Leicester Exchange, 1 November 1834: Thomas Ross takes on the Truck System. Part 3

Court reporter: Regular readers may remember that Thomas Ross, a woolcomber from Shearsby, has appeared before at the Leicester Petty Sessions. His first appearance however did not go well and is perhaps best passed over. The next week he came again and soberly explained his case against his employer, who, it is alleged, was paying his wages partly in coin and partly by sending goods to him. There has been recent legislation passed by the Legislature (The Truck Act of 1831) again outlawing this practice. It is worth keeping in mind that there are two Mr B’s involved in this case: Mr Bankart, who owns the factory and Mr Barsby, his overseer, whose wife owns the shop at which the goods are purchased.

Today’s hearing is before Alderman Cook and Alderman Brown, with Mr. Macauley representing the defendant.

Alderman Cook: Mr Macauley, how do you wish to proceed in answering the charges against Mr Bankart that we heard last week?

Mr. Colin Campbell Macauley: There were one or two objections that I had thought of taking, but I would rather have the case heard on its merits.

Court reporter: Thomas Ross put forward several circumstances concerned with his employment at Mr S.T. Bankart’s factory. He said he had often complained that the provisions he had to purchase were dear, but was never told that he need not go to Barsby’s shop. In fact he was told that he must go there and knew he would get no further work if he did not. On the 18th of October he was due 8s. 4 1/2 d. but the carrier only brought a few pence to him: 7s. 10 1/2d. had been stopped in payment of a bill due to Barsby for goods.

This is the charge against the defendant.

C.C. Macauley: The case has not been made out. My client is charged with paying wages in goods, whereas the only evidence given was that the witness’s wages have not been paid at all. They have been stopped in payment of a debt to the agent through whose hands they have passed.

Town Clerk: I agree: Ross would be better off entering a summons for non-payment of wages. The case should not go forward.

C.C. Macauley: I have no sinister object in stopping this inquiry. The facts are that Mrs Barsby had carried on the shop in Market Street before he had married her, and that the defendant, Mr Bankart had never had an interest in the shop. If Barsby sent goods to Shearsby for Ross that would save him the trip to Leicester and be altogether to Ross’s convenience.

Town Clerk: Such a practice could clearly be injurious to the men working for you, Mr. Bankart. If you are aware of any influence exerted over your men to purchase their goods at Barsby’ shop, then you are morally, if not legally, guilty of a practice which the Legislature intends to abolish. You ought to free your men from any such influence. It makes no odds whether you personally have an interest in Barsby’s shop.

Mr. Samuel T. Bankart: I was not aware that anything like that was going on at my factory.

Town Clerk: Now that you do know, you must exert your power to stop it.

C.C. Macauley: You are, no doubt, aware that Ross has been turned out of employment for embezzling worsted, but my client would re-employ him if he comes to reside in Leicester, where he can keep an eye on him.

Ross:  That charge has to be proved.

Alderman Cook: You had conversation with Mr Bankart respecting the goods?

Ross: Yes.

Alderamn Cook: That contradicts Mr Bankart’s statement.

Town Clerk: Oh, the man’s word is not to be taken in contradiction of Mr. Bankart’s.

Ross: I’ve repeatedly been told by Mr Bankart that I must have the goods or go without work.

Mr Bankart: That is untrue, I never had a word with him on that subject.

C.C. Macauley: Mr Bankart had no knowledge of Ross’s dealings with Barsby. In fact you could say that Barsby was doing Ross a kindness.

Town Clerk: The kindness, I dare say, was not all on one side.

C.C. Macauley: Barsby trusted him for goods whether he had work or not.

Alderman Cook: I think it would be helpful to hear from other witnesses at this point, especially the Shearsby carrier.

Town Clerk: In my opinion it would be very desirable that Mr. Bankart should take care that his men are not under any compulsion to go to Barsby’s shop. I can’t help thinking that Mr. Bankart knows more than he is saying about the extent to which this sort of thing occurs, and therefore it may be as well to hear further evidence.

Webster [the Shearsby carrier]: Well, yes, I generally took a written list of the things Ross wanted to Barsby’s shop, though sometimes I was charged with a verbal order only. But I don’t deliver Ross’s work. I only take it as far as the Little Crown and a boy takes it on from there. I do recall Ross complaining to me about being overcharged for the goods.

Alderman Cook: Mr. Barsby, what to do have to say in response to Ross’s assertion that he must take goods from your shop or get no work himself?

Mr Barsby: I know of men who have worked two years or more for Mr. Bankart who have never stepped through the door of my shop.

Alderman Cook: You have brought one of these men with you, I take it?

Mr. Barsby: No.

C.C. Macauley: It would have seemed very unlikely that any such evidence would have been necessary.

Town Clerk: Mr. Bankart, I must say again that it is very important that you take care to see your men are paid their wages in money and are left at liberty to spend it were they choose.

C.C. Macauley: You say that, but we have heard here that Ross has been discharged from his employment for embezzlement. In consequence he has immediately gone to the Avenger of all Wrongs: Mr. Moses Pegg.

Court: Laughter.

Alderman Cook: That seems hardly consistent with the statement that Mr. Bankart is willing to employ him if he comes to reside in Leicester.

Alderman Brown: Alderman Cook, I think you will agree with me that Mr. Macauley is in danger of failing to keep his promise to rest his defence solely on the merits of the case, and is relying instead on procedural failings.

C.C. Macauley: I have no wish to take advantage of any informalities in the case being raised, but can hardly be blamed when the case is failing for lack of evidence. The charge was that wages have been paid in goods, of which no proof has been given. The only fact given in evidence is that a certain amount of the wages has not been paid, but has been detained by an agent in discharge of a debt. The case falls then, not on any informality in the way it is put, but for want of proof.

Alderman Cook: The case is dismissed, for lack of evidence to support it.

Ross: What about my wages?

Court reporter: Ross was told that he could demand the wages due to him up to the 18th of October. Shortly afterwards he came back to the court seeking a summons saying that Mr Bankart has refused to pay him.  But he was sent off by Alderman Cook who said Mr. Bankart was not expected to pay him on the spot and that he must apply at the counting-house as usual.

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

 

 

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