One of Cambridge’s first trade unions forms in 1872. In a pub.


A random find after keyword searching through the name of a long lost pub – The Wrestlers in Petty Cury (which was one of the most well-known at the time)

From this article in the British Newspaper Archive – one easily missed but also quite significant, this appears to record the formation of the first (or one of the first) trade unions in Cambridge’s history.

At the end of the letter is the name of George Kett. If it is the person I think it is, it is George, the co-founder of the first ‘Rattee and Kett’. (It could have been his son, who became Mayor around the turn of the century as there were three generations of ‘George Ketts’.


“A densely crowded meeting of builders’ labourers was held at the Wrestlers Inn, Petty Cury. on Monday evening, to consider the advisability of soliciting their employers for a decrease in the hours of labour and an increase of wages. Mr. Scott was elected to the chair; and Mr. William Cook to the vice-chair.

“The Chairman expressed his delight at seeing such a crowded meeting of his own craft, and took it as an evidence that they were in earnest in the cause they had taken in hand. He counselled them to act with unanimity. He gave illustration of what the builder’s labourer had to do to earn his 2s. 6d. a day —at a farthing per scripture piece” (meaning hod) he would have to perform the “one up and two down” times during the ten hours.

“The Vice-Chairman could not understand how it was possible that contractors from a distance could take work at a much less cost than the Cambridge builders, and yet able to pay much better for their labour. The builder’s labourer received on an average 3s. more from an out-town employer, than he did from those who designated themselves tho builders of this town. It was wonder that the builders could as they do; but it was hard to men who knew it came out of their bones and sinews.

“Mr. F. Lowing, Chairman of the Bricklayers’ Committee, in a humorous speech showed how the surplus labour would be employed the adoption of the system they were agitating for. He then shewed that the actual working days during the year were reducable to 279, at 2s. 6d. per day ; and that after deducting the cost of rent, coal, and few other real necessaries (in small quantity), the man was left with about 1s. 3d. per day to provide for food, clothing, education of children, &c.

“If, however, they stuck together “like wet bricks and mortar” they would gain their object. Unity was strength, and if the labourer held with the bricklayer, who knew how to keep his stretchers” over his “ headers.” the carpenters throwing tie-beam over the structure, it would be a united whole—and that was what they wanted.

“Mr. J. Reynolds, who spoke in favour of the movement, trusted the masters would meet the men in a manner becoming employers.

“Mr. MacDonald (mason) was pleased to see the movement taken up so heartily, as it was a just and honest cause, and one that would be of the greatest value to the men, in assisting them to be better fed, clothed, and educated. He was ashamed see the labourers of Cambridge paid so badly, for in Lincolnshire the farmers’ labourers were now receiving 18s. per week for 9 hours per day; this was brought about hr starting a union amongst themselves. If the labourers of Cambridge united in a similar manner they would be as independent as the Lincolnshire labourers.

“It was unanimously agreed that Labourers’ Union should be at once started. After a few observations from Mr. Robinson, Mr. Thoroughgood thought the money asked for (18s ) was small enough to keep a home comfortable ; and one of the great reasons why the poorer classes did not go to church was because they could not go tidily dressed. [A Voice : What about the plate that’s handed round J They would also better able to give their children education, which at present was picked up in the streets.

“The Chairman proposed that it is advisable to adopt the hour system, with payment at the rate of 4d. per hour Mr. W. Bright seconded the proposition, and after a slight discussion it was carried. A proposition that committee he elected to represent the Labourers on the local Niue Hours’ League, was also carried unanimously. The Committee having been duly elected, votes of thanks were passed to the Chairman, and Mr Robinson (the landlord of the inn), for the use of the room.

“The Press” was also complimented, the eulogies starting with three cheers for the Chronicle.

“The following correspondence has been handed to us for insertion :

“Hoop Hotel, Cambridge, 11th March, 1872.

“To Mr. J. B. Mathie.

“Sir—At a meeting of the Cambridge Builders’ Association,” held this evening, the following resolution was passed unanimously, and the officers were authorised to forward copies of the same as replies to circulars received from the meetings of the Carpenters and Joiners and of the Bricklayers, dated respectively February 20, and March 5,1872. Copy of the resolution above referred to : –

“That in justice our employers it undesirable to disturb the present arrangements as to time and wages existing between the masters and workman.”

  • Joseph Bell, President.
  • Arthur John Gray, Treasurer.
  • George Kett, Jun., Secretary.’’

“By permission of the Mayor, the operatives of the Building Trade contemplate holding a meeting at the Guildhall, on Thursday next, to receive the above reply from the Builders’ Association.

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