Plug riots

Social unrest and income tax

archive illustration of people fighting

Plug riots in Preston, from the London Illustrated News 20 August 1842 © National Archives

Economic depression during the 1830-1840s affected industrial England. Short time working, reduced wages and increased food prices were all factors in widespread social unrest.

There were strikes across industrial Britain, including Lancashire and Yorkshire. They became known as the Plug Plots.

In August 1842 cotton mill owners reduced their workers wages leading to strikes. To ensure production stopped, boiler plugs were removed from steam engines - hence the name Plug Plots. One example was Bayley's Mill in Stalybridge.

The strikes took Government and the ruling classes by surprise. Robert Peel (Prime Minister) sent in troops to deal with the strikers. 500 were arrested, 79 were found guilty. They were transported to Australia for between 7-21 years.

Social reform

The government attempted to reduce social unrest by reducing levels of tax on the masses. Those earning £150 or more a year were taxed the most. This relieved the level of taxes paid by the working classes, and reduced their cost of living.

However some objected. Hansard (1842) records the quote;

"income tax was the most unpopular tax that was ever introduced in England".