On a fine Sunday in 1823, Andrew Ryding, a young man of Preston, decided to attack one of the largest mill owners in the town, with a blunted meat cleaver.Advertisement
As Samuel Horrocks was walking home from church he was accosted. Ryder knew that his trial, for attempted murder, would bring publicity to the plight of Preston’s mill workers, who were paid 20 per cent less than workers in Manchester. So what were Ryder’s main grievances?
The Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 made any sort of trade union membership illegal. In fact, three Preston spinners were imprisoned for trying to organise resistance to Horrocks’ low wages.
By the 1830s labour unrest was increasing and the first fledgling unions were being formed. However, collective action at this time usually involved rioting, as with the Swing Riots of 1830. Ironically the Swing Riots, named after their leader, Captain Swing, were about mechanisation and bad working conditions in agriculture not industry.
During the 19th century, union membership grew, as The Labour Representation Committee morphed into the Labour political party.
By 1874 there were about a million union members and the London dock strike of 1889 was successful in its aims. Dockers were living in poverty and the strike increased wages from 5d to 6d per hour. Additionally, Preston had its own agitator in Edward Swinglehurst.
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 power loom weaver at Robert Gardner’s cotton mill in Marsh Lane.
Swinglehurst opposed the Masters And Servants Bill, which was unjust and favoured employers. It made the disobedience of workers illegal in law. Therefore, at a meeting, where he spoke to a large number of factory operatives he encouraged them to resist. There was also a prominent speaker from the National United Trades Association present. The speaker urged the operatives to consider joining this national union.
Swinglehurst later became a newsagent and book seller with a shop in Bridge Lane.
In a letter to Horrocks, Ryding had written:
“You are the cause of falling wages in Preston. Preston spinners are working more than 20 per cent under Manchester… There are many cotton masters deserve to lose their lives, but you are, it is said, and I believe it is true, the worst of them all, therefore your life must go first.”
At the trial Ryding stated:
“I knew I should be tried for the crime where… I shall expose the oppression and injustice of these masters… I took out the cleaver not meaning to kill but to cut… it was not sharp”
Ryder’s parents thought that he was not fit to work and that he ‘had an unsteadiness in his head’. Before the attack he had been very agitated and his parents thought that ‘he would destroy himself or one of us’.
The jury found him to be insane and he was sent to Lancaster Castle jail, instead of being hanged. However he died at a young age still in jail.
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