This is a selection of tokens from mothers who, unable to keep their babies, left them at the Foundling Hospital in London. They highlight the plight of single mothers and destitute families unable to care for their children and are a poignant reminder of the growing poverty crisis as cities became more heavily industrialised and workers more mobile during the Age of Revolution. Many babies were left anonymously by their mothers, along with a token to identify them, in the hope that they might be reunited in the future.
This is a sampler that records the sufferings of a child, working in one of the many textile mills in Salford (Greater Manchester). It was sewn by Elizabeth Hodgates who was 12 years old in 1833 and reminds us of the terrible working conditions for children, women and men during the industrial revolution.
In the 1700s, work was localised and family-orientated, largely agricultural and driven by hand and horse labour. But innovations in steam power and the design of machinery in the late 1700s and early 1800s transformed manufacturing and the way people lived and worked. In the 1820s and 30s, factors such as increasing industrialisation, poor harvests and, specifically, the introduction of the threshing machine meant farming wages were low, working conditions poor and unemployment high. Agricultural workers in the South and East of England protested in what became known as the Swing riots (or agricultural labourers’ risings).
The Pentrich Rising was a small armed rebellion initiated by political radicals in the Midlands in 1817, which they hoped would spread far and wide and bring about revolutionary changes to the structure of government and society. Deliberately infiltrated and partly provoked by government spies, the uprising was a failure, and the marchers scattered. The ringleaders were eventually caught and made an example of, through gruesome execution. The episode shared much in common with the coordinated protests that preceded it (the Luddites) and those that followed, including Peterloo. It exposed the tensions and frustrations within British society in the context of post-war economic unrest.
The 1800s saw a series of protests and uprisings in Britain, as people campaigned against slavery, unjust taxes and laws imposed by the government and in support of fair wages, the right to vote and to have their voices heard in parliament. Protest flags, posters and banners carrying radical slogans were a popular way for campaigners to get their message across at marches and rallies, and to cooperate without endangering individuals. The Skelmanthorpe flag was created in secret, in Huddersfield, initially to honour the victims of what became known as the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819.
In the late 1830s and early 1840s, a series of riots took place in south and mid Wales. Male farmers and labourers – many of them dressed in women’s clothes – rioted in protest against unfair laws and taxes, low wages and toll roads. The rioters called themselves ‘Rebecca’s daughters’ and their actions became known as the Rebecca riots.
Newgate Prison was located on Newgate Street in the City of London, on the site where the famous court, The Old Bailey, now stands. The prison was notorious for its appalling, overcrowded, cruel and unsanitary conditions. It housed a range of prisoners, including men, women and children, from those convicted of minor offenders to those awaiting execution. It would be outside Newgate’s gates that the last British prisoners to suffer beheading took place, when five revolutionary ringleaders accused of a conspiracy to assassinate the Cabinet were executed on 1 May 1820.
In the early 1700s, work in the textile industry was mainly hand-operated and undertaken by people skilled in crafts - such as weaving and knitting. But innovations in steam power and the design of machinery in the late 18th and early 19th century transformed manufacturing and the way people worked. Much of the new labour could be undertaken by unskilled workers in factories away from the household, quicker than ever before and for a fraction of the price. Skilled textile workers, who found their livelihoods threatened by new, labour-saving technology, responded witha series of violent protests. They became known as the Luddites.
The spinning mule was invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779. It revolutionised textile production by vastly increasing the amount of cotton that could be spun at any one time. But this also meant textile manufacturers no longer needed to pay individual spinners to create spindles (wooden rods) wound with cotton thread, as just one operator could now use the machine to spin hundreds of spindles at once.
This protest banner was one of many carried to a Reform meeting convened by the Manchester Radical Union at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16 August 1819. By mid-afternoon as many as fifteen people, including four women and a child, were either dead or fatally injured. A further 400-700 suffered serious wounds, including Thomas Redford, who carried this banner.