The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The Document

In 1824 the Combination Acts were repealed and trades unions emerged as a powerful force in industrial areas. After about 1830, employers began to use "The Document" as a means of controlling their employees' union activities. William Longston gave an account of how "The Document" operated.

  1. Do the operatives [in cotton mills] connive at the violations of the laws which have been enacted for their own express protection?
  2. Yes, almost universally. ... If they do not connive, they must be brought forward as witnesses against the masters; but, being brought forward as a witness against the master, if the person be a voluntary witness, it is ten to one if they can obtain employment anywhere in the district where they are known, and where their name could be sent, so that their persons could be in anywise identified; I think this explanation will show and prove that employment would be exceedingly improbable for them anywhere, as employers would never deem themselves safe where they had in employ one who had been a voluntary witness against them. ... I saw an instance of it, perhaps four or five months ago; a manufacturer in the town of Stockport was brought before the magistrates for overworking children, and the decision was in the manufacturer's favour ... I think it was one of the cases wherein the manufacturer really was wronged; the decision, however, was in his favour; but the persons who came as witnesses against him I saw in the streets afterwards, and they told me that they could not get employment.
  1. Neither with their actual master nor with any other person?
  2. Nowhere; they told me they had applied at various places, but that their having become witnesses, occasioned them to be refused employment wherever they applied.
  1. Then you presume that there is a combination among the masters, to exclude from work those individuals who give information upon the infraction of the law?
  2. I am not aware that there is any combination, I have judged it rather to be a tacit consent, or a general practice, than a combination.
  1. Perhaps you have known of instances, since you speak so fully upon this subject, in which employers have dictated terms to the employed , which interfere with their rights as workmen
  2. Yes, I have known a great many instances of that kind ... There was a contention between the employers and the employed at Stockport, in the beginning of 1829, about wages; and of this contest a strike was the consequence; and the masters of Hyde thought proper to interfere; and that interference it may be necessary to give in their own words, as published and placarded. They say -
We, the undersigned Spinners and Power-loom manufacturers of Hyde, Staley Bridge, Dukinfield, and the neighbourhood, having observed with regret the self-inflicted and continuing distress of the operatives of Stockport, instigated by evil-designing persons to turn out against their masters, and being informed that this distress is prolonged by assistance being rendered by our work-people to the turn-outs in that town, do hereby agree to abate ten per cent every fortnight from the wages of our piece-work hands who shall refuse to sign a declaration that they will not become members of any combination interfering with the free exercise of individual labour; or directly or indirectly contribute to the support of any turn-outs, on pain of forfeiting a fortnight's wages, should they be found so doing.

Immediately afterwards, as is seen by that placard on the walls of Stockport, a written requirement, called an agreement was offered by the masters for the operatives to sign, which was a sine qua non of employment; the operatives were to sign the following words, or not be employed; and thousands of them did so, and were obliged to do so.

[The following document was then put in, and read:]

'We, the undersigned, agree with Messrs. ----- that we will work for them on the following terms;
We declare that we do not belong to the society called the 'Union', or any other society for the support of turn-outs, or which has for its object any interference with the rules laid down for the government of mills or manufactories.
We agree with our said masters, that we will not become members of, or be connected with, any such society, while we remain in our present employ.
That we will not, directly, or indirectly, subscribe or contribute to any such society, or to any turn-out hands whatsoever.
That we will give a fortnight's notice previous to leaving our employ' and we will observe all the other rules of this mill, and all special agreements that we may enter into with our masters.
And if we are discovered to act contrary to the above agreement, each of us so offending will forfeit a sum equal to a fortnight's wages; and our masters shall have power to deduct the same from our wages, or discharge us from their employ without any notice, at their own option.'

I may observe, that by the wording of this document, they say they would not directly or indirectly support any turn-out hands whatsoever; that they were liable to the penalty here announced, in case they supported a son, or even gave any thing, directly or indirectly to a starving daughter or other relative.

Evidence of William Longston before the Committee on the Bill to regulate the labour of children in the mills and factories of the United Kingdom, 1832. Parliamentary Papers, 1831-2, XV, pp. 428-430.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind