The strike at Jeddo Works

Edward Perry was clearly a strong-willed man who felt that he could stand up to the forces of adversity. William Highfield Jones described him as follows:

Edward Perry was of medium height, a thin wiry man, with a fidgety manner and of a restless disposition. He had dark piercing eyes, and an incisive way of speaking. His promptitude in emergencies was remarkable, and he proved himself to be a man of great determination. Mr. Perry had a good knowledge of the rights of capital and labour, and especially of the laws relating to conspiracy, and he felt sure the ignorance, and the enthusiasm of the working men would give him an advantage which he would be prompt to take.

The two London delegates, Peel and Green organised the strike, and used the Swan with Two Necks pub at the top of Paul Street as a base. They formed a strike committee to meet daily in the pub, and appointed 5 workers as committee members, each being paid 4 shillings and sixpence a day, and an extra sixpence for drink. The members were: George Duffield, John Gaunt, Charles Piatt, Henry Rowland, and Thomas Woodnorth.


Edward Perry. From "The Mayors of Wolverhampton" by John Jones.

When the strike began, Perry advertised for men to replace those on strike. In response the union circulated posters warning men not to work for Perry, who was described as a tyrant who paid half the going rate.

The committee kept an eye on the factory through the windows of the pub, and sent groups of men to the entrance gate to intimidate those still at work. They also attempted to prevent anyone entering the factory who was seeking work. The strikers shouted at the workmen as they came to and from work, calling them ‘blacklegs’, ‘rats’ etc. and threw dead rats at them. They also hung dead rats around the works entrance.

Not satisfied with their actions, the committee managed to convince some of the older apprentices to stay away, and sent them to other towns where they were looked after. They also allured some of the workers, who were on a long term contract with Perry, into the pub, got them drunk, and conveyed them to the railway station where they were put on trains and sent to distant parts. They also gave money to the families of the strikers.

This continued for 8 months, after which most of Perry’s workers were on strike. He was unable to fulfil any outstanding orders, but being the man he was, he had spies everywhere, who kept him informed of the actions of the strike committee.

One of them was his nephew George Winn, who sympathised, and drank with the strikers to gain their confidence. He discovered where some of the hired men who had been spirited away by the committee were living. On hearing of this, Perry instantly sent warrants for their apprehension. Some were sent to prison, and others went back to work after paying costs. One of them had caught a severe cold whilst away, and on return to Wolverhampton he died.

Things Worsen

The trade association attempted to intimidate Edward Perry even further by sending him anonymous letters. In them he was described as a murderer, and threatened with his life.

One night a large chalk drawing of a coffin appeared in front of the works, bearing the words “E. Perry, prepare to meet thy God”.

Comical verses were written about him and sung in the streets of the town. Out of the 59 hired workmen still at the factory, 18 had been spirited away by the committee, which was aided by delegates from London, who actively helped in getting the workmen away.

The location of Jeddo Works. From Joseph Bridgen’s map of 1850.

Perry then attempted to attract some of his old hands who were working at the Old Hall. He offered them good wages, and a bonus of five pounds to return. When several of them returned, it incensed the other workers at the Old Hall, who had each been paying four shillings a week to support the strike.

When the next man was about to leave and return to Perry, his colleagues decided to get their own back. His name was Tom Jones. They waited for him to receive his wages, then formed a circle around him, and treated him in a barbaric manner, shouting, booing, and beating iron pans. As he managed to make his escape, the police closed the street and forced the howling mob back into the works.

The European Connection

In an attempt to defeat the strike, Perry sent his nephews George Winn, and his brother Alfred to France to hire thirty tinmen. Alfred could speak French and so acted as the interpreter. Twenty eight men signed an agreement to work for Perry for twelve months and soon arrived at Wolverhampton railway station where they were met by Edward Perry and his solicitor Henry Underhill. On their march to the works they were tormented and intimidated by the mob. The poor Frenchmen were terrified by the ordeal, made worse because they could not understand a word of English.

Perry provided lodgings for them near the works. The strike committee were determined to convince them to leave, and paid an old French soldier named Mayeurs, to talk to them. He soon convinced them to return home, informing them that the union would give a handsome present to each man, and pay their fare home. They were in a frightening situation and only too happy to leave. Had they known of the strike beforehand, they would certainly not have come.

The committee was jubilant with their success. They formed a procession, and paraded through the streets with the Frenchmen as they made their way to the railway station. Flags and banners were waved, and a brass band played:

“See the conquering hero comes,
Blow the trumpet, beat the drums.”


A view of Paul Street in 2001. Jeddo Works was at the far end of the street on the left, and the Swan With Two Necks was in the foreground on the right, where the tree is standing.
The committee and strikers were in ecstasy, they thought they had won their fight, but Edward Perry was made of sterner stuff.
He quickly arranged for his nephews to go to Germany in secret and return with 30 German tinmen. They placed adverts in German newspapers and soon engaged 30 men to work for 12 months, along with an interpreter. While this was happening, Perry organised sleeping quarters for them at the works, and on their arrival in Wolverhampton, secretly conveyed them in closed carriages. At the factory the gates were closed, and all their needs were catered for, so that no outside communication with the strikers was possible.

    
The public meeting

The strike committee, who had no idea of what was happening, were furious. They were powerless to intervene, and were anxious because the reserve fund was exhausted. They stepped-up their campaign against Perry’s workmen, intimidating and ill-treating them worse than ever. One of them, John Briggs, was knocked down and assaulted in a public house. The man who committed the offence was brought before the magistrates and fined 40 shillings and costs.

The strike committee felt that they were loosing public sympathy and so called a mass meeting at the Theatre Royal in Cleveland Road. They placed large numbers of posters around the town, inviting workmen to come along to assist them in fighting the tyranny of the employers.

The meeting, held on 30th October, 1850 was presided over by Samuel Griffiths, a businessman, merchant and factor, who drifted into the iron trade, and came to intimately know the industry. Several people spoke to the audience, including Mr. A Fleming, treasurer of the union, Mr. Peel, union secretary, Mr. Bartlett, solicitor of the strike committee, and Mr. Green, the union delegate from London.

They all spoke at length about the rights of the workers, and their determination to fight the employers to the bitter end. The employers were criticised for their tyranny, and Perry was castigated for his treatment of the hired hands who were forced to return to Wolverhampton.

After the meeting, Perry appealed to the mayor for police protection for his employees, stating that they were threatened with violence by the strikers.

On 31st October the mayor, George Robinson, and four magistrates, Whitgrave, Fryer, Walker, and Andrews held a meeting at the Town Hall with Edward Perry and the London trade delegate, Mr. Green, in an attempt to resolve the situation. Both sides were deeply entrenched, and so the attempt failed.


The Theatre Royal in Cleveland Road.

 
Edward Perry Fights Back

The strike continued for month after month, and Edward Perry collected evidence in support of a charge of conspiracy against the strike leaders. The members of the strike committee, Duffield, Gaunt, Piatt, Rowland, and Woodnorth were indicted for conspiracy, as were the London delegates.

The trial took place at Stafford Assizes in August 1851 with Mr. Justice Erle presiding. Perry called many of his workmen as witnesses, and the union produced a copy of their rates book, stating that Perry’s wages were considerably less than those paid by other employers. Perry said that this was because he had gone to great expense to automate the manufacturing process. He showed the court two colanders, one made the old fashioned way, by hand, and another made in one piece by machine. The hand-made colander consisted of seven pieces of tin which were raised, punched, and jointed together by the tinmen, who were paid twelve shillings a dozen for the job. The other colander was completely produced by machine, except for the fitting of the handle. For this the tinmen were paid one shilling a dozen, but because of the speed of the process, and the large numbers produced, the tinmen actually earned more money.

The jury were greatly impressed with Perry’s argument, and found the defendants guilty of conspiracy. The counsel for the defendants immediately appealed against the verdict on technical grounds, and so the defendants were bailed until the case could be heard in London before the judges.

Back in Wolverhampton the defendants summoned Edward Perry before the local magistrates on a charge of perjury for remarks he made during the trial. After hearing statements from both sides the Wolverhampton magistrates dismissed the charge.

The final outcome

The appeal was heard on 26th November, 1851 by Lord Campbell, and justices Patteson, Coleridge, and Erle. The appeal was rejected, and a sentence of 3 months imprisonment with hard labour was imposed on the London delegates; W. Peel, T. Winter, and F. Green, and also on 4 members of the strike committee; Rowland, Gaunt, Duffield, and Woodnorth. The 5th member of the committee C. Piatt was let off with one month’s imprisonment. Each of them had to pay a fine of 1 shilling and costs, which were very high. They were sent to Stafford Gaol to serve their sentence.

As a result of the high costs involved, the National Trade Association was declared bankrupt. The men were now penniless, and liable to a long term of imprisonment because of their inability to pay the heavy costs. Unsuccessful attempts were made to raise the money by subscription, and so they appealed to Edward Perry, who generously paid the remainder of the costs, so allowing them to leave prison.

The strike ended after 18 months, and the unions decided to leave the employers alone, which they did for nearly 30 years.

Edward Perry was twice elected Mayor of Wolverhampton, first in 1855, and again in 1856. He married Sophia, but had no children. In 1856 he was one of the founders of the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce, and its president from 1856 until 1864. Just before his death in 1871 he built a large house at Tettenhall called ‘Dane’s Court’ but sadly didn’t live long enough to settle in. When the house had been completed, he was taken ill and soon died.

By the 1880s, the japanning and tin-plate industries were in decline, mainly due to changes in fashion, and the development of electroplating. The over-decorated and fussy designs greatly appealed to the Victorians, but not to later generations. The last vestiges of the industry had more or less disappeared by the 1920s.


References:

W. H. Jones, "Japan, tin-plate working, and bicycle and galvanising trades in Wolverhampton", Alexander and Shepheard Limited, London, 1900.
John Jones, "The Mayors of Wolverhampton" vol.1, Whitehead Brothers, Wolverhampton, 1880.
Frank Mason, "The book of Wolverhampton", Barracuda Books Limited, Buckingham, 1979.

 
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