Automation in Manchester

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Highlighting Historical Fiction with Vicki Hopkins and thoughts on labor unrest in Victorian Manchester.

The fear of men losing their jobs because of automation has continued since the dawn of the industrial revolution.  Even in our lifetime, robotic counterparts are replacing human workers and jobs are being lost.

Can you imagine the fear this must have instilled in the man of 1860 who made his life hand-molding bricks?  An inventor designs a machine that can make 20,000 bricks a day. Suddenly, his usefulness and income as a laborer in Victorian England comes to naught.  No wonder he hates it — no wonder he wants it destroyed.

Such was the case during these turbulent years when the unions fought against industrialization in brickmaking.  Brutal attacks were regularly made on master brickmakers who purchased these devices, giving bricklayers a reputation of being bullies and terrorists. The “Outrages” as they called them led to a special investigation in the Manchester Assize Courts in 1867, the testimony of which you can read online through Google Books.

In 1865, the Manchester Bricklayer’s Union would not allow machine-made bricks to be used in the city district.  It wasn’t until many years later that they changed the ruling, but even afterward there were instances where union members would attack businesses and attempt to destroy the machines out of anger and fear.

Why am I so fascinated about unions and bricklayers? My ancestors were these men who were part of the Manchester unions and bricklayers. In 1860 they were living in some of the worse slums in Manchester, but by 1880, they were rich businessmen with their own right, owning a construction and brickmaking business that stayed in the family until 1930. Industrialization and progress won the battle, and my family learned to adapt rather than fear change.

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From: The Mechanics’ Magazine: Journal of Engineering, Agricultural Machinery, Manufactures, and Shipbuilding, Vol. 2, No. 50, Dec. 9, 1859.  Source: Clayton’s Patent Brickmaking Machine (Thanks to the Brickfrog Blog for posting this article information.

About the Book, Toil Under the Sun

Described as hell on earth, Manchester in 1866 was the hub of industrialization in England. Its chimneys rose high above the landscape, spewing out smoke from the factories. While men, women, and children spun cotton in the mills, bricklayers built the workhouses, warehouses, and terraced residences of the city. They were skilled in their craft but also experts in enforcing the rules of their union demands, hoping to escape the bondage of serfdom to gain a better life.

Born into obscurity and a descendant of men who slung mortar from their trowels as a trade, William Leighton, swore that one day he would rise above his poverty-ridden class. The means in which he chose to climb out the slums differed from his brother, who believed that violence was the only way to bring about change and close the gap between laborers and masters.

The clash of siblings in Toil Under the Sun creates the foundation of family saga.

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About the Author

With eastern European blood on her father’s side and English on her mother’s, Vicki blames her ancestors for the lethal combination in her genes that influence her stories. Many of her books bear the character names of her ancestors or are dedicated to their memory, as these individuals lived in the Regency and Victorian eras. The author believes this is a beautiful way to memorialize their lives in periods in which she pens her stories.

Vicki resides in the beautiful, but rainy, Pacific Northwest with a pesky cat who refuses to let her sleep in. Her hobbies include researching her English ancestry (actually it’s an obsession), traveling to England to visit dead relatives, meeting newly discovered distant cousins, and plotting her next book.  

Vicki’s Website

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