This one had lasted for nearly a year and now, short-time working, wage reductions and escalating food prices were leading to seething unrest. Times were so bad that, in Manchester, £2,800 that had been raised by subscription to buy a gift to mark the birth of the Prince of Wales was diverted to buy blankets, coverlets and flannel which was distributed by ticket to the 6,500 neediest townspeople.
On October 7th, 1841, the city despatched a cartload of petitions to Queen Victoria, begging her not to prorogue Parliament "till the distress of the people was taken into consideration," while four months later the Quakers opened a huge soup kitchen in Bale Street, Manchester to feed the starving.
By August, discontent in Lancashire and Cheshire textile towns had reached exploding point. It needed one spark to ignite it and that spark came on Tuesday, August 9th, when the spinners at Bayley's Mill in Stalybridge were told their wages were to be cut.
They came out on strike, and were quickly followed by thousands more. Weavers, miners, labourers from Ashton and neighbouring towns descended on other Stalybridge mills demanding that work stopped.
And to ensure compliance, the strikers removed the plugs from the steam engine boilers, rendering the engines useless. So the rolling strike became known as the"Plug Plot."
Thousands of angry men marched from Stalybridge and Ashton to Manchester, calling out millworkers as they went. At dawn the following morning, a mass meeting of workers was held on Granby Row Fields in Manchester, and afterwards they marched through the city, ignoring magistrates who read the Riot Act at the Town Hall and moving on to Blackfriars Bridge over the Irwell, where they forced the gate and moved into Salford.
The strikers were generally peaceful but where manufacturers tried to impede their actions, there were clashes with police and troops. By Wednesday evening, virtually all Manchester and Salford were at a standstill and within a day or so, the strike had spread to many neighbouring towns.
Stockport, Hyde, Rochdale, Bury and Bolton succumbed, even Preston in the North and Stoke in the South were affected by what had been nicknamed the "Plug Dragoons." Yet despite their success and their parlous plight, strikers resisted the temptation to loot, as a contempory report in the Manchester Guardian illustrates.
Two boys stepped out of a striking crowd in Broughton Road, Salford, and went into James Faulkner's provision shop to ask for bread. He handed them a 4lb loaf which was "instantly torn to pieces by the crowd."