Bread and Thread Cotton Famine

opening music

Liz

Hello and welcome to bread and thread a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m liz.

Hazel

And i’m hazel, we’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history and crafty things. So what have you been up to in that sector?

LIZ

I’ve not been doing a lot of new stuff but i did start a new crosstitch project. You know when you see a tumblr post and think i want this on my wall?

HAZEL

Oh cool. absolutely.

LIZ

Soup is customisable but know your limits so i currently have an embroidery hoop that has some fabric on it that just says soup is limits.

HAZEL

I dunno i feel like there really are no limits to soup.

LIZ

I dunno i once put too much potato in a soup and it was basically just garlic flavoured glue.

HAZEL

At what point does potato soup become mashed potato?

LIZ

I think there is a limit to how much potato you can put in a soup.

HAZEL

Does that mean mashed potato counts as a soup?

LIZ

There are whole areas of the internet dedicated to discussions on what is a soup. i’m not getting into food taxonomy.

HAZEL

Ok shall we leave that one for the internet to discuss.

LIZ

Ok what have you been making or baking?

HAZEL

I’m currently in the middle of making rosehip syrup. I picked a kilogram of rosehips today cause we have a dogrose bush in our garden which is adundant with rosehips at the moment so i picked a kilogram and there’s still tons which is great cause rosehips have a lot of vitamin C i might have mentioned that in an earlier episode. So really good for the winter months.

LIZ

Makes a really nice infusion as well.

HAZEL

Aah yeah rosehip tea is a thing isn’t it?

LIZ

It’s like irn bru flat irn bru but nice.

HAZEL

Presumably healthier.

LIZ

Yeah less sugar.

HAZEL

I also finished making some shorts. They have tiny otters on them and they make me happy. It’s conquered my fear of making things that have two legs on them.

LIZ

I think i saw them on facebook but i’m very excited to see them again when you put the picture up.

HAZEL

Yeah i’m glad i managed to finish them before it became cold again. i meant to do it in summer, but September came round and i did it.

LIZ

It’s always a heatwave when the schools go back.

HAZEL

Yeah i’ll get more wears out of them this year i think.

LIZ

But are they made of cotton?

HAZEL

They are made of cotton and that is relevant to our topic today.

LIZ

It is, i’m going to talk to you about the lancashire cotton famine.

HAZEL

That was a beautiful segue.

LIZ

Thank you. i felt like i know what i’m doing here. Then i said that    and ruined it.

HAZEL

I know nothing about the lancashire cotton famine, can you explain to me what it is?

LIZ

So in the 1860s the main industry of lancashire was cotton mills, importing cotton largely from plantations in the americas turning that into fabric and shipping it off all over the world. manchester was known as cottonopolis at this time.

HAZEL

Isn’t that also where the name for people from manchester woolie backs came from?

LIZ

See i’m not aware of that being a nickname for people from manchester, i’m aware of it being a nickname for people near liverpool but not actually from liverpool is woolies.

HAZEL

Ok i haven’t heard that one.

LIZ

Probably because of wearing sheepskin coats.

HAZEL

Aah, i heard wooliebacks for people from manchester cause of going around carrying cotton and having bits of cotton stuck to them.

LIZ

I’m not saying it’s not a thing, i’m saying it’s not one i’ve personally heard. Local names evolve over time it’s weird.

HAZEL

So we’ve got all the cotton mills, then what happens?

LIZ

Suddenly, well not suddenly, america has a civil war. specifically about slavery the thing that is providing the cotton. Basically the reason i wanted to talk about this is there’s been a big kick-off about the national trust daring to mention their properties connections to slavery, and one of the properties near me is quarry bank mill which is a cotton mill which i think last year hosted this whole evening about the cotton famine which is very cool so i wanted to tie that into the things we talk about cause profiting is probably the wrong wordd but working class people were involved however tangentially in the slave trade.

HAZEL

Definitely you can’t get away from that when the industry is based on it.

Some technical woopsies.

LIZ

Well no i mean it’s the thing that made manchester a big city it was called the workshop of the world because we had all these cotton mills it was called cottonopolis it was a whole identity.

HAZEL

And that’s just part of the history it’s not blaming anyone anyone’s ancestors to say the cotton industry is built on slavery.

LIZ

By pretty early on in the american civil war still we’re talking 1862 there’s a huge lack of cotton getting in which interestingly the confederate states thought would help them win thinking we’d be like no send us the cotton no matter what.

HAZEL

And did it?

LIZ

Not so much.

HAZEL

Yeah i guess if you look at history it didn’t, but…

LIZ

Well no i feel there’s a clue in that manchester has a statue of abraham lincoln is how it went. That turned into a lot of cotton mills closing or switching to wool a lot of cotton mills switched to wool spinning machines pretty sharpish. places like stockport especially which do hat making. There is a hat museum in stockport that mentions this. A very good museum i highly recommend it.

HAZEL

That sounds cool.

LIZ

A lot of people basically got kicked out of their houses because they couldn’t pay rent cause they couldn’t spin cotton and 1000 people emigrated to australia, new zealand and interestingly some people did go to america, but 1/5 of those people were from 1 town in derbyshire.

HAZEL

I’m guessing they all settled in the same place?

LIZ

I’m afraid I don’t have that information about exactly where they went but they were offered free passage to australia and new zealand in 1864.

HAZEL

I just like the idea of a town in australia where everyone is from derbyshire.

LIZ

I’m told towns in australia do have their own little accents, even more localised than some places in britain, so I’m curious if there are places where loads of people sound really northern for no good reason – but there is a good reason.

HAZEL

Makes sense.

LIZ

There’s this quote from 1861 so the very start of the civil war from the owner of quarry bank mill which really shows the attitude to the whole disruption from the mill owners who were the ones profiting from all this – I’m very uneasy about the prospects of business. We are about entering on dangerous times I fear, and the american affair is much more protracted and serious than I had originally thought. Calling a civil war an affair is so victorian.

HAZEL

That’s quite a long winded way to say this blew up more than I expected it to.

LIZ

This escalated quickly.

HAZEL

That’s interesting that-

LIZ

We ended up with – sorry you go

HAZEL

I find it interesting that you get this right after the upheaval of the industrial revolution and everyone’s moved into the cities and then suddenly the work isn’t there so what do you do now do you go back to the countryside do you-

LIZ

Yeah the work was the driving force of urbanisation.

HAZEL

Hm. So I wonder if that stopped people migrating for a bit, or not – it would be interesting to find out if it slowed or stopped movement from the countryside.

LIZ

People were moving between cities and like we said to other countries but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of moving back to the countryside because once you’re in the city you’re kind of stuck there because of all the different mechanisms in the cities.

HAZEL

I guess you probably wouldn’t have anywhere to go if you were trying to get back to the countryside, because you left your family home or sold the cottage.

LIZ

Exactly yeah so you end up with the poor law amendment act in – you end up with people changing the poor law and people petitioning commissioners to provide for these newly unemployed spinners and weavers.

HAZEL

Ok…

LIZ

But they included things like having to go to bible classes or women going to church run sewing classes in order to receive what we would now call benefits. Which is again sort of what you’d expect from the victorians it’s very workhouse adjacent.

HAZEL

It definitely fits into the idea of the deserving poor. People are only worthy of state support or charitable support if they are virtuous.

LIZ

Which is probably why we ended up with things like the stalybridge riot.

HAZEL

I was wondering if there was any unrest to do with this.

LIZ

Basically people in stalybridge people were being given basically food stamps – you give this to the grocer and you’d be given food – so yeah there were protests and public meetings demanding money and bread not tickets, and they ended up sending in the hussars.

HAZEL

Oh no, not them again.

LIZ

I don’t think we talked about peterloo yet, I feel we should talk about peterloo. It’s not exactly in our remit of domestic history…

HAZEL

We can probably shoehorn it in. We could do an episode on bannermaking.

LIZ

Yes. The riots spread from – I realise if you’re not familiar with manchester these are just words – but it spread from stalybridge to ashton and hyde and duckingfield.

HAZEL

So that’s a lot of greater manchester.

LIZ

It’s a significant portion. And the MP for where is it? Yeah a local MP John Cheatham who was also involved in the american cotton supply and the subsequent selling of cotton cloth to india was basically being harangued by the mayor of stalybridge to go to parliament and deal with this. And everyone blamed immigrants. Nothing to do with sending literal members of the army to deal with starving people.

HAZEL

So what… What did they actually do then was there- apart from the poor laws were there any actual government attempts to deal with it?

LIZ

It seems to have been pretty much the poor law and suppressing protests – you’re not actively starving to death so what’s the problem? One thing I like though is there was a – basically the people of manchester got together and decided we support emancipation we support the union in the american civil war and received a letter from abraham lincoln in thanks, which is wild.

HAZEL

That’s fantastic. That’s like people from your small town writing to george clooney saying like we really liked your latest film and george clooney writes back to the people of little wittering saying thanks for your support.

LIZ

The local politicians including ones who will probably come up when they do our peterloo episode were pushing we cannot give in, our people would rather starve. And eventually once the civil war ended, cotton came in again, at about 4x the price but the mills got back to work and yeah now everyone kind of forgets the cotton famine ever happened and you know people’s livelihoods were fed by slavery in the americas and ordinary people objected to this.

HAZEL

Yeah, in terms of british history you do get taught that smooth narrative that industrial revolution happened and the cotton trade and steel etc etc and you don’t really hear about the stuff that went wrong.

LIZ

Yeah, it’s idk I find it interesting.

HAZEL

Oh yeah, it’s super interesting, especially to hear how it was dealt with at the time, especially peoples perspectives at the time.

LIZ

There were definitely people saying oh I don’t care my family is starving but there were also significant amounts of people who said you know what we would rather be dealing with food tickets and our own homes becoming basically workhouses than contribute to other peoples suffering.

HAZEL

Yeah and I think that’s a particular character of northern working towns at the time.

LIZ

It’s working class solidarity isn’t it? Suffering so that someone else will stop suffering even more.

HAZEL

And those places are the birthplace of the trade union movement and all that organising and pressure for working people to have the vote and access to education and all those things.

LIZ

We are going to have to do an episode on peterloo and voting and all those things aren’t we?

HAZEL

And I can talk about banners and the people’s history museum.

LIZ

Yes I miss working there. We’ve mentioned so many museums I’ll have to tag them all when the episode goes up.

HAZEL

We’ll have to do a museum guide of the uk so if you wanted you could go on an ultimate museum roadtrip.

LIZ

I am doing a list of places we mention so we can do the bread and thread roadtrip.

HAZEL

I have seen the list it’s fantastic. Lot of pubs.

LIZ

Yeah every other place is a pub.

HAZEL

Basically every place we mention we’re going to visit some day.

Probably bad podcast plug.

LIZ

So I’m assuming unless you’ve picked one of a very small handful of things that local larder will be a bit lighter than our main topic.

HAZEL

Oh yes if you want a brief respite let me tell you about yarg.

LIZ

Yes. Tell me all about yarg.

HAZEL

With pleasure. For those who are uninitiated into the deeper mysteries of the cheese world, yarg is the name of a particular kind of cheese made in cornwall. Now the word yarg is a fun one because I thought it was some kind of cornish term and apparently it’s often thought that it’s a cornish word or ancient name but it actually isn’t this cheese is as one of the sources I was looking at puts it, part of the british cheese renaissance in the 1980s.

LIZ

That’s a renaissance I want to be part of.

HAZEL

Definitely. If we can pair it up with dressing italian renaissance, then eating cheese I’m there. Yarg is a kind of cheese that is a semi hard cheese that is wrapped in stinging nettle leaves and that’s what gives it its unique flavour. It’s delicious it’s creamy on the outside, crumbly on the inside, and the leaves make it more acidic on the outside. Would recommend.

LIZ

I can believe that, the rind is the best bit.

HAZEL

Definitely. So yarg was actually a rediscovery it’s getting quite popular you can find it in a lot of markets in the uk and abroad it’s in america now you can get it at neils yard, and it was a revival cheese so the name yarg was actually the name of the cheesemakers who revived it backwards. So in the early 1980s two cornish farmers called alan and jenny gray found a recipe for this cheese in a cookbook by gervaise markham from 1615 and I don’t think we’ve mentioned gervaise markham before as a 17th century cookbook writer.

LIZ

No and this so naff I love it.

HAZEL

I know, it’s a very convenient backstory for this cheese.

LIZ

We have so many stories like that in local larder – isn’t that a nice story that’s definitely not true.

HAZEL

But that’s the story that they found this cookbook in their attic with a recipe which could date back to the 13th century in it and they decided to bring back this cheese, and wrapped it in stinging nettles and made it on bodmin moor in cornwall and that was the beginning of the revival of yarg and yarg is the surname gray backwards.

LIZ

It’s ridiculous.

HAZEL

It’s a convoluted story for such a simple cheese.

LIZ

Surely the cheesemaking might attract the beast of bodmin moor if they’re not careful.

HAZEL

It depends if it’s particularly partial to cheese.

LIZ

It’d attract me.

HAZEL

Yeah there’s also a few different varieties, you can also get wild garlic yarg.

LIZ

It’s the best one the flavour you get from the wild garlic is subtle but it’s there. It’s a great melting cheese. Put it on a toastie.

HAZEL

That is a great idea. I need to do that.

LIZ

Don’t you mean a… Tyarg idea?

HAZEL

Oh no. Yarg this is a random fact I found – the people who make yarg which is still based in cornwall – they are quite big on trying to export it and yarg was on the first flight of concorde, which I did not know.

LIZ

Why not?

HAZEL

I don’t know the school system these days – kids need to know about yarg. So also on another interesting note I found some of this information on a website called cheese.com which describes itself as the worlds greatest cheese resource. So if you want to find out more about any kind of cheese you imagine, cheese facts and more then they have a cheese of the day.

LIZ

Aah the cheese of the day today is a nice buffalo mozzarella.

HAZEL

There we go cheese.com for all your cheese needs. This is not sponsored, I just thought it was a fantastic website.

LIZ

Cheese.com hit us up. They have a twitter I’m following them right now.

HAZEL

Oh wow. So there you go that’s the story of yarg and I would definitely encourage you to check it out if you can.

LIZ

I am still boggling at that story.

HAZEL

Oh there’s also a village in iran called yarg apparently but they don’t make cheese.

LIZ

I’m assuming that’s a coincidence.

HAZEL

I think so. However, one could theoretically travel to yarg, iran, and eat yarg cheese so you’d be eating yarg in yarg.

LIZ

So on that note we hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode if you have an episode or local larder suggestion or just a comment you want to say hi you can email bread and thread podcast at gmail.com

HAZEL

You can also find us on twitter at breadandthread, and we also have a patreon, where you can find recipes and instructional videos and all sorts of fun things.

LIZ

We do if you want to support our eventual pubs and also other places road trip you can go to patreon.com/breadandthread.

HAZEL

Is that all our things? I think it’s all our things.

LIZ

I think it’s all our things.

HAZEL

In that case we will see you next time. Go forth and make all the things.

LIZ

And make yarg.

HAZEL

Yeah and make yarg!

Closing music.

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