The Cotton Famine 1861-65 | Hard Times | Work for Idle Hands | The Evil Surat | Help | And Finally | Sources


The attack by forces of Confederate States on the Federal ‘Fort Sumter’ in Charleston Bay at 4.30 in the morning of the 12th April 1861, and its capture by them the following day, started the American Civil War. The war was to last until April 2nd 1865, when General Lee of the Confederate States surrendered to the Federal General Grant.
No other place outside America would suffer more from its effects than the cotton manufacturing districts of Lancashire; Blackburn the largest of these would endure much deprivation with the rest. Until the catastrophe hit the town, Blackburn had been a boom town like other such towns in the county. In the year before the war twenty-two new mills had been built. The town had truly put its industrial eggs in one basket. No fewer than 25,000 people from a total population of 63,126 were directly employed in the cotton industry. It was usually accepted that each one of these had at least one dependent making a total of 50,000 or 79% of the population. The back-up services of engineering, shuttle and bobbin making etc; would place another 3,000 persons dependent on the mills. The final estimated total was in the region of 56,000 (2) who would be dependent on the Poor Law, leaving less than 8,000 to support themselves through the Poor Law Rate. It was obvious that help would be needed from outside the town, and due to the generosity of people far and wide this was received.
During the prosperous years of the Cotton Industry in the 1850s families in Blackburn could earn from £5-6 each week. Young women could in many cases earn between 18-20s per week and lads of sixteen could earn almost as much.
Here are three examples:
A family of eight persons  
Husband aged 45
Wife aged 45
Two Daughters aged 22 and 20
Two Sons aged 18 and 16
Two Children
A family of six persons
Husband aged 40
18s. 0.
Wife aged 38
Daughter aged 18
Winder or Rover
Son aged 16
Weaver or Piecer
Two Children
A family of four persons
Husband aged 30
Wife aged 28
Two Children underaged
It is certain that the larger families would contain at least two underaged children. The above were published in the Glasgow Weekly Herald, the information being supplied by Mr. James Henderson, the sub-inspector of factories for the Blackburn District.
by Gerald Schofield


 Hard Time​s

Nothing was more important than the uninterrupted supply of raw cotton to both masters and workers in the textile trade. It had been a concern from the 1840s, in 1857 Thomas Bagley (3) of Manchester had called for the setting up of a ‘Cotton League’, but this had met with little response. Due to the good years of the 1850s the eastern markets were over stocked with finished goods, this placed Blackburn in a serious condition, for most of her cloth was sent to India. The Christmas of 1861 saw many of the mills closed for a month, the manufacturers using the time for making repairs and improvements. Previous to this it was becoming obvious that steps would have to be taken to help the out of work operatives, so a public meeting was held in the Town Hall on the 21st November 1861 (4). The outcome of the meeting was the setting up of a fund to provide relief, this would be known as the ‘Relief Fund for the Distressed’. Its chairman was the new Mayor of the town ‘Robert Hopwood Hutchinson’ who had already given £200 to the local clergy to be given to the poor. During his time as Mayor and later he was to spend much energy touring the country in search of donations to the fund, they also set up to administer the fund, they also set up the ward committee’s to collect and distribute funds. On the 20th December the firm of Willan & Mills of the Rose Hill Foundry posted a notice that subs would be collected from its workers to help those workmates who had been paid off, and other needy people, the foreman of each department collecting and distributing the monies. By the end of December 1861 (6) there were 408 inmates in the Workhouse and a further 3,301 were obtaining outside relief in the Blackburn district of the Union. By the 16th January the Relief Committee had obtained sufficient funds for them to start distributing them, but more urgent was the need to set up a soup kitchen so that those in need could at least obtain some semblance of nutrition.
Wednesday the 22nd January saw the opening of the first soup kitchen in Cleaver Street in the premises of Messrs. Yates, Alderman Boyle and James Eastwood who lent copper boilers to the committee in which the soup was made. The Mayor, through the Clergy and ministers of the town issued 500 tickets for quarts of the soup to be freely given, a further 140 quarts were sold at 1d. a quart.
The soup was made up as follows:
120lbs Beef, 60lbs Barley, 20lb of Groats, 60lb of Peas, 18lbs of Onion, 20lbs of Carrots, 10lbs of Turnips, 10lbs of Salt, 3/4oz of Cayenne Pepper and 3oz White Pepper.
This made 130 gallons of soup costing 5d. a gallon. Soup was distributed until May 1863. Many single men living on 2s. 0d. or 2s. 6d. a week found it a wholesome and substantial meal for a penny. Soon after the initial issue a slice of bread was included in the charge. By the end of January 1862 the Relief Committee had divided the town into districts. Visits were made door to door to assess the needs of the occupants; the reports went back to the district committee who then arranged the relief. Bread and meal was distributed from the Cleaver Street premises, different districts had their own day for collection. St. Paul and St. Mary’s wards collected on a Monday. St. Peter’s and Park wards collected on a Thursday and Trinity and St. John’s wards collected on a Friday.
On the 31st of January 1862 the Relief Committee decided the following financial aid to families, which soon proved to be totally inadequate:
6d. per head to families of 1, 2 and 3
1s. 10d. per head to families of 4
2s. 2d. per head to families of 5
2s. 6d. per head to families of 6
This rose up to 5s those with families of 16 members and above. It was also decided that relief should also be given in food, but aid in total (money and food) should not go above a shilling per head per week.
An example of living conditions of the time are well described by the following case brought to the attention of the Guardians at their weekly meeting of the 8th February 1862 (8). The wife of Jeremiah Higgs had requested relief for herself, her sick husband and their three children. Mr. Durham, the Relief Visitor, visited the family and found them living in a dirty house that was altogether unfit for human inhabitation. The man told him that the rent was 2s. 0d. per week but the landlady was not taking the rent until the family were able to obtain relief. There were no tables or chairs and inside the house, a stone was being used as a seat, and a piece of wood placed over the sinkstone was in use as a table. The man was lying on a few shavings in the corner of the room; he appeared to have a fever. Mr. Durham asked why the family had left the workhouse and the wife showed him one of the children. The child’s body was covered in scabs; these were apparently caught by the child washing in some water, which had been used, by other children suffering from the same complaint. She was given a relieving order, and an order for the doctor who would examine the man and child. This story could repeated time and time again during the next few years.
In order to save rent families would share homes and it was not unusual for families to share rooms. The situation got worse as 1862 continued, and the high point of the distress was from December 1862 to January 1863 (9). The Mansion House Committee in London made a special grant at the rate of 8d. a head to which the local fund added another 4d and this extra shilling was distributed the week before Christmas. The grant to Blackburn was made on behalf of 40,000 persons. Its effect on local traders was amazing; it caused such an extra demand for Christmas fare that the supplies brought in by traders was soon exhausted. Early Christmas Eve it was not possible to buy geese, turkeys etc from the local market. It was said that the Christmas consumption of traditional fare outstripped the sales of the previous year. The teachers of the sewing classes suggested that Christmas Dinner Parties should be arranged for their students. For once the ‘powers’ agreed and the new Mayor, J.B. Sturdy placed the Town Hall at the disposal of the clergy organizing the parties. The first of these took place on Friday the 2nd January 1863. During this time 3,660 persons were fed, using 4,595 lbs beef, 4,800lbs potatoes, 3,056lbs of plum pudding and 720lbs bread (10).
In February 1863 the scale of relief was as follows: In cases where it was established that such income not exceeding 2s. 0d. per head per week in families of four and above, or 2s. 6d. per head per week in families of less than four, they would be given 1s. 6d. per head per week. Single individuals who were attending one of the classes, and were in receipt of 2s. 0d. per week could receive 1s. 0d. per week. From a high of 18,707 needing outside relief by the Guardians, the numbers began to recede, and by the summer the numbers on outside relief were less than 5,000. Confidence was returning to the town, on Whit Monday (11) the railways conveyed over 5,000 passengers on excursion trains, in addition to those carried by normal traffic. Mr. Barker (12) in his Factory Inspection Report was able to say that around the districts there was a feeling that “the worse is passed”. The Blackburn Standard of 30th September 1863 (13) reported the following court case. ‘Bridget Walsh’ was charged with being drunk and disorderly, she had gone to the No.2 District Relief Office, asking for relief. She was offered an order for the Workhouse but refused it and became very abusive to Mr. Holden, the relieving officer. He sent for the police, Sergeant Fielding went to the office and as she still refused to go away, and continued to conduct herself in an outrageous and disorderly manner she was taken to the Police Station. She was fined 5s. 0d. or in default sentenced to seven days imprisonment.

Though not above applying to the Guardians for relief, she was rich enough to pay the fine. But the optimism of Blackburn was misplaced for as 1863 continued, things seemed to be getting worse, and the winter was looked towards with some concern. Over 11,950 people were out of work in December 1863 but by January this had dropped to less than 9,000. Though the distress was not as bad as the previous year there was still a need to reopen the soup kitchen closed in the summer of 1863. At this point mention should be made of Mrs. Gerald Potter (14) of Mytton Hall who set up the Mothers Kitchens in November 1862, the object being to see that nursing mothers would be able to get at least three wholesome dinners per week. As the winter of 1864-4 approached she re-opened her kitchens adding another five to her previous five. Mrs. Potter maintained the kitchens at her own expense to the sum of £791 5s.1d. During the time these kitchens were open (October 1863- May 1864), 73,350 meals were provided. The winter of 1864-5 would see her kitchens in action again as before they provided meat and potato pie, or thick soup. The Relief Committee closed down their operations in June 1864, but by September they were needed again, trade was yet again stagnating. The first week of October saw relief distribution again at the following scale:
Single Women
2s. 6d.
Single Men
3s. 0d.
To work two days
Two of a Family
4s. 6d.
Husband to work three days
Four of a Family
8s. 0d.
Husband to work five days
Six of a Family
11s. 0d.
Husband to work all week
Ten of a Family
15s. 0d.
Husband to work all week
As the winter deepened the men working outside asked for this to be increased, the committee refused but did issue coal to families, and gave single men and women an extra 6d. a week. The Relief Committee ended its activities on 17th June 1865.
by Gerald Schofield


Work for I​dle Hands

When it became obvious that there would be a great number of people made idle by the closing of the mills. Ideas were thought up to provide something to occupy the time of the unemployed cotton operatives (15). Young women and girls were thought of first, a ‘Sewing Class’ was started in May 1862 in a cottage situated in Clayton Street, where twenty to thirty girls could be accommodated. Soon it became apparent that this cottage would not be large enough to meet the needs of the unemployed girls and young women. On the 1st of July, the Clergy met at the Vicarage, they brought their wives who would in effect take charge of the setting up and day-to-day running of the classes. At first it was suggested that the clergy appeal to fellow churchmen for funds. The Rev. J. Smith who had suggested the scheme with the help of the Rev. G. Donaldson, and some lady friends, that night sent out 2,000 appeals for help. In the first week of the appeal £400 had been received, they sent out another 15,000 and in a few days another £800 was received. The first of those new classes were held at the Mechanic’s Institute and the Town Hall. The girls were required to attend for five hours a day, for three days each week, for this they were given one shilling. At first the classes were of mixed congregations, Roman Catholic and Church of England, but there were objections to this and soon each denomination was setting up their own classes. In September a visitor from Bristol attended the Town Hall class, he found 600 girls busy sewing, they were paid 2s. 0d. a week and dinner was provided on one day. Also in September the Roman Catholics were able to set up a class in St. Ann’s Schoolroom but were unable to give any cash aid. The Independents of James Street set up a class were the girls were paid 8d. a day for three or four days a week, by the end of August the average attendance being 40 girls a week. It soon became obvious that the churches would not be able to sustain these classes on their appeal funds so the Relief Committee were asked for help. The first payment was made on 20th September, this was £60. 9s. 1d. for these 1239 girls, and young women, by the 18th October 1862 this figure had risen to 1980. To those who could not be helped by the churches being nonattenders the ‘Strangers Friend Society’ came to their aid, a grant was made to them of £50 in August, by November they were being assisted to the same amount as the churches.
By the 6th December the attendances at all the sewing classes reached 2,624 and the cost to the Relief Committee was £126.0s.9d. Up to September married women had not been included in the classes, but the Mayor, Mrs. Hutchinson provided 2s. 0d. per week for 100 women to attend these classes, this cash ended with his term of office in November at a cost to him of £100. From then on this class was treated in the same way as the others. The women none of whom could attend without provision having been made for their children without provision having had been sent to the class. For this they were paid two shillings a week, and provided with a substantial dinner of potato pie, or soup or bread. Should they not be able to attend due to sickness of themselves, husbands or children they still received the allowance. In addition to the sewing classes the Rev. Scott F. Surtees wrote to the Rev. C. W. Woodhouse suggesting the setting up of a straw plaiting class, the idea was taken up. The class was run in one of the small rooms of the Town Hall, the teachers were two sisters from Dunstable. The class met five days a week and worked a five-hour day. It opened in November 1862 but was never a real success. It closed with the sewing classes in June 1863. At one time there were 24 sewing classes scattered about the town and at the height of attendance in February 1863, 2996 girls and women were attending. Up to November 1862 the number of girls plucked from starvation into service was 203. Later the number rose to 280. Mrs. W. E. Gladstone, the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a future Prime Minister set up a school for servants at Howarden Castle in North Wales the cost of this being spread amongst her friends. The clergy set up the Penny Bible Reading Classes, for one hours attendance men and women were given 1d., they were held hour by hour 9 to 12 in the morning, and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon. At the height of the distress 4313 men and 4880 women were attending, from November 1862 to February 1863 food was substituted for the penny, a good bowl of scouse, or of coffee or soup with bread, the extra expense being paid for by Mrs. Gladstone. The classes came to an end during the Easter of 1863. Under the Poor Law Act introduced during the reign of Elizabeth I, the Guardians of the Poor had no option than to find work for those fit enough to work. At first men claiming relief were put to work on the site of the new workhouse at Whinney Heights, now known as Queen’s Park Hospital and much extended. Other sites were Shorrock Delph, and the site of the new Infirmary, the Guardians also sent men out to work for private contractors. The men working at Shorrock Delph were paid 1s. a day and were given a soup ticket for each of the six days they worked, those at the Infirmary site earned 1s. 6d.a day and were also given a soup ticket.
In March 1862 (16) trouble arose on both sites when the men were refused payment, when weather made work impossible. They downed tools and marched into town to see the relieving officer, the matter was unresolved at the time, but it was later agreed to pay the men come rain or shine. This type of work was unsuitable for men who had always worked in the mills that were usually overwarm, outdoor work in the wet and cold became just another hardship they were expected to bear. There was trouble again in May at Shorrock Fold, and at other sites, the 3rd of July 1863 (17) saw yet more trouble and on the 29th September yet another turnout and a meeting of 3-400 men on the Market Place. The Guardians ended the ‘labour test’ and in future all could apply for relief in the usual way. Wages for outdoor work were set in April; a single man would earn 4-6s. for working an 18 hour week, married men 9s. 0d. for a thirty-six hour week, but those with large families would get a supplement. On the 17th October 1863 (18) there was a disturbance on the Corporation Park site where the pay was stated to be virtually 2s. 0d. a day. This had been caused by the introduction of a number of single men on the site. When the sewing classes had been started for the women, the clergy turned their attention to the young men; they thought that so many idle young men could have an adverse effect on the town (19). The first Education Class opened on the 8th September 1862, this for 50 men was sited in Back Lane, another class was started in Little Peel were the attendance was 180 men on the 8th October, this was followed by yet another school at Bank Top. The men attending these schools were given 3d. a day for the five days the schools were open. Mrs. Gerald Potter of Mytton Hall opened an Industrial class in Yates Spinning Mill at Eanam in September. Here the men were taught not only reading, writing and simple maths but tailoring, shoemaking and carpentry. Those under the age of 18 were given 1s. a week, those over 18 1s. 6d. 23 men attended the first class; by October the numbers had risen to 150. On the 18th October Mrs. Gladstone started another Industrial School in a new mill owned by Willan & Mills and fifty men attended this school. By November the combined attendances at the schools was 335. Two more schools were opened at the peak of the famine bringing the total attendance to 3068 men. In February 1863 the Relief Committee increased the weekly payment to two shillings. The Public Works Manufacturing Districts Act of 1863 became law on the 2nd July. This enabled public authorities to borrow money for public works, meaning that unemployed cotton operatives could be employed on the rates. Blackburn Corporation took advantage of the Act to repair and lay paving stones, build new sewers and lay new sewage pipes. They employed men at Corporation Park and at stone yards. At the same time the Relief Committee employed men outdoors on contract work.
by Gerald Schofield


The Evil S​urat 

No history of the Cotton Famine would be complete without mention made of the raw cotton from India that traded under the name Surat. Stocks of cotton held at Liverpool at the end of 1861 (20) were 622,565 bales that included 279,310 American and 295,000 of Surat. By May 1862 these had fallen to 127,000 in total. The usual consumption rate was 45,000 bales a week. In the ‘Economist’ it was stated that for the first six months of 1862 most factories would only be working a four-day week and after this they would probably stop altogether. Two thirds pay for the operatives for the first half of the year and then starvation. Prior to the Cotton Famine, Blackburn (21) used American middling cotton but as this got scarce and expensive Surat was mixed with it together with Egyptian. Cloth produced by this process was called ‘Coarse’ and was made for the Indian market. Both workers and masters disliked the raw cotton from India, the workers because it was difficult to work and they could make little money from it and the masters because it took longer to work and machinery had to be adapted for it. If they were using American cotton it would take two days or 400 hands to work it up, Surat on the other hand took 2 ½ days and 500 hands on the same machines. The raw Surat (22) was of poor quality, often dirty and mixed with foreign objects like goats’ hair and jute. Pebbles were often found amongst the cotton, one manufacturer found a stone weighing 10lb in a bale which had cost him 1s. 6d. per pound. Even when it was cleared of its impurities it was difficult to handle because it was excessively dry, brittle and short staple which made it fuzzier and more like wool. More steam was needed in the mills to try and damp it down, the spindles of the spinners and the shuttles of the weavers were often silent due to broken thread. Mr. Baker, the Factory Inspector on a visit to a spinning mill found that the spinner using American cotton could spin 15,000lbs on a certain machine; using Surat he was only spinning 7,000lb in the same time. This in itself was an improvement because when he had first started using Surat his weekly total was only 3,000lbs. As for the workers, they had not only to endure the excessive discomfort of the extra steam in the air, but a material which was forever breaking meant time spent piecing thereby losing money, when they could be spinning and weaving. The Blackburn Operatives Cotton Spinners (23) through their secretary in May 1865 sent an address to the employers in which they said “During the past few years great dissatisfaction has existed amongst the spinners who have had to work an inferior quality of cotton which has reduced their wages between ten and forty per cent. Some of the masters have agreed to pay more, even if others do no, to these we give our thanks”. To the others it was suggested that should the cotton trade again become prosperous they should not be surprised if the operatives should become restless at their employers, for the ill use of them during the American war. A letter published in the Blackburn Times on November 22nd 1862 takes to task Mr. R. H. Hutchinson, the ex-Mayor, and leading light behind the Relief Committee. As the owner of Nova Scotia Mills he was paying his hands 2s. 0d. a week, 1s. 6d. a week less than the rents he charged for his cottages. The writer claimed that anyone who tried to obtain relief was dismissed, and wondered if there was anyone who could redeem the employee’s clothing and bedding from the Pawn Brokers before the winter set in. William Billington (24) the Blackburn dialect poet and weaver, published a poem ‘Th’ Surat Weyver’ during the ‘Famine’ and it sold 14,000 copies when published as a broadsheet. Surat had such a bad name that when a publican was accused of selling ‘Surat Beer’ he became bankrupt. The Indian merchants knowing that once the war in America was over, Lancashire would return to that market were guilty of sending substandard cotton to the market at Liverpool. Surely this was understandable.
by Gerald Schofield


Before mentioning the aid received from near and far the following incident has to be referred to. On the night of the 3rd November 1862 (25) a number of men were caught poaching on land owned by J. B. Bowden of Pleasington. They were brought before the Magistrates on the 6th November, four of them were found guilty, and the rest were set free. During the case a crowd of about 2,000 people had assembled outside the court, when the gamekeepers came out the crowd became excited and followed them and their police escort up Preston New Road. At Strawberry Bank stones were thrown and the gamekeepers and escort took shelter in a nearby shop. After some time the keepers were taken back to the Town Hall where most of the windows were smashed. They then proceeded to Pleasington Hall. Here they smashed all the windows before dispersing. Later the Deputy Mayor Mr. J. B. Sturdy read the Riot Act to the assembled crowd outside the Town Hall and swore in 150 special constables, and sent a message to Preston for military aid. Fifty lancers were sent to the town but found it quiet when they arrived at 10.30. Sixteen of the rioters were brought before the court on the 12th November (26), four were discharged, one was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and the rest sent for trial at the next sessions. The Clergy and towns elders made a quick P.R. effort and there seem to have been no major objection to the cry for help. Without the money that came into the town Blackburn would have been in dire straits. Total receipts of the Relief Fund Committee amounted to £99,442, of this £26,120 came from the Mansion House Appeal (London) and a further £50, 603, 12s. 4d. from the Manchester Central Committee. Thus the towns contribution to its own fund was £22,729 1s. 9d. but even this is further reduced by taking out the labour payments of both the Corporation and the Guardians. It would be true to say that money was donated to the various parish efforts that did not show up in the fund accounts (27). The town shared in the cargo of the ‘George Griswold’ which had arrived at Liverpool in February 1863 carrying 15,000 barrels of flour, 315 boxes of bread, 500 barrels of pork, 167 bags of corn, 176 barrels of bread, 102 boxes of bacon, 3 tierces of rice and 2 bags of rice, this was a gift to the unemployed cotton operatives from the New York Produce Exchange. Other ships were to follow with such aid, a most generous act of kindness from a people fighting a civil war. The town of Port Hope (29) in Canada sent to Blackburn the following, 30 barrels of flour, 10 of beef and pork, and 5 of peas, extra effort by the chief citizens of both towns so to it no carriage charges were paid. The plight of the out of work cotton operatives brought forth an amazing amount of help from all the world, looking at the accounts of the Central Committee (30) one can see donations from the colonies which might be expected but from Brazil £4638 4s. 11d., and Java £283 16s. 8d.? Even the King of the Sandwich Islands donated £800 to the fund. As for the local rich the names of Hornby, Baines, Pilkington, and Feilden are to be found amongst the contributors to the fund. I thought that Daniel Thwaites had been a little mean with a donation of £80, only to find that he had subsidised Trinity Church efforts to the tune of £800. The Hornby’s ceased to collect their cottage rents soon after the start of the distress and issued food to their workers they had been forced to lay off and those still employed who were earning less through the bad material in use. As for Robert Hopwood Hutchinson, how could a man who still charged rent to his employees when times were bad be so generous to the rest, he first donated £200 to the Clergy to help their early efforts, then £100 to support a sewing class, and finally £1000 to the relief fund. Mrs. W. E. Gladstone who set up classes at her own expense, and then Mrs. G. Potter of Mytton Hall who set up classes, and subsidised both them and the kitchens. The clergy and their wives who started the relief must be given special thanks. And finally, those fortunate to have work, for it was common for them to share their looms and frames with those less well off.
By Gerald Schofield

 And Finally

It was said that the Lancashire Cotton Operatives were firmly on the side of the ‘North’ in the American Civil War, in that even in their misery they supported the cause of the emancipation of the slaves. This may have been true in other cotton towns, but in Blackburn the majority were on the side of the ‘South’. It was said in the town that the real object of the ‘North’ was the retention of the ‘Union’, and that slavery was a side issue (31). On the 29th July 1863 two years into the war, and after a miserable winter in the town, a meeting held in the Town Hall called on the British Government to co-operate with other European states in recognising the ‘Southern Confederacy’, they even talked of the South’s heroic struggle to obtain their rights. In October 1884 an address was sent to the American people through the Governor of New York asking for an end to the war and recognition of the ‘Confederacy’. The press in Blackburn even hoped that Lincoln would be defeated in the 1864 Presidential Election. On the 13th December (32) in the same year a black man called Watson was to give a lecture in one of the town’s halls on the slave question. A disorderly crowd assembled outside the doors, and Mr. Watson was jostled as he entered. Having got inside the hall he began to denounce President Davis and General Lee, praising President Lincoln. Hissing and groans repeatedly interrupted him, he then began to sing the songs that slaves would sing in the fields whilst picking cotton. When he returned to his lecture he was continually asked for another song. The meeting broke up in great disorder. Not much gratitude there to the Americans of the ‘North’ who and still were helping to sustain the cotton districts.

The word famine conjures up the picture of thousands of people dying of starvation as in the Irish Potato Famine, and those of Africa too often seen on out T.V. This never happened in Blackburn, there was mass hardship but even in the terrible December of 1862 (33) just over 25% of the cotton operatives were working full time. They were earning fewer wages than in the good times due to the poor material they were using. The Blackburn Standard reported in January 1863 (34), that the town’s health was satisfactory, and there were no symptoms of sickness that was the usual companion of want. Then the word famine was perhaps used in connection with the supply of raw material. It is true that supplies from America were lost, but partial replacement came from India, Egypt, and even Brazil (35). That it became expensive is for sure, Surat that had been sold for as little as 10d. per lb was towards the end of 1864 making 25d. and the Indian bale weighed 385lb to the American 447lb. One wonders why the unemployed generally accepted the situation; there were isolated disturbances but never as the riots of the past. It was only after they had drawn their savings from the bank, sold what few valuables they had, and pawned their clothes and bedding that they went to the Relief Committee or the Guardians. There seems to have been a hope that the war in America would soon end, and that things would get better. During the famine they seemed to keep faith with the town, though it was said that 2,000 left for other towns and even further to the colonies. The employers (36) were optimistic for the readily adapted their machines to the new raw cotton and new mills being built at the start of the famine were completed. Even older mills had extensions added. Another 10,000 looms were added to 30,000 in place at the beginning of the crisis, and the spindles increased from one million to a million and a half. When trade did improve Blackburn still looked on Cotton as King, and still wove mainly for the Indian market, no lessons seem to have been learned from the famine. This was to prove a disaster to the town in later years. By using the labour of the unemployed cotton workers the Corporation were able to have built two miles of brick sewers, and almost twenty miles of sewer pipes were laid, they even managed to pave many of the streets in the town. One man who made many visit to the town during the bad years was Edwin Waugh (37), a dialect poet who was a correspondent for the Manchester Times and Examiner he often repeated stories of life in the town, and his visits to the Relief Committee are well recorded. I however like the following. On one of his visits he witnessed the despatch of twenty unemployed men to help in building new drains, and dykes at the scene of a disaster in Lincolnshire where vast floods near Kings Lynn had engulfed 32,000 acres of farmland. The men were eager to go being offered the princely pay of 3s. 4d. a day in place of the normal shilling. The chosen men breakfasted at the Soup Kitchen after which each man received four pounds of bread and cheese for his days consumption, they were given one shilling each, to which one of the committee men added 3d. Another official handed a letter to the few men who could read and write, desiring that they write back to the committee after their arrival. As their train steamed out of Blackburn Station the men sang ‘There’s a good time coming’. Blackburn clearly liked to look on the bright side, haven’t we always.
By Gerald Schofield


1. The 1861 Census
2. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
Chapter One - Hard Times
3. President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce
4. Blackburn Statndard, 25th December 1861
5. As Above
6. Blackburn Standard, 18th December 1861
7. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
8. Blackburn Standard, 12th February 1862
9. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
10. The Blackburn Standard, 18th February 1863
11. The Blackburn Standard, 2nd May 1863
12. The Blackburn Standard, 3rd June 1863
13. The Blackburn Standard, 30th September 1863
14. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
Chapter Two - Work for Idle Hands
15. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
16. The Blackburn Standard, April 2nd 1862
17. The Blackburn Standard, 9th July 1862
18. The Blackburn Times, 24th October 1863
19. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
Chapter Three - The Evil Surat
20. The Blackburn Standard, January 1st 1862
21. 'The Hungry Mills'
22. Factory Inspectors Report in The Blackburn Standard, 3rd June 1863
23. The Blackburn Standard, 24th May 1865
24. 'Songs of the People'
Chapter Four - Help
25. The Blackburn Standard, 12th November 1862
26. The Blackburn Standard, 19th November 1862
27. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
28. The Blackburn Times, 14th February 1863
29. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
30. 'The Facts of the Cotton Famine'
31. 'Support for Secession'
Chapter Five - And Finally
32. The Blackburn Standard, 14th December 1864
33. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
34. The Blackburn Standard, January 14th 1863
35. 'The Hungry Mills'
36. 'The History of the Distress in Blackurn 1861-1965'
37. 'The Hungry Mills'
Primary Sources (microfilm)
The Blackburn Standard
The Blackburn Patriot
The Blackburn Times
Manchester Weekly Times

Secondary Sources
The History of the Cotton Famine, Arthur Arnold, 1864
The Facts of the Cotton Famine, John Watts Ph.D., 1866
Support for Secession, Mary Ellison, 1948
The Lancashire Cotton Industry, Mary B. Rose
History of the Distress in Blackburn, William Gourlay, 1865
Illustrated London News, November 1862
Songs of the People
The Cotton Trade in Great Britain, James A. Man, 1860
The Hungry Mills, Norman Longmate