Knobsticks - Broadside ballad sheet from the Enoch Wood scrapbook

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Date:1790 - 1830 (c.)

Description:Broadsheet containing a miner's union song called Knobsticks.


Sung to the tune Washing Day the song criticises workers who are prepared to work for goods supplied from the coal master rather than cash.
This was known as the truck system.

The Truck System

This was system whereby the workers were forced to accept goods in lieu of payment.

They would be payed in tokens, which could only be spent at the company store or Tommy Shop.

The workers, often housed by the coal master, suffered widespread exploitation.

And at your Master's price

They were charged inflated prices for the goods they took, so the master profitted not only from their labour, but also from his sales to them.

The coal master determined the prices of the goods. He could effectively make his labour costs cheaper by hiking the price of essential goods.

If the worker did not accept these conditions he would often be out of a job and a home.

We Miners of the Union vow,
Not to be humbug'd so

Miners were beginning to organise themselves and were collectively resisting such a system.

A Knobstick would have been the equivalent of a strike breaker or black leg.

The Truck Act of 1831 made this practice illegal in many trades. In 1887 the act was extended to cover most manual workers.

Broadside Ballads

Broadsides or broadsheets were a popular way of distributing and publishing songs.

It was a practice that had been growing in popularity since the birth of the printing press in the 1500s and carried on until the early 1900s.

These ballads covered many different subjects including romance, nationalism, famous individuals and current affairs.

Ballad singing was not only used as a form of entertainment. In this period there was a high level of illiteracy amongst the working classes. Ballad singing became a good way to spread news, ideas or propaganda.

Broadsides were often sold by street hawkers who would also sing the songs.

About this document

This document was collected by Burslem pottery manufacturer Enoch Wood and is now among the collections of Stoke-on-Trent Museums.


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