Ross

Leicester Townhall, 29 August 1837: “The Man of Ross” called to pay his ale-score

“BUT all our praises why should lords engross?” asked poet Alexander Pope in 1732 before putting forward the case for John Kyrle (1637-1724) as a non-aristocrat who had made a memorable impact during his lifetime. Kyrle had dedicated time, expertise and a good deal of money into his philanthropic efforts on behalf of Ross-on-Wye, the town where he lived. For this he became known as the “Man of Ross”, celebrated not just in verse, but also in popular culture, with a pub carrying that name in the town.

Over one hundred years later there was evidence that his fame was still recalled when his name was alluded to in the Small Debts Court held in the Leicester Guild Hall. The reporters who wrote up the cases in the Small Debts Court, held on Saturdays and dealing with less than life and death issues, tend to adopt a more informal writing style. the defendant, Ross, is frankly described as ‘a blunt customer’, while the landlady, Mrs. Colton, is described as intervening in a way ‘less conciliatory than her spouse,  and in her heat, forgetful of the character of her house’.

The case was brought by a beer-house keeper called Colton who was chasing a £5 debt owed by Shearsby wool-comber Samuel Ross. Colton had brought the amount of the debt down to £5 so as qualify for the attention of the Small Debts Court after Ross (he claimed) had stood surety for his drinking companions who had spent the whole day drinking at Colton’s House.

Ross countered that while he might, as he put it, have “passed his word” for a pint or two of ale for a friend, but that he had not been present for a good part of that day and had not intended for the publican to carry on the supply of beer until two in the morning at his expense. One of Ross’s companions that day, another wool-comber, explained that they had been attending a village wake held about eleven miles from Leicester. They had spent the day drinking and gambling, as was their habit, but that it was unfair for the whole charge to fall onto Ross.

The Commissioner asked if the witness would admit to any share in the ale included in the bill. Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to having drunk his portion with the rest.

Colton tried to coax payment out of Ross with friendly phrases: “Come, come! Ross is an honourable name, Sam: the ‘man of Ross,’ you know”. Sam Ross replied: “Honourable name, indeed! Are you to fix this debt upon me because they call me Sam Ross? If that is to stand good, an honourable name would be the ruin of a man.” His view was that the landlord had trusted the men doing the drinking and should have looked  to them for payment.

Mrs Colton, the landlady, was roused by this response: “Looked to them for the money! was it likely that we would trust such a set of scoundrels , without some security?”

The witness brought in by Ross, joined in: “Why, mistress, you encouraged the scoundrels, as you call them, to drink your ale when Sam and your husband were at the Shearsby feast; and they got so drunk in the house, that they began to fight with the poker and tongs”.

The Commissioners found in Colton’s favour, but fixed the re-payments in monthly 10s installments. They took the opportunity to express their opinion of the reprehensible conduct of the landlord: there did, after all, appear to have been a good deal of Sunday drinking on his premises. Ross said that it was hard on him to have to pay the bill for a score of drinkers, most of whom had left town and would not be seen again. The Commissioners told him that at least he would have the assistance of his witness, who had admitted to swelling the bill with his share of the drinking.

SMALL DEBTS COURT, TOWNHALL, AUG. 29.
The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, September 02, 1837

Pope, Alexander (1732) The Man of Ross [Online] http://www.poetryatlas.com/poetry/poem/2833/the-man-of-ross.html [accessed 13 April 2017]

© 2017

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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

 

 

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

German Town, Philadelphia, 1831: A caution to runaways

George Ross had been placed in charge of the wool-combing and worsted-spinning business in Countesthorpe owned by his father Thomas and brother William Ross. In August 1827 George was found to have disappeared, along with (in all probability) a sizeable part of the funds of the business. William Ross ensured that news of his brother’s flight was put onto the front page of the Leicester Chronicle,  with mention of a handsome reward for any information that would lead to his discovery.

Though his father and uncles all came from Oadby, George had been born in the village of Shearsby and christened in the ancient church of St. Mary Magdalen on 14 November 1800. His father Thomas Ross was born  in 1768 and married his mother Frances Pebberdy in Shearsby on 6 April 1795. William Ross was born in 1772, Neal, born in 1791 and Samuel in 1804. Frances (‘Fanny’) Ross had not lived beyond 40 and died in January 1806. Uncle William Ross had died in February 1825.

No more was heard of George for a long while, and that might have remained the case, had it not been for another Leicestershire runaway: Thomas Shipley. He had been the ‘confidential traveller’ of a Mr. Overton, hosier, and had absconded with a sum of money belonging to his employer. He had, however, been tracked to America, arrested there and compelled to restore the greater part of the missing money. This international legal success had been orchestrated by the Leicester solicitors Messrs. Harris and Payne Johnson. They had sent their man, Bickling, over to America to identify Shipley and with the help of the American Consul brought him to justice. Over £700 had been returned, mostly from Shipley’s account in the Savings Bank. It would have been more, had not Shipley nervously thrown £100 into the sea on leaving England (at least, that’s what he told Bickling).

Not only was this achieved, but Bickling was able to report back on other Leicestershire abscondees. Shipley had been found in the home of Westbury Hill, also apparently from Countesthorpe, who had recently left behind a string of creditors there. He was one of a group of thirty or forty Leicestershire natives in the Philadelphia area alone. Among them were Poole and Jones and a fellow from Shearsby called Ross.

Messrs. Harris and Payne Johnson wanted readers of local newspapers to hear of their success in this matter and to understand that their experience was available for any other clients who had experienced losses in this manner. A piece entitled ‘a caution to runaways’ was printed in the Leicester Chronicle and re-printed in other newspapers in the Midlands.

By 1851 George Ross was back in Leicester, living in Craven Street with his other uncle, Neale and older brother William, both working as a wool-sorters.

Further research

How does worsted differ from other woollens?

What would George Ross’s life had been like in Philadelphia in the 1830s?

References

The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser (Sheffield, England), Saturday, August 06, 1831; Issue 537

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 11, 1827; pg. [1]; Issue 872

Marriage of Thomas Ross and Frances Pebberdy. “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJVL-MY6 : 10 December 2014), Thomas Ross and Frances Pebberdy, 06 Apr 1795; citing Shearsby, Leicester, England, reference V3; FHL microfilm 952,297.

Birth of George Ross. “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NYRK-435 : 30 December 2014), George Ross, 14 Nov 1800; citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 585,287.

Ross in the 1851 Census. “England and Wales Census, 1851,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:SGFG-MZY : 24 July 2016), George Ross in household of Neale Ross, St Margarets, Leicestershire, England; citing St Margarets, Leicestershire, England, p. 10, from “1851 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.