Modern History Sourcebook:
Letter from Leeds Cloth Merchants, 1791
This statement by the Cloth Merchants of Leeds (a major center
of wool manufacture in Yorkshire) defended the use of machines.
It appeared in 1791.
See also the Leeds Woollen Workers Petition, 1786,
At a time when the People, engaged in every other Manufacture
in the Kingdom, are exerting themselves to bring their Work to
Market at reduced Prices, which can alone be effected by the Aid
of Machinery, it certainly is not necessary that the Cloth Merchants
of Leeds, who depend chiefly on a Foreign Demand, where they have
for Competitors the Manufacturers of other Nations, whose Taxes
are few, and whose manual Labour is only Half the Price it bears
here, should have Occasion to defend a Conduct, which has for
its Aim the Advantage of the Kingdom in general, and of the Cloth
Trade in particular; yet anxious to prevent Misrepresentations,
which have usually attended the Introduction of the most useful
Machines, they wish to remind the Inhabitants of this Town, of
the Advantages derived to every flourishing Manufacture from the
Application of Machinery; they instance that of Cotton in particular,
which in its internal and foreign Demand is nearly alike to our
own, and has in a few Years by the Means of Machinery advanced
to its present Importance, and is still increasing.
If then by the Use of Machines, the Manufacture of Cotton, an
Article which we import, and are supplied with from other Countries,
and which can every where be procured on equal Terms, has met
with such amazing Success, may not greater Advantages be reasonably
expected from cultivating to the utmost the Manufacture of Wool,
the Produce of our own Island, an Article in Demand in all Countries,
almost the universal Clothing of Mankind?
In the Manufacture of Woollens, the Scribbling Mill, the Spinning
Frame, and the Fly Shuttle, have reduced manual Labour nearly
One third, and each of them at its-first Introduction carried
an Alarm to the Work People, yet each has contributed to advance
the Wages and to increase the Trade, so that if an Attempt was
now made to deprive us of the Use of them, there is no Doubt,
but every Person engaged in the Business, would exert himself
to defend them.
From these Premises, we the undersigned Merchants, think it a
Duty we owe to ourselves, to the Town of Leeds, and to the Nation
at large, to declare that we will protect and support the free
Use of the proposed Improvements in Cloth-Dressing, by every legal
Means in our Power; and if after all, contrary to our Expectations,
the Introduction of Machinery should for a Time occasion a Scarcity
of Work in the Cloth Dressing Trade, we have unanimously agreed
to give a Preference to such Workmen as are now settled Inhabitants
of this Parish, and who give no Opposition to the present Scheme.
Appleby & Sawyer
Bernard Bischoff & Sons
[and 59 other names]
From J. F. C. Harrison, Society and Politics in England, 1780-1960 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 72-74.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997