First in a series of blogs exploring the the events leading up to the battle of Cinderloo and the aftermath that reverberated the length and breath of the UK by Geoff Fordham
In February of next year, we’ll be commemorating the 200th anniversary of Cinderloo, when yeomanry attacked a gathering of 3,000 miners and their families, protesting about pay cuts, made worse at a time of rising prices. The tragedy of Cinderloo marks an important element in the political and industrial history of Telford, and its specific causes are local; but the events leading up to it and much of the aftermath in many ways reflect what was going on throughout the country, and not restricted to the mining and iron working industries that were to be found round Telford.
The last two decades of the 18th century and much of the first half of the 19th witnessed a steady stream of disturbances, throughout the United Kingdom. One historian summarised this as follows.
…..English labouring people violently broke machines and marched peacefully to Parliament; they mobbed unpopular workhouses and they petitioned to retain or reinstitute apprenticeships and wage regulations; they demanded new forms of state intervention into the length of the working day and they tenaciously fought for the right to out-door poor relief and for local control of its administration; they waged militant strikes and they formed self-help and community-based educational organisations; families “huddled” and exercised political influence by boycotting selected merchants; and at critical periods they linked these practices to the political demand for working class participation in Parliament and universal suffrage. Margaret R. Somers, Narrativity, Narrative Identity, and Social Action: Rethinking English Working-Class Formation Social Science History, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), p. 612
For almost a quarter of a century, the wars with France lurked in the background, influencing if not directly causing, many of these disturbances, running as they did almost continuously from 1792-1815. Changes in the pattern of the wars constantly influenced the demand for both labour, weaponry and wartime supplies: as the requirements of the wars rose, so did demand, with consequent relatively full employment, leaving workers in unusually strong bargaining positions with their employers.
By contrast, when hostilities eased, all that changed. Soldiers and sailors returning from the campaign after Waterloo swelled the ranks of the unemployed, while reductions in demand for weaponry, ammunition and other supplies produced job cuts across the northern and midlands industrial areas: by 1817 7,000 Shropshire ironworkers had lost their jobs since the war’s end. Poor harvests also contributed to high bread prices, which, linked to pay cuts, were among the many factors stimulating the frequent riots which continued from the war’s end to the early 1820s. But even while demand was high, the increase in machinery in factories – mainly but not exclusively in textiles – stimulated the rise in industrial sabotage attributed to the mythical Ned Ludd.
Alongside the economic undulations and their inevitable impact on the economy and working conditions, there were parallel and often related pressures for political and constitutional change.
In 1817, the first edition of Black Dwarf was published: its
…tone was satiric; its politics were those of radical constitutionalism. James Epstein, Thomas Wooler : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
Black Dwarf constantly referred back to the French Revolution, as did actions aimed at political reform. In Scotland, for example, in 1820 a ‘Radical War’ took place, a hyperbolic name perhaps for a week of strikes and unrest. But the Scottish Insurrection as it was also known, continued the radical demands for reform which were prominent in Great Britain and Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution, but had been repressed during the Napoleonic Wars. And the outcome of the insurrection followed the pattern set with Peterloo the year before and Cinderloo the year after: the yeomanry were called in, three men identified as ‘leaders’ were arrested, and subsequently tried and executed
And surprisingly perhaps, the royal scandals surrounding the Prince Regent and his estranged wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick also stimulated popular revolt. George III died in January 1820, and the Prince Regent therefore became King. At this point, Caroline returned from exile to claim her status as Queen; the Prince’s response was to seek to divorce Caroline so he could marry his mistress and install her on the throne instead. At a time when support for radical politics was fairly strong, mass demonstrations in support of any aspect of the monarchy was improbable. Nevertheless when Caroline returned to England in June, riots broke out in support of on her arrival; she had become an improbable figurehead for the growing Radical movement demanding political reform and opposing an unpopular king. An equally improbable figure supporting political radicalism, Jane Austen, wrote: ‘Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.’ In the popular mind, the Prince Regent’s grotesque lifestyle was symbolic of the division between the over-privileged aristocracy and the Common People. In 1819 William Hone, a radical publisher, produced a pamphlet, illustrated by George Cruikshank, called The House that Jack built whose conclusion shows those connections vividly.
We’ll be writing more about Hone later in this series, as he was prominent in the battle to establish a genuinely free press. The series will also be similar to Cinderloo elsewhere in the country (and not just at Peterloo), as well as those seeking constitutional change. There were also disturbances in agricultural areas, culminating in the rise of ‘Captain Swing’ in the 1820s. There were the constant attempts by the middle classes to make the working class respectable: getting them out of pubs and into chapels, denying them access to pornography – oh, and educating them. As vivid background, there are cartoons –this was known as the ‘age of caricature’. And there’s the radical press. We’ll take a longer look at all these themes, between now and February focusing on the background and run-up to Cinderloo; thereafter we’ll look at the aftermath.