This fascinating document comes from the Handloom
Weaver's Commission Report 1841.
"The following evidence was given me in public, at
Foleshill, by Richard Holmes, an intelligent undertaker, and one of the
constables:- ' The mass of the people, with the exception of a few young men,
are brutally ignorant, and the intelligence which is to be found in the
exceptions has manifested itself only within the last half-dozen years. It is
not the population which has gone down into ignorance: it has never emerged
This is not surprising, for there is not an efficient
school in the parish ( which contains upwards of 7000 inhabitants). The people
are as ignorant as ever, and, in proportion to their numbers, more immoral.
There is more profanity, more Sabbath breaking and more immorality than
formerly. Their language is awfully depraved. Independently of their
irreligion, they are practically more immoral than formerly. Bastardy is
greater than ever, even since the Poor-Law Amendment Act (and information to
the same effect was given me in regard to the City). At any little holiday
time, the public houses will be thronged with girls ready for the lowest
excesses. Both sexes are great drinkers, chiefly of ale.
The place is also notorious for poaching, and robberies,
and the Magistrates of Coventry well know that when a desperate case is brought
before them it is generally from this neighbourhood. Compared to what they now
are, though rude and ignorant, they were formerly a harmless population.
The foregoing observations apply to the mass; the latter
are only exceptions.
Robert Cantrill, an aged man, of the same class, thinks
that, "though the journeyhand weavers' houses, forty years ago, were poor
miserable places, which might be called 'hovels' almost, the journeyhands are
less well conducted now. There have been several highway robberies, with
violence, during the twelve months last past; housebreaking is very frequent:
pantries are robbed; and other depredations are committed. There are garden
robberies in abundance, but the guilty parties are not generally found out.'
Thinks there is more drinking now than there was then. One
great cause of the decline was the war, which took the young men out great
fools, and brought them home big rogues, to contaminate the rest. A part,
certainly, of the general misconduct is brought on by distress. Thinks it makes
a man hopeless, and, when hopeless, he becomes desperate, and preys upon
society, and careless even of what little honest advantages are in his way; and
then comes the last wretchedness. Times of bad trade, in the witness's youth,
which were very frequent, then, as now, always led to thieving.
Thinks, however, that there was then nothing of the
aggravated kind that there now is. 'Now never a night passes without some
depredation in this or the neighbouring parishes.' 'One of the most notorious
class of depredations is robbing the barges on the canal which passes through
the weaving parishes and is part of the Grand Junction line. They are robbed of
every kind of goods, which here find plenty of receivers; the abstraction being
made either by the bargemen themselves or with their connivance. A principle
article is silk, on its passage from London to the North, for the disposal of
which, when stolen, it is asserted that there is a very complete organisation.
The thieves have their throwsters, their dyers, manufacturers of the class of
undertakers, of whom there are many.
"There are not fewer than twenty benefit clubs in the
parish, for mutual assistance in case of affliction, but they are not enrolled.
The members subscribe 6d. per week each, meet fortnightly at a public house,
each to spend not less than 3d. and divide their stock equally at the end of
the year, each member leaving a small sub-scription towards the next year's
..........My thanks to Brian Blackford for finding this