The Cotton Famine 1861-1865
This was the outbreak of the American Civil War, which cut off supplies of cotton for Lancashire by the policy of the North to blockade the Southern ports. During the four years that the war lasted - The Cotton Famine - there was great distress in Blackburn, and relief works were started to find employment for cotton operatives who had been thrown out of work. A sewerage scheme, road mending and paving, quarrying, and construction of pathways in Corporation Park above the Broad Walk were all carried out by the weavers.
Some of the street works then carried out are still visible at Warwick Street, near Blakey Moor but most of them have been lost in town redevelopment, or have been resurfaced. Classes were started to provide instruction in dressmaking, needlework and straw hat making for women weavers, and English, book-keeping and mathematics for unemployed male operatives. A large amount of welfare benefit was provided in the form of clothing, bedding, corn and flour, but for many weavers, the most lasting memory of the Cotton Famine was queuing at the soup depot to receive a pint of soup and a slice of bread for a penny.
After 1863 systematic distribution of bread, meal, bacon and coal was undertaken, on a different day of the week for each district or ward of the town. By the end of the American Civil War, the manufacturers had lost an estimated £28,000,000, while the weavers' lost wages and losses by shopkeepers totalled £30,000,000. These figures were for the whole of Lancashire and amounted to nothing less than a calamity.
In Blackburn, several factory owners were bankrupted, including the owners of Carr Cottage Mill, Dewhurst Street, Fisher Street, Greenbank, Shuttleworth's Moss Street, and one of Blackburn's largest employers, William Eccles and Son, who had a work force of 1500 at Wensley Fold and Commercial Mill, Nova Scotia.
Read how the Cotton Famine effected both Darwen and Blackburn in detail here.
J. S. Miller