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Pottery Riots 1842 - Page 2

For the first time, many thousands of workers acted together, creating unity, cohesion, and a feeling of common interest that provided a basis for building working class organisations

Queen Victoria herself was worried. She wrote to Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, that she was surprised at the little or no opposition to the dreadful riots in the Potteries and the passiveness of the troops. She said they ought to act and meetings ought to be prevented. Everything should be done to apprehend Cooper and all his delegates who were members of the Chartist movement, an organisation trying to reform the political system.
The six objects of their charter, five of which we take for granted today, were;

1. Universal suffrage.
2. Vote by ballot.
3. Annual parliaments.
4. No property qualifications for MPs.
5. Payments of representatives.
6. Equal electoral districts.

The weight of Queen Victoria's influence was thrown on the side of energetic repression. The Queen's orders were carried out with savage vengeance for the burning down of the Rev Dr Vale's house. He was the vicar of St James's Church on Uttoxeter Road and also a coal owner. Six men were transported to Australia for 21 years each, and sentences were passed on others for complicity in the same offence. A total of 189 years imprisonment was imposed, and, for pillaging and burning the Rev. Aitkin's home, terms of imprisonment totalling 93 years were imposed.

Some, who had taken no part in the riots, were arrested. One of these was Joseph Capper, a well-known Chartist Methodist local preacher. His arrest took place on the Sunday evening of August 21st, 1842 following the riots of August 15th- 16th. At the meeting of the 15th on Crown Bank Hanley, Capper had urged the people resolutely but peaceably to seek their rights. From there he went back to the anvil in his blacksmith's shop and worked all the week.

On Sunday evening he was reading his bible to his wife, son and daughter, who were joining him in the family worship, when four men burst into his house unceremoniously and seized him saying, "You are the man we want Joseph Capper".

Then his son, a big lad like his dad, swung a fist and laid one of the men on the floor, but a quiet word from his father probably prevented the other three following him.

Capper was arrested, tried and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in Stafford gaol for sedition. He came out broken down in health due to prison food and environment, but strong as ever in the consciousness of his integrity.

He was met by friends and went on his way home through the Potteries triumphantly applauded by thousands of people who believed in his perfect innocence. About the unfairness of the administration of the law, many liberals and humanitarians where appalled by the severity with which the authorities dealt anyone remotely connected with the disturbances.

However, the draconian punishment meted out had a profound effect on the working class. A bond of suffering united them with brothers in other parts of the country, and thus the repression helped to develop a feeling of class-consciousness. This was especially true among miners who bore the brunt of the strike its self and many gaol sentences. As a result, when miners heard of their fellow miners from other coalfields being arrested and imprisoned, they did not regard this as a matter of no concern to themselves. They held protest meetings and collected money for the victims.

The miners, whether of coal or metal, were an isolated body of men often separated geographically from the rest of working people and concerned themselves more with their economic struggles than the Chartist agitators. Nevertheless, through out 1842, the 'Northern Star' contained the nominations to the Chartist General Council, and from it we find the north-east miners were strong supporters of Chartism, and, interestingly that there were five North Staffs' miners nominated, including George Hemmings and Thomas Mayer who were local leaders of the general strike in the summer of 1842.

The final result of the strike was far from what the employers anticipated. They found themselves unable to impose the large-scale wage reductions (sometimes as much as 25 per cent) that they had originally intended, and the workers drew the lesson that by their efforts and through their strike they had gained at least a partial victory, a powerful impetus was given towards the creation of trade unions.

The Miners' Association of Great Britain and Ireland was formally established at Wakefield on the 7th November 1842 and constitutes an important landmark in the history of British trade unions. Its size, structure and intention made it in many ways the prototype of modern trade unions, an advance on previous combinations of workmen, which flourished for a while, then were smashed.

In North Staffs, unlike some other coalfields, the coal owners did not make a determined attempt to crush the unions. Perhaps, they wished to avoid a repetition of the orgy and violence that occurred during the general strike for some had still not made good their losses. Lord Granvile's pits at Shelton had employed 300 men in 1842 but two of his furnaces had been blown up and not replaced and now only 100 were employed. Doubtless, with this in mind, the North Staffs coal trade met in December, and, after a long discussion, decided to tolerate the existence of the Miners' Association in the coalfield. In December 1843, the Shelton miners, many of them not in the union, went on strike and won a wage increase.

The Association held a national conference in the Temperance Hall in Burslem from the 15th to 19th July 1844, and the conference decided to hire the service of a legal advisor by the name of W.P.Roberts. He was known as the miners' attorney. This was for the whole of the association and each member contributed a half penny to the maintenance of a legal department. Roberts defended miners in court but, on many occasions, he knew he did not have a chance of winning, as it was the law that needed changing. Unfortunately, there was no one in parliament who would change laws for the benefit of the working class. At this same conference, at the instigation of the Bury district, the union established a general fund. In the first instance this was to help the northeast miners who were on strike, but, later for the support of all miners on strike.

An important function of the Burslem conference was to hold an intensive campaign in North Staffs in an attempt to restore the local union organisation to health. Public meetings were held in Hanley, Smallthorne, Knutton, Alsagers Bank, Longton and Tunstall with W.P.Roberts as the main speaker and including W.Dixson, J.Lomax, H.Birrell, J.Taylor, B.Watson C.Parkinson and T.Weaver, but, as there were 4,000 miners in North Staffs nearly 1,000 of whom were permanently unemployed, it was hardly surprising the union remained weak and in a poor bargaining position. However, this was the start of permanent trade unions.

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