Antiqua Print Gallery Lancashire Cotton Famine
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Lancashire Cotton Famine

The Lancashire Cotton Famine, also known as The Cotton Famine or the Cotton Panic (1861–1865), was a depression in the textile industry of North West England, brought about by the interruption of baled cotton imports caused by the American Civil War. The boom years of 1859 and 1860 had produced more woven cotton than could be sold and a cutback in production was needed. The famine of raw cotton and the difficult trading conditions caused a change in the social circumstances of the Lancashire regions's extensive cotton mill workforce. The factories ran out of raw cotton to process, large parts of Lancashire region's working society became unemployed, and went from being the most prosperous workers in Britain to the most impoverished.
Local relief committees were set up. They appealed for money both locally and nationally. There were two major funds, the Manchester Central Committee and the Mansion House Committee of the Lord Mayor of London. The poorest applied for relief under the Poor Laws, through the Poor Law Unions. The local relief committees experimented with soup kitchens, and then direct aid. In 1862, sewing classes and industrial classes were organised by local churches, and attendance triggered a Poor Law payment. After the Public Works (Manufacturing Districts) Act 1864 was passed local authorities were empowered to borrow money for approved public works. They commissioned the rebuilding the sewerage systems, cleaning rivers, landscaping parks and surfacing roads.
In 1864, cotton was restored, the mills became larger, some towns had diversified out of cotton, and many thousands of operatives had emigrated.

Stalybridge Riot

By the winter of 1862–1863 there were 7,000 unemployed operatives in Stalybridge. Stalybridge was one of the worse affected towns. Only five of the town's 39 factories and 24 machine shops were employing people full-time. Contributions were sent from all over the world for the relief of the cotton operatives in Lancashire and at one point three-quarters of Stalybridge workers were dependent on relief schemes. By 1863 there were 750 empty houses in the town. A thousand skilled men and women left the town in what became known as "The Panic".
In 1863 the local relief committee decided to substitute a system of relief by ticket instead of money. The tickets were to be presented at local grocers shops. On Thursday 19 March a public meeting resolved to resist the tickets.
On Friday 20 March 1863, the officials of the relief committee went to the 13 schools to offer the tickets, the men refused the tickets and turned out onto the streets. They stoned the cab of the departing official, and then broke the windows of the shops owned by members of the relief committee. They then turned to the depots of the relief committee which they sacked. By evening, company of Hussars, came from Manchester. The Riot Act was read and eighty men were arrested. The women and girls continued to harangue and verbally abuse the police and soldiers.
On Saturday 21 March, the magistrates released most of the prisoners but committed 28 for trial in Chester. They were taken to the railway station by police and soldiers, who were pelted with stone. A further public meeting demanded "money and bread" not "tickets". The mob was in control. The rioters demanded bread at various shops and in each case it was given to them. At 23:30, a company of foot soldiers arrived and patrolled the streets with bayonets fixed. On the Sunday, supporters and visitors arrived in the town but there were no developments.
On Monday 23 March the riot spread to Ashton, Hyde and Dukinfield. The schools had reopened with only 80 scholars instead of the expected 1700 attended; that is agreed to be paid by ticket. Representative were sent to the schools in the neighbouring towns to persuade the scholars to walk out, but were met by soldiers.
On the Tuesday the resistance was over. The relief committee offered to pay the outstanding tickets and to accept a delegation from the thirteen schools to discuss the matter further. The mayor offered that the MP, Mr John Cheetham would take the matter to parliament. The crowd believed that they had not lost relief, and the ticket system would soon be abolished. The Stalybridge relief committee re-established authority. The Manchester Central Committee was critical of their poor management, but they were being undermined by the Mansion House Fund of the Lord Mayor of London that offered to distribute cash to scholars directly through the churches. The violence was blamed on outsiders coming to agitate, and the blame was put on a minority ethnic immigrant community. Descriptions suggest about 3500 participants, though there were only 1700 scholars receiving aid.

(Source Wikipedia)