Oral History

Mr William Law life and times of a Board of Guardians

Please Note The figures at the beginning of the line, correspond with the numbers at the foot of each report; and the figures at the end of the line, refers to the MS. Paging of the Volumes arranged for The House of Commons.

Interviewed: Mr William Law

4682. I believe you are a member of the Board of Guardians here? --- I am.

4683. And an old inhabitant of the town, are you not? --- Of 20 years or better. I have seen some prosperity, and a great deal of adversity in it.

4684. What is the general condition of the stocking makers at the present time, in your opinion? --- Very bad, not from the want of employment, but from the want of better education and the lowness of the wages; and I think it must always be for the want of more men of capital as employers. We are almost now becomes the workshop to Leicester.

4685. Is that increasing? --- Very much. Mr Jervis has been of immense benefit to this town the last two years, but he, like the rest, has given it up.

4686. Have a number of small men been introduced into the trade? --- Oh yes, a great many. That abominable system, the truck system, has enabled them to come into it. I will give you an instance of one. A shop-boy that lived next door to me a few years ago, a common porter's boy, has owned a shop of 60 or 70 frames on the truck system; they have been entirely on the truck system; so that the hands have not taken home a penny a-week.

4687. In what period has he obtained them? --- He has been there five or six years now. Other masters have evaded the law by setting their sons up in business, and people having been billeted to them for their goods. I consider them one of the sources of the recent distress of the town; they undersell men of capital. Mr Sills is a highly respectable gentleman, and a man of immense capital, but they can beat him by the paltry tricks they have.

4688. Have not some manufacturers of respectability left the town in consequence? --- The brother of Mr Sills has left the town entirely. Just to show you how it used to be formerly, we had a gentleman in this town, Captain Brown, a man of large estate, he was a banker in the town; during the time he was in business he would employ three-fourths of the inhabitants. There was no trucking then, nor no want of money, and no want of prosperity.

4689. That is some years ago? --- Yes, some years ago.

4690. And do you attribute, in a great degree, the depressed condition of the trade to the truck system? --- A great deal indeed, on the principle I have told you. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster have property to 3000/. Or 4000/. a-year here, and that of course is taken out of the town; the lessees living at a distance take it all away.

4691. Are there other large properties here in the same way? --- The town clerk, Mr Hurst, of Nottingham, takes immense revenue away. You would hardly credit that we have nearly 7000 inhabitants, with 400 ratepayers only. I was overseer of the highways last year, and therefore, I know; the number was then 450.

4692. What is the present number of paupers? --- About every twelfth man you meet is a pauper; 1 in 12 is a pauper.

4693. Then you have more paupers than ratepayers? --- Yes considerably so.

4694. What are the present rates? --- The last rate was 2s - 6d the poor rate.

4695. That was for the quarter, was it? --- Yes.

4696. They have been as high as 4s - 2d, I think? --- Yes, they have been as high as 4s - 2d half a year ago, the rate but one before this last.

4697. Has the depressed condition of the population materially deteriorated the value of property? --- Very much so, more than one-half. The property I live in, which is the best situation in the parish, 20 years ago 1700 guineas were offered for it; four years ago myself and partner bought it, it was valued at that time at 1250 guineas; 12 months ago I dissolved partnership, and it was again valued at 800 guineas, and now I do not think I could make that money of it. And, as I have said, it is the best and most central situation in the town.

4698. Do you believe that other instances might be cited in which the reduction has been as great as your own? --- Yes, I am sure of it.

4699. Do you find a corresponding debasement in the morals of the people? --- Yes, quite so. We have a fair proportion of a Sunday school education in the town amongst Dissenter and Church people; but the wants of the people are so great, that they cannot spare time on a weekday; a child at five years of age is considered capable of doing something. When they come to us for relief we question them as to their earnings, and we calculate that child of five years of age can do some seaming. The huts that they live in are most deplorable.

4700. In you capacity as member of the Board of Guardians, you have frequent opportunities of witnessing the appearance of the people applying for relief, do they generally present any peculiar indications of emaciation? --- Yes, they do.

4701. Is relief given to the able-bodied? --- No, we are rigidly carrying the law out.

4702. Not in cases of sickness? --- Yes, those we do not consider able-bodied. Any part of the family being ill, we are at liberty by the law to relieve them. We have tried to bring our own poor home altogether and relieve them, and to retain them within the district of the Union; But Leicester is a town where they get a better rate of pay, and as soon as ever the trade is good, away our people knock off till our houses are desolate; and then when trade is bad they fall on the Union, or they come home here for relief. We made an order on the book that we would not relieve any out of the Union; they sent over from Leicester to ask what was to be done, and we told them to send them home by orders; we continued that for a week or two, but that system has been repealed, or it would have served our parish materially. I think in this town we have had more profligacy than in any town in England; there is not a week passes over without something of the kind.

The Witness Mr William Law withdrew.