Tyranny at the Houses of Parliament … and The Times thunders disapproval

A perfect storm (part two)

In the aftermath of the decision by the employers to require stone masons to sign agreement to their document expressing disapproval of unions, a general meeting of the stone masons was called. Furious speeches were delivered against the tyranny and despotism of the masters. The foremen were expelled from the meeting and their names were struck off the roll of the society. At length there was a general strike throughout the trade which lasted for nearly 12 months. It ended, as strikes usually do, by producing much injury to both sides.

Since that time there have been other strikes but we need only refer to one - the celebrated strike of the masons at the Houses of Parliament.

Messrs Grissell and Peto, the builders of the new Houses of Parliament, had in their employment an assistant - George Allen, foreman of the masons. He was a man, it would appear, of good professional character but of a hasty temper. He is reported to have answered the application of a mason to attend his mother's funeral in Manchester with coarse words. On another occasion he ordered a poor labourer whose leg had been fractured in the service to leave the premises under the threat of being committed to the police.

Finally the masons held a meeting at the Paviors Arms in Westminister addressing a letter through their secretary, which in substance consisted of a mild remonstrance against the conduct of the foreman. During the course of the next three months the temperature rose until finally the men wrote to the employers: "Allen has assumed a course of despotic tyranny over us. We have borne the yoke until we can bear it no longer."

They declared that they would stop work on Saturday unless Allen was taken off the job. The employers refused to budge. On Monday 13 September, 1841, the whole of the masons at work on the Houses of Parliament "turned out" and then began the great strike.

The Houses of Parliament were now at a dead stop. The Commissioner of Woods and Works granted the builders a suspension of their contract.

Agents were dispatched all over the country to procure fresh masons. On 5 November a great gathering took place at the Crown and Anchor attended by 4000 with hundreds outside.

Mr Wakley MP spoke in favour of the union. The Times thundered against the men. The Sun made a direct attack on the employers.

Nelson's monument was stopped in its progress.

The Chartist Bronterre O'Brien was expected to bring out a daily paper soon that that would lead to the overthrow of the Tory government. But then interest began to flag. Winter set in and finally the strike petered out.