The memoirs of a 19th century Salford-born bookseller, James Weatherley, will feature in a new book to highlight the working-class experience during the Industrial Revolution.
James Weatherley was born in a workhouse in 1794 and his memoirs tell the stories of working in Manchester’s cotton mills, the execution of Moses Fernleigh and his account of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.
Terry Wyke, co-author of the book, said: “A beginning that one might have predicted a short existence given the high rates of infant mortality that marked out the poor in a rapidly expanding town.”
James Weatherley’s voice was first discovered at Chetham’s Library by historian Michael Powell and his colleague Wyke in the 1980s, their shared interest in his life continued for years to come.
It was the “extraordinary detail” as well as “the apparent authenticity of the voice” that drew Wyke to James Weatherley the very first time he heard of the bookseller’s recollections of selling Eccles cakes at the Manchester races.
The “oblique angles” from which Weatherley observes the world were something which were highlighted.
Wyke said: “Importantly, we have very few working-class accounts of living and working in Manchester in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, at the very time when the town was in the grip of what we now recognise as the world’s first industrial revolution, popularly remembered by the building of steam-powered cotton mills.
“Of course, we have many accounts of Manchester provided by middle-class observers – Mrs Gaskell and Friedrich Engels are well known – but we have very few that are from the lips of the working classes themselves.”
James Weatherley found himself unemployed in 1817 when the country was still in the grips of a depression after the end of the long Napoleonic wars. He turned again to selling to make ends meet, working for an Irishman named Macardy; however, when Macardy threatened to cut his wages – to one shilling a day – Weatherley was helped by a neighbour to setup on his own.
“I then went home, out of work again rather low spirited but in the afternoon, of the same day an Old neighbour of ours Mrs Tonge she was mother in Law to John Waddington the Old musician of Manchester well Mrs Tonge said James get all your Books together and Put them on this table and let us see how they look, and you have a wheelbarrow wheel them to the Exchange in the morning you will get a better Price for them then selling them to Booksellers Just when you want a loaf of bread, I then Put my books on the table but they did not above half fill it Mrs Tonge went home and in about ten minutes she came back with an apron full of old books and a quantity of old music which nearly filled my table I the next morning Put the books in my wifes large cloaths trunk and wheeld them and the table to the front of the Exchange”
Though Wyke added: “Indeed, as his life came to an end, he realised that for all the attractions of becoming a bookseller, he may have made a mistake in leaving what was probably better paid work in the cotton mills for the apparent independence of bookselling.”
Weatherley’s younger memories were predominantly made up of his family and working. By the age of ten he was working in Manchester’s cotton mills, and by 17 he’d worked in no less than six mills. However, unlike many other working-class children, he did have some education by attending a number of Sunday schools.
Recalling his cotton mill work, Weatherley wrote:
“I kept scavanging this work is to keep the Machinery Clean from the dirt and flyings that is the dust from the Cotton that clogs up the Machinery we have to do it while the Machines are working which is often very dangerous if you are not very sharp and wide awake you would be caught by the straps Drums shafts Pulleys rollers or Cog wheels which may make you minus a limb or two or perhaps your Life”
“James Weatherley had a marvellous memory,” Wyke said. “A prerequisite for a bookseller. He remembered a number of the crimes that shocked Manchester.”
One such crime is reflected in Weatherley’s recollections of the execution of Moses Fernleigh. Fernleigh was executed for the murder of his step-son, and the booksellers account tells of the public feeling.
“the little Boy was very Poorly and Moses Pretended to be kind to it and get it medicine he got some vitriol and forced it down the Childs throat which caused its death After he was hung his Body was brought to the Manchester Infirmary for dissection he lay naked on the floor of the dead house for Public Inspection there was thousands went to see him I could see the mark of the rope round his neck quite black”
Another moment of Manchester history is the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Weatherley’s memoirs provide an important first-hand experience.
“I saw the Whole of them come on the ground it was very throng when Hunt and the other speakers came on the Hustings and Mr Hunt began to speak Nadin and a long line of Constables came and took Hunt and others prisoners one of the Constables was killd his name was Ashworth he was the Landlord of the Bulls Head Market Place then the Manchester Cavalry came galloping to the Hustings from the Oxford Road End they were led up by Meager an Irishman and Trumpeter to Yeomanry he was the first to begin the assault he was four or five yards in advance of the Others he kept laying on the People right and left with his sword
“the Town began towards dusk to get throng particularly about Oldham and Ancoats Streets and a disposition to be rough by demolishing the Shops of any of the Yeoman Cavalry the Constables and Military were called out they began to be very harsh with the People if People were standing at their own doors they were insulted by the Authorities and there were several shot that night I knew one man very well that lost a leg his name was Parry a stay maker near Trinity Church Salford”
Having read the manuscript, especially around James Weatherley’s bookselling memoirs, Powell and Wyke decided to make the memoirs more widely known and committed years to doing this. Unfortunately, in 2019, Michael died before he could see the finished volumes.
The book’s full title, ‘Recollections of Manchester and Manchester characters and anecdotes relating to Manchester and Lancashire generally from the year 1800 to 1850 by James Weatherly, for nearly half a century a bookseller in the locality of the Manchester Exchange 1860’, is a mouthful.
However, the shorter title, A Bread and Cheese Bookseller: The recollections of James Weatherley of Manchester, c. 1790 – 1850., is based on a derogatory comment made about him by another bookseller.
“It is clear that there were times that Weatherley had no cheese and little bread,” Wyke said. “Manchester’s unpredictable weather meant that for street sellers much time was spent in the local pubs – Weatherley reveals an encyclopaedic knowledge of these in the town centre. Weatherley is frank in admitting that his love of ‘the little brown jug’ played its part in what he came to regard as his failure as a street trader.”