Coventry and Nuneaton, alongside Bedworth, were great hubs of ribbon weaving in the 18th century. However, the life of a ribbon weaver was not all roses, particularly in the early 19th century.
While the Industrial Revolution brought many advancements, it also disrupted the traditional methods of production, causing job losses and forcing many into poverty. The mechanisation of weaving, in particular, caused great instability in those towns founded on the industry. This in turn triggered unrest and protest. The most well known example is probably the Luddite movement, who attempted to regain influence over their market by physically destroying the new weaving machines.
Asses and arson
Warwickshire towns and cities were not immune to these difficulties. With so much of their workforce based in the ribbon weaving trade, Coventry and Nuneaton were hit hard by the changes. There are numerous accounts of uprisings and protests by the ribbon weavers in this area.
In 1829, around 500-600 workers in Nuneaton rose up against the factory overseers. They dragged the foreman Mr Taylor from his house, placed him on a donkey, and pelted him with filth.1 Ribbon weaving had been a household industry, and there were many weavers in nearby villages who also participated in the protests. On one occasion in 1829, around 6,000 workers from Nuneaton, Bulkington, Shilton and Ryton were involved in a mass protest demanding strike action against unfair prices.2
There were also violent incidents in Coventry. On 7th November 1831, the reduction in piece rates lead to a riot by the Coventry ribbon weavers. This culminated in the destruction of Josiah Beck’s silk mill, and the powered steam looms it contained.3 The Warwickshire County Record Office holds a detailed inventory and valuation of the house and factory destroyed by the rioters.4
A history of unrest
These were not the first incidents in these areas, and they weren’t to be the last. Part two will explore a whole series of riots and uprisings in Coventry and Nuneaton over the past 650 years.
1 ‘Riots at Nuneaton’, The Times, 26 September 1829. ‘Riots at Nuneaton’, The Times, 10 September 1829. Also articles reprinted from the Coventry Herald in The Times, 18 & 19 September 1829, 3, 17 & 31 October 1829.
2 ‘Riots at Nuneaton’, The Times, 26 September 1829. ‘Riots at Nuneaton’, The Times, 10 September 1829. Also articles reprinted from the Coventry Herald in The Times, 18 & 19 September 1829, 3, 17 & 31 October 1829.
3 Warwickshire County Record Office, QS0063/52. Warwickshire County Record Office, QS0091/2.
4 Warwickshire County Record Office, QS0063/52.