The Cotton Panic of the 1860s as it affected the Glossop area.
Written from original research in newspapers of the day.

Many articles have been written about the Cotton Panic (or Cotton Famine) but most concentrate on the effect on larger towns/cities or the country in general. This is an attempt to document the effect on the town of Glossop and the efforts of people locally to deal with it.

Although the American Civil War did not start until April 1861, restrictions in the supply of cotton had been anticipated for several months. The Glossop-dale Chronicle and North Derbyshire Reporter carried a report, on 21 July 1860, of a meeting in Manchester to discuss developing production of cotton in India so as to reduce dependence on America. Even when the war started, though, it was a subordinate topic in the local press to that of the cotton strike which had been taking place for about a month. As far as the cotton industry locally was concerned, the main topic of reporting and discussion was the attempt to establish a co-operative cotton manufacturing company. The ultimate failure of that venture (some 15 months later) was, in part at least, the result of the cotton famine.

Hopes of an early settlement were dashed as the situation deteriorated and prices were driven up. The Glossop Record reported on 28 September 1861 “Short-time has been commenced here, and will probably soon be general in this neighbourhood. The Messrs. Wood stopped their engines on Thursday evening for the remainder of the week; and Mr. Sumner has been running his only from eight to six o’clock daily. Mr. Bramhall, of Old Glossop, is working his engines five days weekly.” and on 5 October “Notices of reduction of wages have been posted up in the mills of most of the cotton manufacturers in this neighbourhood.........The mills are working only four days a week; and some of the masters talk of stopping their works altogether, unless the price of cotton alters.”. By the end of November the Liverpool cotton market was almost at a standstill.

The effect of the famine was indicated by reports to the Glossop Board of Guardians on 2 January 1862, which told that the Relieving Officer had assisted nearly double the number relieved during the corresponding period of the previous year and the workhouse was full (70 persons accommodated compared with 46 at the same time a year before). The situation was hampered, though, by the extent of the legal powers of the Board of Guardians to relieve the able-bodied poor. Lord Howard took the lead (as he would throughout the crisis) by finding employment for some 30-40 people on his estate “in order to save them from starvation” and arranged a meeting of the mill owners and other leading residents which led to the formation of a relief committee to work alongside the Board of Guardians. The Record of 1 February carried a letter in which it was stated that Edmund Potter's Printworks company had undertaken to lend money (up to £2,000 if necessary) to its work people who may be in need, to be repaid at the rate of 6d per week from each labourer, when they had full employment. The letter suggested that other employers in Glossop could equally afford to do the same.

The situation worsened rapidly. The Board of Guardians “stretched their powers to the utmost in aid of the needy and distressed” but were overwhelmed by the demands upon them. Eventually talk gave way to action and the Glossop Record of 3 May 1862 carried an advertisement stating that a soup kitchen was to be opened “within the brick building formerly used as a joiners shop, situated near to the chapel at Littlemoor”. Readers were invited to subscribe to a fund. The editorial commented that the lack of action meant “a few gentlemen had been obliged to take the matter upon themselves”. Joseph Bennett was in the forefront. The establishment of a soup kitchen had the support of the mill owners and Lord Howard. A charge for the food would be made but it was suggested that tickets could be sold so that those with money could purchase them and pass them on to those less fortunate. The Record reported that each 1d quart was subsidised to the extent of at least ½d, a total of £4 10s a week, an amount which the editor thought not a large sum to be raised in Glossop, pointing out that Lord Howard had been donating food to the poor at a larger weekly cost to himself already. It would be necessary to provide more than just the soup kitchen in future and those who could afford to give should do so.

May also brought the report that, as a result of the crisis, eight families from Waterside were emigrating to New Zealand and others were going to Canada and elsewhere. They were the first of many which would dramatically reduce the population of Glossop. It was not only the cotton operatives who were affected but also shopkeepers and tradesmen of every class. Shopkeepers had been supplying people on credit but it was getting to the stage where that could not continue.

A meeting of the relief committee on July 23rd heard that £250 had been received from the relief fund set up by the Lord Mayor of London (the first of several amounts, eventually totalling £13,255) plus donations of £25 from the Duchess of Norfolk and £100 from Lord Edward Howard (who was also contributing £10 a week).

In August a meeting was called by Edmund Potter, who offered, on behalf of his firm, to contribute £1,000, if the Messrs. Wood, Messrs. Sidebottom and Mr. Sumner, would do likewise (which they did). Lord Howard increased his subscription to £500, and started to find land upon which the relief committee could employ persons requiring assistance. The smaller company of John and William Shepley promised £200. Further money was received from the Manchester Executive Committee (the first instalment of an eventual total of £41,630 7s).

A room was opened for the employment of women in sewing and knitting and a scheme was promoted to provide work for unemployed shoemakers “so as to afford them a little aid, and to make provision to supply shoes, &c., to the destitute”. Another proposal under consideration was to send all the children who may be unemployed, or whose parents could not afford to pay school-pence, to school, so as to carry on their education during the period of distress.

Lord Howard was also aware of the need to assist mental and physical well-being. He provided and laid down a cricket ground, at Pyegrove, plus some dozen or so sets of bats, stumps, and balls. He set aside a portion of the Market Hall for a place of amusement, to be provided with a band and equipment for games, such as chess, draughts, &c., and allowed the use of the Market Hall for a school 5 days a week, including paying the cost of forms, desks, and stoves. A second school was set up at the Wesley School.

A clothing committee was set up to receive and distribute donations. In less than a fortnight the committee distributed no less than 800 pairs of clogs.

Henry Lees, Esq. of Woolley bridge was one of the smaller mill owners who took his own action by purchasing cooking apparatus in order to provide food for his tenants and other employees. An action which the Record called “an example worthy of imitation by all the manufacturers in Glossop and the neighbourhood”.

From Monday 24th November 1862 the Soup Kitchen at Littlemoor was opened on five days a week, from 11:30am until 1pm, for the distribution of Soup, Hashed Potatoes &c

James Shepley, of Wharf Mill at Old Glossop, was another who provided food for his employees. At his Marple premises he erected a large brick oven, where he baked several loads of flour weekly, distributing the loaves among his workpeople.

Somewhat “stuck in the middle” were farmers and shopkeepers, who could not sell their produce to people with no money, and cottage owners, whose tenants could not afford to pay their rent. They also faced increases in the poor rates needed to relieve the larger numbers of unemployed workers as a result of the crisis; in 1861 the assessment for Poor Rate was 7¾d in the pound but in November 1862 it was 12s 8½d per £. A meeting in January 1863 heard that being owners of property they did not qualify for relief. The most practical suggestion was the setting up of a supplemental fund from which loans could be made to farmers, shopkeepers and cottage owners, to be repaid, with interest, when the crisis was over.

At its meeting on 30 April 1863 the relief committee formed an emigration committee following receipt of a letter from the Government Emigration Offices in London asking it to provide a list of persons fit for free emigration to New Zealand. Vast numbers were emigrating from different parts of the cotton districts, and Glossop was no different. At the committee's meeting at the end of June it was reported that 351 persons had gone off the books of the committee, many of whom had left the neighbourhood and 91 of whom had emigrated.

In June 1863 the labour committee made its first report. 618 men were employed by the surveyors of highways (Glossop, 213; Whitfield and Chunal, 207; Simmondley and Dinting, 170). In Glossop they were getting stone in Bone Hill quarry and Oldham Row quarry for repair of highways and repairing Sheffield Road and draining land belonging to Lord Howard (for which the committee receive a full and fair market price for the labour). In Whitfield they were getting and breaking stone in Wagstaffe's, Standler's, and Turnlee quarries, for repair of highways and repairing Chunal Road. In Simmondley and Dinting they were repairing the road from Simmondly towards Bridgefield, repairing the road to the Castle, repairing Dinting Lane and Newshaw Lane, and repairing the footway from the Shaw to the railway station at Dinting.

In the same month the sewing committee reported that 483 were employed at the Tabernacle and 43 at Brookfield. The educational committee reported that the district schools were attended by 875 scholars that week. Numbers on the books (not all of whom attended) were 298 at Howard Street, 80 at Littlemoor, 40 at the Nuns' school and 30 adults at St. Mary's school, at a cost of 10s. per week. Since the 1st of April last, 345 had withdrawn from the Market school, 223 of whom had been sent to work, 65 had obtained situations elsewhere, and 57 sent to work by the parish. 389 were still in attendance at the Market school, and the committee strongly recommended that all male scholars above 20 years of age should be taken from the school and sent to work.

The adoption of the Public Works Act by the Board of Guardians was discussed at its meeting on 23 July 1863. During the discussion reference was made to the “liberal” contributions of Lord Howard and the fact that the mill owners had contributed less to the relief funds that their counterparts elsewhere. This had been discussed by the Manchester Executive Committee and it was stated that unless the wealthy of Glossop gave more then funds would not continue to be forthcoming from Manchester. Monies continued to be received, both from local sources (which included donations from working people, not just the wealthy) and the Mansion House Committee as well as the Manchester Central Executive but ongoing work was necessary to ensure funds were kept up. By around June/July 1863 the weekly amount expended by the relief committee exceeded its income. The Act was adopted as it provided a means to obtain more funding.

The Public Works Committee, set up following the adoption of the Public Works Act, was able to employ men in drainage work in Hadfield and at Mossy Lee, and in breaking up moor land on the Sheffield moor. In October 1863, work started on both Swineshaw Reservoir and Picknase Reservoir. Men were employed in Sandhole, getting sand for 1s a day. As a result Sandhole gained the name Pinch Belly Park.

November and December saw the Record report effects in terms of numbers:
7 November - a the survey of empty properties had identified 8 beerhouses, 35 shops and 615 houses empty. The reduction in the number of persons seeking relief was not wholly due to more factories resuming some work but also to the fact that people were emigrating or moving to other areas of the country where work was available.
28 November - the number of operatives usually employed in Glossop and Hadfield district was 9,103; number now working, 1,681; number unemployed, 7,422; working 6 days per week, 1,546; 3 days per week, 50; 4½ days per week, 18; 4 days per week, 55; 2¼ days per week, 12.
19 December – enquiries had revealed that 277 families, totalling about 1,000 individuals had either emigrated or moved.

On 17 December 1863 a meeting of ratepayers was held to discuss the making and improving of certain highways, under the Public Works Act, a proposal made by Lord Howard some 6 to 8 weeks previously. The works proposed to be undertaken were as follows:
1. The making and improving of a public road to the hamlet of Simmondley, extending from the Chapel-en-le-Frith turnpike road, at Bridgefield, to the village of Simmondley.
2. The making of a public road from the Glossop and Marple Bridge turnpike road, at Gamesley, to the Glossop and Marple Bridge turnpike road at Moodsbottom Bridge.
3. The improvement and widening of that part of the highway called Newshaw Lane, in the hamlet of Hadfield, which lies between the Glossop and Marple Bridge turnpike road at Moodsbottom Bridge, aforesaid, and the Shaw Farm; and the making of a new road extending thence to the Sheffield, Manchester and Lincolnshire railway, at or near Dinting station, and over the existing bridge of the same railway to Dinting Lane, at or near the village of Dinting.
4. The making of a public highway in the hamlet of Glossop, extending from that part of Howard Street which lies near to the railway arch in Arundel Street, to the public highway known as Spire Hollin Lane, and from the same highway to the Chapel-en-le-Frith turnpike road near to the Glossop Toll Bar, and from the same turnpike road to the Town End, in the village of Glossop.
Two thirds of the cost (£2,200) was to be borne by Lord Howard (on top of the £6,800 he had already paid for drainage work under the Public Works Act). The meeting accepted the proposal, together with the completion of St. Mary's Street and continuing Lord Street into Spire Hollin Lane.

In May 1864 the Glossop relief committee received a letter from the Manchester Executive Committee warning that a considerable reduction was to be expected in the next month's grant. There was a strong feeling that “some of the mill owners have not either contributed, or made any effort to provide the employment they ought.”. The Record's editorial (whilst stressing that it did not know the identities of “some mill owners”) pointed out that it must presume that, as Executive member for Glossop, Lord Edward Howard knew of the letter in advance, that he probably knew who “some mill owners” were, and that the Record had not been informed of any attempt on the part of Lord Edward Howard “to disabuse the minds of the Executive of their feeling”.

In contrast to the “some mill owners”, some of the smaller cotton manufacturers showed a great deal of generosity to their workers. At the beginning of April 1865, as the crisis was coming to an end, John Newton Winterbottom decided to give up Lower Water Mill at Old Glossop, which was taken over by Thomas Patterson Sykes. Owing to the panic, a long list of arrears of rent, and of butter and milk supplied from the farm, had been built up by the mill employees. John Winterbottom cancelled all the debts. On 15 July 1865 the workpeople employed by Henry Lees at Woolley Bridge held a function to express their thanks for the kindness during the cotton famine in allowing them half rent and providing food. A bound Bible was presented to Mr. Henry Lees, and a silver inkstand to Mr Robert Lees.

It was the Lees Mill which was the first to restart, after almost 2 years. The event was reported in the Glossop Record of 30 July 1864 under the headline Woolley Bridge, Good News in Bad Times: We have great pleasure in stating that the cotton mill belonging to Messrs Lees, Wooley Bridge, which has been closed for nearly two years, has commenced work again. The cotton arrived on the 22nd inst., and that day will long be remembered by the inhabitants of this village as a day of general rejoicing. The few people the panic has left, vied with each other in making the event a commemorative one. At an early hour in the morning the villagers were all astir, trying to find something in the shape of banners with which to show the gladness of their hearts, and in this they were not unsuccessful, for there were suspended from the cottage windows in the vicinity of the mill, a large number of banners of various textures and designs - from the patchwork bed cover to the richly wrought Paisley shawl. About eight o’clock in the morning a large concourse of people assembled at the entrance to the mill yard, anxiously waiting for the appearance of the vehicle which was to bring the long-looked for cotton, but “John, the carter,” being rather too slow in his movements, a number of women went into the mill yard and brought the lurry out into the public road, when it was soon filled with women and children, who made the valley ring with their hurrahs. John at last brought out the horses, and after yoking them to the wagon, they proceeded to the railway station for the cotton. In a very short space of time the lurry returned heavily laden with cotton, and two women sitting on the top of it, waving two large banners in the breeze. A great crowd of people accompanied the lurry to its destination, shouting, and waving banners of almost every imaginable description - one old woman, who sported a red napkin at the end of her walking stick, attracted much attention. Whilst the cotton was being hoisted up into the mill, some shouted - and some sang “Hard times come again no more,” and “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, &c”. At the close of the day, about forty females who had taken a prominent part in the day's rejoicing, sat down to a cup of tea in the Woolley Bridge School room. To the uninitiated and the mere casual lookers on this scene would be classed amongst the ridiculous, but it was far from that - it was the free and honest outburst of a pure English feeling, which had been pent up for two years, a feeling of independence or self-help.

Not such good news appeared in the edition of 27 August 1864. Some 883 people had emigrated from the Glossop and Hadfield Relief District, including 516 cotton operatives (105 single men, 273 married men and 138 women, girls, & boys). Of the married men, 35 had deserted their wives and families, which included upwards of 100 children. On top of that some 526 mill operatives had obtained other work in the neighbourhood and 1,501 had left the neighbourhood for other areas of the country. There was a total of 766 empty buildings (686 houses, 75 shops and 15 beerhouses). The population had decreased to 12,944 (636 of whom had left in the previous 4 months). No wonder, then, that when an improvement in the situation could be foreseen, so could a scarcity of labour. In January 1865 it was estimated that around 6,000 hands were needed to fully staff the mills of Glossop but that there would be a shortfall, when they were able to work full time again, of around 3,000.

In April 1865 came the news that Francis Sumner had purchased a large quantity of cotton. The Record of 29 April 1865 carried a report Rejoicing at the Revival of the Cotton Trade in Glossop: A new life seemed to be infused into the quiet neighbourhood of Wren Nest, last Monday. Houses were decorated with colours of every hue, men and women and children were radiant with joy, and everybody from the most diminutive juvenile to the “oldest inhabitant” remaining from the ravages of the cotton panic, appeared to be brimful of happiness at the cheering prospect of an early opening of Wren Nest Mills. The occasion of all this was the arrival of a quantity of cotton at the railway station for Mr. F. Sumner, whose machinery had been idle more than two years *. Great preparations had been made by the old mill hands to give the utmost éclat to the event, (for an event it was), and one of vital importance to many poor inhabitants,) and the result in this respect was equal to the anticipations entertained. In High-street, colours, banners, &c., were flying from the windows of several houses and shops. ln a bye-street, one of the inhabitants—poor, but evidently enthusiastic —had suspended from his window a many-coloured bed-quilt, which had to serve the purpose of a flag, although unique in its “get-up,” was after all demonstrative. The old saying runs to the effect that “wherever there's a will, there's a way” and it seems that if a person is determined to have a colour he may get one of some sort, although it may neither smack of bunting, nor savour of emblazoned silk. In Cooper-street. two were displayed covered over with tinsel and other gaudy trimmings. About half past nine o'clock in the morning the excitement was at its height—an empty waggon, drawn by two horses, was seen to leave the mill yard for the railway station, followed by a crowd of juveniles and a few grown up people. On its return, laden with cotton it was followed by a larger and more demonstrative crowd, whose voices rent the air with shouts of gladness. Lining the street could be seen scores of females, with countenances indicative of joy, and apparently thankful at the prospect of the “huge dead house” being again restored to animation. It will, however, be some months before all the machinery can be got into full work; but now a beginning has been made, we may hope to see very shortly a marked improvement in the physical aspect of the neighbourhood of Wren Nest Mills. * From inquiry we learn that the last cut was finished on the 7th of February, 1863 but that some of the hands (such as dressers) concluded their labours in September, 1862.

The end of the Cotton Panic was in sight at last.

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Last updated: 9 February 2021