Mr Thomas Miller, (1810-1865) of the cotton firm, Horrockses, Miller & Co, was the most powerful cotton manufacturer in Preston.
By the time of his death in 1865, Thomas Miller operated ten mills, 155,970 spindles, 2,865 looms, twelve steam engines, and employed 3,000 hands to spin 104,000 lbs of yarn and weave 227 miles of cloth each week. One of his mills, The Yard works, was the largest ‘single site’ in Lancashire, and a number of our early converts were employed there including Jonathan Clegg who, along with his wife Ellen, were such notable stalwarts in the Martin Handcart company. The missionary Joseph Fielding spoke of working in a mill to gain some extra money, but he does not indicate if it was one of Millers, but there is the possibility that this was also his employer.
In many respects Miller’s company was ahead of its time and rather atypical of much of the Preston industry. They provided washing and changing facilities for their workforce, offered housing accommodation, and later pioneered nursery schools. Even so, compared to today’s working standards the demands on the workers were quite a challenge. For instance…
- 1833 – The firm of Horrockses, Miller & Co had 9 mills in Preston employing 1,300 spinners, 400 weavers and a large number of indirectly employed domestic handloom weavers. The Royal Commission on Factories looked at Horrockses, Miller and Co. while investigating factory conditions. Their report illustrates the working conditions of what was considered a “model employer” of the 1830s. During the previous 12 months, 310 ½ days had been worked – i.e. every day apart from Sunday, with single-day holidays at Christmas and Easter. Work hours = 69 hours per week = 12 hours for 5 days and 9 hours on Saturday.
- The firm had found it hard to enforce the restrictions being introduced on the working of children. Horrockses declared that those who were introduced young turned out to be the most skillful workers. Restricting their hours would “injure the work people, by reducing their comforts and means of support”. Many parents would ask for their children to be taken on young. In some cases some children (about 10 yrs of age) had worked six, seven and even nine months without any wages just to insure they got the first vacant situation.
With his acquired fortune Miller enjoyed buying artwork and had works by notable artists such as Holman Hunt and Constable, and his home on Winckely Square would have been near the top of the social pyramid in Preston entertainment.
Preston was noted as a hotbed for discontent – a battlefield between Cotton Lords like Miller and the working class. Following are a few examples of the workers’ industrial action prior to our missionaries arriving:
- 1818 – an unsuccessful attempt was made to raise wages by the weavers. Around 1,200 handloom weavers paraded the streets of Preston.
- 1821- Spinners went on strike for three weeks to protest a wage reduction of ten per cent. They were also unsuccessful.
- 1826 – riots occurred in various parts of Lancashire and a large number of looms were destroyed. (Hardwick, p 375)
This friction between employer and employee seemed to be constantly simmering under the surface. It was noted that
“The Cotton Lords of Preston are the greatest tyrants in the country. It is well known that they grind their workmen down more than any other persons, getting their work done cheaper, and therefore they can undersell their neighbours.” Alexander Challenger, Chartist.
In some defence of the mill owners, Preston had the disadvantage of being located 30 miles from the main cotton market at Manchester and some distance north of the great Lancashire coal field. This geography meant:
- Since it was on the outskirts of bigger industrialised cotton towns Preston was often the first port of call for immigrating agricultural workers. This continual supply of fresh workers meant they could easily replace any disgruntled workers.
- Preston’s markets were closer to the farm land so were better supplied and cheaper. In fact some local farmers would travel further to Blackburn or Bolton to get a better price for their produce.
- As an older town Preston was a more desirable place of residence than many cotton towns.
These factors meant mill owners would enforce somewhat lower wages to compete (Hardwick, p 400).
I repeat my earlier claim that,
To understand LDS Preston you have to understand the cotton trade.
In our next post we will see how Preston’s simmering discontent was rippling in the winter of 1836 – just months before our missionary work began, and inadvertently softening hearts to be seeking something better.