Today in London’s rebel past… in 1768

… The army was sent into Spitalfields, to keep the peace, during silkweavers’ riots…

The silk weavers who lived and worked in large numbers around Spitalfields and Bethnal Green had a long history of organising to defend their livelihoods, whether threatened by wage cuts, by undercutting of pay rates by cheaper labour or mechanisation, or through the importing of cheaper textiles from abroad. They were notorious for tactics such as the smashing of mechanical looms which undercut their relatively high wage rates, boycotting or threatening employers who paid less than agreed rates for piece work, and slashing the clothes of the well-to-do who wore cheaper fabrics, such as Indian printed calico, rather than their woven silk. Several times in the 1760s disorder in the area became so constant that the government sent in troops or constables to repress the roving groups of ‘cutters’, who slashed silk on looms of offending masters.

In many ways the Spitalfields silkweavers’ tactics and the pressures they faced anticipate those of the Luddites of the north and midlands in the early 19th century, though in notable ways the outcome was, at least in the short term, very different.

From 1767-69 fighting and sabotage was almost a daily affair in Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and bordering areas. This would culminate in the raid on the Dolphin Tavern in September 1769, know as the HQ of the Bold Defiance, the most infamous gang of ‘cutters’…

Read more: defiance.html


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