Samuel Bamford (1788–1872)
Samuel Bamford’s autobiographical writings provide a detailed and moving account of the way of life of domestic textile workers during the Industrial Revolution. Bamford was born in Middleton 8 km north of Manchester, the son of a muslin weaver, a dissenter in religion, who was also a part-time teacher, and became master of a workhouse. Bamford received an education superior to that of most weavers’ sons, including a spell at Manchester Grammar School, from where he was withdrawn by his father who opposed the teaching of Latin.
In early adulthood he worked in textile warehouses, on a farm, and as a seaman on a collier sailing from the Tyne to London, but in his 20s became increasingly involved in politics in a time of severe repression. He faced a charge of treason in 1817, and was sentenced to a year in prison after leading a contingent from Middleton to the demonstration in 1819 on St Peter’s Fields, Manchester that came to be called Peterloo after troops opened fire on the crowd, killing several protesters.
After his release from prison he worked as a journalist, publishing a political memoir, Passages in the Life of a Radical, in 1840-1, and the memoirs of his childhood, Early Days, in 1849, but found it difficult to make a living, and was supported by a public subscription in 1846. He wrote poetry, championed the Lancashire dialect, and in 1849 was said by Elizabeth Gaskell, the novelist, to be ‘the most hearty admirer of Tennyson I know’. She added that Bamford was ‘living in that state which is exactly decent poverty with his neat little apple-faced wife’.
He spent the years 1851-58 as a messenger at Somerset House, London, but returned to Manchester, where he was unhappy, as he had been since the time of the Chartist movement 20 years earlier, with the trends of radical politics. Middleton was unusual amongst the villages around Manchester in that it was a centre of domestic rather than factory production of textiles well into the 19th century.
Bamford’s writings convey the rhythms of life of a domestic weaving community, the long hours worked to complete orders, the ritualistic fortnightly journeys carrying completed pieces in satchels to dealers in Manchester warehouses, and the sense of release that came during Wakes Week each summer, and during the customary two-week celebration of Christmas and the New Year. He travelled widely, both by stage coach and on foot during the 1820s, and portrays vividly the atmosphere of road transport in the decade before the opening of main line railways.