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Working Class Unrest

Diary entry for 9 June 1842 (Ne 2 F 6/1, pp.240-241)

I have hardly had time to do all my matters at Clumber but tho' [sic] rather incompletely done I hurried away at 1/2 past 1 & reached the station at Nottingham in good time to go by the 1/2 past 4 train - Having some time to spare I looked about me in the neighbourhood of the station & conversed with several people that I met - in particular with a man who told me that he was a stockinger out of work - that the greatest distress prevailed, that the people were Starving [,] that the hosiers were still reducing their wages, & that he did not know what would be the end of it - He supposed that the object was to drive the people into a revolution, that both parties were alike & that between them the object intention was to crush the poor man = His last wages were 15s a week - out of this he had to pay 9s a week for frame rent, 2s 6 for house rent & 8d 1/2 for needles leaving him the remainder to live upon - he said it was worse than nothing - I knew what he meant but I asked him why - He said because then he must go to the Bastile [sic] [i.e. the workhouse] which would be something better tho’ [sic] not much - He abhorred the Bastile [sic] - it is evident that there is a settled feeling amongst them that they will be driven into commotion - indeed poor wretches I know not what they are to do or what we can or are to do for them. I am so poor that I must reduce my labourers & that must tend to encrease [sic] the general distress -

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Throughout his life, Newcastle was constantly on his guard against signs of popular disaffection amongst members of the labouring population and was keen to discover their underlying cause.

This conversation (described in entry for 9 June 1842 [Ne 2 F 6/1, pp.240-241]) with an anonymous man at Nottingham station gives an interesting insight in to the nature of these grievances and the way in which political, social and economic difficulties were related to one another.

There are clear references to the state of distress caused by the low rate of wages and the high rate of outlay required in order to live, eat and work. At the same time, the worst possible light is cast upon the motives of the two main political parties (the Whig/Liberals and Tory/Conservatives).

After the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the worst fate possible for a labourer was to enter the Workhouse (popularly criticized as ‘Bastilles’ or prisons). Newcastle reflects that his own difficult financial circumstances have forced him, indirectly, to add to the current economic distress through reducing the number of labourers employed on his estates. 

 

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