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How the Plug Plot Riots Impacted Preston

The Preston Strike and Lune Street Riot fall under the era of the ‘Plug Plot Riots’ or 1842 General Strike.

Promoted by depression between 1841-2, this time of resistance was heavily influenced by the Chartist movement.

The Plug Plot Riots

On the 4th May in 1842, Parliament were presented with a Chartist petition signed by 3,250,000 people.

The petition covered the six points of The People’s Charter: a vote for every man over 21, a secret ballot system, MPs do not have to own property, MPs will be paid, equal voting constituencies and an election every year for Parliament.

Alongside the six points, the petition drew attention to the “cruel wars against liberty”, “unconstitutional police force”, factory conditions, church conditions on Nonconformists and the 1834 Poor Law.

Adding fuel to the fire, The House of Commons rejected the petition, resulting in a multitude of strikes in industrial districts.

The name ‘Plug Plot’ comes quite literally from workers removing the boiler plugs from factory steam engines.

The Duke of Wellington managed to persuade prime minister Sir Robert Peele to send out troops to deal with the strikers.

Prior to the Duke’s influence, the prime minister had been planning on following a non-intervention approach.

Subsequently, the riots saw the army sent out to trouble areas, where fifteen hundred people were arrested.

The Chartist Movement

The Chartist movement was a working class political movement, fuelled by the failure of the 1832 Reform Act.

Remembered as the first mass movement driven by working class people, it existing from 1838 to 1857.

Chartist leader Thomas Cooper described his role in the riots:

“I told the Manchester Conference I should vote for the resolution because it would mean fighting, and I saw it must come to that. The spread of the strike would and must be followed by general outbreak. The authorities of the land would try to quell it; but we must resist them. There was nothing now but a physical force struggle to be looked for. We must get the people out to fight; and they must be irresistible, if they were united”.

Preston Strike of 1842

1842 preston
Illustration from ‘The Illustrated London News’, August 1842

The Preston Strike began on the 24th August in 1842.  Around 3,000 cotton workers gathered at Chadwick’s Orchard, which now stands as Preston’s Covered Market.

Workers pledged that they would “strike until they had a fair days wages for that work.”

The Northern Star, a Chartist newspaper reported: “Before night every cotton mill was turned out without resistance – all done chiefly by boys and girls.”

Though some workers returned to the mills, remaining strikersmet as early as 6am on Saturday 13th August.

The strikers set off for Messrs. Sleddon’s machine shop and then from factory to factory to encourage workers to turn out.

A Violent Turn

Slight wounds were said to have been inflicted on both sides. And it didn’t take long for Mayor Samuel Horrocks, officials and police to be called upon to take action.

Approximately 30 soldiers that had already been stationed in the town were enlisted to assist with stopping the riot.

The final confrontation took place outside the Preston Corn Exchange on Lune Street.

Rioters including men, women and and boys threw stones they had gathered from near the canal and threw them at the police and military.

After Mayor Samuel Horrocks read the Riot Acts, authorities were granted permission to use force against rioters.

Amidst the scenes of violence, the military shot at least eight men. Four men involved in the riots were killed.

Fatalities included John Mercer aged 27, William Lancaster aged 25, George Sowerbutts aged 19 and Bernard McNamara aged 17.

The Aftermath of the Riots

Reactions to the shooting were almost unanimous. Many believed that Mayor Samuel Horrocks should be tried for wilful murder.

However, following inquests into the shootings, the four deaths were ruled to be “justified homocide”.

Twelve of those involved in the riots received prison sentences between nine months and two years.

On 13th August 1992, a permanent memorial was unveiled on Lune Street, in tribute to the cotton workers.

The memorial was designed by artist and sculptor Gordon Young.

It is said to stand as a reminder that “never without sacrifice have gains been made towards justice and democracy”.

Making a lasting impression on the people of Preston, the Lune Street shooting inspired Preston Passion drama “Preston 1842”.

The drama was showcased live on television for the 2012 Preston Passion event.

Though the years have gone by, the Preston Strike remains an integral piece of Preston’s unique history.

And it’s safe to say that the sacrifices made have truly stood the test of time and will not be forgotten.

At The Shankly Hotel Preston, we’ll be celebrating the best of Preston and its fantastic history and buildings.

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