TThe Society & Cultures of Manchester









Society & Culture









This chapter focuses on the changes in social structure and other social phenomena in Manchester and its region during the period. The purpose of the chapter is to set the economic changes into a social context, and so those social phenomena which have particular relevance to the world of work are emphasised. The chapter opens by discussing the contentious question of the demography of Manchester during the late eighteenth century. It goes on to look at the urban social structure, and illustrates how different proxy measures can provide the historian with very different results. It concludes by illustrating some of those social problems which accompanied urban industrialisation and demographic expansion in the Manchester experience.


The Population of Manchester


The demography of Manchester has not been studied in detail, but a number of enumerations were made during the latter part of the eighteenth century. [1] The table below is an effort o determine the extent of inward migration during the period and illustrate the extent of the growth of the town. It is not a definitive statement of the changes in Manchester's population during the period, but should be regarded as impressionistic and giving an indication of the potential extent of inward migration.













Baptisms in period





Burials in period





Natural Increase





Migration & under-recording





%age increase (annual)





% migration &c (annual)








Table 6.1 Population Increase in Manchester & Salford 1757 to 1801.


Table 6.1 shows the extraordinary increase in population in the town over the course of the half century. Until the widespread innovation of the new spinning machinery in the late 1770s, population increase was relatively modest, at just over 2% per annum, probably largely accounted for by inward migration. Between 1774 and 1788, the rate of annual increase approached 6%, and the rate of inward migration had doubled. As young people had come into the town, the annual surplus of baptisms over burials also increased, generating a higher natural increase in population. Between 1788 and 1801, the rate of annual increase tailed off to just under 5.25%, and the migration rate fell by 0.75%, reflecting the trade recession of the mid-1790s. The urban growth and migration rates given by Williamson for the latter part of the period are significantly lower than those in Table 6.1. For the period 1776-1801, Williamson's average annual urban population increase is roughly 2.1%, the Manchester figure was more of the order of 5.6%. The urban migration rate for the period, per Williamson, was 1.3%, for Manchester it was 3.7%. Manchester was, therefore, growing at a faster rate than the "mean" town in Williamson's sample during the period. [2]

The baptismal registers for the Manchester region show an enormous increase in baptisms (and often a marked but not commensurate increase in burials) during the last quarter of the century. This is partly the result of earlier marriages. The work of Wrigley and Schofield shows that during the period 1750-1774, the average age at first marriage, for women, was 24.6. [3] In Bury, one of the manufacturing townships identified as being significant in the Manchester region, during the period 1754-55, the average age at first marriage for women was 20.3 This difference of 4.3 years could increase the potential number of children women could bear by two or more, thus increasing the gross reproduction rate in the region, if the Bury average age at marriage were replicated throughout the region. For men in Bury, the average age at first marriage was 21.2, which probably corresponds with the ending of a seven-year apprenticeship. [4]


The table suggests that inward migration was probably the largest factor in population increase in the period. This factor too could increase a town's natural fertility increase. Williamson notes that "the immigrants who arrived in large numbers were young adults who had two attributes: they were in the age groups least vulnerable to the high mortality environment, and they were in the age groups with the highest fertility rates." [5] Contemporaries were aware of this phenomenon, and ascribed the same causes to the changes in Manchester's demographic regime. [6]

In the Manchester region, for those born in peripheral townships, there appears to be a distinct migration pattern. Bamford's experience is characteristic of that of many of his contemporaries. Bamford left his native Middleton with his family, his father having been offered a job at Manchester Workhouse. Bamford worked intermittently in Manchester, Middleton and a number of other townships around Manchester during his early working life, even spending some time as a seaman. Such "spasmodic migrantcy" was not uncommon, and may have accelerated, particularly for women, during the period of factory employment. Mary Osbaldestone, of Blackburn, had a succession of domestic service jobs during the 1780s and early 1790s, then she had a nine month period of work at a Manchester cotton factory, followed by a six month job at a factory in Bury. She then spent between 2 and 26 weeks in the following places: Manchester, Blackburn, Manchester, Blackburn and Warrington, returning to factory employment, this time in Chorley for two months, before returning to Blackburn for 3 weeks, thence to Manchester for 4 months, after which followed a two year period during which she "lived in a variety of places and worked at different factories." [7] Most people seem to have lodged with families, sometimes with kin, during this period of high geographical mobility. When an individual married, the couple was likely to set up a household, renting a cottage or a cellar in town.


The Social Structure


In his important synopsis of eighteenth century society, Rule presents a threefold social hierarchy. [8] At the top are the Upper Class, the aristocracy, the moneyed gentry, and those at Court. The Middling People consisted of large farmers, professionals and tradesmen. The Lower Orders consisted of the rest, essentially those who had only their own (manual) labour upon which to rely for sustenance, or those who were dependent on such a person.


Rule's model is, of course, a simplification of social realities, and even within particular social groups, there were important status differences, rivalries and special interests. Rule's model is not an appropriate analytical tool to facilitate study of Manchester's social structure during the period. Rule's Upper Class did not live in Manchester during the period, and played very little part in its administration. By the 1790s certain quarters of Manchester, St Ann's Square being perhaps the most notable example, had developed a reputation as being fashionable, but amongst only the local monied classes, who lived on their rents and annuities. Whilst the local gentry might be amongst these people, most gentry were like Thomas Percival of Royton, who lived amongst his tenants outside the town but made occasional attempts to influence urban affairs. Rule's Middling Sort includes farmers, professionals and tradesmen, the farmers, of course, did not live within the confines of the town. "Tradesmen" is far too broad a designation to use in an analysis of the social structure of eighteenth century Manchester because it would include such a diverse mix of individuals as Thomas Touchet, John Entwistle and Richard Carr. [9] The Lower Orders, in Rule's scale, would have included most of the population of Manchester and its region. Once again, it is necessary to separate those who worked, especially in skilled employment (the calico printers of the 1790s being amongst the most skilled of workers during the period), and those whose subsistence was precarious and uncertain.


In contrast to Rule's model of the social order ,this chapter posits a five-fold social structure for the analysis of Manchester during the eighteenth century, justified by the clear differences of life-experience and of cultural values, of these social groups. The main determinant of social status, reflecting the reality of the period, is the source of an individual's income or wealth. The inevitable consequence of this definition of social status, is that women are left in a marginalised position: to some extent the generalisations associated with each of the social groups do not apply to them as women (their freedom as social actors was circumscribed by law and culture), and, for most women, their social status would be determined by that of their husband or father, only a small number of, predominantly widows, having sufficient social independence to have social status in their own right. Davidoff and Hall's seminal work starts "from the premise that identity is gendered and that the organisation of sexual difference is central to the social world." [10] The weakness, therefore, of social-structural models such as that of Rule, and the one detailed in this paragraph, is that, to some extent, they sideline the social "place" of women.


The five-fold "Manchester Model" of social structure is tabulated below. At the top of the Town's social hierarchy are The Gentry. These include both those with landed estates and the clergy, who shared many of their cultural characteristics, coming from a similar social background, and some of their social characteristics as well, although not usually having the wealth of the heads of gentry households. The Gentry, as a social group, were predominantly extra-mural, but were significant players in the society and politics of Manchester, by virtue of their magistracy, wealth, and traditional gubernatorial role. The Mercantile Elite were growing in numbers during the period. It included those merchants with international trading connections, and often with large capitals invested in their trading activities. There is some evidence that this group had begun to buy into the local gentry by purchasing estates from impecunious gentlemen, and marrying the daughters of the gentry. Manchester's political elite, the activities of which are described in Politics, Power and Protest..., were almost entirely drawn from amongst this group, as were Wadsworth and Mann's "Large Capitalists". The Middling sort included those traders (the largest group) without international connections, with more modest capitals, operating predominantly in the local market, as well as retailers and those people who were the "new professionals", the teachers, doctors, and others. [11] The Labouring Poor consisted of those largely in employment, or acting as small-scale employers on their own account. This group could be described as "fragmented", as it includes both independent artisans and labourers, who's wage-rates and experience of labour would be quite different. The Hopeless Poor were those unable to work, through age, mental or physical infirmity, single mothers with young children, and similar persons.


Social Group




The Gentry

Gentry & Clergy, largely extra-mural

Mercantile Elite

The largest of the merchants: having London and international connections.

Middling Sort

Smaller traders, with warehouses & local connections. Schoolteachers, Inn & shopkeepers, those with small capital invested in business.

Labouring Poor

Those with regular manual employment. Perhaps occasionally employing servants or journeymen.

Hopeless Poor

Those regularly unable to work. Single mothers, the unsupported aged, handicapped, etc.




Table 6.2 The Social Structure of Manchester: Eighteenth Century


In terms of the proportion of the population in each social group, a preliminary analysis using trade directories and the enumeration of families suggests that there was some consistency between the years 1773 and 1788. The Gentry accounted for less than 1%, the Mercantile Elite and Middling Sort accounted for about 30% of families, and the two groups of The Poor constituted the remaining 70%. [12] The coverage of the 1800 directory is far less socially exclusive than that of previous years (and in many cases records the dwelling place of an individual in an entry separate from their trade entry). The 1800 trade directory gives details of perhaps 40% of Manchester's families, but lists every slop shop, tavern and shop in the town.


Tables such as those presented above can misleadingly create an impression of a static status quo. Such stasis was not a feature of the social world of Manchester during the period. Occupational and social mobility were important features of the social system. Whilst there was a correlation between the occupation of one's father, and occupational expectations, considerable occupational movement was not infrequent, and social movement, whilst less frequent, was not unknown. For the first six years of Bamford's life, his father was employed in the following occupations: muslin weaver, proprietor of jenny spinning business, school master, weaver, manager of Manchester workhouse cotton manufactory, and governor of the workhouse. His mother was the daughter of a shoemaker, and her two sisters married a Rochdale tradesman and a Manchester woollen draper.[13] This study has shown that such geographical and occupational mobility was by no means unusual in the region during the period.


Literacy and Society


Did Manchester have a literate culture during the period, and were there gender differences in literacy rates? Table 6.3 below shows differential literacy rates amongst employees of different trade sectors, and their wives. It is based on the traditional proxy determinant of literacy rates, the ability to sign the marriage register, which has been comprehensively criticised as an indication of literacy, according to a variety of criteria, but remains "the only available measure for statistical analysis... whether people signed their names or put their marks to documents." [14]


Trade Sector










Total all sectors










Agriculture & Food























Table 6.3 Literacy Rates by Trade Sector. Manchester 1755-1799. [15]


The Table shows that literacy rates are slightly higher than the national average, for the mid-1750s: "in the years after 1753... the marriage register figures reveal about 60 per cent of grooms signing, compared to about 40 per cent of brides." [16]  Women's literacy rates were less than men's in all trade sectors during the period, and there was a "collapse of literacy" amongst women by the end of the eighteenth century. There was also a notable reduction of literacy on the part of men during the period, from almost 70% to under 50%, but women's literacy fell to almost a quarter of its mid 1750s level. Barry suggests that this may the consequence of the reduction in literate commercial employment in the towns, and an increase in manual occupations. As Table 5.1 shows, there was a consistent 50% of the young adult male population employed in largely manual textile jobs both at the beginning and the end of the period. The movements within the structure shown in this table do not suggest an decrease in literate employment in the town. Efforts to explain the collapse of female literacy are complicated by the lack of availability of occupational figures, even ones as flawed as those provided for men in the marriage registers.


Sanderson has suggested reasons for the low and declining literacy rates of men and women employed in Lancashire's industrialising areas. Firstly he suggests a lack of funding for free schooling. In Manchester there were a growing number of schools touting for business during the period, particularly by the 1790s, but these were, indeed, fee-paying. There was a Sunday School movement in the town by the opening of the 1790s, but it is not possible to determine what impact they had on literacy. Secondly, population growth outstripped school places, especially in the free and subsidised sector, and this was certainly the case in Manchester. Thirdly, the growth of child factory labour reduced the time available for children's schooling. [17] However, Sanderson probably overstates the importance of formal schooling as a determinant of primary literacy. It is likely that maternal literacy was the single most important determinant of learning to read. Bamford does not explicitly state that his mother taught him to read, but he implies it. [18] The collapse of women's literacy in Manchester was therefore likely to result in a spiral of decline, whereby the literacy of the next generation declined still further, until another source of literacy training emerged.


Literacy has largely been dismissed by historians as an important factor in the early industrial revolution. Mitch suggests that "literacy would be virtually required for the conduct of professional occupations; valuable for those involved in keeping records and accounts; and less useful for those involved in more manual occupations." [19]The Culture of the Manchester Region


"Culture" as a topic of academic study has undergone a metamorphosis in the last thirty years. It has changed from the uncritical recording of "customs and pastimes" of antiquarians, to the study of how the shared but unspoken perceptions of the social and moral order came to influence action and behaviour, often in quite subtle ways, in other words: "culture influences how individuals behave towards other individuals and also what is expected from them". [20] Culture is, therefore, the foundation upon which social relations are built: it is the, frequently unarticulated, cultural factors which influence or determine how different groups relate to each other, and provides a common bond for members of each "cultural group". In the context of the study of the transformation of the society and economy of Manchester during the second half of the eighteenth century, a study of the cultures of the different social groups, and the changes experienced by these cultures, can help inform our understanding of these changes, and how these affected the different social groups in the town and region.


Methodologically, of course, it is difficult to "recreate" a culture from the often fragmentary sources left behind, especially as much of the strength of cultural assumptions and values lay in the very fact that they were unspoken and therefore not explicitly recorded. One of the most successful methods used by historians to study culture has been to use sources dealing with incidents in which two or more social groups, and therefore cultures, came into conflict. The demands and arguments of all sides to a dispute can highlight the implicit cultural assumptions of each of the groups involved. In such circumstances "the sources are valued for information which the writers were scarcely aware they were setting down and which was incidental to the purpose of their testimony". [21] It would, however, be facile to attribute the perceived value system of a single individual, as revealed in a written source, to a whole social group, and one of the most remarkable historical studies of a well-documented system of beliefs and values, makes explicit the point that it is likely to be "deviant", and not characteristic of any peer group. [22]


Burke, the parent of the modern study of popular culture, asserted that "The major economic, social and political changes of the period had their consequences for culture." [23] It is therefore important to study both the cultures of Manchester which existed before the Industrial Revolution, these cultures presumably in some way facilitating the economic, industrial and social innovations which occurred, and also the culture which emerged during the period, in response to the changes which were taking place. [24] The chapter assumes the existence of cultural differences between the social groups in and around the town, and also, to some extent, between men and women. The emphasis of the chapter is on those aspects of culture which have a relation to the sphere of work, or social relations.




The Deference of the Manchester Poor


One concept much-used by historians of early modern society is that of deference. In the deferential culture there were "encrusted rituals of bowing and scraping, head-baring, standing, curtseying, and knuckling foreheads". [25] Deference involved a show of subservience to those who were, in some way, social superiors. If a culture of deference existed in late eighteenth century Manchester, this could have facilitated the changes in industrial processes and economic structure which took place during the period, such changes being innovated by the socially superior mercantile/manufacturing group, and involving the acquiescence of the artisanal and labouring poor groups. If such a culture were absent, or ceased to be a feature of the social and cultural landscape of the region during the period, then other means would have been needed to secure compliance with the changes which took place.


A culture of deference, or at least acquiescence of the established status quo was expected around the start of the period. John Byrom, a member of a wealthy mercantile family, which had acquired social status and respectability by the opening of the half-century wrote a poem called "The Happy Workman's Song". [26] Written in the first person from the mouth of a "happy workman", this is a document which reveals the cultural assumptions of a person of Byrom's class (he stood between the mercantile and gentry classes), and shows how that class believed the labouring classes should perceive the social order. The poor workman should not be envious of his economic superiors, "I envy not them that have thousands of pounds / That sport o'er the country with horses and hounds", nor of his social superiors "I grudge not the gentlefolk dressen so fine / At their gold and their silver I never repine", and certain matters were beyond the wit of the workman, and ought to be left to his betters to resolve "With quarrels o' th' country, and matters of state / With Tories and Whigs I ne'er puzzle my pate [head]". The social structure took its legitimacy from being divinely ordained "Whatever, in short, my condition may be / 'Tis God that appoints it, as far as I see / And I'm sure I can never do better than He". Byrom therefore suggests that God has ordained the social hierarchy, and the poor ought to get on with fulfilling their role within the hierarchy, and that role precludes any involvement in political action, and implies deference towards those who have been allotted a loftier role.


The local gentry maintained some of the old rural practices of patronage and deference: "On Wednesday last Thomas Samuel Mynshull, Esq. of Chorlton Hall... came to his Age. The Morning was ushered in with ringings of Bells and other Demonstrations of Joy, and an Entertainment was provided at the Hall for all Comers and Goers". [27] For Manchester, though, such rituals could not have had the significance they had in the countryside where the events and rites of passage of the inhabitants of the "Big House" could have an important impact on clients and others: on the nature and conditions of tenancies, the implementation of manorial law, the law of settlement and the administration of poor relief.


The Reverend John Clayton, who in social status was on a par with the gentry, sought gratitude from the poor in response to the charitable endeavours of their betters: "the Poor have scarce any Wants which have been absolutely overlooked; and have met with so many generous Friends and Patrons, that it is Matter of Wonder to find Necessity still so general amongst us". [28] Once again, the hand of God was behind the social and economic status quo: "The Works of our respective Callings are to every Individual the Ordinance of God; the special Way of his Appointment" . [29] There is, therefore, evidence of an expectation of deference and gratitude on the part of the gentry from the lower orders, at the start of the period under discussion.


Such an expectation of gratitude remained throughout the period. In 1793 during the depression caused by the onset of the wars with France, the price of food increased, and reformers had started to propagandise in the town. The Mercury reminded the Poor that "The care that has been taken to alleviate their distress, does honour to the town, and we doubt not they have gratitude enough to think so." [30]

William Tunnicliffe was author of an early directory of the counties of Stafford, Chester, and Lancashire, in 1788, and he pays his thanks for the assistance of "the Nobility, Gentry &c" in the words "With gratitude for your generous subscription to, and encouragement of the following work, permit me, with a heart overflowing with a sense of your kindness, to embrace this opportunity of expressing my great obligations to you for the same." [31] This appears to be the language of deference, and is used by the author, who as a writer and surveyor, ranks above the level of an artisan, but below that of a merchant/ manufacturer; the deference is in favour of "the Nobility [and] Gentry", his social superiors. Tunnicliffe, however, may have had an agenda of his own in deploying the language of deference: at the end of his directory is the following advertisement "Wanted, by the Author, W. TUNNICLIFFE (who humbly presumes he is qualified for such Undertaking) the Place of Steward to a Nobleman or Gentleman". Tunnicliffe's project, the publication of the directory, and his use of the language of deference, may therefore have been coloured by his desire to secure employment.


One of the few first-person accounts of someone of less exalted social status from the Manchester region during the period was that written by Samuel Bamford, who discusses his relations with a number of different masters, and suggests that some of those relations had an air of deference. Writing about one of his first masters he says "it was a pleasure for me to do anything which pleased my master, considering also that it was my duty to do so in every lawful thing". [32]  Of later masters, he says that he "used my best endeavours to please my employers, and to promote their interest in every way which my humble condition permitted". [33] In recognition of Bamford's efforts, these masters soon increased his wages by two shillings a week and "This was a great encouragement to me, since it gave me to understand in a most pleasing manner, that my endeavours were appreciated". [34] Bamford deploys the language of deference, but once again, a reward for his behaviour had been given. This suggests that whatever deference there was in Manchester was pragmatic: it was used in pursuit of a perceived gain from social superiors.


In her work on female servants in London during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Seleski virtually debunks the myth of deference, and suggests, very tentatively, that some of her evidence "supports the contention that servants contested middle-class culture on a daily basis as they looked to retain some independence in the workplace". [35] As regards Manchester during the period under study, there is considerable evidence that, not only was there no culture of deference especially in the realm of employment and relations between masters and men, but that there was an active culture of subordination.


Returning to Bamford, who was deferential towards his masters when it suited him, and when the economic rewards justified his subservience, he relates an occasion when as a young warehouseman, not yet twenty years old, one of his daily tasks was to polish the boots of "Mr W", the manager of the warehouse. He undertook this task, in expectation of a monetary rewards, although he "felt this to be an encroachment on my condition of service", that is on the customary responsibilities of such a position. [36] Matters came to a head in the following fashion, "And so when one morning he ordered me to carry a slop basin full of milk... I refused, and told him, once for all, I would neither clean tops nor black bottoms any more. He looked aghast and horrified by my audacious rebellion, but finding me neither abashed nor tractable, he only intimated that Mr Robinson would have to be informed of my insubordination". [37] The latter was probably not told, and some time later Mr W employed Bamford on his own account, suggesting that Mr W either appreciated that he had overstepped the mark of reasonableness, or that there was scope for cultural negotiation in the workplace.


That such "negotiation" did take place is confirmed by a number of settlement returns for Blackburn for the period. [38] In the 1760s, Richard Clarke, wove for his uncle, John Nield, in Blackburn. "occasionally left Nield upon a small Quarrell but returned to him soon afterwards... at the expiration of four or five years this Examinant having had a slight Quarrell with Nield departed from his service", but returned when Nield agreed to pay him 4 wages per year. In the late 1780s, Hugh Taylor was apprenticed to Thomas Hale, a Bury cotton weaver. Taylor "served his Master near eight years at which time his Master used him not well and he this Examinant ran away", but returned to him after ten weeks. Such quarrelling was also a feature of the early factories. John Cottam was an apprentice at the Peels' Blackburn calico print works, where "in Consequence of a trifling Quarrel between him and Mr Berry one of the Overlookers of the Workmen at Churchbank he... quitted the service of Messrs Peel. [39]

There are two pamphlets surviving from Manchester during the period, written by the elite, specifically by a clergyman and by a gentleman, members of what Society in Manchester has described as "The Gentry", for the poor. The first one, Clayton's pamphlet of 1755, is an early salvo in the campaign for the Reformation of Manners. The second one, anonymously published by Dorning Rasbotham, a local magistrate, is a reasoned argument against rioting and destroying spinning machinery, which contrasts strongly with other arguments against machine-breaking, which stressed the likelihood of violence of legal redress. [40]


Barry suggests that the writing of such pamphlets suggests "a process of negotiation rather than domination, even if one side lacks a direct voice." [41] In the context of late eighteenth century Manchester, such a direct voice was not lacking. The Chapter on Manchester Society has shown that during the 1750s up to two thirds of (young) males were literate. Ale house discussion, as Clayton lamented, covered national and local political issues, which the gentry and middling sort sought to reserve as their domain. But, as part of the process of negotiation, members of the poor sometimes put their side of an argument into print. Tim Bobbin's "Shudehill Fight" must be regarded as a statement of the case of the poor in the debate following the aftermath of the 1757 grain riots, which involved members of the gentry and the middling sort advocating their (largely conciliatory, at least after the event) cases in the local press. Shuttle's "Smallware Weavers' Apology" was largely written to reassure nervous masters who were suspicious of the purpose of the weavers' society. Stot's mocking "A Reply to the Friendly Advice to the Poor", was a very polemical response to Clayton's patronising "Friendly Advice". The poor did not lack a voice in the Manchester of the 1750s, and were able to articulate it in the printed word. The situation had changed by the 1790s, with the conspicuous decline of both male and female literacy, and a far more hotly contested and violent terrain of debate, where the rapprochement of the gentry and the urban middling sort left very little scope for the "negotiation" which had characterised Manchester a half-century earlier.


Thompson posits the existence of an "equilibrium" between patricians and plebs. "Grossly unequal as this relationship was, the gentry nevertheless needed some kind of support from 'the poor'... They maintained their traditional culture; they secured a partial arrest of the work-discipline of early industrialism... and they enjoyed liberties of pushing about the streets and jostling, gaping and huzzaing, pulling down the houses of obnoxious bakers or Dissenters, and a generally riotous and unpoliced disposition". [42]All the above were features of the life of the Manchester poor, and in exercising these activities, they were variously supported by members of higher social groups.


Their struggles against the enforcement of industrial work-discipline was supported by an anonymous individual in 1780, who sought the banning of machines used for cotton manufacture, to allow a return to traditional practices of work. [43] The consequences of continuing to introduce such machines into the process of spinning cotton could only result in either the mass destruction of the machines by the aggrieved poor (and this was already happening at the time of writing), or, somewhat improbably, the emigration, en masse, of the unemployed poor to Ireland. The gentleman doctor, Ferriar, recommends ways of averting "The prevalence of fevers among persons employed in cotton mills", and says "It is greatly to be wished, that the custom of working all night could be avoided". [44] There were even divisions within the mercantile classes arising from some of the perceived excesses of the new industrial discipline. An advertisement in the Manchester Mercury bemoans the practice of Sunday working which "is the case with many spinners of cotton, printers, dyers and others employed in the manufactures of this town and neighbourhood". [45] The advertisement went on to say that when challenged about their Sunday working "masters, who employ their servants to work on the Sabbath-day, urge the necessities of trade, and servants so employed urge the necessities of their families".


This represents something of a reversal of the debate of thirty years previously, when the indolence of the labouring and artisanal classes was censured by the gentry. Clayton ascribes most of the poverty of the poor to their idleness, which had become enshrined in custom, at the time he wrote: "common Custom has established so many Holy-days, that few of our Manufacturing Work-folks are closely and regularly employed above two third Parts of their Time". [46] Joseph Stot's scathing (and decidedly un-deferential) response to Clayton's tract, concedes the idleness of the Poor, but ascribes it to the desire to emulate the wealthier sections of the town "Such is the Temper of my Countrymen, all England over, that most Persons, who can maintain themselves by working half their Time, will play the rest; but this is Pride, not Idleness." [47] The idleness of the Poor remained a feature of Manchester life even to the end of the century, Eden wrote "it is to be observed, that they rarely work on Mondays, and that many of them keep holiday, two or three days in the week." [48]

The culture of the lower orders of late eighteenth century Manchester was not, then, deferential. There was, however, a social conflict between the three macro-groups in society, and this conflict, whilst not being resolved, especially during the period in question, was contained by a process of social negotiation. This process sometimes manifested itself violently: for instance when the gentry shot the bread rioters in the 1750s, or the poor burned down Grimshaw's factory in the 1790s, but what is perhaps most interesting is the relative paucity of violence as a feature of social negotiation in the Manchester area, in comparison to regions of continental Europe.


The Middle Class Project 


One of the features which grieved contemporaries from higher up the social scale was the leisure preference of the poor. Such a preference existed in Manchester, for some sections of the working poor at least throughout the period. Clayton complained "common Custom has established so many Holy-days, that few of our Manufacturing Work-folks are closely and regularly employed above two third Parts of their Time", [49] with the consequence that they fell deeper into poverty. Forty years later, another commentator said of manufacturing workers "they rarely work on Mondays, and that many of them keep holiday, two or three days in the week.[50] Radcliffe commenced his career as a manufacturer with his savings made as a weaver, but he was more diligent than those described by Clayton and Eden, and such diligent workers must have existed, alongside those who preferred alternative activities to work. An apologist for the poor suggests that "Such is the Temper of my Countrymen, all England over, that most Persons, who can maintain themselves by working half their Time, will play the rest... they work as long as the Product of their Labour will bring in enough for the Expences of the current Week. [51] The suggestion is that the culture of the labouring poor was one of subsistence, not of accumulation or improvement. The new factory discipline, created, as it were, in the laboratory of the Derbyshire and Yorkshire countryside, using unwanted, surplus children from the urban sprawl of London, and the wives of miners and weavers, did not fit well with the independent, spasmodic culture of work which existed amongst the male labouring poor in Manchester.


The domestic ideology of the middle class has generated much historical debate. The "middle-class project" of the early nineteenth century had a dual aim: the re-creation of a domestic ideology which relocated the middle-class woman in the home, and the reformation of the manners of the poor. Davidoff and Hall describe the project thus: "One of the strongest strands binding together [the disparate groups in the middle-class]... was the commitment to an imperative moral code and the reworking of their domestic world into a proper setting for its practice... The moral order became a central battle ground for the provincial middle classes." [52]


One of the most important aspects of the former part of the project, related to the culture of womanhood. [53] The cultures both of womanhood and of women were discussed in Manchester throughout the period, and it is possible to isolate their key features, especially as many of the surviving texts were designed to change current behaviour patterns.


The culture of women was transmitted through close social interaction, probably involving discussion of neighbours and their activities, which male observers came to characterise as "gossip". The drinking of tea as a social (and predominantly female) recreation was probably unknown in Manchester in 1700, ale being drunk by both sexes. By the 1750s, social status was associated with the drinking of tea, and "gossiping" was a part of the ritual. Clayton condemned tea drinking by women and children in 1757, "even this wretched Price [sic, Piece] of Luxury, this shameful devourer of Time and Money, has found its Way into the Houses of our Poor". [54] Stot explains why tea is drunk "Tea-drinking too, is certainly occasion'd by Pride alone: So tasteless a Slop, cou'd never have become so universal, thro' any other Cause". [55] He goes on to list three drinkers of tea, all of them women. In the new culture of womanhood, the good woman "listeneth not to the Gossip's Tale, she sippeth not her Tea in Scandal; but Employment is the Matter of her Discourse." [56] The social drinking of tea, accompanied by "gossip" was therefore, one of the features of the culture of women. The culture of womanhood attacked the practice, and encouraged more "useful" pursuits.


Recourse to fortune-telling was also a feature of women's culture during the period. Bamford recounts a few visits by female acquaintances of his to fortune tellers, whom he regarded as charlatans. [57] The editor of the Mercury was in no doubt as to the patrons of fortune-tellers "Amongst the prisoners tried at our Sessions, was one of those dangerous women called Fortune-tellers... The younger female branches of families, and servants, have much to dread from these infamous deceivers, who... not only rob people of their money, but, frequently, of their peace of mind." [58]

The coming of factories perhaps hastened the progress of the middle-class project, by introducing women to the new extra-domestic workplace. Women apprentices "are wholly uninstructed in sewing, knitting, and other domestic affairs, requisite to make them notable and frugal wives and mothers." [59] A similar claim had been made forty years earlier by Clayton, who complained of "the sordid Ignorance in which poor Women are usually bred, and might greatly be helped by the charitable Directions of their more Understanding Neighbours." [60]

Women had few formal institutions of their own. However, in the 1790s women-only Friendly societies were created in towns within the region. Most of these were divided on gender lines, and some towns had societies for women. Some of these societies were administered by men, on behalf of the female membership. In the case of such a society in Bury, established in 1795, "The Society is governed by a master, 2 stewards, and 2 assistants to the stewards, who are to be chosen annually, by the members, from the husbands or fathers of the women who are members... to have the management of the whole concerns of the Society." [61] In Lancaster, Eden noted five women's friendly societies, all founded since 1792, and whilst the officers of these societies were women, "They pay a small salary to a man for executing the office of clerk: he attends on club nights, and enters agreements, receipts and disbursements, in  their books." [62] These societies made payments to their members in the event of sickness, laying in (but crucially not to unmarried women, suggesting a cultural aversion to fornication), the death of husbands, and to the members' families on the death of a member (in order to pay for funeral expenses).


There is little evidence of the project having advanced to the stage at which efforts were made to remove women, from either the poor or the middling sort from the world of extra-domestic work. Throughout the period the main locus feminae was the house, and it was thought proper that the wife should manage the household. The mistress of the house had responsibility for the discipline of the children and apprentices, keeping the house and its occupants clean, and members of the household well-fed, and by her management should set a good example, keeping up "appearances" [63] For many women, the home was also the workplace of their husbands. Earle has shown the immense importance of women to the business world of Augustan London, where they acted as proprietors in the absence of their husbands and often took over his business on his death. Women from the trading classes continued to do so during the late eighteenth century. Women of the poorer classes had the possibility of factory employment opened up to them. The culture of womanhood does not appear to have censured these practices, and there is no evidence of the move to separate women from extra-domestic work during the period, which Davidoff and Hall and Seleski show was a notable feature of the mid-nineteenth century culture of womanhood.


The second element of the middle-class project was the reformation of the manners of the poor. The focus of this reformation, most studied by historians, has been the attack on popular recreations. Thompson wrote "The amusements of the poor were preached against and legislated against until even the most innocuous were regarded in a lurid light." [64] Clayton's pamphlet of 1757 is an early effort to reform the manners of the poor, with its emphasis on banishing idleness, drinking, gambling, and loitering as well as the general attitude of living for the moment. It advises the poor to work harder. There is little evidence of local efforts at moral improvement until the late 1780s, when there was a growth in Sabbatarianism, partly inspired by Hannah More, and the development of a Sunday School movement.Of particular concern to these reformers were the "spinners of cotton, printers, dyers, and others employed in the manufactures of this town and neighbourhood", many of whom worked seven days a week. [65]  The desire to impart "the blessings of sound and sober instruction ... to upwards of four thousand poor children amongst us" was inspired by the large presence of pauper apprentices who had been imported into the Manchester region.


The Culture of the Gentry


The third social group, influential in the social and cultural life of the town, was the gentry. The culture of the gentry was, in certain respects, crucially different from that of the entrepreneurial mercantile elite, and the two groups often found themselves in conflict. The gentry were often to be found on the side of the poor throughout the period, and their support was of considerable importance, because it was largely from this social group that the magistracy was constituted.


In 1757, the Rev Robert Robinson, a local cleric, published a book containing two recently delivered sermons, in which he related how he had preached during the period when the price of grain was very high in the Lancashire markets, and that "It has indeed, thro' some mistake or other, been falsely suggested that these Discourses were composed in Favour of the Weavers, and that they were levelled against the Gentlemen concerned in the Manchester Manufacture." [66] The sermons, of course, offended the mercantile elite because they were anti-market, suggesting that there was a greater good than the pursuit of wealth, and they implicitly sided with the poor, who suffered under the high-price regime of the mid-1750s, containing such declarations as "To monopolize or engross the Necessaries of Life, with a Design to enhance or raise the Prices of them to an exorbitant Pitch, is Wickedness in the superlative Degree. It is a most shocking and monstrous Kind of Oppression; nothing can exceed it, nor indeed come up to it." [67]

Thomas Percival, the Royton magistrate, was approached by both weavers and check manufacturers during a trade dispute in the mid-1750s. His experience at the hands of the latter led him to write a short book in an effort to clear his reputation and put his case, because, amongst other things, the check manufacturers had written to the Lancaster Assizes "I was charged with countenancing with the weavers in their unlawful practices against their masters, and as an apparent proof of it, some articles, which I had drawn , were annexed." [68] Percival's text is far more detailed than that of Robinson, in respect of the relationship between the Manchester mercantile elite and the rural gentry, but displays some similar features. Percival also has anti-market views "Trade was never designed to raise a few to the utmost height of riches, by grinding the faces of the poor; an over-grown rich trader may be in the very branch of business he is ruining, and it is not a sign of trade flourishing to see a few rich traders amongst a numerous half-starved, half-cloathed poor weavers." [69]


Percival also, stung by his mistreatment at the hands of the manufacturers, reveals his disdain for this new class of nouveaux riches "Another objection against me, in common with other gentlemen, is, that we envy these check makers; really, sir, I wonder what any country gentleman can be supposed to envy them for ! is it their houses ?... with warehouses under, and warping-rooms over, with a back-side equal in quantity of inches to the back-sides of the family... Is it their equipages ? [with] the calendar-lad for coachman, it must set a spectator laughing at the grotesque, did not the honest horses, by hanging down their heads, shew that they were ashamed of their employment..." [70] Percival continues in similar vein for several sentences, illustrating the antipathy on his part to the mercantile elite, just as the elite's censure of him suggests its antipathy towards the gentry, or at least to members of it.


In 1780, Dorning Rasbotham, a Bolton magistrate, concerned by the outbreak of factory and machine wrecking in Derbyshire and south Lancashire, wrote a book for the poor to persuade them of the ultimate benefits of machines, at a time when other groups were threatening violence. Rasbotham had been one of the magistrates sitting at the Quarter Sessions which had tried the rioters. The Sessions had concluded that "the sole Cause of the Riots... is owing to the Erection of certain Mills... for the Manufacturing of Cotton, which in the Idea of the Persons assembled, tend to depreciate the Price of Labour." [71] Friends of Richard Arkwright, whose Cromford factory was seen as a likely target of wreckers, wrote in the Manchester press, that the burly Derbyshire miners, the husbands and fathers of the factory workers, were ready at a few moments notice to defend the factory against attack. [72]

During the course of the 1790s, the gentry undoubtedly sided with the mercantile elite against radicals who were set to disturb the status quo. In Manchester, much of the radical protest was organised by sections of the middling sort, Thomas Walker, Manchester's most prominent radical, being a member, or close to membership, of the mercantile elite, and other leaders being drawn from the middling sort. In "pure" labour disputes, outside the sphere of radical politics, the gentry continued to favour the poor. During the Parliamentary inquiry of 1803, numerous weavers asserted that the magistrates sided with the weavers against the masters. One witness was asked "How were the Disputes settled, when the Complaint was made by the Master?", and answered "In general in favour of the Weaver, even where the Master was Complainant; in short, the magistrates always too the Part of the Workmen." [73]



As regards the society of Manchester, this chapter has shown how quickly the town of Manchester grew during the latter half of the eighteenth century, as a result of inward migration, primarily from towns and villages within the Manchester region. The inward migration was boosted by an apparently low age of marriage for women, at least in parts of the region, which resulted in higher fertility. The topography of Manchester's social structure has been delineated, and some of the problems of undertaking such an exercise described. The large size of the mercantile and middling sort, comprising a third of the urban population during the last decade of the period has been noted. The transformation of literacy during the period has also been shown: the relatively high literacy rates of the middle of the century having given way to low male literacy rates by the 1790s and a virtual collapse of female literacy, perhaps as a consequence of the increasing opportunity cost of child labour making the education of children uneconomic within the household economy, combined with the influx of less literate rural migrants. The impact of some of the social problems generated by these and the other social changes which took place in the town during the period are also considered, along with the responses of some of the social actors.


In the realm of culture, this chapter has shown its contested nature throughout the period, and the different groups involved in the various contests which took place. The labouring poor contested for social power with their employers, the new industrialists contested social status with the established landed elite, and women contested occupational opportunities with men. To a large extent, this chapter has shown how culture is an oppositional phenomenon, how it is defined in opposition to characteristics of another social group which is perceived to be different. The different and sometimes transient cultural alliances which were forged are also described, and the pattern which emerges from this is not dissimilar from that wrought by E.P. Thompson. The forging of alliances helps illustrate that "The (male) Poor" were far from impotent during the period, and actively negotiated cultural parameters as "old" traditions came to be replaced with "new" ones. The same observations are made in respect of working women, who established their own institutions in the Manchester region, and negotiated their place in opposition to the trend in middle-class culture to marginalise them from the sphere of work, a trend which was to be a major characteristic of the Middle-Class Project of the Victorian era. 





[1] - See Baines, 1828,, p 128, and Percival, Dr Thomas,  1775. The estimate of Dr Percival for Manchester & Salford in 1757 (in Baines, p 128), the enumeration of the towns of Manchester & Salford in 1773 (Percival, p 2), and the 1801 census results for the towns of Manchester & Salford (Baines 128). The Bills of Mortality are taken from Baines p 129, and Aikin, p 584. The major flaw in the figures is that the "Bills of Mortality" were derived from Baptisms & Burials at the collegiate church relating to the parish of Manchester. Therefore the natural increase also relates to that of out-townships, but excludes baptisms at out-chapels, and of members of other denominations.


[2] - Williamson, in Floud & McClosky, p 338.


[3] - Schofield, in Floud & McCloskey, p 74.


[4] - The Bury data are derived from the marriage register of St Mary's Church, Bury, Manchester Central Reference Library, MFPR 1033. The sample consists of 40 male ages and 37 female ones. Of the males in the sample, 30 were weavers.


[5] - Williamson, p 340.


[6] - Percival, Dr T., 1775, p 56.


[7] - Settlement Examination of Mary Osbaldestone of Blackburn, 12th December 1796, Manchester Central Reference Library, MF 210.


[8] - Rule, 1992.


[9] - Touchet lived primarily in London and had extensive international commercial interests, in raw cotton, spun yarn and in slaves. He became an MP in 1761, but was bankrupted in 1763, owing 309,000. John Entwistle was a partner in one of the leading mercantile firms in Manchester in the 1790s, and made approximately 60,000 in the 1790s from his trading activities. The 1788 Directory of Manchester describes Richard Carr as a "pie maker and bleeder". (Wadsworth & Mann, p 244, G.M.R.O., B/ENT/8).


[10] - Davidoff, and Hall, p 29.


[11] - It is, however, important to make clear that this was not an homogenous social group during the period. Many of the tradesmen had local and trade origins, whereas many professionals were from more distant parts of the country and sometimes had gentry connections.


[12] - This analysis is based on the two directories for 1772 and 1778, the enumeration of families, quoted in Aikin for 1773 (5317 families) and 1778 (8570), Aikin, 156-157. It is assumed that all those who are listed in the directory are members of one of the two middling groups. The 1788 directory lists the magistrates (none of whom live in the township of Manchester), it is assumed that the remainder belong to the Poor.


[13] - Bamford, pp 1-5, 50-51.


[14] - Barry, p 75.


[15] - This table is based on the signatures of grooms & brides at Manchester Collegiate Church, Manchester Central Reference Library, MFPR 47 and MFPR 40.


[16] - Barry, p 76.


[17] - Sanderson, 1972.


[18] - Bamford, p 40.


[19] - Mitch, in Mokyr (ed.), p 292.


[20] - Harris, in Harris, T (ed.),  p 13.


[21] - Tosh, p 69.


[22] - Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms.


[23] - Burke, p 244.


[24] - It is important to avoid taking a "before" and "after" approach to cultural change. The contention of the chapter is that cultures are in a state of constant change, but some features become notable and characteristic at certain times and in certain circumstances.


[25] - Porter, p 30.


[26] - Harland, p 137-9.


[27] - HMM 101, 12th Feb 1754.


[28] - Clayton, p 2.


[29] - Clayton, p 8.


[30] - HMM 2191, 4th June 1793.


[31] - Tunnicliffe, p i.


[32] - Bamford, p 200.


[33] - Bamford, p 280.


[34] - Bamford, p 280.


[35] - Seleski, in Harris, p163.


[36] - Bamford, p 191.


[37] - Bamford, op cit., pp 191-2.


[38] - Manchester Central Reference Library, MF 210.


[39] - MF210, Settlement Examination of John Cottam of Blackburn, 26th November 1796.


[40] - see for example, HMM 1454, 12th Oct 1779. Those intending to destroy Arkwright's Cromford factory were threatened with the wrath of 6,000 local miners.


[41] - Barry, p 86.


[42] - Thompson, 1993, p 95.


[43] - Anon., "An Impartial Representation of the Case of the Poor Cotton Spinners in Lancashire &c...". London 1780.


[44] - quoted in Aikin, p 196.


[45] - HMM 1920, 1st April 1788.


[46] - Clayton, p 13.


[47] - Stot, p 9.


[48] - Eden, p 357.


[49] - Clayton, p 13.


[50] - Eden, vol II, p 357.


[51] - Stot, p 9.


[52] - Davidoff & Hall, p 25.


[53] - I use this term with reservations to refer to the cultural substructure upon which social practices and implicit assumptions were built. It can be contrasted with the "culture of women" which relates to those aspects of women's shared understanding of and activities in society which are distinct from those of men. This second term is also used with reservations, because it may unintentionally create a perception that men and women occupied quite separate cultural worlds during the period, whereas in fact they held different roles within the same culture, but their different experience of those roles had cultural implications.


[54] - Clayton, p 20. Eden, in his labourers' budgets for Manchester shows that one of the families spent 1s 3d per week on tea and sugar, and the other 2s 6d per week. The latter figure was roughly equivalent to a day's wages for a labourer during the period, and both figures are similar to the weekly expenditure of the respective families on meat. (Eden, p 358-359)


[55] - Stot, p 11.


[56] - HMM 55, 27th March 1753.


[57] - See for example, Bamford, p 204.


[58] - HMM 2448, 31 July 1798.


[59] - Aikin, p 220.


[60] - Clayton, p 30.


[61] - Eden, p 295.


[62] - Eden, p 322.


[63] - Clayton, p 32.


[64] - Thompson, 1984, p 442.


[65] - See for example, HMM 1920, 1 Apr 1788.


[66] - Robinson, preface.


[67] - Robinson, p 49.


[68] - Percival, p 5.


[69] - Percival, p 27.


[70] - Percival, pp 9-10.


[71] - HMM 1460, 23rd November 1779.


[72] - HMM 1454, 12th October 1779.


[73] - H of C 1803, p 91.