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Bill-head of Bigge, Gibson & Ibbetson, Mercers, Ludgate hill
P.12964-R

Late in May 1765 numerous newspapers featured a deposition of William Gibson of the firm Bigge, Gibson & Ibbetson, sworn in front of a mayor, as an attempt to put a stop to the rumour spread by 'malicious, evil minded persons and others' that the firm had looms in France. The statement is not as extraordinary as it at first seems and provides an interesting insight into the views held by working Londoners on imported goods.



Mercers and their clientele were wealthy citizens. This particular firm was one of the most important in London, receiving orders of luxury silk from the Crown worth several hundred pounds a year. On the other hand, the men, women and children who spun and wove silk were often very poor. Yet because they were so numerous and because they could almost hold the fashionable world to ransom, the weavers were not shy about making their grievances known. As early as 1721 weavers had put pressure on Parliament to pass an Act that protected them against the importation of printed calicoes from India. The 1760s was a hard decade (it proved the hardest of the century), with harsh winters, high prices and an influx of soldiers returning after the Seven Years' War (1756-63). The end of the war with France reopened trading routes, and master weavers or mercers snapped up imported silks instead of choosing the silks produced in London. Thousands of weavers took to the streets in May 1765 in protest against the sale of the despised French silk. On 17 May a mob surrounded the shop on Ludgate Hill and began throwing stones, breaking many windows. It was the only firm the protesters targeted. Robert Carr (senior partner prior to Bigge) was one of ten mercers who gave evidence in the subsequent trial, where one man, Samuel Priest, was convicted as the main perpetrator, imprisoned in Newgate for six months and forced to pay a fine of one shilling. Gibson's deposition was published as a response to this act. The weavers did get their way, however, as Parliament tightened controls on imports and a subscription was begun for weavers' relief.

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