One fine Sunday in 1823, Andrew Ryding, a young man from Preston, decided to attack one of the biggest mill owners in town, with a dull meat cleaver.
As Samuel Horrocks was walking home from church, he was accosted. Ryder knew that his trial, for attempted murder, would expose the fate of the factory workers in Preston, who were paid 20% less than workers in Manchester. So what were Ryder’s main grievances?
The Combination Acts and the first unions
The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 made any form of union membership illegal. In fact, three spinners from Preston were imprisoned for trying to organize resistance to Horrocks’ low wages.
By the 1830s labor unrest was increasing and the first fledgling unions were forming. However, collective action at this time usually involved riots, such as the Swing Riots of 1830. Ironically, the Swing Riots, named for their leader, Captain Swing, were about mechanization and poor working conditions in agriculture and not in industry.
During the 19e century, union membership grew as the Labor Representation Committee transformed into the Labor political party.
By 1874 there were around one million union members, and the London dockers’ strike of 1889 achieved its objectives. The dockers lived in poverty and the strike caused wages to rise from 5 pence to 6 pence an hour. Additionally, Preston had its own agitator in Edward Swinglehurst.
Edward Swinglehurst, Preston Labor Activist, 1792-1862
Swinglehust was born in Westmoreland and moved to Preston in 1840. He became president of the Preston Chartist Association in 1841. He worked as a loom weaver at Robert Gardner’s cotton mill in Marsh Lane.
Swinglehurst opposed the Masters and Servants Bill, which was unfair and favored employers. He made workers’ disobedience illegal in law. That is why, at a meeting, where he addressed a large number of factory workers, he encouraged them to resist. A prominent speaker from the National United Trades Association was also present. The speaker urged officers to consider joining this national union.
Swinglehurst later became a newsagent and bookseller with a shop in Bridge Lane.
Depressed wages in Preston
In a letter to Horrocks, Ryding wrote:
“You are the cause of falling wages in Preston. The spinners of Preston work more than 20% under Manchester…There are many cotton masters who deserve to lose their lives, but you are, they say, and I believe to be true, the worst of all, so your life must come first.”
The trial of Andrew Ryding
At trial, Ryding said:
“I knew I should be tried for the crime where…I will expose the oppression and injustice of these masters…I pulled out the cleaver not to kill but to cut…it does not was not sharp”
Ryder’s parents thought he was unfit for work and “had some instability in his head”. Before the attack, he was very agitated and his parents thought that “he was going to destroy himself or one of us”.
The jury found him insane and he was sent to Lancaster Castle Jail, instead of being hanged. However, he died at a young age still in prison.
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