unions thought them relics, but in the minds of working people they were an important part of developing a sense of collective allegiance. The entire strategy of the masters in using this ploy simply failed to take effect. Of particular importance in sustaining the ‘turnouts’, was the solidarity expressed with them throughout the country. The ‘Pioneer’ played a decisive role in this, inspiring the workers with tales of support and stimulating massive collections of money. Other radical journals supporting the Derby workers were: the True Sun, the Poor Man’s Guardian, the Man and the Crisis. Thomas Collumbell, of 2 River Street, was the Derby agent for the Pioneer. A skilled cabinetmaker and upholsterer on his own account, he was in consequence able to consider himself independent of the threats and pressures of the masters. The paper circulated widely in the town  even amongst the general public, for there was a strong sense of community identity with the unionists”. The Owenite journal The Crisis reported on December 28th that “the barbers of Derby shave the Union men who are turned out, for nothing”! while Robinson, a master miller, offered his services to buy and mill flour. A non-trades unionist from the town wrote to the ‘Pioneer’ condemning the hypocrisy of the so-called “reformers and defenders of the peoples’ rights” who he thought were now found wanting. Those who had seemed so progressive in the struggle for the vote in 1832 now did not want to know.

Stirring messages of support were sent to the ‘turnouts’ via the ‘Pioneer’, as in an open letter to the “Distressed Operatives” of Derby from the GNCTU lodges in Birmingham – “Men of Derby, fear not; your cause is won!!!” Derby sent a man, whom the ‘Pioneer’ believed to be called Morledge, as a delegate to a solidarity meeting held in Birmingham in late December. Perhaps this was an alias, for the strikers headquarters were in a street of the same name. Such interest was widespread. From Leeds, Samuel Lucas of the Bricklayers’ Union was sent as a delegate to Derby to investigate the details of the turnout. He reported many cases of hardship. One – the “Widow Walker” – who lived at Court 1, River Street, had a 14-year-old son who was denied Parish Relief because he “smelt” of trades unionism. Lucas went to see her and found her living on potato peelings. Another widow and her two girls locked up the house all day, not rising from bed because they had nothing to eat. Several families were given notice to quit houses rented to them by some of the masters.

Women were particularly hit by the turnout and received special financial support from women’s and men’s trade societies, as witnessed by the regular lists of contributors published in the ‘Pioneer’. But all the finance raised was still insufficient; nonetheless some impressive sums were raised. By the end of December the following amounts had been donated. [20]

Nottingham £28 Derbyshire £94
Worcester £50 Hinckley £20
Leek £10 Sheffield £3:14s
Shepshed £10 London £10
Banbury £5 Quorndon £15
Melbourne £2:4s Castle Donnington £1:10s
Loughborough £10 Wolverhampton £21
Birmingham £20

The Birmingham Labour movement even had a ‘Derby Committee’, which received funds at the Town Hall Tavern, which operated as its HQ.

Left: A Co-operative store illustrated in 1830

Fearing widespread disorder, which might develop as attitudes hardened, the establishment began to mobilise. Douglas Fox, the mayor, enrolled special Constables and the 2nd Dragoon Guards were sent from Nottingham to Derby with the specific aim of defending private property. The turnouts had other things in mind, however. As part of the overall strategy determined by GNCTU’s Owenite philosophy, the organisation was, in equal measure, meant to be a co-operative and a union. As the dispute seemed less winnable, thoughts turned to setting up in competition with the masters whose mills were being run by strike-breakers, or `black sheep’ as they were then known. (See Appendix D to this chapter for a discussion on the names used for strike breakers.). An advertisement was inserted by the Derby GNCTU Committee in the local papers on 1st January 1834, seeking to buy silk machinery. In response, on 15th January, the employers advertised jobs, making it clear that “No trade unionists need apply”. But to really succeed, the employers had to keep their mills working and strike-breakers were imported into Derby, at first from within Britain but later from abroad. Early in January the Pioneer reported that “9 more willing slaves have left London for Derby, let us put their names on the black list”. The Pioneer’s blacklist did restrict British strike-breakers quite successfully in the first few months. In the meantime, the turnouts settled in for a long haul. For all the co-operative ideals, the idea of putting the strikers to work, failed to materialise.

While the idea of putting turnouts to alternative production to undercut the capitalists might have seemed attractive, it presented certain problems. First capital had to be acquired, and the ‘Pioneer’, with a view to raising finance, broadcast Derby’s idea. Speaking in London in February, Owen made the point that the Derby workers were being supported at a weekly expense of £350 to survive the lockout, “which sum is now being spent in an unprofitable manner”, when money could have been used in putting men and women to work. [21] But how practical was this desire, faced with the urgency of preventing real starvation? The Birmingham ‘Derby Committee’ considered a scheme for a mill, which would cost £1,680 to build and £1,221 to secure the necessary machinery – it was a colossal sum. Despite this, such a mill would only employ 17 men, 17 boys and 136 women, less than a tenth of the turnouts. In the circumstances, such an aim was totally unrealistic; despite this, an air of unreality still pervaded. John Doherty, the NAPL founder, addressed a meeting in Derby just before Christmas for several hours and was well received. In contrast, the famous Robert Owen visited Derby in January, providing only utopianism, not bread: “The time has arrived when a new system of things is to take the place of the old. A change which will equalise rank, abolish the distinction that wealth and intelligence creates and go far to erect in their stead a golden age”. Perhaps the fact that he addressed both masters and workers in separate meetings almost as an ‘independent’ conciliator also served to disillusion the workers as to Owen’s leadership. For he now seemed to say that he supported the right of workers to combine in the same way he urged the masters to associate together – in the interests of both sides achieving mutual debate.

Owen addressed a crowded meeting of mainly trades unionists at the Lancastrian schoolroom on the Thursday evening of January 2nd. The Pioneer’s main contact, Collumbell, chaired the meeting, during the course of which Owen seemed more concerned to highlight the founding in Derby of a local branch of the newly formed Manchester based National Regeneration Society. This would agitate for the 8-hour day – as it would turn out, a bold but almost ridiculously premature demand – as a means to cultivating sound mind and character, literally for national regeneration. Owen declared himself quite sure that within a week the masters and their workers would confer together and he “hoped their differences would be terminated forever”. It was but a most forlorn hope. Owen met the masters on the Friday morning at the Kings Head, holding a long and interesting philosophical debate about everything under the sun; but the question of a settlement came to nought. Owen declared his willingness to return in a few weeks if it would be of help, for he was “happy to be a mediator”. [22]

Faced with this failure of utopian socialism to recognise class realities, the turnout’s efforts in the more practical area of co-operativism were more successful. GNCTU had a provision store in Derby, selling flour at 1s 9d for a stone when the regulation price was 2s 2d. (A stone is 14 pounds weight, or 6.35 kilograms.) Tons of bacon were sent there from Birmingham to be sold at subsidised prices. [23] In another vein, the ladies of Bradshaw Street in Derby launched a programme of education for the children released from work by the turnout. A fund was launched by GNCTU to pay for the two rooms hired to act as a school.

The emphasis of the activities of the turnouts shifted to demonstrative action, designed to boost morale. For the local papers now believed that “the conflict cannot last long”. [24] How false was that view! And how it must have generated a determination to prove the detractors wrong! On the 24th January one of the trades unionists died and a long funeral procession, from the union’s headquarters, the Castle and Falcon, to the cemetery, was arranged. Eighty women, wearing white dresses and hoods, walked three abreast, followed by GNCTU officials, “carrying the bible and other insignia, after whom came sixteen hundred people, representing numerous trades, walking three abreast and wearing white rosettes with a sprig of laurel”. [25]

Strikebreaking labour was increasingly imported to start the mills going again. The ‘Pioneer’ regularly printed the offending names in its columns. Particular attention was paid to Peet’s small ware factory in Bridge Street, as he began going further afield to find fresh labour. “Mr Peat in the small ware way at Derby has been to London and engaged the annexed list of hands from Bethnal Green. He gave them 40 (the figure was emphasised in the original text since it was an awful lot of alcohol) pots of strong ale, starting at London”. [26] The paper then listed 16 names of strike-breakers and related now Peet had arranged beds at his factory for the London workers. He developed the practice of telling these that he had opened a new factory in Derby and required Labour. A man called Mayblin confessed to the Pioneer his unwitting role as a `blacksheep’. “When we arrived at Derby … how ashamed I was! We were hooted and hissed by the women and children… Inside the building there was an excellent dinner of roast beef”. [27] Mayblin decided it was all too much for him and later escaped from the factory over the wall and made his way back to London.

Others were less concerned. No doubt aided and prompted by their masters, 29 employees wrote an open letter to the public explaining that the strike was “no fault of ours” and that they were simply fulfilling the duties they owed to their “families and to society, better by seeking honest employment here, than by continuing in London in idleness, poverty and misery”. Meanwhile, early in February, a party of drunken ‘black-sheep’ who were returning from the Seven Stars in King Street, one Saturday night, stabbed a by-stander in three places. The authorities were obliged to find the culprit, Henry Ingram, guilty of grievous bodily harm. But while he was sentenced to death, this was commuted to life transportation, then seven years transportation, and then there was a strong suggestion in the press that he would be released. No doubt this unprovoked act of aggression by a strikebreaker helped to harden feelings further, “the feeling of opposition among the work-people seems rather on the increase than otherwise, and latterly a considerable number of females have ceased from their usual employment” reported the local newspaper. The dispute widened, as the employers tried to force those still working to sign declarations that they would not contribute to funds for the strikers. [28]

Two thousand were out by the time of the traditional Shrove Tuesday football game that, although banned, nonetheless started off at the Market Place as usual. All the strikers and their supporters came out to kick the huge ball, filled with cork shavings, around the town. The event became an enormous solidarity march, which met outside the Infirmary on London Road. The procession was organised with military exactitude. Women led the march, four abreast, followed by joiners, shoemakers, sawyers, silk-weavers, labourers, plasterers, framework knitters, small ware weavers, bricklayers and stonemasons who marched three abreast with colourful flags and banners proclaiming mottos: “Union is Strength” and “Knowledge is Power”. Many more wore crimson silk bands, with knots tied over their shoulders. By the time the procession moved off there were some 600 women in the lead of a 2,000 strong march. They toured the local villages to demonstrate their defiance.

Reaching Duffield, the crowd stopped at the White Lion for provisions. A four-acre field opposite was filled with wooden seats for the women; a large marquee was erected and a gigantic wooden fire burned in the very centre of the festivities. A rally, with stirring speeches, was held while, no doubt, the thirsty marchers were able to find sustenance at the White Lion. The mood was almost carnival, “the females singing all the way, and through the streets of Derby, hymns and popular songs. Many remarks of good-feeling was expressed by respectable people as the procession moved along, such as – ‘What sort of man can that be, who has the heart to starve such females as these?’ And several others expressed their astonishment that, after 10 weeks privation, the women could look so clean and respectable”. [29] Many local people came to greet the marchers, Ward, Brettle & Ward of Belper even allowed hands unpaid time off to see the procession at Duffield. Exhilarated by the experience, the turnouts marched again the next day in a similar vein to Spondon village.

Apart from the demonstrating, much of the time of the strikers was devoted to picketing. The term was then just becoming current. Borrowed from the military, it truly meant to post a guard of observation and it was the threat implicit in observance in close-knit communities that made the practice so offensive in the minds of non-working class people. Large numbers of turnouts were arrested and jailed for three months for “molesting” blacklegs, or trying to convince workers to “desert” their employers. No hint of violence was suggested, simply that they stood outside a factory and tried to persuade others not to go in. A fact confirmed by a contemporary assessment “although “picketing”, or placing turnouts to prevent the introduction of fresh hands, was as usual practised, the turnout was attended by fewer breaches of the peace than almost any on record”. [30] Whether a record was truly broken might well be debatable for, in a series of separate cases, many turnouts – men and women alike – received three months imprisonment each:

George Allen
John Francis Bailey
Ruth Beeston
Mary Cooper
Fearn & Radford (both women)
Edward Hudson
Richard Lathbury
Thomas Starkey
Ann Starkie
Samuel Thomlinson
John Wakefield
Jane Watson

An attempt was made to give an excuse to legally break the union, spreading a rumour that its lodges had firearms concealed at their meeting places. 20 constables and a couple of magistrates broke into all the lodges in Derby, broke open the chests containing lodge property (minutes, accounts, regalia etc). Only two old swords used in the oath taking ceremonies were found of course.

Such legal harassment was the lot of trade union pioneers; on 20th March the Derby papers mildly reported, in the very midst of the turnout, the most notable of such cases. A group of Dorchester agricultural labourers had founded a lodge of GNCTU and had been savagely sentenced under an out-of-date naval law to seven years transportation for taking secret oaths. They were destined to become the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’, named after the village they came from. As with the Derby turnouts the establishment cloaked their hostility to trades unionism in the pretext of their concern for unlawful oaths. The Derby dispute was, in reality, of more significance that the episode of the ‘Martyrs’, although it proved easier for the movement nationally to win sympathy around the plight of the men in Dorchester. But it seems sad that posterity should award so much affection to the martyrs of Tolpuddle and not to the Martyrs of River Street. For it must be said that the heroism of Derby can only have inspired the men of Tolpuddle and not the other way around.

The Derby magistrates acted quickly, issuing a public statement on the Tolpuddle case dated March 30th. They claimed ignorance of the fact that the law made the oath illegal, but the intensity of the language used by the masters and their allies at the outset of the lockout belies this. [31] The truth of the matter is that the employers dared not to use such a tactic in Derby. It would have only united the workers even more than they already had been, for the outrage felt at the use of the outdated law against men of Tolpuddle testifies to this. This had been the case in the North West where building workers had already found themselves confronted by legal challenges to the oath.

At the time, however, the workers’ movement still saw Derby as their main ’cause celebre’. The Pioneer advocated the case of the turnouts, despite the totally undeserved national press attacks. In May, anti-trade union journals accused the Pioneer of a lukewarm attitude to the Derby events. That this could be so is unlikely, for it was largely to build a movement of solidarity for Derby that the very organisation of GNCTU was further developed in 1834. Although there were those who favoured a low-key approach, arguing that Derby had not asked GNCTU if it could take action. It seems amazing that GNCTU had no formal entity until a national conference of delegates met in London on 18th February 1834. After that an organisation, not only in name but also in substance, was intended. The founding conference made this clear. “The paramount necessity of a unity of action by the Unions, on well-defined plans, is rendered evident by the state of our brethren in Derby.” The failure to provide “permanent profitable employment of the turned-out operatives” was seen as totally attributable to the “isolated state in which the unions at present remain”. In a sense Derby was GNCTU; its defeat would be the end of the organisation, so the sneering accusations of their enemies were maliciously misplaced.

GNCTU lodges in all parts of the country collected money for the turnouts; a total of £4,783 15s 0d. It was not enough though, for it had to be applied partly as strike pay, but also as capital for the co-operative schemes. As soon as GNCTU had adopted a constitution in February, the National Executive decreed a shilling levy. Not that this could be enforced in the absence of a clear organisation. [32] Local people were especially generous in their contributions, of course. The columns of the Pioneer were littered with acknowledgements of donations and some came from Derbyshire. Amongst many were:

Friends at Heanor 13s 0d
The ladies of Castle and Traffic Streets 4s 10d
Friends at Duffield 8s 6d
Labouring friends of Quarndon £1 0s 0d
A Belper friend £10 0s 0d
14 Journeymen brush makers of Derbyshire,
in 11 weekly subscriptions £12 8s 0d
Wirksworth 3s 6d
Mrs Blon of Derby £10 0s 0d
Borrowash 2s Od

The brushmakers seem to have observed the levy; during February they gave ten shillings. Naturally much money must have been given directly at local level although even some of the turnouts themselves contributed to their fund centrally. The Plasterers’ GNCTU lodge in Derby gave 12s 6d from their funds, while the Bobbin-net lodge gave £2 8s 6d out of their weekly allowance. Presumably the idea was not only to help out the less fortunate, but also to contribute to the grandiose aims of developing local co-operative industry. Derby workers in other towns did not forget their home – for example, the donation of 6d recorded from a “Tramp carpenter in Leamington”, a wandering member of the trade, looking for work.

Women played a remarkably important role in the turnout and their strength of feeling was central to its long duration. It seemed the longer it went on, the more determined became the mood of the women. Some of them had been a little reluctant at first; no doubt, being responsible for the household budget made them a little cautious. But as the hardship grew, perhaps it was the very same reason that prompted their sense of determination; that they saw the effects of starvation at close hand as the purse shrank. This heroic mood stirred women throughout the land and the level of women’s contributions to the central fund was notable. Ranging from £3 from the females of Earl Shilton, to 6d from Margaret Parrington of Barnsley – “poor in pocket but rich in principle”, she described herself. [33] Pin makers and textile workers contributed regularly and generously, as did every trade in which women worked. The experience generated much support for the idea of trades unions specifically for women. One Derby woman GNCTU member made it plain that the turnout held great significance for women. “Be it known to the world that a female union is begun in Derby, and the tyrants have taken fright at it.” [34]

Pic: working a winding machine at the Silk Mill

The women played their role in the community as well as in the union. Wherever there were ‘black sheep’ they sought to shun them and to force them out of the locality and their homes. There was no hesitation at this, for the dispute had assumed the very essence of social warfare. The whole community seemed pitched against a few rich and powerful men and those who supported them just for money were considered with repugnance. The Bath Street and River Street neighbourhood was reported to be in a high state of excitement when ‘black sheep’ were discovered to be living amongst them. The women entered the fray with humour and enthusiasm. Making an effigy of a black sheep, they “burnt it outside the door of the black sheep ‘shepherd’ “. They then made such a tremendous noise, “the baa-ing was deafening in the extreme”, that the ‘shepherd’ contacted the authorities. Three women, deemed to be ringleaders, were arrested and bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. That would keep them out of action, for to be discovered again in such an occurrence would mean gaol. For good measure they were also fined the considerable sum of 3s 6d each.

In the meantime, the “whole of the black sheep absconded with their shepherd to the neighbourhood of Thorn Tree Lane, accompanied by a band of music formed of various culinary utensils” – the strike-breakers being escorted away to the banging of pots and pans by a crowd of women and children. A kind of moral victory had been won. [35] To counter this sense of social solidarity, the establishment did not have the benefit of today’s electronic and print media. How then could they undermine the resolve of the workers? The best means of mass propaganda of the day was the church and by and large that was firmly on the side of the masters. Symptomatic of the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church was the fact that a clear policy statement on trades unionism was read to a Catholic chapel outside Derby to warn of its evils and squash solidarity. The congregation was warned against “unholy practices” in a shocked tone. The emphasis was entirely on secret “illegal associations” and “profane oaths”. Then the ace card was played, for those who supported such things were “totally unfit for the reception of the most holy sacraments”; effectively excommunication from the church – a fearful thing to a devout Catholic. The text of the letter read thus:

“We feel ourselves especially called upon with regard to the labouring portion of our beloved flock, to warn them against unholy practices, which we have been shocked to hear have been lately most injuriously and most wickedly introduced amongst the working part of the community; we mean the entering into illegal associations, and the taking of illegal, unjust and profane oaths, and these aggravated in wickedness by enjoining secrecy. We are bound to declare that, by determining to become members of such illegal associations, or by continuing to join in the same, or by taking such illegal and profane oaths, they render themselves totally unfit for the reception of the most holy sacraments of penance and the Eucharist.” [36]

For the Protestants, Thomas Gisbourne, MA, Prebendary, or Cannon, of Durham, on the strength of being a local man, published a lengthy open letter in the press, addressed to the “Derby Union of Operatives”. His open letter was a calculated attempt to convince, by reference to theological logic, those waverers amongst the workers who “have begun to entertain very serious doubts”. Arguing that the very act of association was an “unjustifiable confederacy”, he explored the validity of an oath or a promise. They both became “null and void when the performance would be contrary to the law of God”. His main thrust was to dispel any fears of conscience about breaking the oath of loyalty to GNCTU. God’s law, it seemed, did not support trade unions. For, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” – even if the masters didn’t; and “Thou shalt do to others as thou wouldest have them do unto thee” – even if they didn’t. Not only does God’s law forbid unionism, reasoned Gisbourne, but also so does the law of the land and God’s law commands us to “submit ourselves to every ordnance of man”. Clearly, man’s law -however unjust -is God’s law. Not content with deep reasoning, he went on to make a bread and butter appeal: “Are you fed better… more comfortably clothed” as a result of the dispute, he asked? [37]

Even the Methodists were at it too! Fowler, the superintendent at the Methodist Church at Horsley-Woodhouse in Belper, denounced the churchgoer who was a trade unionist in fierce terms. Annoyed with this, several members of the congregation waited for him, bible in hand, to argue it out. Fowler justified himself by saying that he had not wanted to do it, but that he had received instructions from the hierarchy of the church. His refusal to admit that the turnouts had even a case now led to a strike against him. Not one of his congregation joined him in singing the hymns and they “all took a chapel” elsewhere. The Catholics and the Church of England might be able to get away with it, but the Methodists had won support in the manufacturing districts of Derbyshire precisely because they adhered to a democratic structure within the church. Belper was not only a stronghold of Methodism, but also of trades unionism. A GNCTU lodge had been established there in February precisely because of the sympathy for the Derby turnouts, while Belper nailers had levied themselves at 6d per person, per week, in January.

But if the organised machine of the churches was generally used against the trade union movement at this point in history, many individual churchmen and religious lay people were strongly for the workers in struggle. A fellow colleague of Canon Gisbourne at the same cathedral of Durham, Bishop Barrington, saw himself as an open ally of the GNCTU. While the larger than life (in more senses than one!), twenty stone clergyman the Reverend Arthur S. Wade raised funds for the locked-out workers of Derby, taking the chair at a major meeting of solidarity in London and sealing his rallying call for support by “tendering his own subscription, which he said was not a sovereign remedy, although it was a sovereign; but he would repeat it again and again, until no remedy was wanted”. [38] Many who could less afford it followed his example – some £17 was collected at that meeting alone. Amongst the trades contributing were brushmakers, tailors, carpenters, mechanics, carvers and gilders, workers at Messrs Bramah’s (the locksmiths) boot and shoe makers, coopers, dyers and jewellers.

For this, and other activities, Wade found himself pilloried by the hostile press. Defending him against the savage attack of a religious weekly, `the King’, the journal, `the Crisis’ noted that it was not fashionable for priests to exert themselves on behalf of the poor. Throughout the century, the response of organised religion to trades unionism only served to alienate many churches from their flocks. Catholic workers did join trades unions but most, somehow, avoided a conflict with the church until the time when its attitude changed, notably following a papal encyclical late in the century. The Church of England simply lost the practical following of many workers, thus imbalancing the social composition of their flock. Methodists and similar groups fragmented – the Primitive Methodist Church registering phenomenal support in the industrialist rural areas of Derbyshire. With the negative attitude of the official churches to trades unionism, it is small wonder that colourful figures like Zion Ward gained enormous following. A crippled shoemaker, Ward operated from 1829 to 1836. Initially, part of a wider, deeply religious movement, he began to think himself as Christ. The extraordinary thing is that his following grew phenomenally in the urban proletarian areas, including Derby and Chesterfield. Despite his freakish beliefs, Ward cloaked them in radical language and ideas. His anti-establishment millenniumnal appeal won many from official religions. In those pre-Darwinian days, few workers were able to think in non-religious terms and the propaganda of both masters and men tended to be couched in religious phraseology. [39]

A reading of contemporary journals at least implies the conclusion that while many working class people would have considered themselves as actually pious, others simply projected the dominant, but contradictory, moral and ethical principles of Christianity. The cultural basis of contemporary society then dictated that religious language and imagery was used to convey the ideas of trades unionists, as with almost everyone and everything. Rather a folk message than a gospel – it was certainly the medium, but was it the message? Workers active in the unions tended to cite those ethics reflected in certain biblical texts which favoured the interests of the oppressed in the slave society that had been host to the writing of the Bible, while the capitalist argued his position from those texts which favoured the property owner. Ballads were sung at rallies and meetings because they were good fun; hymns were sung both because they were often the best tunes but also because they were good propaganda. The masters argued that the oath of allegiance to the union was godless, and such a charge in that day and age was scandalous if proved. Understandably, it was in the interests of the unions to constantly declare their adherence to Christianity. While Owen’s non-religious approach was unusual – he was personally an atheist – there was little of the almost institutionalised religious involvement that was a distinct feature of the movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The key institutions of religion expressed themselves firmly in the favour of the powerful and the wealthy.

Pic: silk doublers at Derby Mill

For all this barrage of religious support for the Derby Millocracy, by March there was still “no apparent prospect of reconciliation taking place between the general body of operatives and their employers”. [40] The ‘Mercury’ advised that as neither side would back down, the only way out was for the operatives to look for work in other towns. However, it was clear that, while this would not immediately happen, the dispute was nearing its end, albeit very slowly. “By the end of March the workers were starving and victory for the employers was certain.” [41] William Holmes of Nottingham was appointed to attempt to open negotiations with the Derby masters. However, he reported that they had refused to enter into any discussions “unless the men would consent to give up the trades union”. [42] There was never any definite date when the dispute ended, it just began to fade. 600 workers, a third of the turnouts, never returned to work for their former employers, simply refusing to even pretend they had renounced their union. Many, however, took just that course. Early in April the Mercury was claiming a great rush back to work, a statement it later revealed as being exaggerated. Quite without foundation, it claimed that “there is now every appearance of a speedy dissolution of the trades union in Derby”. [43] By 16th April the Mercury claimed the following picture for each company in its editorial: (All silk manufacturers – unless otherwise stated)

“Bridgett’s: Weaving looms all at work. Silk twisting wheels all at work. Throwing machinery 2/3rds employed.
Peet’s: Filling rapidly with hands. Every loom at work. Repeated applications from old hands.
Lowe’s (throwsters) Machinery fully employed
Boden and Moreley’s Every machine at work. Repeated applications from old hands
Johnson’s Every machine at work.
Taylor’s } Machinery 2/3rds employed, and
Wright & Baker’s } receiving numerous applications
S J Wright } from old hands daily.
Frost & Stevenson’s: Rather more than half their weaving looms at work.”

The master masons, joiners and bricklayers were reported as “not now experiencing the slightest inconvenience from a want of workmen, and receive applications from work daily”. Despite this confidence, a letter from an anonymous “JPR of Derby” in the Pioneer claimed this to be a far from correct version of events. While in April, the Crisis demurely referred to the Mercury report as being “not strictly correct”. As always, the commercial press posed the situation in a light suited to their view – i.e. that the strike was over and it would therefore, serve no purpose for those still out to remain out. What than was the reality? Posing the Mercury’s own list negatively, rather than positively, we find still quite a few workers out:

Bridgett’s: 1/3rd of silk throwsters out
Peet’s: had always been fully worked
Lowe’s: were not signatories to the master’s declaration of November 25th 1833
Taylor’s }
Wright & Baker’s } 1/3rd of all hands still out in all three firms
S J Wright’s }
Frost & Stevenson’s: slightly less than 1/2 of weavers out, all throwsters and turnsters out
Building firms: only employed 62 workers anyway and their action had been largely symbolic.

Of the textile companies, the only two firms quoted as working totally normally were Bode & Morley’s and Johnson’s and, more significantly, eleven signatories to the masters’ declaration of 25th November were simply not mentioned:

Hall’s Ward’s
J Cooper’s Adin’s
Gascoyne’s T Cooper’s
Mosedale’s MacConnel’s
Falconer’s Tunaley’s

What were their weavers, throwsters and twister doing? At a crude guess, one might estimate that some thousand or more were still out. Indeed, very many that did return seemed to have signed the document simply to obtain work and therefore wages, by no means intending to renounce the union. The ‘Mercury’ itself revealed that one Saturday evening in mid-April many lodges ordered that “the women and young persons should immediately renounce their connection with the union and seek to obtain employment”. [44] Several hundreds thus applied for work on Monday. Only about a quarter were taken back, however. The ‘Mercury’ claimed because their jobs were filled by the blacksheep. By late May, the Pioneer estimated that of the 2,400 originally locked out “a thousand were back at work, but without agreeing to give up the union, nor would they pay a £1 fine”. [45]

The union was far from defeated yet. For many members were employed in companies that dared not, or chose not to, sack them. Mart, a GNCTU local activist, wrote that ” there were 900 men in (the) union … who were never discharged from their employment”. [46] But many loyal to the union were still out of work and would not return in any circumstances other than dignity. They suffered dreadful hardship, Mart wrote to the Pioneer late in May: “In the name … of the people of Derby, I beg leave to return your own most sincere thanks … there are at this time several hundreds of people in this town that have not the means to obtain a morsel of bread”. [47] The paper still gave the strikers tremendous encouragement, without it they would have despaired. The masters tried to stop the sale of the Pioneer “with the bitterest persecution. Threats of persecution of every kind are resorted to prevent its circulation”, it reported. [48]

However, if an end came at all to the turn out it was in early June. The May 3rd issue of Crisis talked of the “termination” of the Derby struggle, but did not itself admit to a lack of good quality information from the town. The workers who returned to work were beaten by starvation and those who remained out of work, almost in limbo, neither unemployed nor on strike, were demoralised by lack of funds. If it was a defeat, it had come about by the simple failure of the enormous sums donated to cope with the needs of the turnouts. Some seven months of struggle to support a couple of thousand people financially was just too much for the shaky organisation that GNCTU had developed. Indeed, towards the end, there was much trouble about the distribution of funds acquired for the turnouts. Commenting on the attempts to provide co-operative employment, the radical paper the ‘Poorman’s Guardian’, thought it would have been “more successful had the people of Derby placed themselves under the entire direction of the Birmingham Committee”. [49] Presumably meaning the leadership of Morrison, who had on occasion personally visited Derby? There was more than simply the need to effectively co-ordinate and stimulate solidarity in the mind of the Guardian writer.

There was much talk of misuse of funds, especially by the hostile press. The Guardian believed the ignorance and inexperience of the Derby people made them the “easy prey of a number of idle and rapacious fellows, who, taking advantage of the turnouts, have been living upon the funds upon the plea of rendering service in the collection of subscriptions and other needless occupations”. While the Guardian called on the Derby turnouts to remain aloof from these men, the GNCTU liaison officer working out of Derby, James Hall, and J P Robinson, a local leader, strongly denied the claims. Moreover, the local press had long been fuelling rumours to the effect that abuse of the funds was taking place. While bemoaning the misery the turnouts’ families were suffering, the Mercury claimed that “those who have been active as delegates etc, appear to have thriven well”. [50] No doubt this was a calculated attempt to drive a wedge between the rank and file and their leadership. The True Sun’s reports on abuse were considered to have been in error, arising through the tactless words of one of the members of the GNCTU executive, which were subsequently exploited by the masters and their media. Whatever the truth, centralised control was totally imposed in May, under James Hall.

Undeterred by all this, the Pioneer launched an appeal for funds to help launch a co-operative enterprise in Derby. GNCTU, it reported, had “engaged a silk mill in Bold Lane, for employment of 3,400 hands”. Effectively, it was an admission of defeat, and nothing even came of the project. Nonetheless, in the same issue the Pioneer issued a defiant editorial: “Derby has fallen; but she will rise again healed of her bruises, and resolute in struggle; but unity will give her breath”. [51] The decline of GNCTU after the twin hammer blows of Derby and Tolpuddle was as rapid as its growth. Owen’s commercial brand of socialism had caused a bitter dispute with the leftwing of GNCTU. It became so sharp a conflict that he closed down the journals of the union to prevent his rivals from expressing their views. This is especially relevant when one considers that the Pioneer was “throughout Morrison’s property, expressing his personal views”. Morrison was the key leader of the left wing and as full time paid secretary of the Birmingham support committee had thrown the weight of the Pioneer behind the Derby turnouts, much to Owen’s distaste. Adopting an increasingly class-conscious position, Morrison found himself becoming distanced from Owen. As early as January 1834, Owen had complained in the Crisis that the “spirit of peace and charity” had been lost. For him, the Pioneer had “drawn a line of opposition of feelings and of interests between the employers and employed”, in what he deemed to be a “senseless warfare”. [52]

The dispute with Owen reached a head during the turnout, as he became impatient with the Pioneer’s militant anti-employer stance, especially the tone of language adopted. Morrison left the GNCTU executive in late March 1834 and was much associated subsequently with the development of a new notion of trades unionism, which stressed greater centralism and unity combined with a militancy of industrial strategy. In April 1834 the Crisis bemoaned the absence of leadership in the trade union movement, but Owen castigated the journal for this. Nonetheless he ensured some response to the criticisms of a general lack of reports after the February GNCTU conference about solidarity with Derby, especially details of the fighting fund. Moreover, the entire Derby affair was formally taken into the hands of the GNCTU executive, of which little more was heard. `The Crisis’ noted in April that “Derby has been forsaken by her southern friends and the principal reason seems to be that the subscriptions have ceased to be published. London has nearly forsaken her. Only a few pounds have been sent for some weeks from London.” In response to all this, perhaps influenced by Morrison, the Builders gave the enormous sum of £230 in the first few weeks of April. [53]

The trades union element was outmanoeuvred by the formal dissolution of GNCTU at a national delegate conference in August 1834. But the act only legitimised an already existing situation. The employers were jubilant, believing unionism dead for all time. The “highest praise is due to the manufacturers and masters for the unanimity and firmness displayed by them during the long period of this turn-out”, frothed the Mercury. For the struggle was “looked at from all parts of the kingdom, as in some sense deciding the question”. In the wake of Tolpuddle and Derby, Owen noticed when he stopped off in Derby on his way back in April from the Co-operative Congress in Barnsley, that the masters were “exulting in the hope that the unions would be destroyed”. [54]

There had been damaging defeats in other towns before Derby, but there now began an avalanche of lockouts – Glasgow, Yeovil, Worcester and others experienced an employers’ offensive. While the masters believed they had attained permanent victory, the small independent unions that remained after GNCTU gave the lie to that. They looked to their organisation and resolved to rid themselves of the trappings of secrecy that had been to some extent their Achilles’ heel. Initiation ceremonies and oaths were generally dropped or drastically amended. Despite this, some workers stuck to the concept; special ceremonies continued to be performed unofficially on building sites, even to the present day, especially on completion of a job. The steam-engine makers, who were strong in Derby, were reluctant to give up the use of passwords even into the 1840s. The united craft engineering and building unions that were yet to be formed all retained some form of initiation in their rules.

Trades unionism, while inhibited, was by no means crushed following the collapse of GNCTU. Unions, which had existed before, independently, simply retreated into their old form. This was particularly so with the building trade unions. Certainly the Derby lodge of masons continued after GNCTU. The highly ambitious project, originally conceived by GNCTU, to build a great union hall in Birmingham to serve the region was continued by the masons who had played such an important role in the ‘Consolidated Union’. In 1841 the Derby lodge had demanded that the proposal to build the Masons’ Hall be postponed for six months. The Central Committee firmly put them in their place, commenting that “if the brothers of Derby would ‘only postpone for six months the use of the pot and the pipe their now disordered minds would become sufficiently serene to enable them to discover the immense benefits” of Masons’ Halls”! [55]

In this atmosphere, of a belief that extending the craft guild notion to the creation of independent workers’ bodies in more and newer trades was the way forward for trades unionism, the Derby Carpenters’ and Joiners’ Society was established on 6th June 1836, amidst quiet confidence in their ability to control their trade. A complex set of “Bye-laws, Rules and Regulations” were agreed at a meeting in the Bull’s Head Inn in Queen Street, in October 1840, which did just that. [56] The body was a specifically Derby society. County members residing three miles or more from the Town Hall were consciously excluded from eligibility for office-holding by Article II. With this local craft outlook, the Society in so many ways looked back to the older style form of trades unionism of the 1820s and even earlier. Rule XXV, however, specified that “should any dispute arise between the employers and the members of this Society, as to cause a turn-out of such members, any newly entered members wishing to go on tramp, will be allowed the same privilege as if they had been a free member twelve months”. Lessons enough had been learned from the Turnout!

So craft unions carried on, but the immediate response of the working class to the new political and industrial situation was more relevant. An almost impossible mbition had failed to materialise. In some ways it had all been simply too early, an inevitable heroic failure. The defeat of trades unionism directed the attention of workers back to politics. Had the partial success in extending the right to the vote, established in 1832, been enough? A correspondent’s letter to the Globe, reprinted in the Mercury during the course of the turnout, voiced the fears of many of the ‘well-to-do’. Had the concessions in the 1832 Reform Bill later stimulated the rise in unionism? “We hear much in the newspapers of the defeats, but rarely of the success of the union: and why? Because the masters, when they give way, keep it as secret as possible; while a victory (for the employers), being the result of a long struggle … is sure to be told far and wide”. The letter writer pondered on the relevance of such struggles to the pressure for reform legislation, which then “becomes and affair of the utmost delicacy and difficulty”. He warned that reforms should be pursued in “moderate and slow degrees, (or) the people will break out in rebellion”. [57]

Not all those with power and wealth were entirely certain that permanent victory had been attained, and they were right. The mood of the working class was not one of disillusionment for, within two years, agitation against the distress caused by the new Poor Law had begun. Within two years of that, the realisation that industrial militancy, combined with political power could be the answer, hit the workers like a thunderbolt. The most radical and disturbing movement yet of workers was to develop – the Chartist movement. As so often in workers’ history, out of apparent defeat would emerge a kind of victory.


The full text of the employers’ resolution 25th November 1833, printed in the Pioneer on 14th December 1833:

That this meeting acknowledges the right of workmen to give or withhold their labour, and asserts the equal rights of masters to give or withhold employment; and that, when workmen unite to impose terms upon their employers, the latter must either submit to that dictation, or resist it by a similar union.

That experience at Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Leicester and Liverpool, has proved that the principles of the Trades’ Union are injurious to the interests of the masters, by putting a stop to their several trades; to the commerce of the country, by the suspension of work and consequent inability to execute domestic or foreign orders; and ultimately to the members themselves. That to regulate the price and hours of labour; to abolish piece-work and to substitute day-work in lieu of it (thus placing the industrious and skilful upon the same level with the idle and unskilful workmen): to dictate to the masters whom they shall or shall not employ, and the number of apprentices or learners they shall be allowed to take; and in case of disobedience to the mandate of the Union, to withdraw his work-people simultaneously from the service of the party disobeying, and prevent any other workmen from entering his employ; are notoriously the objects and practice of the Trades’ Union.

That these objects have not only been unequivocally displayed by acts in the towns above referred to, and by similar proceedings in other places, but are avowed and advocated in the “Pioneer, or Trades’ Union Magazine”.

That the members of the Union are bound by a secret oath, and their admission is accompanied by mystical ceremonies, calculated and designed to impose upon and overawe the minds of credulous and unsuspecting men, and render them the unconscious slaves and ready tools of their more crafty leaders.

That the Derby Branch of the Trades’ Union is yet in its infancy, but that its principles and objects are identical with those exhibited in other towns; and some of its members have not hesitated to declare that they are only waiting until the increase of its members and the augmentation of its funds shall enable it to act with more decisive effect.

That, as great numbers of the workmen in Derby have joined the Trades’ Union, with a view to control their employers, and for the purposes which the latter believe to be destructive to their interests and utterly subversive of that free agency from which the Unionists claim for themselves those employers are compelled by necessity to unite in their own defence and do now resolve, unanimously,

That each of them will immediately cease to employ every man who is a member of the Trades’ Union, and will not receive or take back into his service any man who continues to be a member of that Union, or of any other Union having similar objects.

That this resolution is adopted on the deliberate conviction that a prompt and vigorous, and persevering resistance to the Trades’ Union is absolutely necessary, to protect the just rights of the masters, to preserve the commerce of the country, and to secure the true interests of the workers themselves.

Thomas Bridgett & Co Ralph Frost
Boden & Morley J & CS Peet
Wright & Baker William Frost
William Taylor Joseph Gascoyne
John Johnson Thomas Cooper
S J Wright William Mosedale
Joseph Hall Richard McConnell
Robert Ward Ed. Falconer
Joseph Cooper & Son Thos. Tunaley, Jun.
John Adin


“I do before Almighty God, and this Loyal Lodge, most solemnly swear that I will not work for any master that is not in the Union, nor will I work with any illegal man or men, but will do my best for the support of wages: and most solemnly swear to keep inviolate all the secrets of this Order; nor will I ever consent to have any money for any purpose but for the use of the Lodge and the support of the trade; nor will I write, or cause to be wrote, print, mark, either on stone, marble, brass, paper, or sand, any thing connected with this Order, so help me God, and keep me steadfast in this my present obligation. And it further promise to do my best to bring all legal men that I am connected with into this Order; and if ever I reveal any of these rules, may what is before me * plunge my soul into Eternity.”

* A person then stands in front of the party to whom this oath is administered, holding a drawn sword with the point towards his breast.


Full text of advertisement in Derby Mercury 1st January 1834:


Machinery for Silk Throwing, Sewing Silk,
Twisting, Small Ware Weaving Power loom, and
Bobbin Net and Lace Trade.

All persons having good machines to dispose of as
applicable to the above Department of Trade, are
requested to state price and full particulars by
letter (post paid) to the Derby Committee, Town
Hall Tavern, Birmingham.

by order of the Committee
James Morrison,
Birmingham, Dec., 26th, 1833


There have been many words to describe someone who continues to work in a strike – never very complimentary!!! In the 1830s, in Derby, they were usually called `blacksheep’ for the obvious reasons arising from the parallel with the odd individual in an otherwise uniform flock. The term began to fall out of use in the mid-1860s and it was extinct in an industrial sense by 1900, when it took on the exclusive use of referring to a `prodigal son’.

Another term -`knobstick’ – was used mostly in the period between the use of `blacksheep’ and later, more familiar terms. Engels uses it in his book, “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844”. Defined as a “person who works under the agreed rate” by Eric Partridge in his “Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English”, the term was generally used only in the years between around 1825 and 1870.

The term `knob’ was often used to denote the head, or perhaps a person of rank, wealth or privilege; in short, a `big-wig’, literally so in the early 18th century. Perhaps the word `knob’ in `knobstick’ was used, arising from the foregoing context, in an ironic way? Whilst the term `stick’ was sometimes used to mean a dull or stupid person, or a hanger-on. The whole construct might therefore mean an important or notorious person acting idiotically. `Knobstick’ was still being used in the country areas of Derbyshire in the early part of the 20th century as a word for unskilled building workers, a fact revealed by an old craftsman in the Derbyshire Advertiser in its edition of October 20th 1944. The word was also in use in Lancashire textile mills as late as the 1890s. Another word closely related to `knobstick’ was used as an alternative throughout the period – i.e. `clubstick’, which possibly had a similar origin and meaning, with the exception that perhaps an analogy existed with a heavy walking stick, which might also be used as a weapon, against workers’ struggle.

More familiar to modern participants in disputes are, of course, `scab’ and `blackleg’. These are much older than is generally appreciated, especially `scab’. First used as a term meaning a `scurvy fellow’, or a `rascal’, the epithet `scab’ is recorded as in use at least as early as 1590. It is often said that its first certain use, as a means of denoting a worker who refuses to strike when his fellows do, was in the USA in 1811. But it was certainly in use in Britain in 1804, since J L and B Hammond in their seminal work, `The Town Labourer’, reveal a ‘definition’ of the term `scab’ as used by textile workers. It does however seem to have receded as a term of abuse in strike situations. In this restricted sense, its use once again emerged briefly in 1880 but has only become widespread in recent times in the British labour movement, as distaste with its supposed American origin dissolved and unease with the term ‘blackleg’ developed.

Blackleg dates from the very early 1700s. Eric Partridge gives alternative uses and origins. By 1722 it is certainly being used as a description of a disease affecting the legs of sheep and cattle. Tempting though it is to suggest that the earliest organised wage workers, the wool combers, who were noted for trade union militancy, used the term there is no direct evidence that this was so. But combing the wool that had come from a diseased animal might very well be an unpleasant experience and it is easy to how the word might have been simply extended to a despised workmate in a conflict situation.

Another version of its origins has it as a gaming term, dating from 1771. According to this view, blacklegs were firstly `turf-swindlers’, the name coming from a fashion amongst them for wearing a certain kind of black boot. Another, related possibility is that gamecocks, used in the then very popular `sport’ of cock-fighting, were invariably the possessors of black legs. Clearly, the only

Yet another version of its origin is supposed to be from the mining industry. The term was certainly used in miners’ songs of the 1830s.1830’s. (See A L Lloyd’s “Come All Ye Bold Miners – ballads and songs of the coalfields” [1978] “, published by Lawrence and Wishart, for various examples.) This raises the question of whether it is a word special to the mining industry in origin, with or without connections to the 18th century usages. Transposition of the notion that strike breakers had the `blackleg’ sheep disease might easily have led to calling them collectively `black sheep’, the term most normally used in the early 19th century. This seems very likely to me but it has often been suggested that, in the context of the coal industry, the word `blacklegs’ has a double edge to it. For, in the days before pithead baths, a working miner in a strike situation could easily be found by the simple expedient of lifting his trouser leg to discover his own leg blackened by coal dust! This seems a little fanciful and there is no academic backing for the notion. After all, mining strikes took place in closed communities where there was little chance of failing to discover a wayward spirit. There could however be some derisory value involved here and the sporting origin – especially of cock fighting – would fit the social milieu of the collier better.

From this account it may be readily seen that no racist intent or connotation is involved in the term `blackleg’, arising from the use of the word `black’ as a negative force, other than probably by reference to a disease causing discolouration in sheep, or the use of a particular colour in fighting cocks. Nonetheless, modern dislike of the term arises from the method whereby the word `black’ is frequently used in this way- as in `black arts’ for witchcraft, `black mood’, `black day’, black outlook, etc. etc. In deference to this sensitivity, I have sought to use the term `strike-breaker’, except when a contemporary phrase seems appropriate.


Notes and References

1 G D H Cole & R Postgate “The Common People 1746-1946” (1976 edition) p90;
E Hobsbawn and G Rude “Captain Swing “ Penguin University Books (1973) pp xxv, xxiii, 136, 262n, Appendices I,II,III
2 The letter was sent to the Derbyshire Advertiser by his great-granddaughter, Miss Winifred Montford in 1945, as reported in the 20th July issue
3 E Royston Pike (Ed) “Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution” Allen and Unwin (1966) p132
4 A W Davidson “Derby, its rise and progress” (1906 facsimile reprint 1970) SR Publishers East Ardley p136-9; J Wallens in Derby Evening Telegraph October 8th 1953; J Wigley “Derby and Derbyshire during the Great Reform Bill Crisis 1830-32 – DAJ 1981, Vol CI pp139-149; Rosemary Meynell in Derbyshire Advertiser November 26th 1954
5 C Flick “The Birmingham Political Union 1830-1839″ Archon Books, Folkestone (1978) p74, Derby and Chesterfield Reporter 29th December 1831
6 Derby Reporter December 29th 1831; Derby Mercury 12th December 1832; Derby Reporter June 21st 1832. A copy of the illuminated scroll is in the Derby Local Studies Library
7 DAJ 1969 Vol LXXXIX p81
8 C Flick “The Birmingham Political Union 1830-1839” Archon Books, Folkestone (1978) p106
9 F Engels “Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844” George Allen and Unwin (1936) p225
10 Parliamentary Paper Vol III p20 – quoted in E Royston Pike “Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution” Allen and Unwin (1966) p108-110; F Engels “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” George Allen and Unwin (1936) p24
11 Stephen Glover “History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby” Mozley and Son, Derby (1829) Vol I Part I pp246-7
12 R G Kirkby and A E Musson ‘The Voice of the People – John Doherty 1798-1854″ Manchester University Press (1975) p353
13 Karl Marx “Capital – A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production” Vol I Dent Everyman (1957) p353; “A report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Breadsall” quoted by J Allen Derby Evening Telegraph 14th January 1954
14 G D H Cole “Attempts at a General Union 1818-34 – a study in British Trade Union history” MacMillan (1953) p112
15 The Crisis March 1st 1834; the Pioneer 28th December 1833
16 Derby Mercury 27th November 1833
17 Derby Mercury 27th November 1833
18 Derby Mercury 11th December 1833
19 The Pioneer 14th December 1833
20 The Crisis December 28th 1833; January 4th and 18th 1834
21 The Crisis February 15th 1834
22 The Pioneer January 11th 1834
23 The Pioneer 11th January 1834; The Crisis January 18th 1834
24 The Pioneer 25th January 1834; Derby Reporter January 9th 1834
25 A W Davidson “Derby, its rise and progress” (1906 facsimile reprint 1970) SR Publishers East Ardley p200-1
26 The Pioneer January 11th 1834
27 The Pioneer January 11th 1834
28 J W Allen Derby Evening Telegraph January 28th 1954; Derby Mercury 12th February 1834
29 The Pioneer 22nd February 1834
30 Francis White “History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby” Sheffield (1857) p107
31 Derby Mercury 8th March 1834
32 S & B Webb “History of Trade Unionism” Longman’s, Green (1902) p122; R G Kirby and A E Musson “The Voice of the People – John Doherty 1798-1854” Manchester University Press (1975) p288
33 The Pioneer 15th March 1834
34 The Pioneer 22nd February 1834
35 The Pioneer 15th March 1834
36 Derby Mercury 12th February 1834
37 Derby Mercury 19th March 1834
38 The Pioneer 8th and 15th February 1834; December 21st and 28th 1833; The Crisis December 21st and 28th 1833
39 E P Thompson “The Making of the English Working Class” Penguin (1976) pp879-880
40 Derby Mercury 19th March 1834
41 Alderman Sturgess “Derby Trades Council, Turnout Centenary Handbook” DTC (1934) p14
42 G D H Cole “Attempts at a General Union 1818-34 – a study in British Trade Union history” MacMillan (1953)” p130
43 Derby Mercury 9th April 1834
44 Derby Mercury 23rd April 1834
45 The Pioneer 24th May 1834
46 The Pioneer 17th May 1834
47 The Pioneer 31st May 1834
48 The Pioneer 17th May 1834
49 The Poorman’s Guardian 17th May 1834
50 Derby Mercury 9th April 1834
51 The Pioneer 7th June 1834
52 The Crisis January 11th 1834
53 The Crisis April 12th 1834, April 19th 1834
54 Derby Mercury 23rd April 1834;
55 R Postgate “The Builders’ History” NFBTO (1923) p145
56 Derby Carpenters and Joiners Society Rules (1840)
57 Derby Mercury February 26th 1834

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