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Saturday, 3 July 2010

JOSEPH BAYLEY (active mid 18th century to 1793) AND THE PRESS GANG

My oldest Bayley ancestor is Joseph, my 4x great grandfather, a yeoman farmer from Hooley Hill near Audenshaw in Lancashire. “In physique he had few equals and no superiors,” according to a 1907 local history, “Bygone Stalybridge” by Samuel Hill. He passed his physical strength on to his sons, grandsons and great grandsons, all of whom are described in a similar fashion. (See my earlier blog about young Adam Bayley.)

Joseph married Sarah Stopford Harrison, the widow of his neighbour William Harrison from High Ash, and they had four strapping sons, Joseph, James, John and William, who moved the family history on from rural agriculture to industrial milling in nearby Stalybridge. Leaving the land, they founded a mill-owning family dynasty which neatly parallels English social history in the Industrial Revolution. But why did they quit farming?

Quarry Bank Mill at Styal near Manchester
opened in 1784

One day in 1793, old man Joseph took a trip into Manchester, the centre of the new Lancashire cotton industry. Its population had trebled since 1770 and stood now at around 75,000; I don’t know what sort of produce Joseph had to sell, but Manchester would certainly have been a big market for it.

But he was not the only one for whom a large mass of people held an attraction. Far away in France, the popular euphoria of the French revolution of 1789 had given way to Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, and in February 1793 a bullish France declared war on Britain. Britain suddenly needed a stronger army and navy, and couldn’t simply wait for eager volunteers to form an orderly queue. The quickest way to “recruit” was to send the press gangs into centres of population to “persuade” useful men to join up with a combination of strong drink and hard cudgels.

"Manning the Navy" (1780)

No one knows for certain, but it is generally believed in the family that this is what happened to Joseph Bayley. It is easy to imagine him in the tavern after a successful day at the market, then setting off for Hooley Hill and home while a little the worse for wear. If a press gang set upon him even in this condition, it would have taken many men to subdue this great bear of a man. But subdue him they did – Joseph Bayley was never seen in Hooley Hill again.

Britain remained at war with France for the next 22 years. With their father gone, perhaps the next generation of Bayleys could contemplate the brave new industrial world with younger, more open eyes. By the turn of the century Joseph’s sons were already in partnership with other millers in Stalybridge, and in 1804 they built their own premises, Bridge Street Mill, in the town. The past was in farming; the future was in cotton.

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