The Plight of the Handloom Weavers (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The Plight of the Handloom Weavers

Q1: Why were the streets of Bramley silent in the 1820s?

A1: According to the author of source 8, "the click of the shuttle and the regular and steady stroke of the weaver's beam, could be heard from one end of Bramley to the other". However, in the 1820s few handloom weavers had work so the streets were silent.

Q2: Study sources 2, 3, 5 and 8. Do these sources provide information on local or national changes?

A2: Sources 2, 5 and 8 describe conditions for handloom weavers in particular towns (Bury, Colne and Bramley). These sources therefore provide information on local changes. Source 3 contains information on the fall in cloth prices in Britain between 1815 and 1830. Therefore, this is an example of national change.

Q3: Select information from the sources in this unit that suggests the income of the handloom weaver fell in the first half of the 19th century.

A3: Sources 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 all provide information that the income of handloom weaver fell in the first half of the 19th century. Joseph Barker claims that very few handloom weavers were working in the 1820s. As cloth produced by powerlooms was cheaper than that produced by handlooms, weavers found it difficult to sell the cloth they produced. Those that did, had to accept lower prices than they had received previously (source 3). The fall in the weavers income resulted in them having to sell their furniture and to beg on the streets (source 5).

Q4: Not everyone had the same view of the factory system. Describe the different views expressed in sources 6 and 7.

A4: The artist in source 6 is critical of the factory system. The artist appears to be suggesting that people working in factories producing cheap clothing were badly treated. This is indicated by the workers being portrayed as skeletons. The suggestion is that they are receiving starvation wages. While on the right-hand side of the picture, the employer is portrayed as being fat and lazy.

Many people in the 19th century took the view that the working conditions in factories were unhealthy. However, W. Hickson (source 7) argued that factories provided better conditions than those enjoyed by handloom weavers working at home. He claims that the "great majority of hand-loom cotton-weavers work in cellars".... that were often damp and sometimes flooded. Although factories also needed the air to be damp to produce the best cotton cloth, Hickson argues that in factories the air was constantly changed. He also adds that the walk to the factory was a healthy activity.