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The Making of the English Working Class


Perhaps no group was thrown so precipitately as the woolcombers from "honourable" into "dishonourable" conditions. The worsted- and woollen-weavers had not known so privileged a status as the 18th-century combers ; and at first they resisted less stubbornly as their wages declined. As late as 1830, the largest employer of hand-loom weavers in Bradford wrote :

The weavers are of all classes .we have to do with the most orderly and steady, never at any period, that I know of, constraining an advance of wages, but submitting to every privation and suffering with almost unexampled patience and forbearance. Two years later, Cobbett rode through the Halifax district and reported that:

It is truly lamentable to behold so many thousands of men who formerly earned 20 to 30 shillings per week, now compelled to live upon 5S, 4S, or even less . . . . It is the more sorrowful to behold these men in their state, as they still retain the frank and bold character formed in the days of their independence. The depression in the Huddersfield "fancy" trade had continuued without intermission since 1825. In 1826, 3,500 families were on the hst of paupers in Delph in the Saddleworth dIstrIct, and there was some extension of the "industrial Speenhamland" system (already in operation in some Lancashire cotton districts) whereby weavers were relieved out of the poor-rates while still in work, thereby further reducing their wages. (For two days a week road-work in Saddleworth the weavers received 12 lb. of oatmeal per day.) In Huddersfield a committee of the masters established, in 1829 , that there were over 13,000 out of a population of 29 000 who - when the wage was divided between all members of the family - subsisted on 2d. per day per head. But it was a curious "depression" in which the actual output of woollen cloth exceeded that in any previous period. The conditions of the weavers were bluntly attributed to "the abominable system of reducing wages.