Royal Commission on Hand-Loom Weavers

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The Royal Commission on Hand-Loom Weavers was an enquiry in the United Kingdom into unemployment and poverty in the textile industry. It was set up in 1837, and issued a number of reports, to 1841.


The number of handloom weavers in the United Kingdom was estimated at 400,000, and the economic consequences of industrial textile production bore heavily on them.[1] Weaving on handlooms had experienced a boom in the decade 1795 to 1805.[2] The fact-finding of the assistant commissioners in 1837–8 occurred against a background of widespread unrest.[3]

The poor condition of handloom weavers was notorious in the 1830s, and was rapidly deteriorating. A parliamentary select committee produced reports on petitions from the weavers in 1834 and 1835.[4][5] It was chaired by Sir John Maxwell, 7th Baronet, who with John Fielden called witnesses sympathetic to the weavers. Fielden via Maxwell introduced a minimum wage bill in parliament in 1835. The opposition of laisser faire members meant it had no chance; but Fielden continued to advocate action. The Royal Commission was agreed in 1837. By 1840 the number of weavers had dropped by 100,000. They had also, in numbers, become Chartists of the "physical force" tendency.[6]

The Commission[edit]

The Royal Commission was chaired by Nassau William Senior.[7] With him on the control board were William Edward Hickson,[8] J. Leslie, and Samuel Jones Loyd.[9][10]

Assistant commissioners[edit]

Regional reports were produced in five parts, in 1839 and 1840. There were nine assistant commissioners, assigned particular areas.[11]

Name Area Comments
Alfred Austin[12] South-west of England[13][14] Austin was an assistant poor law commissioner.[15]
Henry Samuel Chapman[1] West Riding of Yorkshire[14] Chapman commented that the weavers were generally temperate, against a common view of the time on the working class and drink.[16] He found that young male weavers had financial incentives to marry soon after their apprenticeship was finished.[17] He reported that the weavers were nearly unanimous in opposing the Corn Laws.[18] Overall, however, his views, which Thompson calls "arid", were that legislation could do little, and weavers should be encouraged to leave the trade.[6]
Dr. J. D. Harding East coast of Scotland[19]
Solomon Keyser West Riding, Macclesfield, Germany[13]
William Augustus Miles[20] West of England and Wales[21] Miles was an assistant poor law commissioner.[20]
James Mitchell[22] East of England[13]
Richard Michaux Muggeridge Lancashire, Westmorland, Cumberland, and part of the West Riding of Yorkshire;[21]
and a further report on Ireland
Muggeridge and his appointment were attacked by Richard Oastler.[23]
Cæsar George Otway (son of Cæsar Otway)[24] Ireland[14] Otway blamed workers' combinations for driving away investment in the trade.[25] He also reported on the recent establishment of cotton mills.[26]
Jelinger Cookson Symons[11] South of Scotland

Investigative reports[edit]

Joseph Fletcher, who was secretary,[27] reported on the Midlands.[28] There were initially five assistant commissioners; five more positions were granted, but only four were taken up. The remaining funds were used to send Fletcher to the Midlands, and two of the assistant commissioners to the continent.[10]

Symons reported in Part I in 1839; the other Parts appeared in 1840.[29] Part II involved Mitchell, Austin and Keyser; Part III Chapman, Otway, and Muggeridge on Irish linen;[30] Part V Miles, Muggeridge and Symons.[31] Hickson made a separate report in 1840; in it he advocated abolition of the Corn Laws, and a system of national education.[4][8][29]

Final report[edit]

The final report of the Commission was dated 19 February 1841.[10] Senior included in it extracts from an unpublished study he had made ten years earlier, after Lord Melbourne had invited him to report on trade combinations and strikes.[32]


  1. ^ a b Peter Spiller (1992). The Chapman Legal Family. Victoria University Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-86473-227-9. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  2. ^ s:The Chartist Movement/Chapter 2
  3. ^ Alfred Plummer; Richard E. Early. the blanket makers 1669-1969. Taylor & Francis. p. 72. GGKEY:2RG3N46QTRB. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  4. ^ a b David Winstanley (1 January 1957). A Schoolmaster's Notebook: Being an Account of a Nineteenth-century Experiment in Social Welfare. Manchester University Press. p. 7 note 8. GGKEY:E7W3DCTKJ1F. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  5. ^ John Burnett (7 February 2002). Idle Hands: The Experience of Unemployment, 1790-1990. Taylor & Francis. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-203-16196-8. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Edward Palmer Thompson (1963). The Making of the English Working Class. IICA. pp. 300–2. GGKEY:W8XC2FBP0LR. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Christopher Hamlin (13 February 1998). Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick: Britain, 1800-1854. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-58363-3. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  8. ^ a b Aldrich, Richard. "Hickson, William Edward". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13220.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ The Westminster Review. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy. 1841. pp. 50 note. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c J. M. Collinge (1984). "List of commissions and officials: 1830-1839 (nos. 12-28)". Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 9: Officials of Royal Commissions of Inquiry 1815-1870. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Shepherd, John. "Symons, Jelinger Cookson". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26897.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  12. ^ Karen Sayer (2000). Country Cottages: A Cultural History. Manchester University Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-7190-4752-7. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c Charles F. Sabel; Jonathan Zeitlin (2002). World of Possibilities: Flexibility and Mass Production in Western Industrialization. Cambridge University Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-521-89443-2. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c THE SESSIONAL PAPERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS, IN THE SESSION 1840, (3 & 4 VICTORIAE) ARRANGED IN VOLUMES VOL. XXXVIL. 1840. p. 207. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  15. ^ Jeremy Burchardt (2002). The Allotment Movement in England: 1793 - 1873. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 56–. ISBN 978-0-86193-256-6. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  16. ^ J F C Harrison (15 April 2013). Learning and Living 1790-1960: A Study in the History of the English Adult Education Movement. Routledge. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-135-03122-0. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  17. ^ G. Talbot Griffith (9 December 2010). Population Problems of the Age of Malthus. Cambridge University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-521-17863-1. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  18. ^ Paul A. Pickering; Alex Tyrell (13 September 2000). The People's Bread: A History of the Anti-Corn Law League. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-7185-0218-8. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  19. ^, Scotland in the nineteenth century 10. Labour Section 10.11: Weavers.
  20. ^ a b Australian Dictionary of Biography, Miles, William Augustus (1798–1851).
  21. ^ a b Hand-loom weavers. Reports from Assistant Hand-Loom Weavers' Commissioners. Part V. Report by W. A. Miles, Esq. on the west of England and Wales. Report by R. M. Muggeridge, Esq. on the counties of Lancaster, Westmorland, Cumberland, and part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Note to the report of J. C. Symons, Esq., on the south of Scotland
  22. ^ Osborne, Peter. "Mitchell, James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18839.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  23. ^ Richard Oastler (1841). Fleet Papers. p. 307. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  24. ^ Notes and Queries. Oxford University Press. 1863. p. 401. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  25. ^ Robert Montgomery Martin (1848). Ireland Before and After the Union with Great Britain. Nichols and Son. p. 75. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  26. ^ The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland: Adapted to the New Poor-law, Franchise, Municipal and Ecclesiastical Arrangements, and Compiled with a Special Reference to the Lines of Railroad and Canal Communication, as Existing in 1814-45. A. Fullarton and Company. 1846. p. lxxxv. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  27. ^  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1889). "Fletcher, Joseph (1813-1852)". Dictionary of National Biography. 19. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  28. ^ Hand-loom weavers. Reports from Assistant Hand-Loom Weavers' Commissioners. Part IV. Report by Joseph Fletcher, Esq., secretary to the Commission, on the midland districts of England
  29. ^ a b Geoffrey Timmins (1993). The Last Shift: The Decline of Handloom Weaving in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire. Manchester University Press. pp. 190–1. ISBN 978-0-7190-3725-2. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  30. ^ Great Britain. Parliament. House of Lords (1840). Sessional Papers Printed by Order of the House of Lords, Or Presented by Royal Command, in the Session 1840, (30 & 40 Victoriæ,) Arranged in Volumes: Tables and indexes. p. 4. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  31. ^ W. A. Miles; R. M. Muggeridge; J. C. Symons (1840). Reports from Assistant Hand-loom Weavers' Commissioners. Retrieved 13 June 2013. 
  32. ^ Deane, Phyllis. "Senior, Nassau William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/25090.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)