Edwin Waugh: The Cotton Famine (5)

Home Up Lancashire Songs Lancashire Life Lancashire Sketches I. Lancashire Sketches II. Rambles in the Lakes Poems and Songs I. Poems and Songs II. Besom Ben Tufts of Heather I. Tufts of Heather II. The Chimney Corner The Limping Pilgrim The Barrel Organ Sheet Music Sheet Music Sheet Music Miscellanea Main Index Site Search


[Previous Page]



    The following extracts are from the letters of Mr. John Whittaker, "A Lancashire Lad," one of the first writers whose appeals through the press drew serious attention to the great distress in Lancashire during the Cotton Famine.  There is no doubt that his letters in The Times, and to the Lord Mayor of London, led to the Mansion House Fund.  In The Times of April 14, 1862, appeared the first of a series of letters, pleading the cause of the distressed operatives.  He said: ―

    "I am living in the centre of a vast district where there are many cotton mills, which in ordinary times afford employment to many thousands of 'hands,' and food to many more thousands of mouths.  With rare exceptions, quietness reigns at all those mills. . . . It may be that our material atmosphere is somewhat brighter than it was, but our social atmosphere is much darker and denser.  Hard times have come; and we have had them sufficiently long to know what they mean.  We have fathers sitting in the house at mid-day, silent and glum, while children look wistfully about, and sometimes whimper for bread which they cannot have.  We have the same fathers who, before hard times came, were proud men, who would have thought 'beggar' the most opprobrious epithet you could have hit them with; but who now are made humble by the sight of wife and children almost starving, and who go before 'relief committees,' and submit to be questioned about their wants with a patience and humility which it is painful, almost shocking, to witness.  And some others of these fathers turn out in the morning with long besoms as street-sweepers, while others again go to breaking stones in the town's yard or open road-side, where they are unprotected from the keen east winds, which add a little more to the burden of misery which they have to bear just now.  But, harder even than this, our factory-women and girls have had to turn out; and, plodding a weary way from door to door, beg a bit of bread or a stray copper, that they may eke out the scanty supply at home.  Only the other day, while taking a long stroll in the country lying about the town in which I live, I met a few of these factory-girls, and was stopped by their not very beggar-like question of 'Con yo help us a bit?'  They were just such as my own sisters; and as I saw and heard them, I was almost choked as I fancied my sisters come to such a pass as that.  'Con yo help us a bit?' asked these factory girls.

. . . I have heard of ladies whose whole lives seem to be but a changing from one kind of pleasure to another; who suffer chiefly from what they call ennui, (a kind of disease from which my sisters are not likely to suffer at all,) and to whom a new pleasure to enjoy would be something like what a new world to conquer would be to Alexander.  Why should they not hear our Lancashire girls' cry of 'Con yo help us a bit?'  Why should not they be reminded that these girls in cotton gowns and wooden clogs are wending their way towards the same heaven ― or, alas, towards the same hell ― whither wend all the daughters of Eve, no matter what their outer condition and dress?  Why should not they be asked to think how these striving girls have to pray daily, 'Lead us not into temptation,' while temptations innumerable stand everywhere about them?

    Those of us who are men would rather do much than let our sisters go begging.  May not some of us take to doing more to prevent it?  I remember some poetry about the

'Sister bloodhounds, Want and Sin,'

and know that they hunt oftener together than singly.  We have felt the fangs of the first: upon how many of us will the second pounce?"

    In a second letter, inserted in The Times of April 22, 1862, the same writer says: ―

"Even during the short time which has elapsed since I wrote last week, many things have combined to show that the distress is rapidly increasing, and that there is a pressing need that we should go beyond the borders of our own county for help. . . . I remember what I have read of the Godlike in man, and I look with a strange feeling upon the half-famished creatures I see hourly about me.  I cannot pass through a street but I see evidences of deep distress.  I cannot sit at home half-an-hour without having one or more coming to ask for bread to eat.  But what comes casually before me is as nothing when compared with that deeper distress which can only be seen by those who seek it. . . . There have been families who have been so reduced that the only food they have had has been a porridge made of Indian meal.  They could not afford oatmeal, and even of their Indian meal porridge they could only afford to have two meals a day.  They have been so ashamed of their coarser food that they have done all that was possible to hide their desperate state from those about them.  It has only been by accident that it has been found out, and then they have been caught hurriedly putting away the dishes that contained their loathsome food.  A woman, whose name I could give, and whose dwelling I could point to, was said not only to be in deep distress, but to be also ill of fever.  She was visited.  On entering the lower room of the house, the visitors saw that there was not a scrap of furniture; the woman, fever-stricken, sat on an orange-box before a low fire; and to prevent the fire from going quite out, she was pulling her seat to pieces for fuel bit by bit.  The visitors looked upstairs.  There was no furniture there ― only a bit of straw in a corner, which served as the bed of the woman's four children.  In another case a woman, who was said to be too weak to apply for relief, was visited.  Her husband had been out of work a long time by reason of his illness; he was now of a fashion recovered, and had gone off to seek for work.  He left his wife and three children in their cellar-home.  The wife was very near her confinement, and had not tasted food for two or three days. . . . There are in this town some hundreds of young single women who have been self-dependent, but who are now entirely without means.  Nearly all of these are good English girls, who have quietly fought their own life-battle, but who now have hard work to withstand the attacks this grim poverty is making.  I am told of a case in which one of these girls was forced to become one of that class of whom poor Hood sang in his 'Bridge of Sighs.'  She was an orphan, had no relations here, and was tossed about from place to place till she found her way to a brothel.  Thank God, she has been rescued.  Our relief fund has been the means of relieving her from that degradation; but cannot those who read my letter see how strong are the temptations which their want places in the way of these poor girls!"

    On 25th April a number of city merchants, most of whom were interested in the cotton manufacture, waited upon the Lord Mayor of London, with a view to interest him, and through him the public at large, in the increasing distress among the operative population in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire.  Previous to this, the "Lancashire Lad" had made a private appeal, by letter, to the Lord Mayor, in which he said: ―

"Local means are nearly exhausted, and I am convinced that if we have not help from without, our condition will soon be more desperate than I or any one else who possesses human feelings can wish it to become. To see the homes of those whom we know and respect, though they are but working men, stripped of every bit of furniture ― to see long-cherished books and pictures sent one by one to the pawn-shop, that food may be had ― and to see that food almost loathsome in kind, and insufficient in quantity, ― are hard, very hard things to bear. But those are not the worst things. In many of our cottage homes there is now nothing left by the pawning of which a few pence may be raised, and the mothers and sisters of we 'Lancashire lads' have turned out to beg, and ofttimes knock at the doors of houses in which there is as much destitution as there is in our own; while the fathers and the lads themselves think they are very fortunate if they can earn a shilling or two by street-sweeping or stone breaking. . . . Will you not do for us what you have done for others ― become the recipient of whatever moneys those who are inclined to help us may send to you?"

    The Lord Mayor, having listened to the deputation, read them the personal appeal, and, "before separating, the deputation engaged to form themselves into a provisional committee, to correspond with any local one which circumstances might render it desirable to set on foot in some central part of the distressed districts."  Immediately afterwards, the Lord Mayor, on taking his seat in the justice-room, stated that "he was ready, with the assistance of the gentlemen of the deputation, to act in the way desired. . . . He could not himself take any part in the distribution.  All he could do was to be the medium of transmission; and as soon as he knew that some organisation had been formed, either in the great city of Manchester, or in some other part of Lancashire, in which the public might feel confidence, he should be ready to send the small sums he had already received, and any others that might be intrusted to him from time to time."  And thus originated the first general subscription for the cotton operatives, and which, before it closed, reached the magnificent sum of 528,336, 9s. 9d.


    On the 29th of April 1862, a meeting of gentlemen residents, called by Thomas Goadsby, Esq., Mayor of Manchester, was held in the Town Hall of that city, to consider the propriety of forming a relief committee.  "The late Mr Richard Cobden, M.P., attended, and recommended a bold appeal to the whole country, declaring with prophetic keenness of vision that not less than 1,000,000 pounds would be required to carry the suffering operatives through the crisis, whilst the subscriptions up to that date amounted only to 180,000 pounds."  On the motion of a vote of thanks to the Mayor of Manchester, who was retiring from the mayoralty, Mr Cobden said: ―

Richard Cobden (1804-65).
British manufacturer and Radical and
Liberal statesman.

    "Before that resolution is passed, I will take the opportunity of making an observation. I have had the honour of having my name added to this committee, and the first thing I asked of my neighbour here was ― 'What are the functions of the general committee?'  And I have heard that they amount to nothing more than to attend here once a month, and receive the report of the executive committee as to the business done and the distribution of the funds.  I was going to suggest to you whether the duties of the general committee might not be very much enlarged ― whether it might not be employed very usefully in increasing the amount of subscriptions.  I think all our experience must have taught us that, with the very best cause in the world in hand, the success of a public subscription depends very much upon the amount of activity in those who solicit it; and I think, in order to induce us to make a general and national effort to raise additional funds in this great emergency, it is only necessary to refer to and repeat one or two facts that have been stated in this report just read to us.  I find it stated that it is estimated that the loss of wages at present is at the rate of 136,094 pounds per week, and there is no doubt that the savings of the working classes are almost exhausted.  Now, 136,094 pounds per week represents upwards of 7,000,000 pounds sterling per annum, and that is the rate at which the deduction is now being made from the wages of labour in this district.

    "I see it stated in this report that the resources which this committee can at present foresee that it will possess to relieve this amount of distress are 25,000 pounds a month for the next five months, which is at the rate of 300,000 pounds per annum; so that we foresee at present the means of affording a relief of something less than five per cent upon the actual amount of the loss of wages at present incurred by the working classes of this country.  But I need not tell honourable gentlemen present, who are so practically acquainted with this district, that that loss of seven millions in wages per annum is a very imperfect measure of the amount of suffering and loss which will be inflicted on this community three or four months hence.  It may be taken to be 10,000,000 pounds; and that 10,000,000 pounds of loss of wages before the next spring is by no means a measure of the loss this district will incur; for you must take it that the capitalists will be incurring also a loss on their fixed machinery and buildings; and though perhaps not so much as that of the labourer, it will be a very large amount, and possibly, in the opinion of some people, will very nearly approach it.

7th Nov. 1862.


    The Relief Committee report a steady increase of local distress and of dependence upon their funds.  The committee regulate their outdoor work on the principle of paying the ordinary wages of labour ― 3d. per hour, and requiring the ablebodied in families relieved to work a proportionate number of hours in return for part of their relief.  During storms the men employed on outdoor work take shelter in a cottage, hired for that purpose and provided with a fire.  In inclement weather they attend the school for youths and men.  The school is conducted by a certified master, aided by youths chosen from Literary and Mechanics' Institution, and paid weekly 2s. 6d., in addition to the usual relief.  One such assistant is appointed to every class of 15.  The school is attended by 120 youths and men.  The sewing class is in active operation, and a stock of clothing and blankets is to be immediately distributed.  The women have also repaired, patched, and lined their own clothes and those of their families.  The Relief Committee raised their weekly rate of aid last Saturday to an average of 2s. per head, and decided to give fuel in addition to this rate of aid, and clogs to all men employed on outdoor work.

    A corn mill in the town is undergoing alteration, to adapt it to the service of the relief Committee.  It will be provided with a large cooking kitchen, in which women and girls out of work will be trained in household duties.  The Glasgow cooking stoves, soup boilers and a digesting apparatus will be this week supplied to this kitchen.  Adjoining it a refreshment room will provide the opportunity to purchase soup and cheap meals at cost price.  Here also the Relief Committee will distribute soup to those to whom they give tickets on two or three days weekly.  For the winter evenings a well-lighted and capacious newsroom, supplied with papers, will be open to all holding tickets of admission from the Relief Committee.  There will also be a large smoking room, well supplied with comfortable benches and tables.

   "That is not all: Mr Farnall has told us that at present the increase of the rates in this district is at the rate of 10,000 pounds per week.  That will be at the rate of half a million per annum, and, of course, if this distress goes on, that rate must be largely increased, perhaps doubled.  This shows the amount of pressure which is threatening this immediate district.  I have always been of opinion that this distress and suffering must be cumulative to a degree which few people have ever foreseen, because your means of meeting the difficulty will diminish just in proportion as the difficulty will increase.  Mr Farnall has told us that one-third of the rateable property will fall out of existence, as it were, and future rates must be levied upon two-thirds.  But that will be by no means the measure of the condition of things two or three months hence, because every additional rate forces out of existence a large amount of saleable property; and the more you increase your rates the more you diminish the area over which those rates are to be productive.  This view of the case has a very important bearing, also, upon the condition of the shop-keeping class as well as the classes of mill-owners and manufacturers who have not a large amount of floating capital.  There is no doubt but a very large amount of the shopkeeping class are rapidly falling into the condition of the unemployed labourers.

    "When I was at Rochdale the other day, I heard a very sorrowful example of it.  There was a poor woman who kept a shop, and she was threatened with a distraint for her poor-rate.  She sold the Sunday clothes of her son to pay the poor-rate, and she received a relief-ticket when she went to leave her rate.  That is a sad and sorrowful example, but I am afraid it will not be a solitary one for a long time.  Then you have the shopkeeping class descending to the rank of the operatives.  It must be so.  Withdraw the custom of 7,000,000 pounds per annum, which has ceased to be paid in wages, from the shopkeepers, and the consequence must present itself to any rational mind.  We have then another class ― the young men of superior education employed in warehouses and counting-houses.  A great number of these will rapidly sink to the condition in which you find the operative classes.  All this will add to the distress and the embarrassment of this part of the kingdom.  Now, to meet this state of things you have the poor-law relief, which is the only relief we can rely upon, except that which comes from our own voluntary exertions.  Well, but any one who has read over this report of Mr Farnall, just laid before us, must see how inadequate this relief must be.  It runs up from one shilling and a half-penny in the pound to one shilling and fourpence or one shilling and fivepence; there is hardly one case in which the allowance is as much as two shillings per week for each individual ― I won't call them paupers ― each distressed individual.

    "Now, there is one point to which I would wish to bring the attention of the committee in reference to this subject ― it is a most important one, in my appreciation.  In ordinary times, when you give relief to the poor, that relief being given when the great mass of workpeople are in full employment, the measure of your relief to an isolated family or two that may be in distress is by no means the measure of the amount of their subsistence, because we all know that in prosperous times, when the bulk of the working people are employed, they are always kind to each other.  The poor, in fact, do more to relieve the poor than any other class.  A working man and his family out of employment in prosperous times could get a meal at a neighbour's house, just as we, in our class, could get a meal at a neighbour's house if it was a convenience to us in making a journey.


7th Nov. 1862.


    Most strenuous efforts have been made in Liverpool, which is but indirectly affected by the prevailing distress in the manufacturing districts, to raise funds for the relief of the unemployed operatives of Lancashire and Cheshire.  These efforts, fostered and directed by the Mayor, Mr. Robert Hutchison, have hitherto been most successful; but now an additional movement  has been commenced by his worship with the view of still further augmenting the contributions of Liverpool and the vicinity.  Up to last Saturday the contributions from Liverpool paid to the local committee amounted to the large sum of 35,576. 10s. 10d.  On the previous Thursday, in consequence of the increasing distress, Mr. Hutchinson sent out a further appeal for assistance to the merchants and brokers of the town, and in two days responses to the amount of 700 were received.  These contributions have since been materially augmented, and now the Liverpool fund amounts to about 37,000 independently of sums remitted directly to the distressed districts.  The Mayor has also opened a dpot for the receipt of parcels of clothing and other articles useful to the unemployed operatives; and a vast amount of such articles have been sent in.  He has just taken another step with the view of raising further funds, and in accordance with invitations from the Mayor, a great number of clergy and ministers of all denominations yesterday assembled at the Town-hall "to ascertain what steps can be taken for making collections in the various places of worship throughout the town and neighbourhood on behalf of the fund."

    At this meeting a resolution, moved by the Rev. A. Campbell, rector of Liverpool, and seconded by the Rev. John Stewart, rector of West Derby, was unanimously passed, to the effect "that the clergy and ministers of all denominations be requested to appeal to their congregations on behalf of the fund, and to take such other measures in connection with their places of worship as they may deem expedient to answer the purpose.  Another resolution, moved by the Rev. Mr. Stewart. and seconded by the Rev. J. H. Thorn, was also passed, declaring that, in the opinion of the clergy and ministers then present, it was expedient to establish a co-operation of the clergy and laity for the purpose of making a house to house visitation throughout the town.  This means of collection was stated by the Rev. Mr. Warr to have been found most successful during the Crimean War, and its expediency was supported by various other gentlemen.  If was further agreed that the Mayor should convene a meeting of the aldermen and councillors of the different municipal wards, with the view of promoting a systematic visitation for the collection of small amounts.  The proceedings were brought to a close with a cordial vote of thanks to the Mayor.

    "But recollect, now the whole mass of the labouring and working population is brought down to one sad level of destitution, and what you allow them from the poor-rates, and what you allow them from these voluntary subscriptions, are actually the measure of all that they will obtain for their subsistence.  And that being so general, producing a great depression of spirits, as well as physical prostration, you are in great danger of the health and strength of this community suffering, unless something more be done to meet the case than I fear is yet provided for it.  All this brings me to this conclusion ― that something more must be done by this general committee than has been done, to awaken the attention of the public generally to the condition of this part of the country.  It is totally exceptional.  The state of things has no parallel in all history.  It is impossible you could point out to me another case, in which, in a limited sphere, such as we have in Lancashire, and in the course of a few months, there has been a cessation of employment at the rate of 7,000,000 pounds sterling per annum in wages.  There has been nothing like it in the history of the world for its suddenness, for the impossibility of dealing with it, or managing it in the way of an effective remedy.

    "Well, the country at large must be made acquainted with these facts.  How is that to be done?  It can only be by the diffusion of information from this central committee.  An appeal must be made to the whole country, if this great destitution is to be met in any part by voluntary aid.  The nation at large must be made fully acquainted with the exigency of the case, and we must be reminded that a national responsibility rests upon us.  I will, therefore, suggest that this general committee should be made a national committee, and we shall then get rid of this little difficulty with the Lord Mayor.  We shall want all the co-operation of the Lord Mayor and the city of London; and I say that this committee, instead of being a Manchester or Lancashire central committee, should be made a national committee; that from this should go forth invitations to all parts of the country, beginning with the lords-lieutenant, inviting them to be vice-presidents of this committee.  Let the noble Lord continue to be at the head of the general committee ― the national committee ― and invite every mayor to take part.  We are going to have new mayors in the course of the week, and, though I am sorry to lose our present one, yet when new mayors come in, they may be probably more ready to take up a new undertaking than if they had just been exhausted with a years labour.  Let every mayor in the kingdom be invited to become a member of this committee.  Let subscription-circulars be despatched to them asking them to organise a committee in every borough; and let there be a secretary and honorary secretary employed.

    "Through these bodies you might communicate information, and counteract those misrepresentations that have been made with regard to the condition of this district.  You might, if necessary, send an ambassador to some of those more important places; but better still, if you could induce them to send some one here to look into the state of things for themselves; because I am sure if they did, so far from finding the calumnies that have been uttered against the propertied classes in this county being well founded, they would find instances ― and not a few ― of great liberality and generosity, such as I think would surprise any one who visited this district from the southern part of the kingdom.

    "This would only be done by an active effort from the centre here, and I submit that we shall not be doing justice to this effort unless we give to the whole country an opportunity of co-operating in that way, and throw upon every part of the kingdom a share of the responsibility of this great crisis and emergency.  I submit that there is every motive why this community, as well as the whole kingdom, should wish to preserve this industrious population in health and in the possession of their energies.  There is every motive why we should endeavour to keep this working population here rather than drive them away from here, as you will do if they are not sufficiently fed and clothed during the next winter.  They will be wanted again if this district is to revive, as we all hope and believe it will revive.  Your fixed capital here is of no use without the population.  It is of no use without your raw material.  Lancashire is the richest county in the kingdom when its machinery is employed; it is the poorest county in the kingdom when its machinery and fixed capital are paralysed, as at present.  Therefore, I say it is the interest, not only of this community, but of the kingdom, that this population should be preserved for the time ― I hope not a distant time ― when the raw material of their industry will be supplied to this region.

    "I submit; then, to the whole kingdom ― this district as well as the rest ― that it will be advisable, until Parliament meets, that such an effort should be made as will make a national subscription amount probably to 1,000,000 pounds.  Short of that, it would be utterly insufficient for the case; and I believe that, with an energetic appeal made to the whole country, and an effort organised such as I have indicated, such an amount might be raised."


God help the poor, who in this wintry morn,
Come forth of alleys dim and courts obscure;
God help yon poor, pale girl, who droops forlorn,
And meekly her affliction doth endure!
God help the outcast lamb! she trembling stands,
All wan her lips, and frozen red her hands;
Her mournful eyes are modestly down cast,
Her night-black hair streams on the fitful blast;
Her bosom, passing fair, is half reveal'd,
And oh! so cold the snow lies there congeal'd;
Her feet benumb'd, her shoes all rent and worn; ―
God help thee, outcast lamb, who stand'st forlorn!
                                            God help the poor!

God help the poor! an infant's feeble wail
Comes from yon narrow gate-way! and behold
A female crouching there, so deathly pale,
Huddling her child, to screen it from the cold! ―
Her vesture scant, her bonnet crush'd and torn;
A thin shawl doth her baby dear enfold.
And there she bides the ruthless gale of morn,
Which almost to her heart hath sent its cold!
And now she sudden darts a ravening look,
As one with new hot bread comes past the nook;
And, as the tempting load is onward borne,
She weeps. God help thee, hapless one forlorn!
                                            God help the poor!

God help the poor! Behold yon famish'd lad
No shoes, no hose, his wounded feet protect;
With limping gait, and looks so dreamy-sad,
He wanders onward, stopping to inspect
Each window, stored with articles of food;
He yearns but to enjoy one cheering meal.
Oh! to his hungry palate, viands rude
Would yield a zest the famish'd only feel!
He now devours a crust of mouldy bread ―
With teeth and hands the precious boon is torn,
Unmindful of the storm which round his head
Impetuous sweeps. God help thee, child forlorn
                                            God help the poor!

God help the poor! Another have I found
A bow'd and venerable man is he;
His slouched hat with faded crape is bound,
His coat is gray, and threadbare, too, I see;
"The rude winds" seem to "mock his hoary hair;"
His shirtless bosom to the blast is bare.
Anon he turns, and casts a wistful eye,
And with scant napkin wipes the blinding spray;
And looks again, as if he fain would spy
Friends he hath feasted in his better day
Ah! some are dead, and some have long forborne
To know the poor; and he is left forlorn!
                                            God help the poor!

God help the poor who in lone valleys dwell,
Or by far hills, where whin and heather grow
Theirs is a story sad indeed to tell!
Yet little cares the world, nor seeks to know
The toil and want poor weavers undergo.
The irksome loom must have them up at morn;
They work till worn-out nature will have sleep;
They taste, but are not fed. Cold snow drifts deep
Around the fireless cot, and blocks the door;
The night-storm howls a dirge o'er moss and moor!
And shall they perish thus, oppress'd and lorn?
Shall toil and famine hopeless still be borne! ―
No! G
OD will yet arise, and HELP THE POOR!


[Next Page]


[Home] [Up] [Lancashire Songs] [Lancashire Life] [Lancashire Sketches I.] [Lancashire Sketches II.] [Rambles in the Lakes] [Poems and Songs I.] [Poems and Songs II.] [Besom Ben] [Tufts of Heather I.] [Tufts of Heather II.] [The Chimney Corner] [The Limping Pilgrim] [The Barrel Organ] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Miscellanea] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk