A walk around Dresden, Longton, Stoke-on-Trent
Dresden & the Longton Freehold Land Society


Many of the streets on the estate were called after prominent national Liberals Richard Cobden M.P., founder of the Anti-Corn-Law League; Charles Pelham Villiers M.P. and (the Conservative) John, 1st Earl Russell, M.P. and Prime Minister (1846-52)

Corn Laws, regulations applied in Great Britain to the import and export of grain (mainly wheat). The main purposes of the Corn Laws were to secure an adequate supply of grain to meet domestic requirements and to maintain grain prices at profitable levels. The laws placed duties on imported and exported grain.

The Corn Laws of 1436 and 1463 gave English grain growers a virtual monopoly of the domestic market. High grain prices were artificially maintained; wheat could not be exported unless the domestic price fell below a specified level or imported unless it rose above that level. Wage controls, high wheat prices, and resultant high bread prices placed a heavy burden on the mass of the population. The Corn Laws were a factor in perpetuating the economic distinction between the classes and were a source of continuing discontent.

Changes were made to the Corn Laws during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, as domestic and foreign supplies of grain increased or decreased, as prices rose or fell, and as conflicting groups were successful in forcing the adoption of amendments to existing legislation, favouring their interests. In general, the situation of British farmers and workers did not improve. During the economic crisis that followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Parliament passed the Corn Law of 1815. This law excluded almost all foreign grain until the price of domestic wheat reached the high level of 80 shillings per quarter (an old measure of grain volume equivalent to 8 bushels or 291 litres of grain). An increase in the price of bread led to widespread protests, which were met by repressive legislation suspending the legal right of habeas corpus, curtailing freedom of assembly and the press, and reducing immunity from arbitrary house searches. The Corn Law of 1828 permitted importation of grain, but established a sliding scale of import duties intended to maintain the high price of grain.

As Great Britain became increasingly industrialized in the Industrial Revolution, dependence on foreign food sources rose, and mercantile interests demanded that Parliament establish free trade and repeal the Corn Laws. In 1838 the statesmen John Bright and Richard Cobden, and five Manchester merchants, formed an anti-corn law association, the first of many similar organizations that joined in 1839 to form the Anti-Corn Law League. The League appealed successfully to workers and farmers to unite against those landlords who supported the Corn Laws. The Irish famine in 1845 eliminated an important source of food and increased the urgency of repeal of the Corn Laws. In 1846 Prime Minister Robert Peel persuaded Parliament to institute the policy of free trade, resulting in a general abolition of export duties. In the same year Parliament repealed the Corn Laws, but established a low temporary tax on wheat. In 1849 the import tax was further reduced to a nominal duty which was finally abolished in 1869; thereafter the term "corn law" went out of use.

Cobden, Richard (1804-1865), British economist and statesman, known as the Apostle of Free Trade.

Cobden was born in Sussex on June 3, 1804. At the age of 15 he went to work in London for his uncle, a calico merchant, and in 1828 he established an independent calico business with some friends. His philosophy of free trade was first apparent in two pamphlets he wrote, England, Ireland, and America (1835) and Russia (1836). In 1838 he joined with the British statesman John Bright and five other merchants to found the Anti-Corn Law League. As part of a campaign to decrease the cost of living, the league agitated for repeal of the corn laws. Cobden successfully stood for election to Parliament in 1841 to work for repeal of the corn duties, which was effected in 1846.