The Maltreated and the Malcontents

Working in the Great Western Cotton Factory 1838-1914

Publication Details
Number: 37
By: Mike Richardson
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 978-1-911522-36-2
Number of pages: 141
Format: Bound Booklet
Page Details
Section: BRHG Publications
Subjects: Radical Bristol, Workers Organisations & Strikes
Tags: ,
Posted: Modified:

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The history of Bristol’s Great Western Cotton Works in Barton Hill, which opened in 1838, is little known. The story of its workforce — mainly low-paid women and children — has never been told.

From the 1830s to the early twentieth century, Barton Hill workers endured long working hours, high rates of industrial accidents and ill-health from the cotton dust and humidity. Moreover, they were subjected to wage cuts and fines by a series of unrelenting managers.

Divided along age and gender lines and largely outside the formal trade union movement, the balance of power at the Great Western Cotton Works was skewed heavily in favour of the works’ managers. Nonetheless, Mike Richardson documents frequent acts of rebellion in which the women played a leading part; vocal protests, riotous resistance and thefts of inferior cotton to prevent loss of pay. He shows how workers also took their grievances to court in defiance of the legal bias against them.

A strike in 1889 led the cotton workers into the militant Gas Workers’ and General Labourers’ Union, under the leadership of Will Thorne and Eleanor Marx. Then again when unrest broke out just before World War One, Mary Macarthur was able to recruit the women in the Barton Hill cotton mill into the National Federation of Women Workers.

The Maltreated and the Malcontents: Working in the Great Western Cotton Factory 1838-1914 reveals a gendered working class resistance based on action existing outside the framework of formal organizations as well as within them.

The Maltreated and the Malcontents front cover


    • Yes I made reference to your pamphlet Gary in my introduction (page 7) but as you will see most of my sources come from local newspaper reports, material at BRO and a wide range of books and pamphlets. It has 391 footnotes and is fully referenced. It has taken two years of research.

  1. Hi, Barry Lewis from Sydney, Australia. My wife Linda is a direct descendant of Joseph Bell Clarke one of the original directors of the Great Western Cotton Factory. You will no doubt be pleased to know that the Clarke dynasty became Bankrupt in later years and lost everything lol. Do you know of any photos or pictures of Joseph Bell Clarke ? We are doing her family history which will include the workings and misery of the workers.

    • Thanks for the information Barry. I’m sorry but I haven’t come across any photos or pics of Clarke but keep searching – you never know! regards Mike

  2. Hi Mike my husband family are related to Joseph Wentworth McHale who was a mechanic for the Great Western Cotton Works then later became the manager he was 25yrs in that capacity he came to New Zealand in 1860 would like some information on him if possible

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