No rioting in Blackburn…but we’ve seen it all before

This blog has been written by a student who was on a placement with us. Sarah has written about the recent rioting troubles and how history has a strange way of repeating itself.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Similar then to how one might now travel to New York and return dressed in a bright white “I ♥ NY” t-shirt, the local people of Blackburn thought it important to craft commemorative mugs illustrating the riots of Blackburn and Darwen in 1878.  

The mug on the left shows the burning of Colonel Jacksons house

These riots were caused, in short by the American Civil War. During the 1860s and 1870s ports in southern American states were blockaded by the American Civil Army, causing a cotton famine in the UK, as raw cotton remained in great demand, but was suddenly in short supply. This caused the decline in theLancashire cotton empire which impacted greatly upon the lives of everyone working in the industry. This was particularly evident here inBlackburnwhere the Masters’ Association of mill owners eventually decided upon a region-wide 10% pay cut to all workers in order to preserve the profit margins. The stubbornness of Colonel Raynsford Jackson, leader of the Masters’ Association and his refusal to negotiate this cut led to an initially peaceful ‘lock out’; a strike because the workers refuse to work for the wages offer them. In was in the fifth week of this lock out, amidst another failed negotiation between the Masters’ Association and the delegates of the local workpeople’s association inManchesterthat violence broke out.

Weavers in Darwen burnt in effigy a local inn-keeper who refused beer to them. Despite a police presence, stone throwing soon began and the unrest had truly started.

In the context of the recent 2011 riots in North London, following the police shooting of gang member Mark Duggan, we can understand how a band of peaceful protesters (the cotton strikers originally had a placard bearing the phrase ‘remember, peace is our motto’), can soon descend into violent mass criminal behaviour. The week following the incident in Darwen, there are reports of 3000 mob members armed with sticks and having their pockets filled with stones causing havoc throughout the Blackburn area, targeting mills to which they did not even belong.

Colonel Raynsford Jackson received news that he was a prime target for the rioters, due to his insistence on the 10% wage cuts and managed to flee his home at Clayton Grange before it was stormed by rioters and looters, eventually being burned to the ground. The resulting scenes are not a million miles away from images of a burning CarpetRight store in Tottenham and news reports such as ‘A couple of hundred youths were rioting and looting’ emerging, a headline which could be one taken from either The Blackburn Times in 1878 or Twitter in 2011.

Similarities to the Allied Carpets building?

What is interesting to note is that the mugs have no pottery stamp, suggesting they were considered as distasteful to drink from in 1870s as an ‘I ♥ RIOTING’ t-shirt may be if worn today.


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Blackburn Museum can be found in Blackburn, Lancashire. It houses objects documenting Blackburn's industrial past as well as a world class collection of Fine Art, Japanese prints, Icons, Numismatics and Manuscripts. Come and visit us to find out more.

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