Sam Bamford and the Workers of Heywood

Samuel Bamford.
There were a number of excellent on-the-ground descriptions of Heywood written during the mid-19th century. One of the best was by the great Samuel Bamford (1788-1872), a native of neighbouring Middleton. Bamford was a prominent member of the Radical political movement that fought for better rights and conditions for the working classes of the time. He was present at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester (as were a number of Heywoodites) when cavalry sections of the British Army attacked a peaceful demonstration and killed 18 people, including women and children. Those were days of serious political upheaval.

His Walks in South Lancashire, published in 1844, was an account of his visits to various towns in the region, among them Heywood. After sharing some facts and figures about the growing town, he wrote about the conditions of some of the poorer workers there, leaving an important historical record of what Heywood looked like back then, and what life was like for the ordinary people who lived there.

The writings were divided into two parts and are reproduced below.


HEYWOOD is a large and modern village, in the township of Heap... The township is near two miles in length, one and a half in breadth, and comprises about 2,240 statute acres. It is bounded on the north by the township of Birkle-cum-Bamford, on the south by those of Pilsworth and Unsworth, on the west by that of Bury, and on the east by the townships of Castleton and Hopwood. Heywood has but recently come into note as one of the largest and most populous villages in the county of Lancaster; for which advancement it is indebted to the mines of excellent coal in the townships of Bamford and Hopwood, and to its industry in the production of manufactures. 45 years ago there was not probably a foundry, a machine-maker's shop, nor a cotton factory in the place - that of Makeant mill (commenced by old Sir Robert Peel) excepted. It was then inhabited by a few hundreds of hand-loom fustian weavers and manufacturers: it has now the appearance of a busy and populous manufacturing town, having several cattle fairs yearly, but no market. The number of houses, according to the last census return, is 2,952: occupied, 2,691; empty, 259; and in building, 2. The number of cotton factories, and of woollen and falling mills, is, according to the same return, 41 - of which 31 are at present working full time, three are working four days a week, and seven are standing unemployed. The amount of population in the township is 14,847 - viz: 7,071 males, and 7,776 females.

From enquiries and observations made by the writer on the spot, it would seem that the working classes in the township of Heap, and those in the village of Heywood in particular, are by no means in so destitute a condition as the operatives of other districts are currently represented to be. Here (at Heywood) a public officer states, "That the rates are certainly somewhat difficult to collect, but that the poor are not yet in that low, starving condition, of which so much is heard at other places; that a new rate of £1,554 has been laid, and it must be collected by the 25th of March, 1842; that there are no arrears of rate, for the churchwardens and head overseers will not allow a new rate until the old one has been collected or accounted for; and that about seventy persons only have been summoned for rates during the year, and those were cases arising as much from a spirit of reluctance, as inability to pay." The system of the collector of rates in this township deserves notice, and is worthy of imitation. He calls on the working people on Saturdays after they have received their wages, and before they are entirely disbursed; and he generally receives a trifle, more or less, towards keeping them clear in the book. Shopkeepers and other tradesmen he makes a point to call upon on Tuesdays; and the large ratepayers, the manufacturers and landowners, on Wednesdays. And thus, by an undeviating method, affording the poor opportunities to pay when they have money, he keeps his book clear; and at the close of the year he can say, "There are no arrears of rates."

Most of the manufacturers pay their workpeople fortnightly; one or two pay weekly; and at one mill it is found more convenient to pay for the work on the same day on which it is finished. From the information the writer received, he would suppose the average earnings of card-room hands to be seven shillings weekly; those of piecers, at six to eight shillings; those of weavers, from nine to twelve shillings, according to their number of looms; and those of spinners, at twenty shillings clear; supposing all to be working full time. One manufacturer, a most respectable referee, supposed the average weekly earnings of the whole of his hands (and he employed 800) one with another, would be twelve shillings a week; at a rough guess he calculated that the average weekly earnings of the factory population of the township, when in work, would be about ten shillings per head per week; but if we suppose nine shillings, we shall be pretty safely within the mark.

It is only recently that the three mills working short time have commenced doing so. One of them is in the twist line only, and another is in the manufacture of light cloths. It is probable that three out of every four lbs. of cotton brought to Heywood are made into fustians, which is a branch of manufacture which has felt less of the depression of trade, than perhaps has any other of the cotton fabric; three-fourths of the hands have, therefore, with slight interruptions, been kept at work, and, as was observed by one party, "so long as a family are in employment they know little of distress."

"The workers," observed the same person, "have not yet begun to feel the pressure of actual distress; the shopkeepers and others of the middle class are more embarrassed; and next to them are the manufacturers, whose credit and capital are at stake; many of these classes are in reality distressed; for though they do not experience want of necessaries, they feel distressed by the badness of trade, and the consequent involvement of their money transactions. Most of the shopkeepers, it was stated, sold their goods on credit, and took pay by instalments; when a family was thrown out of employment, or partially so, the payments would cease, unless work was again obtained speedily. In that case the debt would be worth very little, factory hands being in the habit of removing to other places, and their habitations being rarely so well furnished as those of operatives working at their own houses."

A person, well acquainted with the condition of the operatives, informed the writer that many of those out of work were in a most distressed condition, both as it regarded their food, clothing, and bedding; and, that so numerous were the applications for relief at the residence of a wealthy and benevolent tradesman, that the lady of the house was quite at a loss how to comply with their solicitations. A schoolmaster said his receipts this year had been so much as 15 shillings per week less than the year previous. He described the condition of his neighbours as very bad; he had from 60 to 70 very fine children of both sexes in the school, all of whom were no less than well dressed, very cleanly in their apparel, and, with one or two exceptions, healthy in their looks; and, without doubt, well fed. On this being remarked, he said they were mostly the children of persons above the common level of working men, such as book-keepers, overlookers, and the better sort of workmen. The children of another school were, however, going to dinner soon after, and the writer observed that they were about as good-looking as those he had just left.

The habitations of the factory hands were of a slighter build than those which the writer had noticed at Crompton and Oldham; they seemed to have, been run up quickly, and for present need almost; they were not in general so well finished in the interior. In one of these houses a working family were just finishing their dinner of butcher's meat and potatoes. They all seemed to be in good health, well clothed, and cleanly, and two good-looking young girls were in robust health. The floors were clean, the walls white, and the housewife had gotten her week's clothes well washed and hung to dry on lines across the house. They gave the same account of the condition of the unemployed, as well as the short-time workers, others had done, saying they were very much distressed, and many families were actually starving. Their own condition, they candidly acknowledged, was much better. They were five of a family, and three were workers. One of the daughters earned eight shillings a week at a carding frame, and another daughter and the father, got seven shillings a week each at steam weaving. Out of this they paid one shilling and a penny per week for coal, two shillings and sixpence for rent; and soap and candles could not be less than nine-pence per week, so they would have four shillings and four pence to pay for these extras, leaving them 17 shillings and eight-pence for meat and clothing. This may be considered a fair account so far as they were concerned; but it must be remarked that the two weavers were working short time.

Perhaps the best opportunity of noticing a mixed crowd of factory hands is at noon, when they are going from, or returning to, their employ. The latter was the case in the present instance, and the writer does say, that, at Heywood, he was both surprised and pleased on beholding the hands, of all descriptions, going along the main street, in cheerfulness and civility. He recollects a time when such would hardly have been the case. The young lads were, moreover, cleanly and well clad; there was not a ragged jacket in the whole lot, and they all wore good warm wooden clogs. The girls were as well dressed, and as cleanly, or more so, if it were possible. There was not a torn petticoat nor gown to be seen, (for they all wore gowns) nor one dim or sluttish. All were neat and becoming. It was raining smartly at the time, and the girls in consequence, were all covered, either with stout cotton napkins tied round their heads, or with good woollen shawls, or else they carried umbrellas, and not one of these latter were either broken or shabby. A very pleasing and becoming pride, the pride of decency, appeared to be commonly felt and acted upon by the young people of both sexes. So much for the factory working population.

Blacksmiths were earning 24 shillings per week, when at full work, but many were working short time. A master, however, allowed that there were other places at which the smith trade was doing worse. Moulders in iron works were getting their usual wages of 30 shillings a week, when doing full time; mechanics, turners, and filers, would have 24 shillings, but all these branches were often on short time. Fustian cutters, of whom a considerable number reside in one part of the village (Goodwin-lane) were all doing very well; many of them would probably earn their 15 shillings a week regularly, and some of them so much as 20 shillings.

On the whole, we may conclude, that, as at other places, those of the population only are distressed, who are in want of employment, and according to the estimate of an intelligent person, they were here about one-sixth of the whole number. Nor were all such in the extremity of destitution, but some were much better, some much worse off, than were the bulk of those out of employ. Of the number of factory hands there was not any account in the town, and therefore, for the present, the number out of employ, or partially so, can only be approached by a guess, which, in the absence of sufficient data, it were best to decline.


THE slight sketch only which, owing to boisterous and excessively wet weather, I was enabled, in my last communication, to give of the important village of Heywood, left me ample room, as I considered, for further and more particular observations, and the result of those observations I now proceed to state.

Having a wish to visit Makeant Mill, I turned off to the right at Wrigley Brook, and traversed a good cindered road for probably about half a mile, away from the gloom and smoke, and right out into the open fields. On my left were retired winding paths along the bottoms and declivities of what, in spring time, are beautiful and verdant slopes, each with its rill of clear water hurrying to join the stream of the Roch, which floats, as yet, unseen, though we are within a few yards of its margin. In advance of us is a fold of houses, built somewhat in the form of a triangle; and just before we arrive at these we shall probably feel surprise at beholding on our left the black top of a square funnel or factory chimney, thrusting itself, as it were, out of the ground, and within a few yards of our track. That was the top of the chimney at Makeant mill. Of the mill itself we have, as yet, seen nothing, nor much of the land beyond, save some young woods on a sloping bank, and some tenter grounds, with white flannels drying in the wind. The place where the houses we have mentioned are situated is called "Back-o'-th'-Moss," and the houses themselves were the habitations of persons working at Makeant mill. A house of superior appearance marks the residence of the manager of the works. The houses of the workers seemed to have been built a considerable time; they were probably erected when the mill was enlarged, and first became a cotton factory. The interior appearance of some which I entered hardly bespoke so much of comfort, nor so good a system of housewifery, as many I had noticed in Heywood. But much allowance must, in such cases, be made for circumstances - for poverty, and mental and bodily depression. These poor people, I understood, had, during several previous years, been, sadly distressed for want of work, and had also much to complain of with respect to the absence of moral and social comforts. They were now differently circumstanced, and were beginning to reap the advantages of improved management.

A little further than these houses is a row of good-looking modern cottages, including a provision shop and a public house.

Turning to the left, at the top of this triangular fold, we come, after advancing a few yards, within view of the valley and stream of the Roch, which here, after bending to receive the waters of the little brook Nadin (No-din, or silent water), pursues its course between the woods of Birkle and the steep and less wooded banks of Heap. After taking a glance at this fine, deep, and silent valley, with its lonely cottage at the bottom, and its broad straight stream gliding down, one is little prepared for any other objects save those of wild and unadorned nature; but one turn of the eye towards the left, and downwards, brings within our ken the roof of an irregular building, evidently a manufactory, from its chimney, and the form and arrangement of many windows. We descend then rapidly a good cindered cart-road; an old woman in a cottage directs us to the counting-house, where, if the gentleman, Mr. Clemishaw, who has had the management about eighteen months, be within, we shall receive any information which ought to be asked respecting the present state of the operatives, the nature of their employment, and the amount of their remuneration. I walked through every room of this mill, and I do say, that for cleanliness, good air, and the comfortable appearance of the workers, I never saw anything that exceeded it. It is a throstle spinning establishment, and employs about one hundred and eighty hands. The boys of 13 or 14 years of age, were decently clad; and their clear, plump looks shewed they did not go to a scanty porridge dish at home. The girls and young women were as well looking. The youths and up-grown men were decent and cleanly; and the only drawback to my entire satisfaction in looking through the mill, was the observation that several of the married, child-bearing women, and women in years, seemed weakly and emaciated; some of the elder ones also were deformed, as if from weakness. But others of the married females looked quite well. The hands had been in constant work during the last eighteen months, and their earnings would average about nine shillings per week.

This mill was at first a small woollen manufactory; afterwards Sir Robert Peel, the elder, purchased it, and making some additions converted it into a cotton factory; it was the first which ever worked in the township of Heap. It has been frequently surmised that the present Sir Robert has a share in this and other manufacturing establishments in Lancashire; but such is not the fact, and Makeant mill, as well as a factory at Radcliffe, are the property of a relative of Sir Robert's.

As I ascended the road again, I could not but turn and enjoy another look of the valley; and I left the place with a wish that none of God's human creatures were worse off than those I had just seen in the old quiet-looking mill below.

From this place to the large manufacturing establishment of Messrs. Fenton, at Hooley Bridge, was but a step. On a sudden we come upon the edge of a deep bank of the Roch. Immediately below are the gas works; on the other side of the river arises the huge pile of building which the Messrs. Fenton have constructed for a manufactory. Numerous cottages extend in rows along the valley and beside the highway. One row in particular, below the mill, and above the stream, are fronted with spacious and neat gardens, and the whole together looks like a pretty new village, with a large workshop in the middle. I descended the bank and over the bridge, and observed that the houses were in decent and respectable condition, and judging from the appearance of the habitations, we might suppose that the inmates were all of the better class of work-people. I was prevented from entering the factory. A young man in the yard referred me for permission to Mr. Fenton, at Bamford Hall, or to Mr. Schofield, the manager, who was at home but indisposed. I preferred calling on the latter, and having explained the object of my visit to a servant, she returned with the message that my request "must have two or three days' consideration; I must call again in a few days." I told her I could not do that, and came away.

At four schools which I visited, viz: one built by Mr. Kershaw, a manufacturer, near Wrigley Brook; St. James's Infant and Juvenile Schools, and St, Luke's Infant School, I found remarkably fine and healthy children, to say nothing of their pretty and intelligent looks, of which their parents are no doubt a little proud already, and not without cause. I know something of Heywood, and have done so during 40 years, but I must say, that I had never expected to have beheld in that place so fine a race of children as I saw this day; not a dim-looking shirt-collar did I observe, save on one boy, in the whole lot of about 550 - not a smutty-looking face, except those of some two or three lads, who had probably soiled them at play. When the little folks held up their hands, which, at one school they did at the bidding of the master, and in the course of their daily exercise, it was really pleasing to behold so many innocent countenances beaming with joy, and their tiny fingers and palms as clean as were ever seen in human mould; and then their neatly-combed hair, and their clean apparel, were in keeping with the pure little beings themselves. Of one thing I felt satisfied, that however we might have changed as a community in some respects, the mothers of these children were an improved race decidedly; and would, doubtless, impart to their offspring a due portion of their advanced civilization and humanity. At the same buildings Sunday Schools are held, and about one thousand five hundred scholars attend on those days.

I next went into an extensive weaving shed, in which several hundreds of looms were at work. The hands differed but little in appearance from those I had seen at other places. I thought, however, that this shop was more crowded than any I had yet visited. A dust arose from the dried paste with which the warps had been dressed, and rested on every thing on which it fell: this would be some drawback on health. T he further parts of the room appeared somewhat dim in consequence of the dust. This, however, might be accidental, and the result of the quality of some particular lot of flour, from which the paste had been made. In other rooms of the same mill I found the arrangements quite as good as any I had seen of the same description of manufacture. The carding-room was certainly "rather close," but not so much so as some I had entered. The scutching room was, as is usual, thick-aired, and dusty; about the same as are some places in a flour, or a logwood mill.

At Messrs. Cleggs and Hall's mill, there were about 400 looms, weaving fustians of various descriptions. I went through one room, and observed the same appearances of general good health and personal neatness amongst the operatives as I had noticed at other places. Most of the weavers were young persons, and of those both sexes were employed - the greater part, perhaps, being females; others seemed to be married women and men, and some of the latter were overlookers. The place, I thought, was better aired than the last I had visited, but it was still crowded, and there seemed in this, as in other weaving shops, to have been the strictest economising of room. An old veteran was pointed out who had been in many battles during the last war: he was also with Sir John Moore at Corunna. After the war he went to Canada, and had some land allotted to him on being discharged; but he left it, and returned to England, to end, as it seems, his days as a factory worker.

Standing at the door of this mill, and looking southward, we may catch an idea of the origin of the name of the township (Heap). A number of broad green mounds, exactly like tumuli, rise amongst the fields and meadows to a considerable distance. Some are larger, some are smaller than others, and Hind Hill, on which the residence of Mr. Clegg, one of the partners, is situated, appears to have been amongst the largest of the mounds on that side. The mill itself stands on what was originally one of these Heaps, but northward, towards Rochdale, several large ones have been cut into for sand, and now afford, as they long will do, a plentiful supply of that very useful article.'

The works of Samuel Bamford can be read online here.

The memorial for Samuel Bamford in Middleton old cemetery. It is inscribed with the words 'Bamford was a reformer when to be so was unsafe, and he suffered for his faith.'