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The state of the Huddersfield Union (April 1838)

In the Huddersfield Union in the West Riding of Yorkshire, many members of the Board of Guardians were active members of the anti-Poor Law movement. They obstructed the implementation of the Poor Law Amendment Act by refusing to elect a Union Clerk, without whom no business could be transacted. Some of the guardians were favourable to the new system and felt that the local magistrates (as ex officio members of the board) were too sympathetic towards the anti-Poor Law faction and were failing to use their influence to control them or to protect the board from the threat of mob violence. One of the pro-Poor Law men was George Tinker, who wrote this letter to the Poor Law Commission.


I take the liberty of addressing you for the purpose of calling your attention to the peculiar circumstances in which I together with several others of the Guardians of the Poor in Huddersfield Union are situated. You are probably aware of the excitement prevailing in this district respecting the Poor Law Amendment Act, and of some of the means which have been taken to provoke and continue that excitement - such as the recent West Riding meeting. But I believe you cannot be aware of the perfect state of organisation into which the district has been put and the violent and unprincipled measures which are in operation to defeat your intentions.

The peoples' feelings have been worked up to a state of madness by gross misstatements. An Association is formed having for its avowed object direct opposition to the law. Delegates are appointed and contributions levied for the purpose of paying the wages of itinerant agitators and for securing the return of Guardians pledged to oppose your orders. It has so far succeeded as to secure the return of a majority of the Guardians who communicate with and act according to its instructions. In the present alarming state of the district it will be dangerous to put the Law into operation.

At a meeting held on Monday the 5th inst. the proceedings of which I suppose will be communicated to you, the mob amounting to 6 or 8 thousand persons, led on by the notorious Oastler, broke open the gates of the workhouse and threatened to pull down the building if the Guardians did not immediately break up their meeting. It was with difficulty and by a very small majority that the meeting was adjourned to another place in the town, a motion having been made and strongly supported that it would be adjourned to the 1st Monday in April 1838. On the way to our second place of meeting, the guardians who were known to be favourable to the Law were repeatedly surrounded by the mob, and their lives threatened if they attempted to carry it into effect. The magistrate present, R, Battye, Esq. placed us under the merciful protection of Rchd. Oastler, and refused to read the Riot Act, notwithstanding that the heads of several of the constables had been broken and the windows of the room demolished with stones thrown by the mob. The opposition guardians during the meeting, regularly communicated its proceedings to the mob outside by haranguing them out at the windows and by writing. Only eleven out of thirty nine guardians present voted for electing a Clerk, and those who had the manliness to do so were individualised and the mob was promised that they should be afterwards acquainted with their names.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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