Preston Strike

1853 Great Preston Lock Out

George Cowell, leader of the Preston Strike.

George Cowell, leader of the Preston Strike.

Illustrated London News, 1853.

The Preston Lock-Out was the longest and most expensive industrial conflict in the history of Preston. It took place between October 1853 and May 1854.

In 1853 cotton workers in Lancashire began to demand that the 10-20% cut from their wages during the 1840s was restored. The majority of manufacturers agreed to restore half of the cuts, but some, including Horrocks, Miller and Company refused. The workers went on strike.

The leaders of the strike were George Cowell, Mortimer Grimshaw and Edward Swinglehurst. All of these men were ex- Chartists and weavers. George Cowell worked for John Goodhair, who refused to join the other mill owners against the workers.

The mill owners united against the workers forming the Preston Masters Association. The Chairman of the Association was Thomas Miller, chief partner of Horrocks, Miller and Company. He was joined by William Ainsworth of Church Street Mills and a number of other cotton manufacturers including John Hawkins and George Smith. On the 15 September they announced a general lock-out and a month later all cotton workers where locked out of the mills and unable go to work.

The bitter struggle lasted for eight months. The strikers held out and the lockout was abandoned. The mill owners then began bringing in workers from Manchester, Yorkshire and the South. These workers were nicknamed 'knobsticks'. The strikers responded by encouraging the 'knobsticks' to return home.

The protest was peaceful and the town supported the workers, with a weekly collection made from working people, shopkeepers and the general public. The end came when another depression in trade forced the strikers to give in and go back to work. Wage cuts and strikes occurred again in 1868-9 and 1878.

An account of the Great Lockout and the 1878 strike is available in the database