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The Bicentenary 1817 - 2017

The History of the Pentrich Revolution - The Causes /contd

Napoleonic Wars (1799 – 1815)

The initial stages of the Industrial Revolution had much to do with larger military forces—it became easy to mass-produce weapons and thus to equip significantly larger forces. The UK served as the largest single manufacturer of armaments in this period, supplying most of the weapons used by the Coalition powers throughout the conflicts

The UK had 747,670 men under arms between 1792 and 1815, and had about 250,000 personnel in the Royal Navy, all of whom needed to be armed and clothed. After the war ended the production of weapons and military clothing was significantly reduced, causing a loss of work in these fields

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821After the end of the Napoleonic Wars those British soldiers who survived found an economic crisis at home and very few jobs to return to. To make matters worse, in 1815 the British Government passed the Corn Laws, which levied taxes on imported grain in order to protect the interests of the landowners. Wheat was in short supply following several bad harvests, and the price of bread became prohibitive for the working classes. At this time all


Responsibility for poor relief fell on the parish authorities; the Speenhamland system, dating from 1795, was a ‘top-up system' based on the price of a loaf of bread and the number of children in the household. In practice wages of those in work, especially in agriculture, tended to remain low, as employers left it to the parish authorities to augment starvation wages.

Political Reform

The French Revolution 1789-1799The French Revolution inspired reformers in Britain as much as it frightened the British Crown and landowning classes. It is worth remembering that the Hanoverian dynasty, which provided Britain with its monarchs from 1714 to 1901, was only rarely popular, and was frequently criticised for its lack of understanding of the British people. Anti-government cartoons in the 1790s often included the most scabrous, even treasonable, representations of King George III.

The French Revolution inspired reformers in Britain...

In that decade, a number of political movements emerged to press for parliamentary reform. Some, like the London Corresponding Society, were organised and directed by skilled craftsmen and depended on the support of working people. They embraced political objectives drawn directly from French examples. They wanted to replace royal and aristocratic rule with representative government based on the Rights of Man - the influential political pamphlet by Thomas Paine.

From 1794, radical political leaders could be arrested without trial.

William Pitt the Younger 1759-1806The government of William Pitt the Younger, already at war with revolutionary France, was thoroughly alarmed by the prospect that revolutionary ideas might be exported to Britain, and it responded to these ideas with political repression. From 1794, radical political leaders could be arrested without trial. In 1795, during a period of high food prices and severe public agitation, stones were thrown at the King's carriage as he went to Westminster to open a new session of parliament. In the fevered atmosphere of the time, such actions could easily be interpreted as portending revolution. Within weeks, a parliament dominated by fearful landowners had passed legislation that redefined the law of treason, and that made it almost impossible to hold public meetings in support of reform.

The Pentrich Link

The Pentrich Village SignBy 1817 the Industrial Revolution was gathering momentum and the population was growing, especially in urban areas. With the increase and movement of population the government was no longer representative of the people. Reform was being sought as the growing industrial areas of Leeds & Manchester had no MP’s to represent them and Cornwall had 44 MP’s.

Thomas Bacon, a war veteran and Framework knitter living in Pentrich, was active in the reform meetings. He travelled to various reform meetings around the Midlands and the North and reported back that an insurrection was planned, men from Yorkshire, Nottingham and elsewhere were planning to march on London and overthrow the government. After the march the call for reform was temporarily silenced and it was to be almost 20 years before reform was achieved.

The Industrial Revolution

Cromford was the Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Cromford Mill Mill was Sir Richard Arkwright's first and most important cotton mill, at which he pioneered the development of his water frame spinning machine and revolutionised the manufacture of cloth, thereby laying one of the cornerstones of the Industrial Revolution.

Sir Richard Arkwright 1732-1792 began his career in the Nottingham area, but in 1771 he and his partners moved to Derbyshire to take advantage of the potential water-power available from the streams and rivers there. Cromford was chosen and the water from Bonsall Brook and Cromford Sough (a lead-mine drain) were utilised. A disadvantage of Cromford was poor communications and it was not until the opening of the Cromford Canal in 1793 that Arkwright had a cheap and easy way of transporting both raw materials and finished goods to and from the site.

The first mill here was built in 1771 and a further one added in 1776. Arkwright developed further patents and the mills were extended until 1791, when they reached their greatest extent.

By 1840 the mill was out of date and had been overtaken by the steam-powered mills in Lancashire and the Masson Mill upstream. The second mill was burnt down in 1890 and only the original mill survives, along with some secondary buildings such as the Counting House.

This newly mechanised industry replaced the old trades of the framework knitters and the metal workers whose trades had already been cut by the returning of the troops, they no longer had to produce the uniforms and weapons for the Military and Navy, this in turn caused the wages of skilled workers to drop and working conditions began to deteriorate.

Story courtesy of Sylvia Mason (Pentrich Revolution Genealogy)

Some images from Wikipedia (Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License)