The Combination Act of 1799 was an extraordinarily oppressive piece of legislation. After the French revolution it is extraordinary that the Houses of Commons and Lords would risk such an unjust act. There had been acts before against workers in particular trades – weaving, hatters and miners, but this latest act was intended for every worker in any trade.
It was a particularly obnoxious piece of legislation for many reasons, but chiefly because it avoided trial by jury, the complainant bringing the defendant in front of just one Justice. And, of course, the Justices were all landowners and employers.
After one year it was repealed and replaced by a very similar act of 1800. This made one concession – two Justices were needed.
In the case of Milton Abbas in 1803 Lionel Damer probably brought our six Martyrs, in front of the notorious Justice James Frampton and himself, who promptly sentenced them to two months hard labour.
We have tried to bring this injustice to the attention of the TUC and the Shire Hall Justice Museum. What we have learned is that the TUC are so interested in the Tolpuddle Martyrs above all other injustices because in their case they were seen to win after the nationwide uproar that followed the Tolpuddle men’s transportation for 7 years.
Help us bring the terrible injustice of the Milton Abbas Martyrs to wider notice.
By the way, William Wilberforce spoke for this act in Parliament.
Can anyone find the full text of these two Acts? Believe it or not, but these are not freely available without a subscription!
Just one paragraph of the ‘Unlawful Combination Act of 1800’ –
“Every … workman … who shall at any time after the passing of this Act enter into any combination to obtain an advance of wages, or to lessen or alter the hours or duration of the time of working, or to decrease the quantity of work, or for any other purpose contrary to this Act, or who shall, by giving money, or by persuasion, solicitation or intimidation, or any other means, wilfully and maliciously endeavour to prevent any unhired or unemployed journeyman or workman, or other person, in any manufacture, trade or business, or any other person wanting employment in such manufacture, trade or business, from hiring himself to any manufacturer or tradesman, or person conducting any manufacture, trade or business, or who shall, for the purpose of obtaining an advance of wages, or for any other purpose contrary to the provisions of this Act, wilfully and maliciously decoy, persuade, solicit, intimidate, influence or prevail, or attempt or endeavour to prevail, on any journeyman or workman, or other person hired or employed, or to be hired or employed in any such manufacture, trade or business, to quit or leave his work, service or employment, or who shall wilfully and maliciously hinder or prevent any manufacturer or tradesman, or other person, from employing in his or her manufacture, trade or business, such journeymen, workmen and other persons as he or she shall think proper, or who, being hired or employed, shall, without any just or reasonable cause, refuse to work with any other journeyman or workman employed or hired to work therein, and who shall be lawfully convicted of any of the said offences, upon his own confession, or the oath or oaths of one or more credible witness or witnesses, before any two justices of the Peace for the county … .or place where such offence shall be committed, within 3 calendar months … shall, by order of such justices, be committed to … gaol for any time not exceeding 3 calendar months; or otherwise be committed to some House of Correction … for any time not exceeding 2 calendar months.”