Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

Working-class women shareholders in mid-nineteenth century Lancashire

Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (2016), 165, (1), 79–98.

Abstract

Mid-nineteenth century changes to the law regarding company formation, and the development of working-class political involvement via Chartism, combined to produce unforeseen consequences. It became possible for working-class people to own shares and manage companies, a process which began with the Bacup Commercial Company (1850). Within little more than a decade there were over 50 such companies in south-east Lancashire, with thousands of working-class shareholders, and during the next two decades the concept spread to other parts of Lancashire, inspiring the ‘Oldham Limiteds’. These worker-owned and usually worker-managed companies sometimes built their own mills but quite frequently bought out existing businesses. Women shareholders quickly became involved and even in the early days of the Bacup Commercial Company accounted for 10 per cent of the shareholdings. During the latter part of the century their holdings increased, not least as a result of the Married Women’s Property Acts, but in reality these women had mostly tended to ignore the laws of coverture. They understood that shares potentially offered a better return than savings banks. Many of the women were power-loom weavers, who earned good wages, but women from other walks of life also acquired shares. Most bought just one or two shares but others had very considerable holdings. The involvement of working-class women in share-buying likewise extended to the Oldham Limiteds a few years later.

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Author details

Hampson, Peter