7. 10. Wages and Employment after 1835

According to Henry Wood’s estimations, the number of domestic hand-loom weavers in Great Britain went down from 240,000 in 1830 to 188,000 in 1835, 123,000 in 1840, and to 69,000 in 1845. We have seen from contemporary evidence that the 1830 employment remained the same until 1834, so that the numbers probably reduced rapidly from 240,000 in 1835 to 69,000 in 1845. This means that the situation that the Committee on Hand-Loom Weavers’ Petitions in 1834-35 was investigating, was one that started to disappear the following year. 

Probably a number of the hand-loom weavers went to work in the power-loom mills, since there was now enough demand for workers in the power-looms (a variant was that the man continued at his hand-loom, and his daughter went to work at the power-loom). A few went to work at hand-looms erected in spinning mills. Many more went to work in new cotton mills, as from 1835 to 1838 there was a “boom” in capital investment there. The laying-out of the railways also required more manual work. Very probably, the change in volume from hand-looms to power-looms after 1835, meant that the power-looms were being gradually adjusted in their design, so that that each year they could produce a higher percentage of the “fancy” cloths. 

The wages stayed very low for those men who continued to work at the hand-loom, but if the daughter went to work in the power-loom mill, between the two of them they could probably earn 15 to 17 shillings a week, which would have allowed the family to live decently.

From the totality of this chapter, we see that it was not the Industrial Revolution and the improved technology that brought “distress” to the domestic hand-loom weavers. It was two Government decisions; these are not the only cases that we shall meet in this period.

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