Leicester Exchange, 21 October 1834: Thomas Ross takes on the Truck System. Part 1

Thomas Ross was born in Shearsby and christened in the village church on 24 April 1796. He and most of his family worked in the wool trade, usually specifically with worsted, in Leicestershire, with the exception of younger brother George who emigrated to America for a time. Thomas had married Grace Peet of Countesthorpe in September 1815 and in 1834 had two children Grace, aged 10 and James, aged 4.

Moses Stephen Pegg was born in Leicester and christened on 28 May 1794. He was not a mere ‘informer’, he claimed, but an Inspector of Hawker’s Licenses. However, he acknowledged that this was “an Irish sinecure: all work and no pay”. He did receive a share in all the penalties from cases he brought forward, though “not more than paid his expenses and compensated him for the anxiety of mind he suffered in discharge of his duties”. He frequently gets a mention in the court reports of the Leicester Chronicle in the 1830s. A possible relative, Thomas Pegg, lived in Shearsby in 1841.

Bankart & Co. were worsted spinners based in Westbridge, Leicester. They made an appearance in Pigot and co.’s national commercial directory for 1828-9. Samuel T. Bankart was born in 1792 in Leicester and in 1851 was living as ‘a gentleman’ in Gaddesby, Leicestershire. There are memorials to members of the Bankart family in the St. Mary de Castro church in the Leicester Castle precinct.

The Truck Act 1831 was a pioneering piece of British employment law, setting the trend towards later Victorian labour law. Section 3 required that: “The entire amount of the wages earned by.. any artificer.. shall be actually paid to such artificer in the current coin of this realm.” Payment by truck is traditionally seen as an abuse of labour, taking the form of the payment of wages in goods rather than coin. This was a practice prevalent especially in the hand-made nail trade in the Black Country; Framework-knitting in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and hand-loom weaving in Gloucestershire (Hilton, 1958). Since the goods taken could be overvalued or be of reduced quality it was unfair individually and as it made wage comparisons impossible it was unfair collectively too. However, it has been argued (Tan, 2006) that a system where credit was extended to workers was mutually beneficial.

The Petty Sessions were held by the county magistrates in the Assembly Rooms on Hotel in Leicester on Saturdays.

On Tuesday 21 October 1834 it was Moses Pegg taking the initiative in a case against T. Bankart, as owner of Bankart & Co., on a charge of paying one of his workmen, Thomas Ross, in goods rather than cash. He said that Ross had been compelled to take goods from the shop of Bankart’s overlooker Mr. Barsby of Market Street. The Magistrates refused to let the case go forward without evidence that Bankart himself paid his workmen in goods, or that he had an interest in Barsby’s business.

Ross came forward at that point to make his case, but had not got beyond half a dozen words when the magistrates stopped him, asking him to leave the room and return, if he chose, when sober.

He did so the following week.

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 07, 1832

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, October 25, 1834

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, November 01, 1834

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, November 08, 1834

“England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NP7Q-22V : 30 December 2014), Thos. Ross, 24 Apr 1796; citing SHEARSBY, LEICESTER, ENGLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 585,287.

Banks, S (2014) Informal Justice in England and Wales, 1760-1914, Boydell & Brewer, Suffolk. p.118. http://bit.ly/2m9MtKo

Truck Act 1831 (1976). The Modern Law Review, 39, pp. 101.

Hilton, G.W. (1958) The Truck Act of 1831. The Economic History Review, 10 (3), pp. 470.

Tan, Elaine S. (2006) Regulating Wages in Kind: Theory and Evidence from Britain. Journal of Law, Economics and  organisation; 22 (2): 442-458. doi: 10.1093/jleo/ewj013

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