Following a spell of relative prosperity in the early 1820s, trade slumped towards the end of 1825 and this coincided with a major upsurge in the number of power looms being brought into operation. By the end of the winter, thousands were unemployed and even those still managing to keep their looms working were existing well below the breadline.
Grasping factory bosses were paying youngsters pittance wages to operate their power looms, which could produce far more than the home worker could ever hope to achieve. The "putters-out", who paid handloom weavers to produce their cloth, could not compete and the rates they offered tumbled through the floor. The handloom operatives, and the putting-out businesses who employed them, saw Government intervention as the only solution to their problems. A statutory minimum wage for weavers, coupled with a tax on power looms with the cash raised going to help the needy, would help to level the playing field. But the time for decisive Government action was running out rapidly.
On April 12th, Blackburn Weavers' Union secretary John Lancaster wrote to the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, pointing out that wages had been cut repeatedly for 11 years, and now, even those workers in employment could afford no more than one or two meals a day.
"Our dwellings are totally destitute of every necessary comfort," he complained. "Every article of value has disappeared either to satisfy the cravings of hunger or to appease the clamour of relentless creditors: our homes, where plenty and contentment once resided, are now become the abodes of penury and wretchedness."
For the region's 7,000 unemployed, of course, it was far worse. "Thousands who were once possessed of an honest independence
STATE of the art production in 1836 - Thomas Allom's painting of a weaving shed equipped with Lancashire looms
"Thousands who once looked forward with confidence to a decent competence to support themselves in old age are now reduced to the melancholy alternative of subsisting on casual charity or becoming the inmates of a workhouse."
It continued: "Were the humane man to visit the dwellings of four fifths of the weavers and see the miserable pittance 16 hours' hard labour can procure, even of those fully employed, divided between the wretched parents and their starving little ones, he would sicken at the sight and blush for the patience of humanity!"