- How money from slavery made Greater Manchester
- The importance of cotton in north west England
- The Lancashire cotton famine
- Smoking, drinking and the British sweet tooth
- Black presence in Britain and north west England
- Resistance and campaigns for abolition
- The bicentenary of British abolition
Why was cotton so important in north west England?
The Metropolitan Borough of Bolton is located to the north west of Manchester. It was established in the local government reorganisation of 1974, amalgamating the county borough of Bolton and the districts of Horwich, Westhoughton, Blackrod, Farnworth, Kearsley, Little Lever and part of Turton. The population in 2001 was 261,035.
Bolton and the surrounding villages were an important textile centre long before the Industrial Revolution. In the 1500s it had a reputation for producing coarse yarns and cottons. The textile revolution in the 1700s drew on this experience and expertise. Bolton expanded rapidly following the building of its first spinning mill in 1780. Samuel Crompton was a resident and his spinning mule proved to be the decisive invention in the development of the cotton spinning industry. Cotton spinning became the largest sector of the Bolton economy, but substantial numbers were also employed in engineering, papermaking and coal mining.
By 1838, the year when the new municipal borough was created, Bolton was recognised as one of the largest of Lancashire’s manufacturing towns. Bolton specialised in the production of the more profitable fine yarns and its spinners – the barefoot aristocrats – were among the highest paid of all factory workers. Importantly Bolton did not rely as much on American cotton as the coarse spinning towns of Stalybridge, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham did .
Pro and anti-slavery stance
Bolton had its philanthropists and supporters of the anti-slavery movement both before and after the passing of the 1833 act. A number of African Americans, including James Watkins, lived and lectured against slavery in Bolton. But as was the case in other cotton towns, Bolton was proud of its cotton industry and there was relatively little public discussion of the origins of the raw material responsible for its prosperity. In 1862 Bolton commemorated its most famous son, Samuel Crompton, by raising a public statue in Nelson Square.
Bolton suffered during the Lancashire cotton famine of the early 1860s. By then over 8,600 individuals were claiming poor relief. Bolton made use of the funds that were available under the Public Loans Act: Queen’s Park was one of the major projects undertaken to provide work for the unemployed. There was support for Lincoln’s emancipation policy among local operatives but it was never unanimous, pro-southern views were voiced at public meetings and in the local press. As for Lincoln himself, before his assassination he was often criticised and compared unfavourably with Jefferson Davis.
Bolton Town Hall
Many Bolton people gave little consideration to the sources of their cotton, except when its supply was interrupted. They took pride in their industry and the wealth that it created. Some of that wealth found expression in the town’s public buildings. Its most prestigious building was the town hall (opened in 1873), a building that included on its exterior, a symbolic sculpture representing Bolton’s industrial and commercial strength. The depiction of a black child in that sculpture was more of a pictorial afterthought rather than an explicit political statement, reflecting the realities of the industry, either before or after the abolition of slavery in the southern states.