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A Sideways View from our Archive
Our Weavers Revolts,1728-32

Last year Living Easton bought three volumes of The Annals of Kingswood by D. P. Lindegaard which she self-published during the 1990s. These volumes cover the years 1725-1795 and contain numerous references to life and events in the, then, relatively sparsely populated district of Kingswood.

The Kingswood of the 18th Century, of course, included today’s urban developments of Easton, Eastville, Greenbank and Baptist Mills. There were once many weavers who lived Without Lawford's Gate. The disruptions caused by clearances and enclosures and, the business & technological changes were beginning to transform weaving from a cottage industry to one of factory-organised production. This lead to traditional weavers smashing the new looms which threatened them and their families with destitution and starvation.

The first of the great factory machines of the Industrial Revolution was the flying shuttle, invented by John Kay in 1733. Its use made it possible for one person to weave wide bolts of cloth by using a spring mechanism that sent the shuttle flying across the loom. The story which follows pre-dates this invention but emphasises the dramatic process by which ‘independent peoples’ eventually became ‘slaves to the machine’.

What follows is based on the writings from Lindegaard's Annals, Volume I, 1725-49:

1728

October 8
The Gloucester Journal on this date records that 500 workmen living in the area of Lawford’s Gate destroyed and burnt about 30 looms there before proceeding to Chew Magna, Pensford and Keynsham where they attacked more looms and pulled down a house,

1729

September 1
Serious disturbances broke out amongst the weavers who lived outside Lawford's Gate. Many looms were torn out of employers’ houses and were destroyed. A house was demolished and the soldiers sent to deal with the disturbance were beaten off by the weavers.

September 29
The weavers gathered in Kingswood and marched on the house of Stephen Feacham who, they said, paid too low a rate of pay. Feacham fired into the crowd and killed eight protesters. Troops were called in and fired into the protesters using blank ammunition. Feacham was later pardoned for these murders.

1730

July 23
One of the leaders of the previous year’s protest, George Bidgood, along with one other man, was executed for their actions. The un-named man announced on the scaffold that the masters were to blame for reducing wages when the weavers were starving.

1732

March 28
The weavers did not, of course, forget Stephen Feacham, who killed eight of their number with a blunderbuss loaded with sluggs. On this day he had to go away on business and the weavers in his employ took their opportunity for revenge. They made an effigy of Feacham and dressed it in a shroud. They paraded this through Lawford’s Gate before hanging it on a gibbet in Lamb’s Fields.* When the City Watch tried to cut down the guy the weavers beat to arms with a frying pan and collected money so that they could mount a permanent guard on the effigy. As Lindegaard writes a good time was had by all.

1740

There were calculated to be ‘700 poor families with at least 1500 children living beyond Lawford’s Gate ‘whose moans and cries pierced their very hearts.

*There is still a Lamb Street which runs between Lawford's Gate to Old Market.

Jim McNeill, Chair, Living Easton, 3/12/02