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"Intended as a terror to the idle and profligate": embezzlement and the origins of policing in the Yorkshire worsted industry, c. 1750-1777.

On 3 April 1785, officials from the House of Correction in the ancient Cheshire salt-making town of Middlewich conveyed Martha Pimlott, a poor single woman, to the nearby market town of Knutsford. There, they carried out the directives of a Justice of the Peace named Samuel Finney, subjecting the prisoner to a time-tested judicial ritual of humiliation and pain: a public whipping. Stripped to the waist and in full view of neighbors and the assembled community, Pimlott received precisely thirty stripes on her bare back. Employed as a handspinner of worsted yam, a common form of wage labor for women in much of Cheshire, Pimlott's transgression was a particular form of workplace misconduct. Justice Finney had found Pimlott guilty of false and short reeling, a type of industrial embezzlement specific to handspinners. In the next eight years Cheshire magistrates convicted Pimlott at least six more times for the same offense. The materials that she abstracted, small bits of yarn and wool, were probably worth the sum total of a shilling or two. But the luckless spinner received two additional public whippings and a further six months imprisonment.(1) Few eighteenth century industrial workers appear with such frequency in the records of the criminal justice system. Nevertheless, Pimlott's experience exemplifies what several recent studies identify as a central feature of employment relationships in England's early industrial revolution: endemic strife over the control and disposition of property. An especially promising current of research concerns embezzlement and the law. Reflecting the overwhelming primacy of circulating capital in the age of manufacture, eighteenth-century parliaments enacted fourteen statutes that were devoted to governing property rights in fifteen industries.(2) Part of the expansion of what one contemporary termed "cheap and expeditious justice,"(3) individuals suspected of purloining materials faced the summary jurisdiction of local justices of the peace rather than an indictment in an assize court or court of quarter sessions. Most embezzlement laws dictated significant liabilities for offenders, punishments that generally intensified over the course of the century, including mandatory spells of imprisonment and public corporal punishment.(4)

The Yorkshire-based manufacture of worsted textiles, the industry that employed Martha Pimlott, offers an excellent vantage point to examine the origins of embezzlement law in eighteenth-century industry. In 1777, a small group of wealthy Yorkshire manufacturers gained the passage of a statute popularly known as the Worsted Act (17 Geo. III c.11). That measure established the Worsted Committee, an employers' association with the right to organize an industrial police force. The law invested the Worsted Committee's police, known as worsted inspectors, with powers to regulate virtually every aspect of the production process. But their chief function was to detect and prosecute acts of embezzlement. Recent research has broadly confirmed the reticence of eighteenth century English elites to alter the antique parish-based systems of policing communities.(5) The Worsted Committee's initiative represents a striking contrast. For several decades after its founding, the Committee supervised a sustained and vigorous campaign of industrial policing and served as a model for like-minded manufacturers in Yorkshire and elsewhere.(6) In an era that historians recall as advancing the dismantling of legal regulations over the conduct of economic life, the Worsted Committee's efforts introduced a strong coercive element to one of England's most important export industries.(7)

The Worsted Act has figured prominently in the work of social and economic historians.(8) Beginning with Herbert Heaton's well known study of 1920, historians have regularly cited the Worsted Committee's undertaking as the best example of a sustained manufacturers' campaign to challenge embezzlement. That is not to say, however, that they have agreed on the significance or meaning of such campaigns. One approach, typified by the work of Craig Becker, John Rule and Deborah Valenze, follows from the observation that the advance of eighteenth-century capitalism transformed the meaning of property, challenging customs and common rights that had long been central to the fabric of social and economic life.(9) Especially notable is Peter Linebaugh's remarkable recent study. According to Linebaugh, struggles over embezzlement in eighteenth-century industry were linked to broader changes in the criminal law that legitimated new exclusive forms of property relationships based on absolute ownership.(10) In this formulation, workers who claimed traditional rights to a part of the product of their labor came up against a new class of entrepreneurs determined to enforce exclusive ownership over production material in the workplace. In short, the conflict amounted to a clash of competing and irreconcilable notions of property rights, pitting custom versus capitalism.

John Styles has taken issue with this interpretive framework, maintaining that the work of Linebaugh, Rule and Becker relies on a flawed theory of capitalism that is marked by predetermined stages of development and a linear conception of change. Styles instead insists that employers' recourse to law varied according to long term economic patterns of growth and decline, the structural peculiarities of specific industries and the nature of the institutions available for establishing control over the production process. Styles also places the problem of embezzlement in a longer chronological framework, disputing other historians' preoccupation with the th century.(11)

In a study of pilfering in the West Country woollen industry, Adrian J. Randall warns that preconceptions and typologies can impede an understanding of the problem of embezzlement.(12) His caution is well taken. Despite notable differences in approach, the most influential studies of embezzlement, including work by the neo-institutionalist Styles, as well as the marxist Linebaugh, share a key conceptual reference point. Previous historians have invariably viewed the proliferation of embezzlement statutes, and more importantly, manufacturers' efforts to police work, as a direct and unproblematic legal response to the property encroachments of workers. It follows, that the historian's task then becomes to identify at precisely what point the manufacturers collectively embraced new conceptions of property (in the case of Linebaugh) or alternatively, gained the organizational resources to enforce their standards (in the case of Styles). The Yorkshire manufacturers did indeed tend to view embezzlement as a serious matter, a concern that endured until the mid-nineteenth century. However, the Worsted Committee's eighteenth-century policing offensive was not primarily or even substantially driven by the elites' abandonment of an older conception of property rights or the contingent availability of models for policing. Analysis based upon either premise seriously misconceives the problem, ignoring the manner and context in which manufacturers used the law "on the ground."

Here, it is argued that a group of leading manufacturers established the Worsted Committee to address an ostensibly unrelated concern: a severe and chronic bottleneck in the industry's supply of yarn, the result of rapid and extensive growth within the constraints of the putting-out system. The attempt to resolve this perplexing problem, construed by the manufacturers as an issue of work discipline, led to the plan to police spinners. Holding a core assumption of the larger population of employers, the Yorkshire worsted masters believed that the chief impediment to forging a diligent and obedient workforce of spinners, their main objective, involved the supposedly high wages prevalent in the industry. The key to accounting for the policing initiative was the precise relationship between the forms of embezzlement practiced by spinners, false and short reeling, and the goal of enhancing the disciplinary potential of the wage. By recasting the function of the monetary wage, the members of the Worsted Committee believed that the anti-embezzlement campaign would force more disciplined work patterns on spinners. In essence, the Worsted Committee asserted the manufacturers' exclusive right to particular forms of property, as a vehicle toward a paramount priority: resolving the bottleneck in the industry's yam supply. In the final estimate, the reconstitution of property rights in the Yorkshire industry, the focal point of attention for earlier historians of embezzlement, was as much a consequence as a cause of the policing campaign.


The production of worsted textiles, a branch of the woollen industry, was introduced to the West Riding of Yorkshire in the late seventeenth century.(13) Often termed "stuff" by contemporaries, worsted manufacturing initially made only halting progress in the West Riding, overshadowed by the ancient and nationally important Yorkshire woollen industry. A crucial shift occurred around 1750, however, when in the words of the industry's first historian, "a new era opened."(14) Within twenty-five years of the industry's mid-century "take-off," production levels had nearly reached the value of its older county rival. Concentrating on the mass production of low and medium quality goods for world markets, Yorkshire soon challenged and then surpassed the Norwich-centered East Anglian industry as England's chief seat of worsted manufacturing. By 1780, the Yorkshire industry had become a pillar of Britain's nascent industrial leviathan, thereafter emerging as the center of world worsted production.(15)

Worsted manufacturing in Yorkshire gained a foothold as far east as Leeds and the county town of Wakefield, but the industry's main concentration lay across the western edge of the West Riding. The sprawling neighboring parishes of Halifax and Bradford, and their respective outlying areas, constituted the core manufacturing district, in some places completely displacing woollen production. A considerable volume of stuff manufacturing also spilled across the Pennines into Lancashire and even northern Cheshire, but remained an extension of the larger Yorkshire industry.(16)

The Yorkshire worsted industry supported many small producers, known as "piece-makers," who plied their trade in a milieu not dissimilar from the artisan culture of small master clothiers in the local woollen industry. In the main, however, the social relationships of worsted manufacturing followed from the industry's well-defined capitalistic organization.(17) Simultaneous with the post-1750 expansion of the industry, a small number of wealthy proto-industrial manufacturers assumed a dominant role. This emerging middle class, the subject of an important recent study by John Small, was disproportionately non-conformist and steeped in the values of enterprise, thrift and individualism.(18) If the worsted merchants and principal manufacturers generally resided in Halifax, Bradford, Wakefield or Leeds, the countryside remained the main site of production. The proto-industrialists took no direct part in the mechanics of production. Instead they organized elaborate putting-out systems employing spatially dispersed specialist workers in an extended division of labor. Woolcombers, an exclusively male occupation organized in craft societies, fashioned raw wool into "tops," the preparatory process prior to spinning. Manufacturers then distributed the tops to handspinners, mostly women, who transformed them into yarn. Handloom weavers completed the manufacturing process, producing set lengths of cloth known as "pieces." Set in an austere upland environment of scattered villages, hill farms and pastoral agriculture, the industry's manufacturers recruited small holders and underemployed rural workers who eagerly took up wage labor to supplement meager incomes.(19)

The post-1750 development of the worsted industry took place in tightly knit and tradition-bound communities, each with its own pre-existing social hierarchy. Tenacious localism as well as the perpetuation of shared identities and values rooted in communal institutions insured the survival of substantial social cohesion. Impressed by "its quiet scenes and ancient customs,"(20) Victorian chroniclers of the preceding era fixed on the importance of paternalism in eighteenth-century industry. In one representative passage, an antiquarian referred to the eighteenth-century Yorkshire masters as "a sturdy and honest old race," and assured his readers that "we have it on good authority that they [the masters] treated their workpeople . . . with kindness."(21) Within the broader arc of continuity, however, older patterns of social relationships slowly eroded, transformed by the solvent of rapid economic growth. The social organization of the industry, long dependent on the intensely personal exercise of authority, likewise underwent a gradual change, a process driven by social differentiation and the increasingly dominant role of the emerging class of wealthy manufacturers. The decade of the 1770s witnessed the industry's first strikes, polarizing conflicts that both reflected and furthered the articulation of new social identities. As the points of contact narrowed, manufacturers became increasingly reliant on the legal sanctions of authority to sustain strained social ties. The law would prove an especially important resource in attending to the intractable problem of embezzlement.(22)


In common law, an essential characteristic of larceny, or theft from a person or premises, was that it take place by means of a forcible taking - vi et armis. The law deemed physical violence, in the loose sense of a trespass, as integral to the act. In contrast, when the owner of property voluntarily transferred possession to a second party and the latter, whether bailee, factor, servant or employee, converted part of it to her own use, that action did not constitute a criminal taking. The law considered such takings as private harms or violations of personal relationships of trust.(23) As legal commentators acknowledged, the law of bailment, which included the relationship of locatio operis, or the hiring of labor for reward, was entirely appropriate for regulating the disposition of property in the putting-out system. But manufacturers only rarely made use of equity courts, the venue for the adjudication of such civil matters.(24) Jurists and parliamentarians instead devised and elaborated the law of embezzlement, a statutory body consistent with what Christopher L. Tomlins has termed "the paradigm of Master and Servant."(25) An ingenious juridical remedy to address the peculiar vulnerability of property in the putting-out system, the law of embezzlement granted manufacturers exclusive rights of possession to production material as it circulated through the stages of the manufacturing process.(26) Moreover, just as the doctrine of Master and Servant defined defiance of an employer's authority as unlawful "misconduct," the embezzlement laws designated any act of unauthorized taking as a criminal transgression. By the early eighteenth century the term "embezzlement" was well established in law and legal parlance. The 1717 edition of Blount's A Law Dictionary and Glossary defined embezzlement as "to steal, pilfer or purloin" in the context of industrial employment. Here, property rights are unqualified and unproblematic. An embezzler, it would seem, was merely a species of thief.(27)

Yet a wide gap separated the law from the beliefs and practices of the cottage. Throughout England's Old Regime manufacturing economy the workers in dozens of trades and occupations retained waste and surplus material from the production process as a supplement to monetary earnings. Like other nonmonetary usages that mediated the relationship between work and wages (payment in foodstuffs, housing, drink, credit), the status of the practice varied widely. Rarely static or permanently fixed, the scale and extent of self-appropriation was specific to particular trades and communities.(28) Whether manufacturers openly sanctioned or merely grudgingly tolerated the practice, the boundaries defining the mutually agreed upon limits were often grey. As T. S. Ashton remarked, "the line of demarcation between the extension of established rights and barefaced robbery is difficult to draw."(29) Nevertheless, as Styles has reminded us, the practice of retaining waste and surplus should be viewed from the wider context of the wage relationship that characterized the putting-out system.(30)

Putting-out workers, such as those in the Yorkshire worsted industry, earned piece-rates, a set cash payment according to an individual's measured output of a standard task. The wage bargain, in theory, obligated a manufacturer to dispense wages when a worker completed and returned processed materials, whether tops, yarn or a finished piece. In practice, however, piece-rates amounted to a loose and complex form of payment, regularly subject to significant modification.

For example, Yorkshire worsted workers often received fines after completing their task, abatements that employers justified on the grounds of real or imagined defects in the work. Citing the country's endemic shortage of coin, manufacturers also initiated the practice of making payments to workers in the form of goods, typically yam or cloth. Yorkshire folk called these latter payments "pokey," an obvious reference to the sacking used to transport textile materials. Widely engaged in, this early use of the truck system further blurred, if unintentionally, the distinction between wages and the appropriation of waste or surplus.(31) Most common of all, worsted workers faced inordinate and regular delays in receiving wages. Such delays necessitated a reliance on elaborate credit networks, a phenomenon still little understood.(32) The sources of strong resentment, each of these widespread practices weakened the integrity of the wage bargain. As the recollections of William Crabtree, a Halifax Parish-born stuff weaver, pointedly suggest, worsted workers took advantage of their control over the sphere of production, asserting by practice a partial right to the product of their labor.(33)

Waste and surplus material had tangible value, representing a small, irregular but important source of income in the secret economies of the poor. If some worsted workers used their self-appropriated material for home-use, most pursued market outlets. Many weavers made occasional forays into the ranks of small producers, manufacturing their own piece from surplus yarn that they slowly accumulated over weeks and months.(34) More often, worsted workers found a market for their takings among the small piece-makers or the ubiquitous waste gatherers who scoured the textile districts.(35) Large numbers also frequented the open markets held at Dewsbury and other towns in Yorkshire "for the sale of yarn made from waste and purloined materials."(36) Much of the material never left a worsted worker's neighborhood. Shopkeepers accepted small quantities of material in barter for consumables, often in exchanges of micro-commerce. One Barnsley resident recalled, "many a child when crying for bread has had a fent [a short length of cloth, perhaps a yard or two, that weavers took from the end of a finished piece] put into its hand and been told to go to some neighboring shop and ask for a certain weight of bread in exchange."(37) Alehouse keepers were especially well known for harboring these kinds of small transactions.(38) Rather than evidencing widespread resistance to capitalism or opposition to market culture, as Linebaugh has argued, the conversion of waste and surplus material entailed participation in the market and a close familiarity with market values. At the same time, workers treated workplace appropriation as a customary right, even if one only recently asserted. Invoking custom, in this context, might amount to little more than a strategy to legitimate a practice that offered advantages. Nevertheless, worsted workers staunchly defended their takings as perquisites, roughly akin to the practice of gleaning in the agricultural economy.(39)

From the earliest years of worsted manufacturing in Yorkshire this widespread practice co-existed with a formal legal prohibition against embezzlement. While the fragmentary nature of the evidence render generalizations suspect, for several decades the community of manufacturers seems to have given little sustained attention to the issue. Still, if those years witnessed no lengthy prosecution campaigns against embezzlers, many manufacturers did make periodic use of the law to punish offenders. Even more commonly, in the context of close and regular personal interaction with those that they employed, manufacturers almost certainly acted to limit the practice by the use of informal sanctions. However, the industry's growing importance after mid-century appears to have hastened a shift in the status of the long-practiced custom. In 1764, sounding the tocsin of alarm, a group of Yorkshire masters published a series of warnings against embezzlement in the local press. Like manufacturers elsewhere in the English economy, they also indicated their intention of using the law to press the issue.(40)

Yet rather than evidencing any dramatic transformation in their attitude towards property in the workplace, the manufacturers' shared concerns were qualified and highly specific. By all accounts, workers in the industry appropriated material at each stage of the manufacturing process. For instance, woolcombers often kept a portion of the "noils," the valuable short fibers of wool that accumulated during the preparation of tops. Weavers retained "fents," short lengths of cloth from the end of a piece, and "thrums," small bits of warp yarn. But suggestively, the frequently issued public notices of the manufacturers paid relatively little attention to the property encroachments common to those occupations. Instead, they focused intently on "the dishonest and injurious customs" of spinners. That preoccupation remained unchanged for the next few decades. Few historians of the Worsted Act have recognized this important feature of the manufacturers' anti-embezzlement orientation. Even Styles's authoritative work has failed to account for it. However, it is the specificity of the manufacturers' shared concern that is the key to the origin and meaning of the larger crisis over embezzlement that gripped the Yorkshire industry.

Spinners generally carried on two distinct forms of workplace appropriation, false and short reeling. Until 1774, the law failed to distinguish those practices from the generic offense of embezzlement, subjecting spinners to identical liabilities as other embezzlers. A statute of 1774, however, defined the practices as distinct from the act of embezzlement and also reduced the relevant penalties.(41) From the vantage point of the Yorkshire manufacturers, the embezzlement of spinners did indeed pose unusual problems of detection. After drawing off a sufficient length of yarn from her great wheel, a spinner used a reel, one yard in circumference, to collect the material into set lengths known as hanks.(42) The volume of yam wound on a reel after one full turn was called a thread. Each hank was 560 yards or threads in length. Manufacturers specified that spinners twist their yam to a certain thickness or count. A count was determined by how many hanks had been spun from one pound of wool. In the Yorkshire worsted industry, manufacturers used yarn as coarse as "16s" (that is sixteen hanks to a pound) and as fine as "36s."(43) The methods used by spinners to abstract material followed from the means employed to measure their work. A spinner could appropriate quantities of wool or yarn by putting an insufficient number of threads in a hank, a practice known as false reeling. Alternatively, a spinner could shorten a reel, reducing its circumference to less than one yard, a practice known as short reeling. For manufacturers, the detection of either practice presented a staggering obstacle. Short of unreeling each hank of yarn that he received, a prohibitively time-consuming process, no effective safeguards existed.

Addressing this dilemma, a small group of prominent Halifax and Bradford manufacturers met in early 1764. Led by a Quaker woolstapler from Bradford named John Hustler, the Yorkshire masters advanced an anti-embezzlement initiative, organizing a joint endeavor to effect the more regular prosecution of spinners.(44) They modelled their efforts on the voluntary prosecution societies that emerged throughout England in the second-half of the eighteenth century.(45) Each of the associated masters contributed a fixed subscription to support prosecution efforts, a sum based on the size of his enterprise. While relatively little is known about the mechanics or details of this initiative, the voluntarist society employed at least two individuals, known as inspectors of worsted yarn. The inspectors examined the yarn held by society members and identified culprits who were guilty of short or false reeling. In effect, the inspectors exercised a police function although they had no status in law.(46) The scheme enjoyed some success. Hustler later claimed that within months the inspectors had sharply reduced the incidence of false and short reeling.(47) Beginning in 1765, the local press records a small but steady stream of embezzlement convictions, almost entirely of spinners.(48) Moreover, the wide appeal of policing was further evidenced when in 1770 the Leeds stuffmakers established their own ad hoc body and engaged an inspector to pursue prosecutions against spinners and other worsted workers.(49)

Despite its success, however, the Yorkshire manufacturers' undertaking remained vulnerable. In the end it failed, victim of inter-capitalist rivalry and the industry's acute shortage of spinners. Adversaries for scarce labor (a point to which we will return), by the early 1770s a growing number of the Halifax and Bradford masters withdrew their subscriptions, distancing themselves from the prosecution efforts. As the ranks of associated masters dwindled, emboldened spinners struck back, withholding their labor against the diehards. A number of manufacturers even alleged that they suffered "outrages" from spinners and other conspirators, a powerful indication of the volatility of the issue. In full retreat, the voluntarist campaign waned and collapsed altogether in early 1776.(50)


By the standards of voluntary prosecution societies, the anti-embezzlement effort of the Yorkshire manufacturers was fairly long-lived. However, for Hustler, his prominent Halifax associates, William Currer and Robert Swaine, and other leaders of the industry, the defections from their ranks presented only a temporary obstacle. With the resolution that characterized all of their endeavors, the proto-industrial grandees set about at once devising a plan to re-establish policing on a sounder footing. Their bold scheme, probably arrived at by mid-1776, was without precedent. Concluding that further voluntary efforts would be fruitless, they proposed to secure a parliamentary statute that would allow for the creation of a permanent force of industrial police. Intending a far more ambitious and extensive campaign, they submitted that the law should invest the county's justices of the peace with the responsibility of appointing the worsted inspectors, as they termed the police. By this means, they reasoned, the prosecution of spinners and others would be carried out under the formal auspices of the British state. That arrangement would free individual manufacturers from the recriminations or retribution of vengeful offenders. The inspectors, however, would remain under the control of an elite-dominated private association of manufacturers, the Worsted Committee. Drawing a lesson from the failure of voluntary policing, Hustler and his allies sought to finance the project by a system of mandatory contributions from the entire manufacturing population.(51) The plan represented an effort by a narrow elite of the manufacturers, described by a nineteenth-century historian as "gentlemen of the highest and most respectable class,"(52) to institutionalize the policing of spinning and gain close control of the police.

In lobbying the largely sympathetic legislators in Westminster for passage of the Worsted Act, the Yorkshire manufacturers pointed to the already extensive body of embezzlement law.(53) Previous historians have fixed on this point and accounted for the origins of state-sanctioned policing in the Yorkshire industry solely by reference to the manufacturers' presumably single-minded preoccupation with property rights. Such an interpretation is inadequate, however, for it fails to explain the precise timing of the legislative initiative and ignores evidence of continuity in the attitudes and behavior of manufacturers. For example, both Rule and Becker stress that anti-embezzlement campaigns in general resulted from crucial and identifiable changes in how English manufacturers viewed the issue of property rights. But in Yorkshire, as was noted above, friction between manufacturers and their putting-out workers over the disposition of production material, pre-dated the 1770s. Further, an insistence on a well-defined "once and for all" criminalization of customary practices ignores the fact that many manufacturers continued to condone specific and limited practices, like the retention of thrums by weavers, well into the nineteenth century.(54) While John Hustler and his associates stressed the rhetoric of property rights in their parliamentary campaign, they did so as a tactical ploy only. Rather than safeguarding property, the founders of the Worsted Committee intended to exercise their policing powers to resolve a structural constraint in the manufacture of textiles that had emerged as a result of the industry's long-term pattern of growth. In a passage of The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith identified England's woolcombers as workers so powerful that they could "reduce the whole manufacture into a sort of slavery to themselves."(55) In Yorkshire, however, the spinning sector proved to be the main cause of the industry's bottleneck. The manufacturers resorted to policing to extend their control over the working lives of spinners.

To be accurate, the bottleneck was not entirely new. Manufacturers had expressed occasional frustration over their inability to gain a consistent and timely supply of yarn even in the industry's early years. Two factors account for this dilemma. First, the great number of spinners who lived in rural districts tended to carry out much of their industrial employment according to the agricultural calendar and the seasonal requirements of small holdings. Consequently, shortages of yarn were far more common in spring and late summer when planting and haymaking commanded all available labor. During those slack periods manufacturers sometimes coped by simply ceasing production.(56) Second and more importantly, the bottleneck resulted from the disparity in the industry's labor inputs. Contemporaries estimated that one weaver needed at least four or five spinners to keep him sufficiently supplied with yarn. Even in periods of slow growth, such aggregate numbers often proved difficult to recruit.(57)

These preexisting conditions took on new urgency after 1750, however, with the industry's rapid expansion. Sustained growth and the industry's continued dependence on the old one-thread wheel as the main spinning technology necessitated an ever greater supply of spinners. Finding that the area around Halifax and Bradford, known as "the home district," lacked a sufficient spinning force, the large-scale manufacturers who were behind the industry's "take-off" began a relentless search for new labor. Within just two decades, drawing on new turnpikes, improvements in river and canal navigation as well as ancient packhorse trails, they succeeded in vastly enlarging the spatial dimensions of the spinning district. Thomas Pennant, who crossed Yorkshire several times in the 1760s en route to Scotland, observed the pattern of this expansion:

The great manufacturers give out a stock of wool to the artificers, who return it again in yarn . . . but many [manufacturers] taking in a larger quantity of work than they finish, are obliged to advance further into country, in search of more hands, which causes the trade to spread from place to place.(58)

In the North, in particular, the manufacturers began employing large numbers of spinners dispersed across the sparsely populated and isolated communities of Ribblesdale, Swaledale and Wensleydale. Soon, as much as one-half of the industry's spinning workforce lived in northern districts at distances of thirty to fifty miles from the county's core manufacturing axis. Manufacturers also distributed a large volume of spinning across South Yorkshire and into the neighboring counties of Lancashire and Cheshire. By the 1770s, the Yorkshire industry employed as many as 60,000 spinners. Still, the creation of distant networks of distribution failed to meet the growing industry's insatiable appetite for yarn.(59)

Indeed, by the early 1770s the drastic spatial extension of the spinning area may have aggravated the bottleneck. For manufacturers, the far-flung distribution networks all but ended traditional face-to-face contact with their spinners and instead necessitated a new dependence on agents, usually shopkeepers, to dispense and collect material. Thereafter, manufacturers usually knew the spinners they employed only by the names on the tags attached to the bundles of finished yarn. In many cases, agents operated as de facto sub-contractors, exercising wide discretion over the distribution of work. In a constant search for new labor, many manufacturers even granted their agents the power to increase piece-rates in order to lure spinners from rival employers. Perhaps not surprisingly, such relationships often proved unsatisfactory. Manufacturers alleged, for example, that agents were inattentive to requests and instructions, being chiefly concerned with bringing custom to their shops.(60) Those complaints were not without foundation. After transferring wool to agents, manufacturers routinely waited months before receiving the finished yam. By the 1770s, lengthy delays were a regular feature of the industry.(61)

As a broad trend, the desire to gain a competitive edge in a business dependent on volatile foreign markets and small profit margins entailed an increasingly close role for manufacturers in the organization of production. By the 1760s, success or failure often depended on a manufacturer's ability to adopt new types or styles of fabric to meet rapid changes in fashion. Yet in an industry marked by its advanced vertical integration, the dependence on agents further impeded the circulation of material, making a manufacturer's most exacting task, the coordination of different stages of production, far more complicated. Habitually inadequate provisions of yam often left weavers idle for days at a time.(62) Further, the chronic bottleneck also meant that meeting market dates and delivery schedules grew far more problematic, just at a time when the business environment became more contentious. In short, efforts at resolving the bottleneck in the spinning sector, particularly the great increase of the spinning workforce, ultimately proved ineffective, even introducing new complications.(63)


Given these conditions, a series of three letters published in the Leeds press in 1776 sheds considerable light on the strategy of the industry's leaders to establish a state-sanctioned policing apparatus. Offered anonymously, as was customary in the eighteenth century, but written by leaders of the fledgling Worsted Committee, the letters detail the concerns, grievances and objectives of the associated masters as well as their strategy to gain the passage of the Worsted Act.(64)

The discussion found in the letters is almost entirely concerned with the problems that manufacturers encountered with spinners. Virtually no mention is made of workers in other occupations. Each letter is lengthy, the longest about 2,000 words. Most striking of all is the nearly complete lack of attention to what was ostensibly the raison d'etre of establishing the Worsted Committee: the threat that escalating property depredations posed to the industry. Each of the letters does make brief specific reference to the alleged purloining by spinners. However, the authors were concerned only with certain practical matters, not the financial damages that embezzlement occasioned or the principle of property rights.

If discussion of property rights was a minor component of the letters, little more than a rhetorical device, what issues did the communications take up? One problem, considered at length in the letters, was the purported decline in the quality of spinning. This was no small matter. According to one textile historian, "next to the sorting of the wool, it was the spinning that did most to decide the quality of the woven cloth."(65) Since worsteds were not fulled like traditional woollens, it was imperative that spinners produce strong yarn of uniform thickness or count. One letter writer asserted, however, that the huge increase in the spinning workforce and inevitable growth of child labor had led to the corruption of standards for determining a yarn's count. Spinners spun most counts, he asserted, thicker than in the recent past, a development that yarn-starved manufacturers failed to vigorously challenge. Even more important, according to the same writer, manufacturers received great quantities of poorly reeled and inconsistently spun yarn, often with different counts in the same hank. The result of such negligence and deceit was clear. The inadvertent but inescapable transfer of poorly spun or carelessly reeled yam to their weavers, one manufacturer noted, "must without doubt spoil the goods it is manufactured into."(66) More crucial than the sanctity of property rights, manufacturers intended the proposal to police spinners' labor, at least in part, to enforce uniform standards of work.

The letters devoted an even more substantial part of the discussion to economic matters, narrowly defined. The writer of one letter, for instance, begins with a lengthy diatribe about the recent surge in the cost of production. Reckoning the increase at twenty-five percent in just two-years time, the correspondent concluded that inaction would bring the industry's ruin.(67) Tellingly, the manufacturers singled out the spinners as the main culprits in the escalation of costs. One letter writer acknowledged that the recent increase in spinners' wages had resulted from the granting of discretionary power to agents. Still, he railed against what he termed the spinners' "enormous" wages, incensed that they had used the chronic labor shortage to their slight advantage.(68) Insisting that the prices for spinning were higher than could be remembered "by the oldest manufacturer," a second correspondent proposed that wage gains threatened the very survival of the industry: "what shall become of the trade of this county? We shall not possibly keep it."(69)

In fact, spinners generally gained significantly higher wages only in times of robust economic growth. Downturns in trade usually brought piece-rate reductions. Even more to the point, however, spinners invariably received only paltry wages, whatever the business climate. Most full-time spinners earned no more than 4d. to 6d. a day, the approximate remuneration for spinning around one-half pound of wool. Working long hours at this tedious and labor-intensive task, few spinners exceeded earnings of 3s. to 3s.6d. in a week's time.(70) Of course, the earnings of many spinners represented only a supplement to the household economy. But a great number of widows and single women, probably a third or more of the workforce, gained the barest subsistence from their labor. Sluggish bouts of trade commonly threatened to throw thousands of spinners on poor relief.(71) In contrast, the industry's woolcombers, exclusively male, commonly earned twelve shillings or more in a single week, healthy wages for provincial artisans.

At the most general level, the concern that the manufacturers showed over the rising costs of production was rooted in a shared business orientation. Labor represented the single greatest expenditure in the manufacture of worsted textiles, amounting, in some cases, to as much as seventy percent of total production costs.(72) Since the costs of raw materials and transport were far less flexible, manufacturers tended to view wage increases as a threat to their ability to remain competitive. Like most manufacturers active in export industries, the business culture of the Yorkshire masters assumed the necessity of imposing the lowest possible wages in order to enhance market share and strengthen export potential.(73) Moreover, while spinners took in only meager earnings as individuals, the spinning sector as a whole accounted for a disproportionate share of total labor costs, around 55 to 60 percent.(74) Lacking artisanal traditions of resistance, spinners found themselves especially vulnerable to the attentions of cost-obsessed manufacturers.

However, a cost analysis of the manufacturing process is not the sole explanation for the manufacturers' preoccupation with spinners as the main source of growing production costs. In this matter, gender also played an essential role in shaping manufacturer's attitudes. Critically, although not all spinners were women, manufacturers singled out and targeted that workforce for scrutiny because they viewed it as a "feminized" occupation. Since late medieval times, most women in northern households spun in order to provide family members with articles of clothing. Consequently, the long association of the task with the household and domestic sphere stigmatized it as womens' work. Even after worsted manufacturers undertook the employment of great numbers of spinners as wage laborers, including thousands of men in remote upland areas, the task retained its socially constructed status as menial and unskilled work.(75) It was primarily for this reason that the worst paid workers in the industry came under attack for their "excessive" wages. As with other proto-industries, much of the success of worsted manufacturing in Yorkshire ultimately depended on the sweated labor of tens of thousands of women.

The most extensive discussion in the letters concerned what the authors clearly considered the most pressing problem of all: the industry's bottleneck in the supply of yam. Their analysis of this problem, articulated in graphic detail, explains the manufacturers' obsession with spinners and the main rationale for introducing industrial policing. Rather than attributing the bottleneck to the condition of the labor market or the complexities of distribution, the letter-writers chose to explain it by reference to the poor discipline of the allegedly work-shy force of spinners. This point merits emphasis: the manufacturers were nearly consumed with what they perceived as the indolence, carelessness and flawed moral character of spinners. Moreover, this concern was directly linked to the first and second problems taken up in the letters, the spinners' "enormous" wages and the debasement of work standards. According to the correspondents, high wages were problematic not merely because they raised production costs. More important, high wages made possible spinners' idleness, malingering and inattention to duty. Excessive wages for spinners, therefore, constituted the main reason for the slow and erratic circulation of material and the industry's chronically insufficient supply of yarn.

A close reading of the letters confirms that this premise, for manufacturers a source of powerful anxiety, informed the decisions and plans of the Worsted Committee's founders. Again and again, the writers stressed the inability of employers to command and direct the labor of spinners. One letter, for example, asserted that in the absence of compulsion and mindful of the favorable conditions of the labor market, spinners held onto wool for prolonged periods, impeding the circulation of material. Spinners, the correspondent added, also regularly took work from several manufacturers at the same time, setting the law at defiance, and further contributing to the sluggish flow of material and poor work quality. The role of high wages in all of this, the correspondents insisted, was self-evident. As one letter-writer exclaimed, "when wages are high, work is badly done."(76) A second contributor to the discussion expanded further: "there is not one person [who] gets the same quantity of yarn spun at the same place as he used to before the present enormous wages were given." Elaborating the point in greater detail, he continued:

I would be the last who would wish to abridge the poor of their present wages, were they any real advantage to them, but I am fully persuaded their case is otherwise; for idleness and profligacy are the certain consequences; the poor in general, are not provident, they only wish to live: if they can earn more money than will procure them a decent subsistence, the overplus is spent foolishly and wantonly which occasions considerable loss of time to them and labor to the manufacturer.(77)

The letters suggest not so much anger as a sense of alarm. Much of the discussion can be read as a lament over a troubled world run amok with materialism and moral decay. The intellectual heritage of this perception is exceedingly familiar. A discourse with origins in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century mercantilist thought, it was developed by economic writers who viewed the laboring poor as a potentially vital source of productive power but assumed that they were inherently idle, intemperate and dissolute. The solution, as the historian of economic thought, Edgar Furniss, put it, was "the doctrine of the utility of poverty."(78) The entrenched hostility of bourgeois and landed elites to the laboring poor, including broad agreement on the virtue of subsistence wages, was reinforced by disturbing developments after 1750, such as a periodic outbreak of food riots. Much of the contemporary debate over escalating poor rates and the reform of the poor law was informed by similar convictions.(79) Privation and austerity, in this view, served as the best means of spurring the poor to lives of greater discipline and productivity.

These assumptions thoroughly marked industrial relations before the factory. The West Country woollen clothier and pamphleteer, William Temple, spoke for many when he insisted "the only way to make the poor sober, industrious and obedient is to take away the means of idleness and intemperance such as high wages."(80) Nor were these sentiments confined to the treatises and pamphlets of economic writers. In a 1768 manual written for justices of the peace and attorneys, Laws Concerning Masters and Servants, the author volunteered this insight:

High wages serve only to debase the morals of servants and make them more idle; a fellow who earns three shillings a day is not content nowadays with keeping Saint Monday as it is called, but thinks it early enough to begin the week on Thursday morning.(81)

By the mid-eighteenth century alternative voices traversed the intellectual landscape, some advocating a high wage economy. Those individuals, however, were few in number.(82) Long after mid-century, the proponents of a low wage economy remained dominant and intellectually influential. Among manufacturers such as the Yorkshire worsted masters, the doctrine of the utility of poverty and its attendant corollaries, remained the conventional wisdom.

The architects of the Worsted Committee devised their plan to introduce industrial policing, certain that the intractable bottleneck in the supply of yarn menaced the industry and that excessive wages sanctioned the irregular work patterns of spinners. In their analysis, only by enforcing a new work regime of low wage social discipline would the manufacturers secure closer control over the circulation of production material. The mechanics of that process entailed nothing less than reconstituting the binding element between employers and spinners, the monetary wage relationship.

Determining popular attitudes about the wage is an elusive task. Clearly, however, given the absence of any direct oversight of work in the putting-out system, Yorkshire manufacturers viewed the system of payment by results as one of the few means of influencing workplace conduct.(83) Theoretically, of course, piece-rates contained their own form of discipline. However, the effectiveness of the piece-rate system of remuneration, and this point is vital, depended on the precise measurement of work. Inaccurate calculations were harmful not merely because they rewarded workers for lack of performance. Imprecise measurement could also encumber a manufacturer's efforts to establish standards of work discipline. That is why the widespread embezzlement of spinners presented such an alarming predicament. The spinners' mode of abstracting wool, done in secret and difficult to detect, fractured the nominally fixed relationship between the piece-rate and the work that a spinner carried out. The key to the origin of the Worsted Committee's policing was in the exact relationship between the types of embezzlement practiced by spinners and the imperative of strengthening the disciplinary potential of the wage. The method used by the worsted inspectors to detect false and short reeling, the systematic measurement of an enormous quantity of yam, allowed for the reestablishment of a strict and fixed relation between work and payment. This was the logic of deploying the law in an assault on the industry's intricate structure of custom, perquisite and the wage. The magnates of the Worsted Committee sought to bring greater order to their industry by effecting stricter control of work quality and prosecuting spinners whose conduct impeded the disciplinary power of the cash nexus.


Previous research on embezzlement in the industrial revolution follows from the premise that rival and incompatible versions of property rights fuelled the dynamics of contention. However, the example of the Yorkshire worsted industry points to a more complicated picture. Viewing the events in Yorkshire as a narrow clash over the relationship between working and owning seriously misconstrues the problem. At issue between the Worsted Committee and the industry's spinners was the meaning of the wage. The initiative to secure passage of the Worsted Act was driven by the context of spinners' remuneration and the particular economic circumstances of the Yorkshire manufacturers. The striking success of the worsted industry after 1750 confronted manufacturers with an increasingly serious quandary: the link between production and labor costs among spinners. The solution that manufacturers devised was ingenious. The Yorkshire masters set out to institutionalize the policing of spinners as a means of gaining control over piece work. In short, the vital relationship for manufacturers was that between wages and output rather than property and theft.

With the highly specific aims that guided the establishment of the Worsted Committee's inspectorate, policing, as it was constituted, had an uneven impact on the industry. For several decades the inspectors failed to fundamentally challenge the pattern of workplace appropriation practiced by thousands of woolcombers and handloom weavers. In contrast, the inspectors quickly placed the work and conduct of spinners under the closest scrutiny. The Worsted Committee's seven inspectors, in a prosecution campaign without precedent in England, gained more than 1,700 convictions for false and short reeling in the first sixteen months after commencing operations. Thereafter, the Committee expanded its policing presence, fielding as many as eleven inspectors. Securing hundreds of convictions each year, for a duration of more than two decades, the policing of work became a central part of the employment experience of thousands of workers.(84)

To be sure, the policing of spinners had limits. Some of the most forceful resistance to policing came from rural justices of the peace who intermittently balked at enforcing the law, accusing the Worsted Committee of treating poor women in an unduly harsh manner. Others, no doubt, resented the intrusion of the manufacturers' body in a world long dominated by squire and vicar.(85) Moreover, even vigilant policing could not offset the industry's longstanding inability to meet the demand for yarn. That condition grew notably worse after 1782, when the peace settlement with the newly independent America reopened important markets, triggering a decade-long surge of vibrant economic growth.(86) The period may, in fact, have seen an absolute reduction in the size of the labor force, as thousands of spinners in Lancashire and Cheshire abandoned their old employment for more remunerative work in the burgeoning cotton industry.(87) In the end, the exact predicament that had brought the introduction of policing, a perennial bottleneck in the supply of yarn, prompted manufacturers to attempt a more definitive solution. As the first historian of the industry, John James, observed in 1857, "this scarcity of yarn . . . hastened very much the adoption in worsted spinning of the wonderful automatic machines which had for some time been extensively employed in the spinning of cotton."(88)

After 1787, spinning mills began to appear in the scattered river valleys of Yorkshire. By 1800, the county was home to about twenty mills, generally of modest size, but which already accounted for a considerable volume of production. The ten years after 1800 were decisive in the transition to mechanized spinning. With the major technical flaws resolved, the immense advantage of greatly expanded output and reduced labor costs converted the last of the old style manufacturers. By 1810, the occupation of handspinning had all but vanished.(89)

The eclipse of handspinning greatly diminished the need for policing. After 1805, the Worsted Committee maintained a residual force of inspectors, three or four strong, who continued to patrol the weaving villages of the region. But they remained on the margins as the sense of urgency over embezzlement receded. Policing would regain importance only in the 1820s when the Worsted Committee launched a very different kind of prosecution campaign.

Still, judged on its own terms, the policing effort was a great success. The Yorkshire masters credited policing with sharply reducing the extent of embezzlement by spinners and bringing new order and rigor to the manufacturing process. Urging the Yorkshire woollen manufacturers to adopt the statutory policing of work in their own industry, one contemporary judged the worsted inspectors' achievement in these terms:

[T]here is now scarce abuse at all in that manufactory, the work is infinitely better performed . . . and the credit of Yorkshire stuffs so great abroad, that the perpetual demand constantly keeps pace with the quantity of goods made.(90)

A study of the origins of policing in the worsted industry also provides a glimpse of the legal regulation of "free" labor in the industrial revolution. Late eighteenth-century economic writers, swayed by contract theory and market values, conceived the employment relationship as a consensual exchange between free and equal parties. However, the condition of contractual freedom did not preclude the use of a substantial form of non-economic coercion. With the passage of the Worsted Act in 1777, the Yorkshire manufacturers relied on a state-sanctioned inspectorate to exact obedience and submission from spinners and others in their employment. Wielding an arsenal of penal labor law, the policing apparatus, as a Worsted Committee founder remarked, was "intended as a terror to the idle and profligate."(91) Like the broader law of Master and Servant, the history of policing embezzlement highlights the dependence of eighteenth-century market capitalism on a pre-industrial legal heritage dedicated to social hierarchy and pronounced asymmetries of power.

Department of History Normal, IL 61790-4420


I would like to acknowledge the generous assistance of the College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State University for a 1995 University Research Grant which enabled me to complete the research for this article. James Epstein made thoughtful suggestions about an earlier version of the article. A. L. Beier and Victor G. Devinatz also provided helpful readings. I owe a special thanks to Richard Price.

1. Martha Pimlott's encounters with the criminal justice system can be reconstructed from records on deposit at the Cheshire Record Office, Chester [hereafter, CRO]. These include conviction certificates as well as Middlewich House of Correction Calendars and Incident Bills: QJF, Chester Sessions Files: 213/2, 213/3, 1785; 215/2, 1787; 217/1, 217/4, 1789;219/1,219/2,219/4, 1791; 221/3, 1793.

2. These included woollen, worsted, silk, linen, fustian, cotton, hemp, flax and mohair manufacturing. Statutes also pertained to the leather, fur and iron industries as well as hatmaking, shoemaking and clock and watchmaking.

3. Cited in Joanna Innes, "Statute Law and Summary Justice in Early Modern England," Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History vol.52, no. 1 (1987): 34.

4. The fullest treatment of the changing character of the law of embezzlement is by John Styles, "Embezzlement, Industry and the Law in England," in Maxine Berg, et al., eds., Manufacture in Town and Country Before the Factory (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 173-210.

5. See, for example, John Styles, "Sir John Fielding and the Problem of Criminal Investigation in 18th Century England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser., 33 (1983): 127-149; Ruth Paley, "Thief-Takers in London in the Age of the McDaniel Gang c. 1745-1754," in Douglas Hay and Francis Snyder, eds., Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 301-340; J. M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660-1800 (Princeton, 1986), pp. 55-59, 67-72.

6. Between 1784 and 1791, at least three groups of worsted manufacturers in other regions founded statutory associations for the purpose of introducing industrial policing. In Yorkshire itself, woollen manufacturers of Halifax as well as Huddersfield established respective policing bodies based upon the model of the Worsted Committee.

7. The intellectual sources of this transformation are considered in P.S. Atiyah, The Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract (Oxford, 1979), pp. 61-91.

8. J. L. and Barbara Hammond, The Skilled Labourer, 1760-1832 (London, 1919), pp. 190-191, 199; Herbert Heaton, The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries: From the Earliest Times up to the Industrial Revolution (Oxford, 1965; 2nd ed.), pp. 405-437; Ivy Pinchbeck, Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850 (New York, 1930), p. 146; T. S. Ashton, An Economic History of England: The Eighteenth Century (London, 1955), p. 211; Sidney Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain (London, 1965), p. 46; John Rule, The Experience of Labour in Eighteenth Century Industry (London, 1981), pp. 131-132; R.W. Malcolmson, Life and Labor in England, 1700-1780 (London, 1981), p. 152; Pat Hudson, The Genesis of Industrial Capital: A Study of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry, c. 1750-1850 (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 75, 288, 290; Theodore Koditschek, Class Formation and Urban-Industrial Society: Bradford, 1750-1850 (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 65, 75, 154; Deborah Valenze, The First Industrial Woman (Oxford, 1995), p. 74.

9. Craig Becker, "Property in the Workplace: Labor, Capital and Crime in the Eighteenth Century British Woolen and Worsted Industries," Virginia Law Review 69 (1983): 1487-1515; John Rule, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England, 1750-1850 (London, 1986), pp. 107-129 and Experience of Labour, pp. 124-146; Valenze, First Industrial Woman, pp. 70-75.

10. It is implicit to Linebaugh's analysis that the transformation of property relationships in eighteenth-century industry paralleled the process of primitive capital accumulation in the countryside that Marx traced in the historical sections of Capital. See his, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1992).

11. John Styles, "Embezzlement in England" and "Criminalization and Capitalism: Industrial Structure, Legislative Opportunity and Employee Fraud in the English Worsted Industries, 1550-1800," unpublished paper, 1988. Clive Emsley has closely followed Styles in "Fiddles, Perks and Pilferage," a chapter in his Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900 (London, 1987), pp. 103-128.

12. Adrian J. Randall, "Peculiar Perquisites and Pernicious Practices: Embezzlement in the West of England Woollen Industry, c. 1750-1840," International Review of Social History XXXV (1990): 193-219.

13. Classic worsted textiles were made of long staple wool rather than the short staple wool used in traditional woollens. The differences in the character of the two fabrics resulted from the distinct production processes. For example, in the preparation of worsteds, wool was combed rather than carded, a process that suspended the felting properties of wool and allowed for the production of stronger yam. Gaining their tenacity and strength from the yarn, worsteds were not fulled in the finishing process, a procedure in the manufacture of woollens that subjected cloth to the pounding of heavy wooden stocks while it was submerged in water.

14. John James, History of the Worsted Manufacture in England (London, 1857; repr. 1968), p. 268.

15. James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 282, 284. See, also, D.T. Jenkins, The West Riding Wool Industry, 1770-1835: A Study of Fixed Capital Formation (Edington, 1975), pp. 2-4; R. G. Wilson, "The Supremacy of the Yorkshire Cloth Industry," in N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting, eds., Textile History and Economic History (Manchester, 1973), pp. 225-226.

16. Hudson, Genesis of Industrial Capital, pp. 26, 28; Heaton, Yorkshire Woollen, pp. 284-286.

17. Michael Dickinson, "The West Riding Woollen and Worsted Industries, 1689-1769: An Analysis of Probate Inventories and Insurance Policies," University of Nottingham Ph.D. Thesis, 1974; Heaton, Yorkshire Woollen, pp. 293-301; Hudson, Genesis of Industrial Capital, pp. 37-39.

18. John Small, The Origins of Middle-Class Culture: Halifax, Yorkshire, 1660-1780 (Ithaca, 1994); Koditschek, Class Formation, pp. 45-52.

19. Pat Hudson, "Proto-Industrialization: The Case of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," History Workshop Journal 12 (Autumn 1981): 34-62 and Genesis of Industrial Capital, pp. 59-67; Heaton, Yorkshire Woollen, 286-287.

20. Jack Reynolds, The Great Paternalist: Titus Salt and the Growth of Nineteenth Century Bradford (London, 1983), p. 17.

21. William Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford (Bradford, 1889; repr. 1968), p. 115.

22. The discussion in this paragraph draws closely on the insightful work of Koditschek, Class Formation, pp. 53-78.

23. J. H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (London, 1979), p. 433; George F. Fletcher, "The Metamorphosis of Larceny," Harvard Law Review 89 (1976): esp. 473-475.

24. On this point see Alfred P. Wadsworth and Julia De Lacy Mann in The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire, 1600-1780 (Manchester, 1931), pp. 52-53.

25. The law of bailment, including the relationship of locatio operis, was enumerated in a celebrated judgement by Holt C. J. in The English Law Reports, Coggs v. Bernand (1703), 2 Ld. Raym. 909. My discussion of the law of bailment draws on the penetrating insights of Christopher L. Tomlins in his Law, Labor and Ideology in the Early American Republic (Cambridge, 1993), esp. pp. 223-231. A standard treatment of the law of bailment is Jerome T. Hall, Theft, Law and Society (Boston, 1935).

26. Styles, "Embezzlement in England," pp. 188-189.

27. Thomas Blount, A Law Dictionary and Glossary (London, 1717).

28. Peter Linebaugh, "Crime and Social Control in Eighteenth Century England," Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History 25 (Autumn 1972): 114-119. See, also, L. D. Schwartz, "The Formation of the Wage: Some Problems," in Peter Scholliers, ed., Real Wages in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Europe: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (New York, 1989), pp. 21-39.

29. Ashton, An Economic History, p. 208.

30. Styles, "Embezzlement in England," pp. 181-182.

31. Bradford University Archives [hereafter, BUA], Worsted Committee Minute Books, WC 1/ii, entries for 21 June 1779, 12 April 1802; Leeds Intelligencer, 26 August 1783, 29 January 1788; William Cudworth, Round About Bradford: A Series of Sketches of Forty-Two Places Within Six Miles of Bradford (Bradford, 1876), p. 173. The larger problem of inadequate coinage in Yorkshire communities is examined in John Styles, "'Our Traitorous Money Makers': The Yorkshire Coiners and the Law, 1760-1783," in John Brewer and John Styles, eds., An Ungovernable People: The English and Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (London, 1980), pp. 172-249.

32. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford District Archives [hereafter, WYAS-BDA], Heaton Papers, B145; Eric Sigsworth, "William Greenwood and Robert Heaton: Two Eighteenth Century Worsted Manufacturers," Bradford Textile Society Journal (1951-1952): 63-64.

33. According to Crabtree, the embezzlement of yarn was universally practiced by the weavers of his village. See Isaac Mann, Memoirs of the Late William Crabtree, First Pastor of the Baptist Church at Bradford Yorkshire (London, 1815), pp. 13-15.

34. On this point Crabtree's memoir is fascinating. See Mann, William Crabtree, pp. 13-15. See also Leeds Mercury, 12 May 1778, 25 May 1779.

35. BUA, Worsted Committee Minute Books, WC 1/i, entry for 5 January 1784.

36. Leeds Intelligencer, 26 April 1791.

37. See, Barnsley Central Library, Local Studies Department, John Hugh Burland Collection, "Annals of Barnsley and its Environs," volume one, p. 413.

38. Leeds Intelligencer, 26 April 1791.

39. For useful discussions of the relationship of custom to the capitalist market see Adrian J. Randall, Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woollen Industry, 1776-1809 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 88-90; John Rule, "Against Innovation? Custom and Resistance in the Workplace, 1700-1850" in Tim Harris, ed., Popular Culture in England, c.1500-1850 (New York, 1995), pp. 187-188.

40. See, for example, Leeds Intelligencer, 16 January 1764.

41. 24 Geo. III, c.44. Under this statute a first offender was automatically liable for a monetary fine of five shillings. Second offenders faced a ten shilling fine and third offenders, the sum of one pound. All offenders also had to pay court costs, usually amounting to an additional three or four shillings. Individuals unable to pay fines could have their goods constrained. Only on a fourth conviction did an offender face a mandatory spell of imprisonment and corporal punishment. Needless to say, even the minimum fines, from eight or nine shillings, represented a substantial burden on poor spinners.

42. The following description of the mechanics of measuring a spinner's work draws closely on Styles, "Criminalization and Capitalism," pp. 9-10.

43. Brotherton Library [hereafter, BL], Leeds University, Special Collections, Jonathan Akroyd Papers, Account Book, item 1, various entries; Patricia Baines, Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning (New York, 1977), pp. 106-110.

44. Leeds Intelligencer, 5 June 1764; Wade Hustwick, "An Eighteenth Century Woolstapler, Bradford Textile Society Journal (1956-57): 117-125; John Mahaffey, "On Some Decayed Families of Bradford," The Bradford Antiquary, vol. 1 (1888): 26-32.

45. Peter King, "Prosecution Associations and their Impact on Eighteenth Century Essex," in Francis Snyder and Douglas Hay, eds., Policing and Prosecution in Britain, 1750-1850 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 171-210; David Philips, "'Good Men to Associate and Bad Men to Conspire': Associations for the Prosecution of Felons in England, 1760-1860," Ibid., pp. 155-189.

46. Each association member paid the annual sum of one shilling and six pence for every woolcomber that they employed. Since even substantial manufacturers might employ only ten or twelve combers, annual dues were not large. See the recollections of this early attempt at policing in Leeds Mercury, 26 September 1776 and the account provided by the Halifax manufacturer, William Currer, in House of Commons Journals, vol. xxxvi, February 4, 1776, p. 113.

47. Expressed in a pamphlet that he published, Observations Upon the Bill Presented to Parliament for Preventing the Exportation of Wool (London, 1787).

48. John Styles, "Policing a Female Workforce: The Worsted Inspectors, 1760-1810," unpublished paper, 1986, p. 17.

49. Leeds Mercury, 7 August 1770.

50. The collapse is described in Leeds Mercury, 26 November 1776. According to James, "such a combination existed among the operatives," that manufacturers "could not obtain hands because they refused to work for him and frequently plotted mischief against his person and property." See History of Worsted Manufacture, p. 293. See, also, Heaton, Yorkshire Woollen, pp. 418-419.

51. The processing of wool required the use of great quantities of soap, primarily for cleaning. One pound of soap was commonly used to clean ten pounds of wool. Soap was also a heavily taxed item. In 1712, in deference to the importance of woollen manufacturing, parliament passed a statute that provided for the Excise to transfer a portion of the soap tax to the manufacturers, a rebate known as the drawback. By the terms of the Worsted Act, one or two pence of every shilling of drawback was to be paid to the trustees of the Worsted Committee.

52. James, History of Worsted Manufacture, p. 294.

53. In securing the Worsted Act, the Yorkshire masters relied on their close ties to nationally prominent politicians, including Sir George Saville in the House of Commons and Charles Watson Wentworth, the Second Marquess of Rockingham, in the House of Lords. The progress of the Bill is detailed in House of Commons Journals, vol. xxxvi, 29 and 31 January 1777 pp. 85, 95,113.

54. BUA, Worsted Committee Minute Books, WC l/iii, entry for 23 March 1812; WC 1/iv, entry for 31 December 1838.

55. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (New York, 1909), p. 129.

56. Account books kept by the Haworth-area manufacturer, Robert Heaton, indicate that spinners produced the greatest volume of yarn from January through March, the winter months. April as well as June and August, when spinners were engaged in planting and harvest, saw the least yarn spun. See, WYAS-BDA, Heaton Papers, B147. See, also, the "Reminiscences" of Henry Hall, a Leeds stuff manufacturer, in James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 311-312.

57. James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 281,285; Hudson, Genesis of Industrial Capital, p. 42.

58. Thomas Pennant, A Tour in Scotland (London, 1769), p. 523.

59. The dimensions of the spinning district can be pieced together from several sources, including West Yorkshire Archive Service, Registry of Deeds [hereafter, WYAS-RD], Wakefield Headquarters, QE15, Memoranda of Summary Convictions; John Hodgson, Textile Manufacture in Keighley (Keighley, 1879), pp. 17-18; James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 292, 324-326.

60. Leeds Mercury, 17 September 1776; James, History of Worsted Manufacture, p. 312.

61. Evidence on this point is voluminous. For example, see BL, Leeds University, Special Collections, Jonathan Akroyd's Account Books, various entries.

62. James, History of Worsted Manufacture, p. 312.

63. Julian Hoppit, Risk and Failure in English Business, 1700- 1800 (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 78-80; Pinchbeck, Women Workers, pp. 137-138.

64. Leeds Mercury, 17 and 24 September 1776; 26 November 1776.

65. Eric Kerridge, Textile Manufacture in Early Modern England (Manchester, 1985), p. 158.

66. Leeds Mercury, 17 September 1776. For additional evidence on the problem of yarn quality, see Cudworth, Round About, p. 108; John Hodgson, Textile Manufacture and other Industries in Keighley (Keighley, 1879), pp. 17-18; James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 311-312,324.

67. Leeds Mercury, 17 September 1776.

68. Ibid.

69. Leeds Mercury, 24 September 1776.

70. Arthur Young, A Six Months Tour Through the North of England: Volume One (London, 1771), pp. 138, 254, 317,425; William Cudworth, Rambles Round Horton: Historiographical, Topographical and Descriptive (Bradford, 1886), pp. 19, 24-25; James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 281,290.

71. For example, see the comments of Sir F. M. Eden in The State of the Poor: Volume Three (London, 1797; repr. 1966), p. 821.

72. James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 280-281.

73. Peter Mathias, "Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice," in Mathias, The Transformation of England: Essays in the Economic and Social History of England in the 18th-Century (New York, 1979), pp. 154-159.

74. The data for this example were provided by a Halifax manufacturer named John Sutcliffe and included in a 1774 petition to Parliament. The item used in the cost analysis was a shalloon valued at 35 shillings. See, James, History of the Worsted Manufacture, pp. 281-282.

75. Pamela Sharp, Adapting to Capitalism: Working Women in the English Economy, 1700-1850 (New York, 1996), pp. 19-37; Anne Laurence, Women in England, 1500-1760: A Social History (New York, 1994), pp. 8-13, 108-143; Carole Shammas, "The World We Knew: Women Workers in the North of England During the Late-Seventeenth Century," in Richard S. Dunn and Mary Maples Dunn, eds., The World of William Penn (Philadelphia, 1986), pp. 99-115; Bridget Hill, Women, Work and Sexual Politics in 18th Century England (Oxford, 1989), esp. pp. 33-35; Pinchbeck, Women Workers, pp. 130-146; Valenze, Industrial Woman, pp. 70-75.

76. Leeds Mercury, 17 September 1776.

77. Leeds Mercury, 24 September 1776. The literature on this point is extensive but for one example see Catherine Lis and Hugo Soly, "Policing the Early Modern Proletariat, 1450-1850," in David Levine, ed., Proletarianization and Family History (Orlando, FL, 1984), esp. pp. 189-193.

78. E.S. Furniss, The Position of the Laborer in a System of Nationalism (Boston, 1920), pp. 117-137, 150-156. See, also, Joyce Oldham Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology in 17th-Century England (Princeton, 1978), esp. pp. 129-157.

79. Gregory Claeys, Machinery, Money and the Millenium: From Moral Economy to Socialism, 1815-1860 (Princeton, 1987), pp. 18-19; Thomas A. Horne, Property Rights and Poverty: Political Argument in Britain, 1605-1834 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1990), pp. 107-108, 122.

80. William Temple, The Case as it now Stands Between the Clothiers, Weavers and other Manufacturers with Regard to the Late Riot in the County of Wiltshire (London, 1739).

81. Anon., Laws Concerning Masters and Servants (London, 1768), p. 226. See, also, Anon., The Laws Relating to Masters and Servants with Brief Notes and Explanations to Render them Easy and Intelligible to the Meanest Capacity (London, 1755), esp. p. 11.

82. A.W. Coats, "Changing Attitudes Toward Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century," Economic History Review 2nd ser., vol. 11 (1958-59): 35-51 and "The Relief of Poverty, Attitudes to Labour and Economic Change in England, 1660-1782," International Review of Social History vol. 21 (1976): 98-115; Richard C. Wiles, "The Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism," Economic History Review 2nd ser., vol. 21 (April 1968): 113-126.

83. See the suggestive discussion in William M. Reddy, Money and Liberty in Modern Europe: A Critique of Historical Understanding (Cambridge, 1987), esp. pp. 94-100, 161-164.

84. Conviction totals have been calculated from several sources, including: WYAS-RD, Wakefield Headquarters, QE15, Memoranda of Summary Convictions; CRO, Chester, QJE Quarter Sessions Files, 1785-1800; Manchester Central Library, Archives Department, ms. 338.4 w1, "An Account of Frauds and Embezzlements Committed by the Spinners and Others Employed in the Worsted Manufactory, 1778-1783,"; and conviction notices published in the Leeds Mercury, 1777-1779 and Leeds Intelligencer, 1780-1799.

85. For example, BUA, Worsted Committee Minute Books, WC 1/i, entries for 5 Jan. 1778, 13 April 1778, 21 June 1779, 27 Sept. 1784 and 3 Jan. 1785.

86. Henry Hall, a Leeds manufacturer, recalled the period as a time when "increased demand could not be met with a proportionate increased supply." See James, History of Worsted Manufacture, pp. 306. 312.

87. William Ecroyd, a stuff manufacturer from Burnley, Lancashire, observed that his grandfather had faced stiff competition for spinning labor from a pioneer of the cotton industry, Robert Peel the Elder. See Ibid., p. 633.

88. Ibid., p. 326.

89. Eric Sigsworth, Black Dyke Mills: A History with Introductory Chapters on the Development of the Worsted Industry in the Nineteenth Century (Liverpool, 1958), pp. 2-6; Jenkins, West Riding Wool Industry, pp. 251-265; Hodgson, Textile Manufacture, pp. 130, 144-145.

90. Leeds Intelligencer, 26 April 1791.

91. Leeds Mercury, 17 September 1776.
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Author:Soderlund, Richard J.
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Date:Mar 22, 1998
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