The Royal Holloway Victorian MA Blog

Hard Times 2: Preston Lock Out

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A pendant to my earlier Hard Times post, I’ve just found (online) this lovely cache of three hand-drawn and coloured contemporary cartoons of the Preston Lock Out. They’re owned by the Lancashire Evening Post, and this is what their website says about them:

One of five [er, actually three] cartoons produced during a strike by cotton workers in Preston, Lancashire in 1853 and 1854. The strike resulted in a lock-out by the employers and Irish workers were brought in to break the strike by the larger mill owners. These workers, who appear to be mostly women and children, are caricatured as lazy and ignorant with Irish accents. After the strike was settled, they were sent back to Ireland.

These people, ‘scabs’ in modern parlance, were called ‘knobsticks’ in the idiom of the day. You may not be able to make out the writing below, but if you click on this link [pdf] you can have a detailed look at big enlargements of all the cartoons.

This, the legend at the foot of the image tells us, is ‘THE WARPING AND WINDING ROOM HANOVER ST MILL’ The chap on the left in the top-hat is called ‘THE MASTER’ and he says: ‘I am quizzing you, my beauties’. The fellow in green is ‘THE OVERLOOKER’, and is saying (presumably to the little boy in red who’s shinned up the loom): ‘I say you young devil come down you are sure to be kilt’. And the red-haired woman is saying: ‘Sure a now the devils skure to yes Mike come down wid yes’.

Here’s another, sadly in black and white (you can see the full colour version at the pdf link mentioned above):

You can see he’s pulling stick-figure workers out of a container labelled ‘a box full of new knobsticks’. Fascinating stuff. Incidentally, I’m not aware of any critical work on this (this fairly well-known article, ‘Dickens, Gaskell and the Preston Strike’, doesn’t mention it, for instance): it might make a nice topic, or at least a nice angle, for a Hard Times essay …) [AR]

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