According to John Smethurst in his article entitled “The Journeymen Brushmakers” they were once described as “the ancient home of trades unionism”. Established in 1782, the Bristol Society was the second to be formed in the country, the first being Manchester in 1742. The Brushmakers, proud of their craft, banded together for protection against possible exploitation by employers and to avoid sweatshop working conditions. They negotiated with their employers for an agreed list of fixed prices for the various styles and mixes of hair and fibre. The Association ran on rigid rules and conditions. There was a strict control over entry (the high fee of £1 was required to join and a further weekly contribution of between 6d and 1 shilling was also expected) and a list of ‘legal’ members was circulated. For a long time the Manchester and Bristol societies were dominant, but in 1806 the London society was formed and they soon took over as the leading force, establishing “the Brushmakers’ Benevolent Institution” in May 1828, which provided sickness and hardship relief for Brushmakers in all societies.
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