Sidney Webb, commenting on a combination among the 15,000 journeyman tailors of the Metropolis in 1721 concluded that, 'with the possible exception of the clubs of woollen workers of the West of England this organisation of London Tailors is the earliest recorded trade union of the modern type'.1 He seems to have been guilty of partiality, for Gallon notes the existence of similar organisations in Dublin, Cambridge, Sheffield and Newcastle-onTyne at much the same time, combinations of such size and importance as 'may well lead us to infer that they had already been in existence for some years'. He provides ample evidence to that effect.2 The London society was, however, remarkable enough, having, it seems, been formed about 1700 from five box clubs at White Hart Yard, Bedfordbury, Blackfriars, Billiter Lane and Southwark.'1 Like others in different parts of the kingdom, it was effectively restrained for some years by legislation passed in the Westminster4 and Dublin parliaments. By the middle 1740s, however, the effect had largely worn off, and combinations were as active as ever. By the 1760s the tailors in London constituted nothing less than 'a kind of republic holding illegal meetings at 42 public houses . .. two persons from each forming the Grand Committee of Management of the Town'.5 Francis Place, the inspiration behind the repeal of the 1799 and 1800 Combination Acts in 1824 and himself a tailor, made no bones in his evidence to the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery early in that same year when asked if there was a combination among journeymen tailors. The journeymen tailors,' he replied,' have a perfect and perpetual combination among them. .. Their system is all but a military system. Their orders come from their Executive and are always obeyed. The power of five [elected] delegates is unlimited over the trade . . . the men strike when bid'/

Place's argument was, of course, that the combinations of the tailors were the consequence of repressive legislation rather than its cause, and that 'the combination, as it now exists, would cease' once that legislation was removed. His prediction was not fulfilled. After 1824 and the amending act of the following year the tailors, like other trades, moved into an era of more open combination. They often found this far from easy. At the end of 1833 the First Grand Lodge of Operative Tailors was formed in London, embracing almost all of the small local societies then in existence. It was this organisation which summoned delegates from other unions to a conference in 1834 at which the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union was formed. Alas, the enterprise proved too militant and too ambitious. The authorities were alerted and reacted with alarm at a monster demonstration of protest at the arrest of the seven men of Tolpuddle for taking illegal oaths and the tailors made a dramatic bid to lay down the terms under which their trade should be regulated. From the third Monday in April until the last Saturday in July each year the working day was to be fixed at ten hours and during the autumn and winter at eight. The ten hour day would be from 7am to 6pm at a rate of 6s a day and the eight hour day, Sam to Spm at Ss a day, both with an hour off for meals and work would only be done in healthy premises - 'all reasonable demands' claimed the secretary of the Grand Lodge, John Browne, 'to come into force on Monday next'.