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A Preston ship runs the anti-slave blockade

Posted on - 27th February, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, South Ribble News
Fast paddle-wheel steamship Pic: Wikimedia
Fast paddle-wheel steamships were used to run the blockade Pic: Wikimedia

In 1861, civil war erupted in America. The war was complex but one of the main issues was the abolition of slavery. Slave grown cotton from the south of the US was used extensively in Britain. By 1862 many UK mills had closed down as supplies of cotton ran out.

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As a result, the Preston built ship, Night Hawk, was used to run the blockade. Supplies were desperately needed to supply the stalled mills of the North West.

A local stand against slavery

However, many refused to use slave-picked cotton. Consequently, much cotton was blockaded in southern US ports. One local mill that refused to use slave-picked cotton was Farington Mill near Preston. When asked, the workers stated:

“Do we believe that people, whatever their colour should be in chains?” They responded with a resounding, no!

The site of Farington Mill Pic: Google Maps
The site of Farington Mill today with Mill Lane cottages still in use Pic: Google Maps

They were also supported by the mill owner. Not all mill owners were despots. One of the more progressive owners was William Boardman. In time for the railway to Preston opening in 1836, he built Farington Mill to the south of Preston. 

Farington Mill close to the rail line Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Farington Mill close to the rail line Pic: Preston Digital Archive

He also built cottages of superior design for the workers. These are still in use today. Importantly, during the cotton famine he cancelled rent arrears and supplied fuel to the laid off workers.

Farington grows

Map of Farington Pic: Google Maps
Farington today; the rail line from Blackburn crosses the main line and curves around to join it further north Pic: Google Maps

In the early 19th century Farington was a small village. In only ten years, the population doubled. Nationally it was an era of big families and high infant mortality.

Farington Station

Extensive railway yards that were once around Farington Pic: Ordnance Survey
Extensive railway yards that were once around Farington Pic: Ordnance Survey

Farrington Station opened in 1838, the line to Blackburn joined here in 1846. The station closed in 1960. Additionally the London and North Western Railway once had extensive sidings and a goods yard, at Lostock Hall, this extended in to Farington.

Farington Station Pic: Wikiwand
Farington Station Pic: Wikiwand

The cotton famine in Preston

Cotton famine Pic: Wikimedia
The cotton famine led to severe hardship Pic: Wikimedia

During the 1860s there was a perfect storm of previous overproduction of cloth and a shortage of cotton due to the American Civil War. By 1862 more than 22,500 workers in Preston were on poor relief.

Overproduction had resulted in full warehouses and depressed prices. At the same time cotton shortages has caused raw material prices to rocket. This is similar to the fuel price issues of today. As a result mills began to close down. Recovery did not occur until 1865.

Preston was very dependent on a single industry. The writer Edwin Waugh stated:

“I hear on all hands that there is hardly any town in Lancashire suffering as much as Preston… Destitution may be found almost anywhere.”

Running the blockade

Captain Maffitt shown using the vantage point of his port sidewheel box as he scans the horizon for signs of the Union blockade during his approach to Wilmington from Bermuda in the blockade runner Lillian, May 1864 Pic: Stratford Archive, London
Captain Maffitt shown using the vantage point of his port sidewheel box as he scans the horizon for signs of the Union blockade during his approach to Wilmington from Bermuda in the blockade runner Lillian, May 1864 Pic: Stratford Archive, London

Many resisted using slave picked cotton, however, There were Confederate leanings in Preston. Notably the Night Hawk, A ship built in Preston, was used to run the blockade and get cotton out of the southern US ports. Meanwhile, the hardship continued.

Unemployed workers were used to build Avenham, Miller and Moor parks. Pressure also grew for employment to be diversified, resulting in the growth of Preston docks.

1864 and cotton arrives in Farington

Cartoon from the 1860s, showing the importance of the Manchester cotton barons
Cartoon from the 1860s, showing the importance of the Manchester cotton barons

In 1864 it was rumoured that a shipment of cotton had arrived in Liverpool. Two wagons arrived at Farington station and great celebrations ensued. The famine was over and some kind of normality returned.



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