The Plug Drawing Riots
Simon Entwistle tells the story of Blackburn's Plug Drawing Riots in 1842...
This is a story that consists of a group of very brave or perhaps very foolish men. On the wall outside the BBC Radio Lancashire building is a blue plaque simply mentioning the Plug Drawing Riots of the 15th August 1842. This plaque in my view should have five Blackburn boys names on it. You could say they were heroes or villains regarding your political views!
The summer of 1842 was not the best for the Lancashire cotton workers, firstly there was a recession in the industry and secondly the cotton factories were all installing brand new steam driven equipment. The textile workers' wages were very poor and most could not afford to buy even bread so most had just potatoes to quell their hunger.
Five men met at a Darwen Street ale house and concocted a truly fantastic plan, their names being Ingham, Walmsley, Rawlinson, Hartley and Proctor. They gathered around a table and discussed their plan... they would make their way along all the Darwen Street factories and pull the plugs out of the boilers and extinguish the flames thereby stopping production. They thought they could then demand better pay and conditions. They hoped the textile workers would follow them from factory to factory. A very brave plan, but if it failed it could mean death to them all.
These boys had no idea that someone had been listening to their plan from across the room. This person left the ale house at great speed and ran to the Bull Hotel, and informed the landlord. He was a good friend of the Blackburn cotton barons. He contacted the Police Commissioner of the town, a gentleman called Shepherd, he in turn contacted the local Magistrate Mr Hindle. Alarmed by this information he mounted his horse and galloped at great speed to Preston and the Garrison Commander at Fulwood barracks. There he had a conversation with the Infantry Commander, and a platoon of Highland Infantry were dispatched to Blackburn immediately.
In the meantime our heroes got into action and broke in to the first factory breaking down the railings and pulling out the plugs from the boilers with great success.. The textile workers joined the five and made their way to the next factory.
As they neared the area where the BBC Radio Lancashire building now stands, they were met by a thin line of British Army Highland Infantry Red Coats. On a white horse in front of these men was Hindle the Magistrate. He shouted, "Our sovereign lady the Queen chargeth and commandeth that all persons present are to disperse peaceably to their lawful businesses and dwellings. Failure to comply with this order resulting in riotous behaviour will be dealt with accordingly."
The Riot Act had been read and the Infantry opened fire on the unarmed textile workers. You can imagine the sheer horror as these persons ran in all directions. Hartley ran towards the Magistrate Hindle and pulled him off his horse, but was over un by two infantrymen. Rawlinson managed to disarm a soldier and shouted some famous words that have gone down in Lancashire textile history... as he turned the musket round and with a fixed bayonet pointed at the nearest soldier and police officer he said, "You fire that musket and I will run you through. You take my life and I will take yours. A fair days pay for a fair days work."
At the end of this terrible day our five local boys found themselves under arrest, and were brought under the Magistrate the following day. The judge sentenced them all to death. Ingham mentioned that he had a wife and children waiting at home for him. "You should have thought about that before you took up arms against the Queen's soldiers" the judge said. These boys argued their case, saying they did it for the textile workers of Blackburn for better pay and conditions. The judge apparently felt some compassion and instead of hanging all five he had them dispatched to Tasmania. They never saw their families or walked the streets of Blackburn again.
All five died of exhaustion five weeks after arriving in Tasmania.
If anything the conditions got worse for the Blackburn textile workers as they had to pay for all the damage for years to come. Many years later in 1902, an American delegation arrived in Blackburn and toured those very cotton factories. They were looking for tacklers and weavers and were prepared to pay them seven times as much as they could earn in Lancashire. The American delegation knew that a Lancashire textile tackler was undoubtedly the best in the world but faster than any of his foreign counterparts. They were quite simply the best. Sadly the Lancashire cotton barons did not seem to realise this.
If you ever visit Fall River Massachusetts USA look in the telephone book, nearly every other name is Lancastrian!
Article sent in by website user Simon Entwistle
The views expressed on this page are those of the contributor and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the BBC.
last updated: 30/05/2008 at 15:21