Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Brickyard Labourer's Strike Article, 1896

Transcript from the Bridgwater Mercury. What follows should have been a simple case of finishing Bridgwater's longest Brickyard strike (following the reading of the Riot Act, and the workers' eventual return to work) but one brickyard labourer seemed to have had other ideas... (I found this in the course of my research, as my ancestor is the Thomas Young of Albert Street mentioned here.) I think I've worked out what William May was up to here - anyone else got any ideas? (And if anyone is related to him, I'd love to hear that!)


Bridgwater Mercury 22nd July 1896 (p8):


It was understood on Monday that the whole of the men had returned to their employ in the various brickyards at the former rate of wages with the exception of about ten or a dozen whom the employers had thought proper to exclude, and it is hoped that after some time the services of these will again be retained and that they will speedily find some other employment.

The members of the County Constabulary were gradually weeded out during the latter part of last week, the remainder returning to their homes on Monday morning. The 50 soldiers who had remained in Bridgwater also quitted the town on Monday afternoon, marching from the Town-Hall to the railway station, and their departure was watched by a large crowd of spectators.



The adjourned police court proceedings arising out of the late strike at Bridgwater were held on Saturday last, when 29 of the strikers were brought up before the borough magistrates on two charges of obstruction, there being 17 defendants concerned in one summons, and 12 in the other.

The justices present were the Mayor (Mr. H. W. Pollard), the ex-Mayor (Mr. T. Manchip), Mr. G. B. Sully, Mr. A. Peace and Mr. F. C. Foster.

The first summons was that against John Valentine, Edward-street; John Pitman, Edward-street; Henry Allen, Railway-parade; Wm Squire, Railway-parade; Levi Humber, St John-street; George Humber, St John-street; Charles Humber, St John-street; John Sawley, Somerset Bridge; Richard Escott, North-gate; Thomas Kerslake, St John-street; Charles Parsons, Albert-street; Henry Manchip, Old Dock; Henry Cook, Gloster-place, Friarn-street; Wm Dean, Bailey-street; Walter Pole, Bristol-road; William May, Bristol-road; and Joseph Seaman, Bristol-road, and they were charged, on the information of Chief Constable Barnett, for having on the 1st July unlawfully and wilfully obstructed the free passage of St. John-street, by then and there standing with divers persons unknown and thereby preventing Henry Aplin, the driver of a trolly drawn by two horses, from passing thereon.

Mr. P. O. H. Reed appeared on behalf of the prosecution and Mr. P. W. Bishop represented the defendants.

All the defendants put in an appearance except Richard Escott and Mr. Bishop said he was there also on the part of Escott, who was unable to attend through being at sea. He added that it might save the time of the court if he at once said as representing the defendants that they all admitted the offence. They had seen him, and he had been into the facts with them, and it was acting under his advice that they admitted the charge. He had a suggestion which he wished to make to the Bench before Mr. Reed said anything. As was well known the men on strike had gone back to work or were going, and that, he thought, every one must be very glad of, both for the sake of the town as well as for the sake of the men themselves and therefore with great respect he suggested to the Bench, and particularly if Mr. Reed fell in with it, that if they could see their way clear to do so they should either allow the summons to be withdrawn against the men and order them to pay the costs incurred, or bind them over to keep the peace, or to come up for judgment when called upon. If the Bench could see their way to do something of that kind it would very likely be a step in the direction of healing up the breach between masters and men, and probably bring about a better feeling than had been existing in the town for some weeks past. He believed that if something of the nature he had suggested were adopted by the Bench the employers would take the men back again into their employ, but if the men were convicted and sent to gaol, or a heavy fine imposed on them, he did not think the masters would reinstate them. He believed Mr. Reed would be inclined to fall in with his suggestion. The men regretted that they should have taken part in the matter in respect of which they were charged, and none of them were not aware at the time that by being in the crowd they were committing an offence that was undoubtedly serious. Others took a more serious part, but they expressed their regret and assured the Bench through him that they would use their best endeavours in the future to keep away from any such thing, and that that would be a lesson to them.

Mr. Reed said as representing the prosecution it was a great satisfaction to him that Mr. Bishop had come there and pleaded guilty on the part of the defendants, and that there had been an expression of regret from them for being guilty of the offence in question. He would put his case before the Bench very shortly and occupy their attention as little as possible. The offence was committed on a market day, Wednesday, 1st July, and on that day Aplin was coming from a yard at Dunwear with a load of bricks. He had to pass over the Westonzoyland bridge, and he was met by a crowd, and for a time there was a probability of the wagon being overturned and serious damage sustained. The crowd, however, allowed the horses to go on, but when they got into St. John-street he was in a position to show that all defendants took a part more or less in stopping the wagon and compelling the driver to take out the horses. The wagon was taken to adjoining piece of land against Salmon-lane, and sooner or later the wagon was upset and damage done. He might mention, and it was well for the public to understand, and especially the defendants, that they (defendants) had been guilty of a very serious offence, and that if the Bench adopted the suggestion made to them they would be taking a very merciful view. The defendants were clearly guilty of a riot, and he could not see what possible defence could be raised. With the permission of the Bench he would leave the case in their hands. He hoped and trusted that after what had taken place the public would understand that although people had a perfect right to strike they had no right by violence or intimidation to prevent others carrying on their lawful occupations. With the sanction of the Bench he was quite ready for the summons to be withdrawn on defendants being bound over to keep the peace.

The magistrates retired for some time to consider their decision.

The Mayor, on their return, said the Bench had considered the case and they were exceedingly sorry to see so many working men there charged with so serious an offence. They had taken all the facts into consideration and Mr. Bishop’s appeal and also what Mr. Reed had said, and they had decided to consent to the withdrawal of the summons on the defendants consenting to be bound over to keep the peace for six months in the sum of £5 each, and to pay the costs, or in default seven days. The case against Escott would be adjourned until Monday week.

Mr. Bishop: Only for his appearance?
The Mayor: Yes, to be bound over.
Mr. Bishop: I suppose at any time if he comes back it can be arranged for him to be bound over before a magistrate?
The Mayor: Yes.

All the defendants present then consented to be bound over with the exception of William May. He could not or would not understand it, and he refused to acknowledge himself bound over although advised by Mr. Bishop to do so.

Mr. Reed said the Borough had been driven to hundreds of pounds of expense and the defendants had been mercifully dealt with, and now this man wanted some explanation. He was either guilty or not guilty and there ought to be no hesitation about it.

The Magistrates’ Clerk (Mr. W. Brice): The only question is whether the Bench ought not to fine him. He ought to be made an example of.

Mr. Bishop said he might tell the Bench that he should not have admitted the offence on behalf of the men had not every one of them authorised him to do so, and if May now said he did not authorise him to do so let him defend himself and be dealt with separately.

The Magistrates’ Clerk: Let all the others go and deal with him separately.
Mr. Reed (to the Bench): This man was one of the ringleaders and seems to be so now.
The Magistrates’ Clerk: Put him back and deal with him presently.

The next summons was then taken, and John Cridge, Union-street; John Porter, Union-street; Wm. Turner, Albert-street; Wm. Gibbs, Albert-street; Thomas Anglin, Albert-street; George Jarvis, Albert-street; Thomas Young, Albert-street; Ernest Palmer, North-gate; Robert Kingstone, North Petherton; Frederick Kierle, Somerset Bridge; George Vickery, Somerset Bridge; and Frederick Creedy, of Monmouth-street, were charged on the information of Chief Constable Barnett for having on the 1st July unlawfully and wilfully obstructed the free passage of the highway in North-street by then and there standing with divers persons unknown and thereby preventing Eustace George Orlando Pearce, the driver of a waggon drawn by one horse, and John King, the driver of a waggon drawn by two horses, from respectively passing thereon.

Mr. Bishop admitted the offence on behalf of the defendants, and expressed their regret that they should have been led away by excitement or any other cause to commit the offence. Although some of them alleged that they did not stop the horses, they were amongst the crowd so that they were equally guilty. They, however, assured the Bench that they would not repeat any offence of the kind again.

Mr. Reed said he had nothing to add to his former observations, except to trust that the defendants would thoroughly understand the serious offence of which they had been guilty. Peace must be kept at any cost, and if defendants broke it they would be liable to be brought up and summarily dealt with.

The Mayor said the Bench would also allow this case to be withdrawn on defendants consenting to be bound over to keep the peace for six months in the sum of £5 each.

All defendants consented, and they were discharged.

After the Bench had dealt with a case of drunkenness May was again placed in the dock and asked by the Magistrates’ Clerk what he had got to say.

May: I have nothing to say, except that I wasn’t there. I simply walked through the crowd.
The Mayor: But you are equally guilty in the eye of the law if you were there.
May: I simply walked through the crowd and went into Culverwell’s public-house and got a drink, and walked back again. That is all the work I did.
Mr. Reed: He was one of the ringleaders and threatened violence at the time.
The Mayor said the Bench adjourned the case for eight days.
Mr. Reed: Some of the police will be leaving the town, and they are witnesses.
The Magistrates’ Clerk: You had better prove the case now. We know the facts.
Mr. Reed was briefly repeating the facts when May interrupted by saying “I call you to order.”
The Mayor: You must be silent or the Bench will have to deal with you at once.
May: Mr. Reed is wrong.
Mr. Reed: said May assisted to take out the horses and used threats.

Henry Aplin, haulier, Wellington-road, said on the say in question, about 2.30, he was coming over Westonzoyland bridge with a load of bricks which he had fetched from Mr. Akerman’s yard at Dunwear. P. C. West and P. C. Cave were escorting him into the town. Near the bridge he observed defendant and other men. Allen was the first to take hold of the horses. Witness said “Don’t stop the horses here. If you have any grievance let us go to the bottom of the hill, and we will hear what you have to say.” The crowd, however, would not, and they turned the horses round. The police interfered, but they were not strong enough to do anything and they blew their whistles to get a stronger force. May was present, and took a prominent part and helped to stop the horses. Witness ultimately got the horses and wagon to St. John-street, where he found a crowd of 700 or 800 men. May had run on before this saying he would get a stronger crowd to stop him. Opposite the recreation ground he was stopped and the horses taken out. May was there, and he picked up a brick and told witness that he would knock his brains out if he did not take the horses out. The free passage of the street was obstructed.

May: Do you know me, Mr. Aplin?
Witness: Yes.
May: You saw me fling a brick?
Witness: No, you didn’t throw it, but you took a brick in your hand, and I told you to put it back on the waggon or I would summon you for stealing it.
May (to the Bench): Gentlemen, I will ask you to adjourn the case.
The Mayor: You must be quiet, May.
P.C. Cave, of the county constabulary, said he was stationed at Bridgwater. There was a crowd of 600 or 700 when Aplin got into St. John-street, and they were very violent in their conduct. May took a prominent part, and taking a brick from the waggon said he would smash the first ------ man’s head if he did not take the horses out. He threatened Aplin and others as well. The horses were taken out by force and May was a ringleader.
P.C. West, of the County Constabulary, gave corroboration of the evidence, after which
May again asked the Bench to adjourn the case.
The Magistrates’ Clerk: The Bench object to an adjournment, so what have you to say?
May: Nothing.
The Mayor said the Bench had considered the case, and they fined May 20s and costs, or 14 days’ hard labour, and he told defendant that he had brought it entirely upon himself that morning.
May : Alright. I’ll do the fourteen days.

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