Bolton Mechanics Document Book

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1323
  • Dates of Creation
      1823-1836
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English
  • Physical Description
      310 x 190 mm. 1 volume. Binding: Boards. Condition: the volume is in quite poor condition. The covers show signs of wear and tear, and several of the documents are torn or dirty.
  • Location
      Collection available at The John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Scope and Content

Contents: The volume comprises the following pieces:

/1 A facsimile of a letter sent by employees of Messrs Dobsons, Bolton , dated 21 May 1831, requesting reduced working hours. The letter is signed by the employees in round robin fashion [an attached note dated 12 October 1927 says the original letter was on loan to the Chadwick museum, Bolton (now demolished); its current whereabouts unknown].

/2 Printed Notice "To all mechanics engaged in making steam engines and machines for the preparing and spinning of worsted, woollen, cotton, flax, tow, and silk" reports a meeting at Bradford, 11 March 1831 which passed a resolution "to form an union of all mechanics" and set out the rules of this proposed union.

/3 A printed circular letter issued by the Bolton mechanics, stating their case, and requesting support (document is torn).

/4 A printed letter issued "To the Mechanics of Manchester and the neighbourhood", dated 20 May 1831, summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen (12-18 May 1831).

/5 A manuscript letter (damaged) addressed to "Fellow workmen" outlining the mechanics' case; includes an income/expenditure account for 2-14 June, and a list of "black sheep" [mechanics who did not participate in the walk-out]

/6 Printed circular letter, "An extract of an address to the members of the Machine and Steam Engine makers Friendly Society" issued at Bradford in October 1823, by John Murgatroyd, requesting support for "New Union for the Protection of our Trade".

/7 A printed letter issued "To the Mechanics of [] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen (4-22 June 1831), includes income/expenditure account of "strike" fund, list of black sheep" etc.

/7 A printed letter issued "To the Mechanics of [ Ashton under Lyne] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen (12-19 July 1831)

/8 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen, list of "black sheep" etc (26 July-2 May [sic. August] 1831).

/9 A printed circular letter issued "Friends and Fellow-workmen", issued in the name of John Hammond, outlining the current state of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen, list of "black sheep" etc. (2-9 August 1831).

/10-12 Circular letters issued "To the Mechanics of [] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen list of "black sheep" etc (9-16 August , 16 -23 August , 23-30 August, 1831 )

/13 A printed circular "Address tithe mechanics of Manchester" dated 31 September 1831, refers to an affray between Dobsons' "knobsticks" [strike-breakers] and the mechanics in Bolton.

/14 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [Manchester ] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen(4-18 October 1831 ), list of "black sheep" etc, also includes a totalised income and expenditure account for 4 June to October 18.

/15 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [Manchester ] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen (18-25 October), list of "black sheep" etc, also includes a totalised income and expenditure account for the period of the dispute.

/16 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [Manchester ] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen(25 October-1 November 1831), list of "black sheep" etc, also includes a totalised income and expenditure account for the period of the dispute.

/17 A letter from Thomas Maltby, a table knife grinder, requesting that he be allowed to return to work at Dobson's, n.d..

/18 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [Manchester ] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen(25 October-1 November 1831), list of "black sheep" etc, also includes a totalised income and expenditure account for the period of the dispute (22-30 November 1831)

/19 A printed circular letter issued "To the Mechanics of [Manchester ] and the neighbourhood", summarising the current situation of the dispute, and including an account of income/expenditure of a fund set up to support the workmen, list of "black sheep" etc, also includes a totalised income and expenditure account for the period of the dispute (12-20 December 1831).

/20 An account (possibly of donors to the mechanics' fund?] not dated [very poor condition]

/21 A letter from "Workmen of Bolton" to unidentified, threatening to list him as a "black sheep"

/21 "Names of the Nobsticks", printed document

/22-23 Printed documents relating to a dispute between Sharp. Roberts & Co, (Manchester engineering company) and employees over working hours. This led to the employers organisation the master Machine makers, to implement clauses in an agreement whereby members would not employing striking workmen 9the circular list the workmen). June 1836

The volume was compiled by Dobson and Barlow Ltd. probably circa 1927 from documents in their possession.

Administrative / Biographical History

The volume comprises documents collected by the Bolton machine manufacturers, Dobsons, which relate to an industrial dispute between the firm and its employees, June-December 1831. In the summer of 1831, machine-makers (an occupational group sometimes referred to as "mechanics" which included fitters, turners, filers and grinders, and who were heavily involved in making textile machinery) put a claim to employers in Bolton for reduced working hours, and for restrictions on the number of apprentices. Some employers appear to have agreed to the demands but Dobsons held out, and their workers then withdrew their labour ( employees of another firm, Brooks & Co also appear to have been involved). Participants in the dispute referred to this action as a "turn-out" rather than a strike).

Apart from the immediate issues, the dispute seems to have been indirectly connected to attempts to organise a union for mechanics in the north of England (workers were governed by the 1825 Combination Act which allowed them to bargain over wages and conditions, but not other matters). The volume includes documents from Bradford mechanics who had already organised a friendly society on these lines. G W Daniels who studied this volume believed that the Bolton mechanics had links to the Friendly Society of Mechanics, a Manchester body, and that there could have been a Bolton branch of the Society. The Bolton mechanics appear to have enjoyed significant financial support from their Manchester counterparts, although other local towns also gave aid. The dispute lasted until late December, and ultimately the Bolton mechanics seem to have been unsuccessful. The Friendly Society of Mechanics later became part of the new Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1849, one of the major 'new unions' of the Victorian period. Most of the documents in the volume are weekly updates issued by the Bolton mechanics, describing the course of the dispute and appealing for financial help. They also listed "black sheep", those employees who remained in work or sought work with other employers.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the manuscript can be supplied for private research and study purposes only, depending on the condition of the manuscript.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the manuscript. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, The John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The document book was donated to the Department of Economics, University of Manchester by Lt. Col. B. Palin Dobson, Messrs Barlow & Dobson, c. 1928. At an unknown date, the Department passed the volume to the University Library.

Related Material

G W Daniels papers (GWD) includes a letter from B Palin Dobson commenting on Daniels' research on this subject.

Bibliography

The document book was used in two articles by Professor George Daniels, "A 'turn out' of Bolton machine makers in 1831" Economic History: a supplement to the Economic Journal Vol.1 1929, pp. 591-602, and "The organisation of a 'turn out' of Bolton machine-makers in 1831", Economic History: a supplement to the Economic Journal Vol.2 1930, pp. 111-116.

Geographical Names