Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Mixed Media: Harris Art Gallery, Preston (2014)

Preston Workers Memorial stone statues
The Mixed Media Column from the June 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Harris Art Gallery, Preston

Preston in Lancashire is one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution and modern capitalist society. Two major pieces of art in the Preston Harris Art Gallery are Sir Richard Arkwright (1932), a bronze bust by William Norris Smith, commissioned for the bicentenary of Arkwright’s birth by the Corporation of Preston, and the painting Portrait of Richard Arkwright (1783-85) by Joseph Wright of Derby. Arkwright invented the water frame, a water-powered machine for spinning cotton into strong thread in Preston in 1768. RS Fitton wrote that Arkwright was ‘the founder of the Factory System, he was the creator of a new industrial society that transformed England from a nearly self-sufficient country with an economy based on agriculture and domestic manufacture, into the workshop of the world.’ The first cotton mill was opened in Preston in 1777 and by 1857 there were seventy five textile factories in the town.

A few hundred yards from the Harris Gallery, on Lune Street outside the former Corn Exchange are the Preston Workers Memorial stone statues, a permanent memorial to the killing of striking cotton workers. It was unveiled in Guild Year on 13 August 1992, the 150th anniversary of the shooting. The memorial was designed and produced by the British artist and sculptor Gordon Young, inspired by Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808 picturing Spanish civilians being executed by Napoleonic troops. It was commissioned by Preston Trades Union Council, and supported by Preston Labour History Group, Preston Borough Council, Lancashire County Council and the then Lancashire Polytechnic.

The strike of Saturday 13 August 1842 was part of the 1842 General Strike, a Chartist-led action in order to secure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s toil. In Preston several thousand textile workers went on strike with the result that four workers were shot dead by the military on Lune Street. The Chartist newspaper The Northern Star of 20 August 1842 wrote ‘the Mayor (Mill owner Samuel Horrocks) ought to be tried for wilful murder.’ Later on 10 September 1842 Chartist leader and Preston hand-loom weaver Richard Marsden wrote in The Northern Star ‘the humiliated town of Preston, where the well-known Peter-loo tragedy hath just been re-enacted.’

The class struggle continued in Preston as this article by Marx from the New York Daily Tribune of 1 August 1854 demonstrates: ‘’The eyes of the working classes are now fully opened: they begin to cry: “Our St. Petersburg is at Preston!”’ Indeed, the last eight months have seen a strange spectacle in the town; a standing army of 14,000 men and women subsidized by the trades unions and workshops of all parts of the United Kingdom, to fight out a grand social battle for mastery with the capitalists, and the capitalists of Preston, on their side, held up by the capitalists of Lancashire.’
Steve Clayton

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