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‘The Factory King’
The Life and Labours of Richard Oastler
(With a short account of ‘The Fleet Papers’
and note on the Rev. G. S. Bull)
With an Introduction by
REG GROVES (Author of “But We Shall Rise Again’’)
Kirkburton North Road Printing Works 1944
First published - December, 1944
To the memory of the late Philip Henry Lee, friend
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Printed in Great Britain by North Road Printing Works, Kirkburton, Yorkshire, England
i iS i aa ae a a
ICHARD OASTLER has been too little remem- bered, too little honoured in our own day. Perhaps because he stood betwixt the older rural England and the new industrial age, and we, who take factories and manufacturing towns for granted, find it hard to understand those who fought: against the new, who viewed the Industrial Revolution as a disaster. Their common lands stolen, their cottage industries ruined by the power-driven machines, the people were delivered over to the harsh discipline of the new factories and the grim, drear horrors of the new factory towns. What wonder they hated the new manufacturing power; what wonder they looked back longingly to simpler, easier times!
The two causes championed by Richard Oastler summed up the deeper cleavages of those tumultuous times. The new Poor Law, aimed at driving the poor into the factories, at destroying the last vestiges of independence among working folk, at crushing the weak and helpless by denying them all but the most meagre, most cruel, most hopeless existence, marked the final break with the past, and was resisted by those who sought to get back the good old times. Oastler was by belief and nature suited to voice these backward-looking longings. But the new system won, and so was born a different kind of protest movement, the factory reform agitation,marking the beginning of a Labour Movement that sought not to check industrialism but to impose human rights and standards upon its operations. Oastler, despite his own views, aligned himself also with these longer-sighted aspirations.
The Huddersfield workers—don’t let us overlook this fact—were already in the fight for factory reform when Oastler joined them. He told them: Consider that you must manage this great cause yourselves. They found this to be good advice, for though they had to find spokes-
men in the House of Commons from outside their own ranks—Parliament being then the exclusive preserve of land and factory lords—they found many of them too ready to compromise. But in Oastler they found a loyal, unswerving supporter. In all else he was against the forward march of labour as we understand it: he abhorred the socialist and co-operative doctrines then widely supported among the working-men; he detested the demand for universal suffrage, embodied in the People’s Charter, around which the political struggles of the workers were centred for over twenty years. He was, in a very ancient sense, a Tory, believing in a society based upon The Altar, the Throne and the Cottage. Yet having made compact with the working-men to join forces on the one single issue of factory reform he—and they—kept it to the end. How well Oastler served his friends we can see from the account Mr, Chadwick gives of his many sacrifices. I counted the cost, he said after the fight had beggered him, before I entered the lists. I saw the workhouse before me. .
And having entered the lists, he did more than any other man. The compromisers, the bargainers, the politicians, hated him for his fierce, violent, hard-hitting speeches. Not so the working-men, for no words could be harder or harsher than the lot of the factory slaves. Oastler’s speeches—which even now cannot be read without emotion—were compounded of the cries, the scalding tears, the bitter agonies of the wan-faced, de- formed children upon whose sufferings the masters grew fat and prosperous. Unlike modern reformers, Oastler did not advocate reform to get votes or office for him- self but because he believed—again unlike our own re- formers—that the pride, the self-respect and the dignity of poor men was more important than manufacture for money, and because he thought it right that all men and women and children should live in the sunlight, not die like dogs in the shadows. He was a man, and in a common battle for manhood he and the factory workers grew to like and respect each other.
So let us remember Richard Oastler. A “ King” 4
with his subjects gathered around him, a great assembly of the crippled, maimed, stunted, toilworn child victims of England’s rich and fast-growing industries. And hear again his voice, angry and bitter, as he speaks for them, as he cries out at this the shame of rich men and the horror of poor men. For this all men will remember him with thankfulness and with tears as long as humanity strives towards the good life. Mr, Chadwick has done us all a great service in getting together this life of ‘rhe King.” May his little book get the welcome and sale it deserves, and may it be the first of many such studies of the north countrymen who did so much for the freedom and betterment of the common people. London, November, 1944. REG GROVES.
3 is lao centenary of the release of Richard Oastler from the old Queen’s Prison, where for over three years he had been imprisoned, ostensively for debt but actually in order to suppress the movement for factory reform, is an appropriate moment to issue this work. It is almost impossible to visualise the con- ditions which existed in the factories of our Northern towns and cities at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and to realise that the Mother of Parliaments debated at great length the physical and moral effects of long hours of work on children under ten years of age, The present generation accepts existing working conditions as a matter of course, and without a thought to the men who made them possible. There is both a sadness and a danger in this state of mind, for past struggles should be an incentive to new conquests, and without doubt a good deal still remains to be remedied. If this short sketch of Oastler makes the reader con- scious of the great debt which he himself and his fellow workers owe to this one man, it will have served a useful purpose. Huddersfield, November, 1944. STANLEY CHADWICK.
Page. Introduction - - - ~ - 3 Author’s Preface - - - - 5 Factory King.” The Life and Labours of Richard Oastler - - - - 7 ‘‘The Fleet Papers.’’ The Prison Journal of Richard Oastler - - - - 19 ‘‘Oastler’s Parson.’’ A Note on the Rev. G. S. Bull “ - - 25
List of Dates - : - - - 27
The cover design is from an engraving of Richard Oastler and a reproduction of the ‘inflammatory placard”’ issued upon his leaving Fixby Hall.
“THE FACTORY KING”
THE LIFE AND LABOURS OF RICHARD OASTLER
T is unwise for any public speaker to indulge in prophecy, for future events frequently take a totally unexpected course. Occasionally, however, utterances prove correct, and this has been the case with a speech delivered by Richard Oastler in September, 1837, Returning thanks for the presentation of a silver ink- stand in gratitude for his “unwearied and powerful advocacy of the cause of the poor,” Oastler concluded with the words: “ Persevere, and the recording historian will yet register your virtuous deeds, and the name and exertions of Oastler will form a part of the most interesting history of our country.” How true this is _ the following pages alone prove,
The cause of human suffering has always found many sympathisers and not a few ready to exploit hapless victims for purely base ends. In the long agitation for the abolition of child labour in the Yorkshire and Lancashire factories many wild charges were made against Richard Oastler, but his sincerity and honesty. of purpose were never once challenged. This complete absence of personal preferment was largely responsible for the great bond of affection which existed between Oastler and the workers. No British politician has ever endeared himself in the hearts of both young and old in quite the same way.
St. Peter’s Square, Leeds, the birthplace of Richard Oastler, is now the site of the City Council’s great Quarry Hill flats, but one block has been named “Oastler House.” The youngest of eight children, Richard was born on December 20th, 1789. His early associations had a strong religious influence, and this played no small part in his subsequent career.
-For twenty years Oastler’s father acted as steward to the Yorkshire estates of Thomas Thornhill, at Calverley and Fixby. When he died in July, 1820, the post was unexpectedly offered to the son, who accepted it, and in January of the following year took up his residence at Fixby Hall, near Huddersfield. Oastler resided at Fixby for nearly eighteen years, but it was only during the last eight that the factory conditions claimed his attention.
Richard Oastler, however, was not unknown in Yorkshire politics before he championed the cause by which he is now remembered, He had been active in support of Wilberforce and abolition of negro. slavery, but opposed Catholic emancipation. In the year 1828 he successfully resisted the attempt of the Vicar of Halifax to obtain increased vicarial tithes from the village of Fixby. The First Round.
Oastler’s letter to “ The Leeds Mercury ” of October 16th, 1830, entitled “ Slavery in Yorkshire,” gave rise to considerable controversy, but the allegations which he made against the factory system were upheld. The misery and sufferings of these young factory children form the blackest pages in our industrial history. Boys and girls from the age of five years were employed for 13 and 16 hours a day, and brutally assaulted by the mill overseers. No safety regulations existed in the factories and horrible accidents, often the result of extreme fatigue, were daily occurrences.
Into this maelstrom Oastler, with the approval of his employer, plunged his whole energy. He entered into a compact with a body of men called the “Hudders- field Short-Time Committee” to put all political and sectarian differences aside and to work together for the common cause. Great demonstrations were held in all the Yorkshire towns and villages, with Oastler in attendance everywhere.
Parliament was compelled to take notice of the agitation and, in 1833, appointed a body of Commis-
sioners to report on the existing conditions. When the Commissioners visited Huddersfield their effigies were burnt in the Market Place by a crowd of over 8,000 people. Their report, which was later presented to Parliament, only recommended restrictions upon the employment of children up to fourteen years, for at that age young persons (stated the Commissioners) were usually placed on the same footing as adults in the matter of the disposal of their labour.
The Factory Act which the Government passed in
1833, while it was noteworthy for the appointment of
the first factory inspectors, was evaded by the majority of mill-owners and did nothing to satisfy the demands of Oastler and his friends.
Violent Oratory and Writings.
The agitation continued, and Oastler roused the people to a high frenzy of excitment by his vigorous and fiery speeches at great torchlight meetings on the moors. “ Thev have no title, no right to your children’s blood, nor to yours, * he told them. “ They have drank both long enough.” He openly accused the mill- -owners of being ‘ ‘murderers of babes and sucklings.” In the midst of this turmoil the Government introduced its new Poor Law, and a further howl of protest went up from the masses.
Oastler was an uncompromising opponent of the new Poor Law. “It is the most villainous contrivance ever imagined in the heart of man,” he said more than once, “and I would tear this accursed thing from the Statute Book.” The efforts of the Poor Law Commissioners to establish the new law in Huddersfield were largely frustrated by the speeches of Oastler, and the town was kept in a state of excitement for several months before its provisions were finally carried into effect.
Michael Thomas Sadler, who had been responsible for the conduct of the factory agitation in the House of Commons, and was deprived of his seat by the Reform Act, contested a by-election in Huddersfield in 1834, and
naturally received Oastler’s support. The exhibition of a placard during the election afterwards involved Oastler in a libel action with the local postmaster, whom he accused of tampering with letters and parcels entrusted to his charge, At the Assize trial Oastler conducted his own defence and informed the jury that he was the most libelled man in the country, adding: “I take powder and shot of the same sort, and give them as good as they send.” The postmaster was awarded the verdict with damages of one farthing.
Richard Oastler, 1789-1861
In the year 1837 Richard Oastler twice contested the Huddersfield seat. On the first occasion he was defeated by a majority of fifty votes at what was in those days a “ quiet” election. The town of Hudders- field which had been given parliamentary representation under the Reform Act, was described by a contemporary as “the rottenest of all rotten boroughs within the
realm of England.” Sir John Ramsden, the lord of the
“manor, was accused of threatening the people with ruin
if they voted for Oastler. Indeed, Oastler told his supporters after the declaration that the Huddersfield electors had been driven to the poll “like swine to the market.”
The second election in 1837 was just a little more exciting. The Government had taken the quite
‘unnecessary precaution of sending a posse of Metropol-
itan police to the town, and on the day of the election they were stationed outside the polling booth, cutlasses in hand, Trouble quickly followed and, after an orgy of stone-throwing, the Riot Act was read and two troops of Hussars patrolled the streets. The majority of votes against Oastler was reduced to twenty-two.
It should be remembered, however, that although the Reform Act enfranchised the boroughs, it did not enfranchise the working-class. The population of Huddersfield at the time of the above election was over 19,000, but the number of persons entitled to vote did
not exceed 600.
Tragic Dismissal. At the nominations in Wakefield for the West Riding
representatives a terrible riot took place, and it was
believed at the time that the Whigs had actually hired assassins to murder Oastler and his friends. The strain of fighting two elections in addition to his other activities proved too much even for Oastler’s robust constitution, and in the first few months of 1838 he was seriously ill. While still weak he received notice of his discharge from the stewardship of the Thornhill
It was not until the people of Huddersfield were preparing to welcome “the discarded steward” on his leaving Fixby Hall that Mr. Thornhill offered any excuse for his action. An “inflammatory placard,’ of which, incidentally, Oastler did not approve and refused to distribute, caused Mr. Thornhill offence, and he addressed:
a letter to the editors of two Yorkshire newspapers.
Two versions of this letter appeared in print. The letter. in the “Leeds Intelligencer” refuted the suggestion that Oastler had been discharged because of his opposition to the Poor Laws and bluntly stated that he had “converted” his employer’s money to his own use and further neglected his duties. The other letter, published in a Halifax journal, made no reference to this alleged conversion of funds but instead expressed the fear that Mr. Oastler, having entered so deeply into the politics of the day, he would not have it’ in his power to settle certain sums of money, en
Oastler replied at once to Mr. Thornhill’s charge of “cheating” and declared that it was the last effort of the oppressors of the poor. “They have taken away my bread; now they think they can rob me of my good name.” The slander was undoubtedly intended to damage the Fixby demonstration, but in a last letter from Fixby Hall Oastler appealed to “the people of England” for a fair hearing :—
“Come to Fixby on Saturday. Let the world know that although we cannot be as dastardly as our foes we have nailed our flags to the masthead and, in spite of all, we will conquer or sink with the Constitution.”
There is no doubt that Oastler’s opposition to the new Poor Law was the real cause of his dismissal. It. is believed that one of the Poor Law Commissioners, T. Frankland Lewis, who was related to the Thornhills by marriage, secured his discharge in order to facilitate the introduction of the Poor Law in the district and that Mr. Thornhill, moreover, submitted two “sample letters”? announcing his reasons for dismissal. for the approval of the Commissioners. Edwin Chadwick, the secretary of the Commissioners, with his usual blunder- ing, allowed both letters to be published, as they were “both best”! I
Saturday, August 25th, 1838, was the day appointed for the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Oastler from Fixby Hall, Long before the time crowds of people lined the route from the Hall to Huddersfield. A cannon was fired at intervals and bands of music added to the excite- ment. Blue and white ribbons to which was attached the special Oastler medal struck at Birmingham, were to be seen everywhere. Many of the old Factory and Poor Law flags and banners were carried by the people, with several new ones appropriate to the occasion.
The ground facing Fixby Hall was black with people when Mr. Oastler, together with Mrs. Oastler, their adopted daughter, and Mr. W. Stocks, junior, took their seats at about half-past five o’clock in an open barouche drawn up before the front entrance. Headed by a number of gentlemen on horseback with white wands, a procession nearly a mile in length was formed, with ten bands of music in attendance,
There was a dramatic moment when the procession reached the point of the hill opposite Fixby Hall, and Oastler rose from his seat in the carriage for a last look at his old homestead. All the way from the old Clough House to Huddersfield Oastler was greeted with one continued series of cheers from the men, women, and children who had assembled to bid him farewell. The town was reached at seven o’clock, and as Mr. Oastler’s carriage pulled up at the house of his brother- in-law in Queen Street, the band played “See the Conquering Hero Comes.”
An address of welcome having been presented by Mr. Lawrence Pitkethley, Oastler mounted the hustings and addressed the immense gathering. The proceedings were brought to a close with three cheers for the Queen and “three unutterable curses for the Metropolitan police,” which latter were “both loud and deep.” It was estimated that no fewer than 150,000 persons witnessed the triumphant procession of “ The King of
the Factory Children,” and there were no disorderly scenes or breach of the peace.
Oastler must have returned to Fixby Hall in September, for in a long letter to the Press he adds a note that it was written during the sale at the Hall. He did not bid final farewell to his Huddersfield colleagues until the following January, at a meeting called to consider the arrest of the Rev. J. R. Stephens. At this meeting a resolution was carried thanking Oastler for his long struggle and untiring exertions on behalf of the factory children, It was five years before “the King” was heard in Huddersfield again, but by his “letters”’ and the visits made to him he did not lose contact with his old comrades.
In the Debtors’ Prison.
The salary which Mr. Thornhill paid to his steward had proved insufficient for him to meet expenses and balance accounts. Although Oastler’s salary was increased in 1834 the position did not improve, and when he was discharged the debt outstanding to Mr. Thornhill amounted to £2,600. Nearly two years elapsed before Mr. Thornhill issued a writ for the recovery of his debt, and in the Court of Common Pleas sitting in London on July 10th, 1840, obtained judgment for the amount. The former steward was cleared of any fraudulent intention. the Lord Chief Justice observing that there was no imputation whatever on Mr. Oastler’s character.
Naturally, Oastler was unable to raise this large sum, and therefore on December 9th, 1840, he was taken to the old debtors’ prison in the Fleet and there lodged in a cell, The Fleet Prison (and later the Queen’s Prison) remained Oastler’s abode for over three years, and from his cell he published the now famous “ Fleet Papers.
Although the demand for reform had lost some of its momentum by the withdrawal of Oastler and the new agitation of the Chartists, Oastler’s friends were active in raising money for his release, “ Oastler
Festivals” in the form of public teas, dances, and entertainments were held in all the Yorkshire towns, and at the first in Huddersfield on January 25th, 1841, the proceedings concluded with the singing of a new version of “God Save ‘Our King.’” During this year Lord Ashley (afterwards Lord Shaftesbury), now the Parliamentarv leader of the factory question, made a tour of the manufacturing districts, in the course of which he visited Huddersfield.
Oastler’s release was effected on February 12th, 1844, the claims of the debt having been paid “to the uttermost farthing.” The comment of “ The Times” on his release, is very significant :-—
“There can be no doubt Mr. Oastler would never have been shut up in prison—and, once there, would not have been kept there a single day—but for his persevering advocacy of the Ten Hours Factory Bill, and his resistance to the new Poor Law.”
On to Victory.
- The central committee which had organised the “Liberty Fund” made one stipulation upon Oastler’s release—namely, that Huddersfield should be the first town to acclaim him. Odastler made a similar request to be allowed to address his Huddersfield friends first.
Accordingly “the old King” made a public entry into the town on Shrove Tuesday, February 20th, 1844. He arrived at Brighouse by train from Leeds, and the four miles “royal” march to Huddersfield is without precedent in local history. The ovation which he received from the people demonstrated that his long absence had not diminished their affection, “ Our King is restored, the captive is free,’ proclaimed their banners, “ Long may he live, and blest may he be.”
The impetus given to the Ten Hours movement by the restoration of Oastler was not, however, strong enough to secure this reduction of hours, The Act passed by Parliament in 1844, while it had many benefi-
cial clauses, was on the whole a disappointment. The agitation was renewed, and after temporary set-backs a Measure which limited the hours of employment of women and children to 10 hours a day and 58 hours a week received the Royal assent on June 7th, 1847. On May Ist, 1848, the clause limiting the hours to ten each day was quietly brought into effect in the factories. Certain loopholes in the Act of 1847 necessitated a further Act in 1850 before final victory was achieved.
The Ten Hours Act of 1847 was “hailed with delight and the greatest degree of pleasure” by the factory operatives, Bradford was not slow to show its gratitude to the one man who throughout the long agitation had remained undaunted by the weight of the opposition, and had suffered imprisonment and poverty for his advocacy. The resolution passed at a crowded meeting on June 16th, 1847, placed on record “its heartfelt gratitude to that noble of nature Richard Oastler, Esq., the originator of, and persevering advocate of the greatest boon to the factory working population of this country.” By a cruel trick of fate illness prevented Oastler from being present at this meeting and taking part in the rejoicings.
Oastler, his great task completed, retired to a cottage near Guildford. For a time he published a paper entitled “ The Home,” but unfortunately it was not a financial success, While on a visit to Yorkshire in 1861 he was taken ill and died at Harrogate on August 22nd. On the previous Sunday a very old friend from Hudders- field had dined with him “ for the last time.” The coffin containing his remains, carried on the shoulders of specially selected factory workers from Yorkshire and Lancashire, was laid to rest in the crypt of Kirkstall Church, Leeds. The “old King” was always fond of flowers, and a rose, some annuals, and sprigs of myrtle from his own garden, were placed on his grave.
On Sunday morning, September 8th, the Rev. G, 5. Bull, “the Ten Hours Parson,” who for many years had shared the struggle with Oastler in Bradford, preached a funeral sermon at Christ Church, Woodhouse, the church where the Oastler family had regularly worshipped during their residence at Fixby. On the afternoon of the same day the Huddersfield Parish Church was crowded for a similar service, a muffled peal of bells being rung before the commencement.
A Powerful Personality.
A small monument of Gothic design, erected by subscriptions almost exclusively from workers, was placed in Woodhouse churchyard in 1862, while a statue to his memory was unveiled by Lord Shaftesbury in Bradford seven years later. A stained glass window is also to be found in Kirkstall Church, the gift of his adopted daughter, “out of deep affection.”
Huddersfield, the town in which the great reformer lived and which he loved the most, has.only perpetuated his great labours by dedicating a small portion of the recreation ground in its largest public park (Greenhead) as a children’s playground, Fixby Hall and its extensive grounds instead of having been purchased by the municipality as a memorial park, is now leased to a golf club. There is not even a commemorative plaque on the wall of Fixby Hall, although the Borough Council has honoured several other distinguished citizens in this way.
Because Richard Oastler lacked the polish of Lord Shafteshury and other contemporaries, and failed to obtain election to the House of Commons, historians have relegated him to a secondary place in the struggle for factory reform. It was the wonderful advocacy of Oastler, however, that was the real driving force in the agitation, and the command which he exercised over the working-class finally compelled the Government to accede to their demands.
While it is true that Oastler used very provocative language, and on occasion urged the people to take extreme action, his personal knowledge of their plight is perhaps some justification of these occasional lapses. His speeches are described as being of “ unmerciful length,” and he was accused of using every epithet in the language connected with the bottomless pit, besides the milder and more soothing appellatives of “ tyrants, monsters, and freebooters ’”’!
A good illustration of the methods employed by Oastler to supplement his speeches is supplied by an incident which took place while he was addressing a meeting in the old Huddersfield Market Place. Having aroused his listeners’ indignation with details of the oppression of the masters, he suddenly made them shudder with horror by holding up a handful of hair and flesh, which he alleged had been torn from the head of a young girl in one of the factories, by an overseer who had attempted to dash her against the wall.
The industry of the man was truly amazing. The pamphlets which he published and his voluminous Press correspondence is of prodigious length. Mrs. Oastler was in every sense a valued helpmate, and often when he returned home weary and exhaust<d from his platform exertions she would pick up his pen and continue his correspondence where he had left off. She did not live to aie her husband’s triumph, her death taking place in 1845,
A Real Monument.
The Factories Act of 1937, which came into operation on July Ist, 1938, with its important health and safety regulations, strikingly reveals the great advance made in working conditions during the last century. Two recent Government Blue Books on the hours of employ- ment of young persons in non-regulated occupations unfortunately serve to remind us that the work of Richard Oastler is still far from complete.
“He rests from his labours and his works do follow him” reads the inscription on Oastler’s grave, but no words can express the happiness which he helped to confer on the country. The world is surely the better for his life of service for the poor and friendless children. A very gallant gentleman; may his name be long revered by the workers he was proud to call his friends.
“THE FLEET PAPERS”
The Prison Journal of Richard Oastler
ICHARD OASTLER was “housed” in the Fleet Prison on December 9th, 1840, and in order to “lighten his solitary hours” commenced the publication of a periodical entitled “The Fleet Papers.” Before leaving Fixby Hall in 1838, Oastler had announced his intention of informing the people “ in a series of letters” what it was like to be the steward of an absentee landlord (Mr, T. Thornhill). ‘‘ The Fleet Papers” were therefore written in the form of letters to Mr. Thornhill, from Richard Oastler, “his prisoner in the Fleet,” and they continued to be addressed to Mr. Thornhill until Oastler’s removal to the Queen’s Prison in November, 1842.
The historic Fleet Prison was formerly situated on the east side of Farringdon Street, London, and was originally used for persons committed by the Star Chamber, and afterwards for debtors and _ persons imprisoned for contempt of court by the court of chancery. On December 9th, 1840, Richard Oastler received notice that his former employer demanded his “body,” and after formal arrest and payment of a certain sum of money, he was committed by a Judge to the custody of the Warden of the Fleet Prison.
In the first number of ‘The Fleet Papers” published on Saturday, January 2nd, 1841, Oastler describes his introduction to prison life. His first duty was to pay a fee of one pound, eight shillings, and eight pence, which entitled him to a separate room. Later with the help of friends he was able to make his prison abode very comfortable, and it served as a reception room for visitors of both high and low station from all over the country.
A New Project.
After the departure of the Turnkey Oastler records that his first impulse was to offer prayers to God for his family, the factory children, the poor, his persecutors, and his own person. Having minutely surveyed his new home, he sat down and opening the Holy Bible read the. 56th and 57th Psalms, In a while he filled his pipe and smoked away, “all solitary.” Before Oastler retired to sleep on his prison bed the idea of publishing ‘“ The Fleet Papers” had been born in his mind, and next morning he congulted with his wife, whereupon it was decided to risk the little money which they had intended for their support on the new venture,
“The Fleet at first consisted of eight pages bound in blue covers, which latter provided space for advertisements. The price charged was twopence, and during the first year of issue four free plates were presented to subscribers. These consisted of portraits of “ Mr. Thornhill’s Prisoner in his Cell” and “ Thomas Thornhill, Esq.,” and views of “ Fixby Hall” and “The Fleet Prison.”
For the most part “The Fleet Papers” deal with the part played by Richard Oastler, Michael Sadler, the Rev. G. S. Bull, and others in the factory hours and Poor Law agitation. Oastler was a prolific letter writer, and many of his communications to contemporary news- papers were also inserted in his own paper. The Chartists and the Anti-Corn Law League are discussed
and criticised in long epistles, while much space is devoted to controversies which to-day are meaningless.
Unique “ Rent Roll.”
The ninth number of “ The Fleet Papers ” contained the announcement that Mr. Oastler was “ At Home” on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The following week’s issue is almost exclusively devoted to chronicling the visits received from friends and sympathisers, together with gifts in kind and money. The offerings became-so numerous that Oastler decided to record them in his paper in the form of a “Rent Roll.” To Mr. Thornhill he wrote: “I have often laid before you your own rent roll; read now a part of mine.”
The diversity of both gifts and donors is well illustrated in the following extracts :— ‘An Essex clergyman sent me twenty new laid eggs. A Manchester friend, a side of bacon and a “cheek.”
A Lady, London, sent me a quantity of envelopes with stamps.
Fitz Roy Kelly, Esq., Q.C., brought me six bottles of wine; and such wine as would have done honour to a royal cellar.
My old friend, Charles Hindley, Esq., M.P., for- getting all political differences, called upon me, and kindly presented me with £10.
Mr. Lawson, London, left me a fine lobster.
Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, Oldham, brought me a great treat—a quantity of “oat cake.”
W. Busfeild Ferrand, Esq., M.P., did me the honour to dine with me, and gave me £5.
A Huddersfield friend sent a box of preserves. The fruit was grown in Fixby Gardens.
The Right Hon. Lord Feversham sent a large hamper of game.
Mr. Cleave brought me a quantity of pens. 21
A Yorkshire manufacturer gave Mrs. Oastler a beautiful shawl, of his own manufacture.
Lord Ashley, M.P., sent two hares and two pheasants.
Sir George Sinclair, Bart., sent me a cod’s head and shoulders, with oysters.
A Lancashire operative brought me a nosegay.
My faithful friend John Inman replenished my tobacco box.
Mr. Perring, Leeds, gave me a new cap.
Three operatives from Stalybridge (whose names I will not enter because their employers might punish them for ministering to their “ old King ’”’) forced me to take a shilling from them.
My Huddersfield butcher sent a dried tongue labelled: “I am the emblem of a true, an honest old Tory—never was guilty of deceit, or told a lie in my life.”
Oastler recounts in No, 32 of “The Fleet Papers” how he was “dragged to York” on July 22nd, 1841, in connection with a law action between Mr. Thornhill and his tenants, but he was not called into Court. Before returning “home” Oastler obtained permission to visit Feargus O’Connor, the famous Chartist leader.
O’Connor was languishing in York prison for a. news- I
paper libel published in “The Northern Star,” and Oastler remarks that solitary confinement had left its mark on his general appearance and health,
Mr. Thornhill’s Refusal. Towards the end of the first year of Oastler’s
sojourn in the Fleet, his friends in Huddersfield,
Dewsbury, and Bradford formed three deputations to wait upon Mr, Thornhill at Fixby Hall, in the hope that they would be able to induce him to liberate his late steward. Mr. Thornhill listened to them with the greatest courtesy, but found himself unable to comply with their request. After printing an account of this
interview Oastler accused Mr. Thornhill of being a party to “murdering” him in prison. “I am not the prisoner of a constitutional Jury or Judge, or of the Queen—you are sole Monarch, Judge, Jury, and Executioner.”
Imprisoned debtors in the Fleet had many privileges, and were allowed to have their wives and families live With. them, together with the tree imeress of © friends: the’. whole day, In 1842 the’: ‘decided “to «)) consolidate >" the Marshalsea, Fleet, and Queen’s Bench Prisons under the name of Queen’s Prison. Odastler writes indignantly of this attempt to “rob and plunder” his fellow debtors and himself of food, books, and furniture which they had purchased, and to be made slaves of “an old ultra-Tory ” (Sir James Graham). “The Fleet Papers” published on November 19th, 1842, was the last to be addressed to Thomas Thornhill, Esq., from the Fleet Prison; the issue dated November 26th was headed “The Queen’s Prison,” and Oastler signed himself “the victim” of Sir James Graham, M.P. (the Home Secretary).
A good deal of cleaning was necessary before Oastler’s new quarters were habitable, and he made a vehement protest at what he called “a crime against decency of forcing two men to live in one room.” His allegations regarding the filth and vermin found in his room were so serious that he was visited by the Inspector of Prisons and examined as to the truth of his state- ments. A report was made to the Board of Works, and it was resolved that the whole prison should be thoroughly cleaned. Oastler was offered repayment of the money which he had expended in cleaning his own room, but he refused to accept it on the grounds that his removal from the Fleet Prison was illegal.
In February, 1843, Oastler demanded justice of the House of Commons for his forfeited rights in the Queen’s Prison, A copy of this letter was printed in “ The Fleet Papers,” and alsé° a “letter vaddressed'to “His “Royal
Highness Prince Albert on the same subject. The formal acknowledgment of the receipt of both communications appeared in ‘“‘ The Fleet Papers,” and after one or two further tirades Oastler apparently forgot his personal discomforts in the renewed agitation for factory reform.
The concluding “ Fleeters ” for 1843 are devoted to reports of meetings held in support of “The Oastler Liberty Fund,” together with long lists of subscriptions. The movement to obtain Oastler’s release was inaugur- ated at Huddersfield on November 22nd, 1843, and the following number of “ The Fleet Papers” was actually trebled in size to include a full report of the speeches and resolutions, Local committees were formed in almost every Northern town and village, and Mr. W. B. Ferrand, M.P., promised to speak at the meetings arranged. Lord Feversham accepted the chairmanship of the London Committee. 7
In the first “ Fleet Papers” for 1844 Oastler wrote . that “hope is inspired in my bosom that the days of my imprisonment are numbered.” The issue on _ sale February 24th was “brought out by another hand,” Oastler having regained his freedom on February 12th. About £2,500 of the £3,300 required to meet Mr. Thornhill’s claim for debt, principal, interest, and costs, had been subscribed, and twelve gentlemen made them- selves responsible to a Leeds bank for the balance of the account. !
After Oastler’s release “ The Fleet Papers ” reported the speeches which he delivered at great ‘“ Welcome Meetings” throughout the country, The final number of the paper was published on September 7th, 1844, and in it Oastler took leave of his readers, The “ Rent Roll” was concluded with the following entry :—
“On the 12th I was released!—Thanks, never ceasing thanks, to those kind friends who thus sus- tained me, and enlivened my prison hours.”
Not long after the restoration of “The Factory King” to his “subjects” Parliament gave the force of. law to his demands, and he retired from active politics. From his Guildford cottage he commenced the public- ation of a new paper in which he continued to recount incidents of his political campaigns. Bound volumes of “The Fleet Papers” to-day command high prices, and in 1921 the Soviet Government sent an agent over to this country to purchase at any price a complete set.
The prison cell has given birth to many famous works, from Bunyan’s “ Pilgrim’s Progress” to Hitler’s. “Mein Kampf,” but no more human and remarkable documents have ever been written in an English prison than Richard Oastler’s ‘‘ The Fleet Papers.”
“OASTLER’S PARSON” A Note on the Rev. G. S. Bull
O appreciation of Richard Oastler would be complete without reference to the Rev. George Stringer Bull, known to the factory operatives ag; ‘The, Ten). and steadfast friend” of “the King.”
Mr. Bull was born near Ipswich, the son of a minister of an agricultural parish. As a young man he had a remarkable success as a Sunday School teacher, and for a number of years was in charge of educational work in Sierra Leone. Returning to this country he was for a time stationed near Hull, but it was while minister of Hanging Heaton, near Dewsbury, that he first became acquainted with the factory question. When he accepted the living of St. John’s Church, Bierley, in the parish of Bradford, he was the coadjutor of Oastler, and Fielden in all their efforts for factory
regulation, and for the mitigation of the severities of the New Poor Law.
“Parson Bull” was a great favourite with the factory children, and upon his leaving Bradford in 1840 he was presented with a timepiece subscribed for by his School scholars. His congregation also expressed their “admiration and gratitude for the watchful, affectionate, and paternal concern which he _ had manifested towards the youthful portion of his charge.”
Proof of the great confidence which the factory operatives reposed in Mr. Bull is evident from the fact that when Sadler was defeated at the polls, he was entrusted with the task of proceeding to London to find a new Parliamentary leader. Lord Shaftesbury was instructed by Mr. Bull on the factory question, and on one occasion the Duke of Wellington told Oastler that he had received from “his parson” a sermon full of facts about the factories,
Judging from contemporary accounts the Rev. G. S. Bull was possessed of tremendous physical energy and power of personal endurance. He hated compromises and concessions in politics, and pretext and hypocrisy in religion, The cause of the factory children was, in his view, to serve the cause of God.
At the funeral of Richard Oastler the service was performed at the special request of his relatives by the Rev. G. S. Bull, then of Birmingham. Mr. Bull also preached three funeral sermons in Bradford and two in Huddersfield to large congregations of factory workers. Exactly four years after the death of his friend (August 22nd, 1865) Mr. Bull passed away at Almeley, Herefordshire, to which vicarage he had been appointed the previous year.
ig EO si
LIST OF DATES
1789 1797 1816 1819
1820 1821 1827 1828 1830
1841 1842 1843 1844
1845 1847 1848 1851 1855 1861
Oct, 16 Dec. 26
Apl. 24 Nov. 26
Oct. 6 May 6 May 15 July 28 May 7 May 28 Aug. 25 Tuly 10 Dec. 9 Jat 2 Nov. 12 Nov. 22 Feb. 12 Feb. 20 Sept. 7 June 12 June 7 May 1 May 3 June 30 Aug. 22
Aug. 30 Aug, 22 May 15
Born in St, Peter’s Square, Leeds. Sent to Fulneck Moravian Settlement. Married Mary Tatham, of Nottingham.
Death in infancy of Sarah and Robert Oastler.
Appointed steward Thornhill Estates.
-Removed to Fixby Hall, Huddersfield.
Published “ Vicarial Tithes, Halifax.” Death of mother. Informed of evils of factory system by John Wood. “Slavery in Yorkshire” letter published. Formation of the Huddersfield Short-Time Committee. Great demonstration at York. a. “A Well Seasoned Christmas ie.” Published “ The Law of the Needle.” First Huddersfield Election contest. Demonstration at Peep Green. Second Huddersfield Election Contest. Poor Law Riot at Huddersfield. Discharged stewardship Thornhill Estates. Farewell procession from Fixby Hall. Judgment for debt by former employer. Committed to the Fleet Prison. Publication of “ The Fleet Papers.” Removed to the Queen’s Prison. “Oastler Liberation Fund” inaugurated.
_ Release from the Queen’s Prison.
Public entry into Huddersfield. Last number of “ The Fleet Papers.”
Death of Mrs. Mary Oastler, aged 52 years. Royal Assent Ten Hours Bill. Ten Hours Act in operation. Publication of “ The Home.” “The Home” discontinued.
Death of Oastler at Harrogate, aged 72
years. Buried at Kirkstall Church, Leeds.
Death of Rev. G. S. Bull, aged 67 years. Statue at Bradford unveiled by Lord Shaftesbury.
on ot Sas ‘ty sll . 4