Monday, May 18, 2015

The Hough family brickmakers of Salford

Report of the 1867 Royal Commission
Brickmaking in 19th century England tended to be a family occupation. Like fustian cutting, it was a semi-skilled trade that was passed on from one generation to the next, and it was difficult to get a job if you didn't have the right family connections.

So not only was John Hough a brickmaker, but so were his four surviving sons - James (born 1829), William (about 1831), John jnr (1834) and George (1837). Several of his grandsons were also brickmakers.

It's possible that even one of his granddaughters was a brickmaker. When Elizabeth Hough, daughter of William Hough, married Alfred Greenough in St Bartholomew's church in Salford in April 1883, she was described as "Brickmaker, spinster".

Perhaps because so  many brickmakers were closely related, brickmaking was also a highly unionised occupation. Particularly in Manchester and Salford, the brickmakers established very clear 'rules' for the brickwork owners who employed them. These included such things as being paid their wages weekly, and employing only local labour. The brickmakers were also (understandably) resistant to brickmaking machines being introduced.

The brickmakers were not afraid to defend their rights, with force if necessary. In May 1843 the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser reported on a "Desperate and Bloody Attack by a Party of Armed Turn-outs" on a brickworks on the Eccles New Road near Cross Lane. (You can read an account of this incident, as reported several months later in the Southern Australian newspaper.)

It seems a group of 300 or more brickmakers attacked the brickworks of Messrs Pauling and Henfrey at night, apparently intent on setting fire to the brick croft and destroying the bricks. The group were armed with a variety of weapons, the owner's wife was intimidated, and shots were fired at those who were guarding the property. The cause of the affray seems to have been a dispute over wages and the employing of non-union labour.

This was not the only such 'outrage' committed by the brickworkers over the years. In 1867 the British government set up a Royal Commission to look into "acts of intimidation alleged to have been promoted by trade unions" in Sheffield and Manchester. It took a particular interest in the brickmakers union.

The Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, described the Commission's findings in an article in September 1867. Here's part of what it had to say about brickmakers:
The brickmakers bear the reputation of belonging to the roughest and rudest section of the working classes. They can hardly be considered as coming within the category of skilled artizans or mechanics, either in general education and intelligence, or in the technicalities of their trade and handicraft. And yet, strange to say, they have shown themselves as being at the least as cunning, astute, and inventive, both in the concoction of their destructive and homicidal schemes, and in the practical methods with which they carried them into execution, as the skilled operatives of Sheffield.
Obviously this wasn't an unbiased view. But what was the Hough family's involvement in all of this? It's difficult to say. A Thomas Hough was one of those arrested (and later acquitted) for his part in the 1843 incident. He may have been a brother or cousin of John Hough. A brickmaker named Thomas Hough, born in Cheshire in 1815, lived just a few doors away from John and Elizabeth Hough in the 1841 census.

As we've seen, John Hough seems to have started a small brick-making business of his own, with half a dozen employees. Yet this was hardly likely to have competed with large brick-making companies like Pauling and Henfreys. He seems to have remained a working brickmaker all his life. In a letter from the brick workers to the newspapers in 1851, defending their actions in a dispute with a brick manufacturer named Farr, John Hough was one of the signatories.

Nevertheless, John seems to have done fairly well for himself. His probate record indicates that he left an estate of £278 4s 6d  to his wife Elizabeth when he died in 1883, a moderately large sum in those days. His eldest son James left £1694.3s.11d in 1891 and in 1916 his third son, John Hough jnr, left an estate worth a healthy £5490 2s 9d. These sums suggest that the family were more than "the roughest and rudest section of the working class."

Strangely, no probate record exists for William, the second son, suggesting he died with very little property. This is not the only mystery attached to William, as we'll see in a later post.