Monday, 17 April 2017

William Pitt: the early years 1783-1789

The years between 1760 and 1783 were ones of varied political success. Between 1760 and 1770, there was widespread instability as George III sought a minister acceptable to himself and Parliament. This was followed political stability until 1782 under the adminis­tration of Lord North. Plagued by the American crisis,[1] which turned into war after 1775, North survived until early 1782. Short-lived Whig administrations led first by Rockingham, Shelburne and by Fox and North led to a period of political instability that ended with the dismissal of the Fox-North coalition in December 1783. The events of 1783 and 1784 showed two things that the support of the king was essential if a government was to survive and that the ‘influence’ of the Crown was still considerable.[2]
George III

Lord North[3] resigned in March 1782. This led to a political and constitutional crisis not resolved until the general election a year later. Successive governments did not have the king’s support and had difficulties in forging reliable majorities in the Commons. Whig governments, led by Rockingham[4] and, after his death in July 1782 by Shelburne[5] worked with a monarch resentful at losing Lord North. Effective government proved difficult though ‘economical reform’[6] was pushed forward and a peace agreed with America. In early 1783, North formed a government with the Whigs now led by Charles James Fox.[7] George III had little choice but resentfully to accept the coalition. Faced with an East India Bill attacking the rights of the East India Company[8] and royal patronage, the King and William Pitt[9] managed its defeat in the House of Lords. Under sustained pressure--the king let it be known that those who voted for the bill would be regarded as ‘his enemies’--the coalition was defeated twice in two days and in mid-December 1783 was summarily dismissed.

William Pitt, 'the Younger'

Pitt formed the new government. The king’s intervention was controversial but he argued his actions were justifiable because of the conduct of the coalition politicians. He had considerable popular support and many people believed that a threat to the constitution had been averted. Yet a Whig hostess quipped, ‘it will be a mince pie administration’, over by the end of the Christmas festivities. In the Commons in late 1783, the Fox-North coalition had 231 votes in the House of Commons while Pitt could only muster 149. With independent support of 74 for Fox and 104 for Pitt, the opposition could rally 305 MPs. Pitt could only count on 253 and initially faced persistent defeats in the Commons. But Fox and North underestimated Pitt’s political skills. He had the support of the King who refused calls to dismiss his government. Pitt became increasingly confident, winning the votes of many independent members and majorities against him began to fall. Fox and North also under-estimated the support Pitt had outside Parliament. He had a reputation as a reformer and as an individual ‘above Party’. In March 1784, when the opposition’s majority had dwindled to one, George III dissolved parliament and called a general election. George III’s action in 1783-1784 was unconstitutional and he infringed the independence of Parliament to make decisions.

The 1784 election.

The general election was highly successful for Pitt. Coalition supporters were routed both in the larger constituencies, where popular support for Pitt was strong and in many of the smaller ones where he manipulated royal influence. Two things are, however, quite clear. Pitt now had the majority necessary for effective government and had restored the principle of a minister governing with the support of King and Commons. Also, despite the loss of party members and sympathetic inde­pendent MPs--the so-called ‘Fox’s Martyrs’--the Whigs had weathered the storm quite successfully. They had not been destroyed as a political force.

Charles James Fox

By the end of the 1780s, the term ‘Leader of the Opposition’ was coming into use. It applied to Charles James Fox in the Commons rather than Portland, the nominal leader of the Whigs, who sat in the Lords. Public perceptions of notions of government’ versus ‘opposition’ were heightened by the personal rivalry between Pitt and Fox and throughout the 1780s the opposition Whigs more or less maintained their voting strength.

By 1788, Pitt firmly controlled both Commons and Lords. One estimate of government support gave Pitt 280 MPs, 185 of whom owed their primary loyalty to the King, 50 or so who attached themselves to Pitt and just over 40 whose allegiance came through family or patronage to other ministers, principally those Scottish MPs controlled by Henry Dundas.[10] The opposition Whigs had about 155 MPs with independent members making up the remaining 122 MPs. Pitt extended his control over the Lords through George III’s readiness to create peers, something he had not done for other ministers. Almost half of the peers created while Pitt was Prime Minister were ennobled between 1784 and 1790.

Pitt may have won in 1784 but this did not mean that the following decade was without political tensions. Between 1784 and 1786, Pitt was defeated on four substantial issues, including defence, parliamentary reform and economic union with the United States and Ireland. His support came from those who believed in strong, stable government, and it was consequently looser and more heterogeneous. To these supporters improving administrative structures was more acceptable than legislative programmes particularly if it produced more efficient and cheaper government. Pitt was content to work within this system and never attempted to fashion popularity in any way independent to that of the king. His achievement was to reduce the temperature of political debate in the Commons, just as the opposition preserved the essentials of party identity under adverse con­ditions. Pitt was always willing to serve, just as Fox was always willing to oppose, and this, rather than any desire to be popular, was the key to his political career.

The Regency crisis 1788-1789

The most serious threat to Pitt was the Regency crisis of 1788-1789. When George III was stricken by an attack of apparent mad­ness[11] in late 1788 the Whigs were in a state of disarray. The Fox-Portland group had been associated with the reversionary interest[12] round George, Prince of Wales, for six years--an alliance of convenience. The Whigs saw the succession of the Prince as their route to office. The Prince was happy to use the Whigs to embarrass his father. This proved a two-edged sword for the Whigs. The application to Parliament for additional money to clear the Prince’s unpopular debts was necessary while the admission that he had married the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert secretly in 1785 alienated Portland and other aristocratic leaders.[13] These stresses within the Whigs surfaced in 1788 shortly before the king’s illness made clear the dependence of the Whigs on the Prince if they were to achieve power. Fox relied on the future king for power highlighting the hypocrisy of his attacks on Pitt who owed his position to the existing king.

Prince George, later Prince Regent and George IV (1820-1830)

Pitt and his supporters framed a Regency Bill closely limiting the power of the Regent. Unwisely, the Whigs delayed the passage of the bill arguing that the limitations placed on his powers, especially his right to make new peers was an unfair restriction on the power of the Crown. They argued unconvincingly in favour of the unlimited power of the Prince without the need for parliamentary approval. This played straight into Pitt’s hands, and he pointed to Fox’s reversal as the champion of parliamentary authority. Pitt’s majority held and he could push his bill through Parlia­ment. By mid-February, the bill was reaching its final stage in the Lords but the process was ended with the rapid recovery of the king. The opposition had been defeated. Pitt had preserved his ministry and won the thanks of the king and large sections of public opinion.

During the Regency crisis, the Whigs had made some important blunders, and disagreements between Fox and Portland threatened the cohesion of the party. Fox came across as opportunistic rather than principled and reluctant to control the younger Whigs like Rich­ard Sheridan[14] and Charles Grey[15]. Nevertheless, the Whigs entered the 1790 general election in reasonable shape thanks to the electoral management of William Adams. Between 1783 and 1790, the Whig coalition had consolidated into a party of 130-140 MPs.

[1] The American crisis. The relationship between the thirteen American colonies and Britain was of growing concern in the years after 1763. Neither the king nor successive governments understood the depth of feeling in the colonies. The result was war in 1775 and the declaration of American independence the following year. Britain was defeated by a combination of political and military mismanagement and French support for the colonists. The Treaty of Versailles 1783 recognised American independence though George III never got over it.
[2] The ‘influence’ of the Crown was the patronage at the disposal of the Crown to support the King’s government
[3] Frederick, Lord North (1732-1792) was prime minister between 1770 and 1782. An able domestic politician, his mishandling of the American crisis and conduct of the war led to his downfall. He was secretary of state for colonial affairs in the Fox-North coalition, April-December 1783
[4] Charles, Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782) was prime minister of Whig governments in 1765-1766 and from March 1782 until his death in July.
[5] William, Earl of Shelburne (1737-1805) was a minister in the 1760s, Home Secretary under Rockingham in 1782 and succeeded him as prime minister.
[6] Charles James Fox (1749-1806) entered parliament in 1768 but apart from two short periods in office (Foreign Secretary in the Fox-North coalition in 1783 and briefly in the Ministry of All the Talents in 1806) he remained in opposition. He opposed the government’s American policy in the 1770s, welcomed the French Revolution and opposed the war with revolutionary France. During the 1790s, he emerged as the champion of English liberties in the face of Pitt’s repressive measures
[7] William Pitt (1759-1806) ‘the Younger’ was the son of William Pitt ‘the Elder’ (1708-78), prime minister between 1766 and 1768. Pitt entered parliament in 1781, was Chancellor of the Exchequer 1782-3 and prime minister 1783-1801 and 1804-6. He is Britain’s youngest ever prime minister.
[8] ‘Economical reform’ was a late eighteenth century movement aiming to reduce the patronage (in the form of sinecures and placemen) at the disposal of the government in parliament. Sinecures were well-paid jobs where a person was paid for doing little or nothing. Placemen owed their jobs to the government or crown. In both cases, they were expected to support the government of the day.
[9] The East India Company had a monopoly, and therefore considerable power in India. Until 1773, it ruled large tracts of India as a private company. The Whigs wanted to see its power brought under the supervision of parliament and Fox and North tried and failed to do so in their India Bill in 1783. Pitt took a less drastic approach and in 1785 his India Act set up a Board of Control in London to determine Britain’s policy to India. The Company was allowed to continue ruling its conquered territories as well as conducting commercial operations.
[10] Henry Dundas (1742-1813) was a close political ally of Pitt. He was treasurer of the Navy 1783-91, home secretary 1791-4 and minister for war and colonies 1794-1801. He was unsuccessfully impeached for corruption in 1806
[11] Apparent madness. The symptoms of the 1788-9 attacks indicated madness to contemporary doctors. Recent research suggests that porphyria, a condition caused by blood deficiencies was the cause. The symptoms of madness and porphyria are similar.
[12] Reversionary interest was the name given to politicians who clustered about the Prince of Wales in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
[13] A secret marriage with the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert. The Royal Marriages Act 1772 made it illegal for a member of the royal family to marry without the permission of the monarch. The Act of Succession 1701 forbade marriage to a Roman Catholic
[14] Richard Sheridan, Irish playwright and friend of Fox and the Prince of Wales
[15] Charles Grey was a future Whig prime minister between 1830 and 1834

What was the nature and extent of change?

The view that the industrial revolution represented a dramatic watershed between an old and a new world has recently been questioned by historians. Growth was considerably slower and longer than previously believed. Few historians would go as far as Jonathan Clark, “England was not revolutionized; and it was not revolutionized by industry”. Recent research suggests the following:
  • Change in the economy was two-dimensional. There were dynamic industries like cotton and iron where change occurred relatively quickly and that may be called ‘revolutionary’. In other industries, change took place far more slowly.
  • Between 1750 and 1850, the British economy experienced rapid, and by international standards, pronounced structural change. The proportion of the labour force employed in industry (extractive, manufacturing and service) increased while the proportion employed in farming fell.
  • Much employment in industry continued to be small-scale, handicraft activities producing for local markets. These trades were largely unaffected by mechanisation and experienced little or no increase in output per worker. Increased productivity was achieved by employing more labour.
  • The experience of cotton textiles, though dynamic and of high profile was not typical and there was no general triumph of steam power or the factory system in the early nineteenth century. Nor was economic growth raised spectacularly by a few inventions. The overall pace of economic growth was modest. There was no great leap forward for the economy as a whole, despite the experiences of specific industries.
  •  By 1850, Britain was ‘the workshop of the world’. Productivity in a few industries did enable Britain to sell around half of all world trade in manufacture. This, however, needs to be seen in the context of the characteristics of industrialisation. The ‘industrial revolution’ involved getting more workers into the industrial and manufacturing sectors rather than achieving higher output once they were there. The cotton and iron industries existed with other industries characterised by low productivity, low pay and low levels of exports.

Inventions and mechanisation

Between 1760 and 1800, there was a significant increase in the number of patents giving exclusive rights to inventors, what the historian T.S. Ashton called “a wave of gadgets swept over Britain”. Between 1700 and 1760, 379 patents were awarded. In the 1760s, there were 205, the 1770s, 294, the 1780s, 477 and the 1790s, 647. These figures have to be used with care.
  • Certain key technical developments pre-dated 1760. Coke smelting was developed by Abraham Darby in Shropshire in 1709 but it was not until the 1750s that it was widely used. Thomas Newcomen’s steam-atmospheric engine was invented between 1709 and 1712 but its cost and inefficiency meant that it too was not widely used until mid-century. James Kay developed the ‘flying shuttle’ in 1733. This increased the productivity of weavers but it was thirty years before advances were made in spinning.
  • Registering patents was expensive and some inventions were not patented as a result. Samuel Crompton, for example, did not register his spinning mule. From the 1760s, there was a growing awareness of the importance of obtaining patents and the danger of failing to do so. This may account for some of the increase.
  • Many of the patents covered processes and products that were of little economic importance, including medical and consumer goods as well as industrial technologies. Some patents represented technological breakthroughs while others improved existing technologies.

Despite these reservations, there were important groupings of technological advances after 1760.
In the textile industries, there were advances in spinning thread (James Hargreaves’ ‘jenny’ 1764, Richard Arkwright’s water frame 1769 and Samuel Crompton’s ‘mule’ 1779), weaving (Edmund Cartwright’s power loom 1785) and finishing (mechanised printing by Thomas Bell in 1783). James Kay’s ‘flying shuttle’ had speeded up the process of weaving producing a bottleneck caused by the shortage of hand-spun thread. The mechanisation of spinning after 1764 reversed this situation. The new jennies allowed one worker to spin at least eight and eventually eighty times the amount of thread previously produced by a single spinner. Improvements by Arkwright and especially Crompton further increased productivity. The problem was now weaving. The power loom did not initially resolve the problem and the decades between 1780 and 1810 were ones of considerable prosperity for handloom weavers.

Although the introduction of new machines for textile production, especially cotton occurred over a short timescale, their widespread use was delayed until the 1820s. There were three main reasons for this. First, the new technologies were costly and often unreliable. Modifications were necessary before their full economic benefits were realised. It was not until the early 1820s that the power loom was improved and the self-acting mule was introduced. Secondly, there was worker resistance to the introduction of the new technologies and some employers continued to use handworkers because they were cheaper than new machines. This was particularly evident in the Yorkshire woollen industry that lagged behind cotton in applying new technology. Finally, the original spinning jennies were small enough to be used in the home but Arkwright’s water frame was too large for domestic use and needed purpose-built spinning mills. These early factories used waterpower though increasingly steam engines were used. By 1800, a quarter of all cotton yarn was spun by steam. It was not until after 1815 that factories combined powered spinning and weaving. By 1850, some factories employed large numbers of workers, but many remained small. In Lancashire in the 1840s, the average firm employed 260 people and a quarter employed fewer than a 100. The mechanisation of the textile industry was a process in technological innovation and modification rather than an immediate revolutionary process.

This was even more the case in the iron industry. In 1700, charcoal was used to smelt iron. It was increasingly expensive and Britain relied on European imports. Although Abraham Darby perfected coke smelting in 1709 it was fifty years before coke-smelted iron posed a major threat to charcoal. It was not until demand for iron rose rapidly after 1750 that coke became the fuel for smelting. The stimulus for expansion in iron making came from the wars with France and the American colonies in the 1750s and 1770s and especially between 1793 and 1815. This led technological change. Henry Cort’s puddling and rolling process of 1782 was of comparable importance to Darby’s earlier discovery. The new technologies led to a four-fold growth of pig iron between 1788 and 1806, a significant reduction in costs and virtually put an end to expensive foreign imports. The ‘hot-blast’ of 1828 further reduced costs. Rising demand for iron stimulated developments in the coal industry. Here the major technological developments were led by the need to mine coal from deeper pits. Pumping engines, first Newcomen’s and then Watt’s helped in this process. Sir Humphrey Davy’s safety lamp helped improve safety underground from inflammable methane gas (or ‘firedamp’). Increases in productivity were, however, largely the consequence of employing more miners.

Historians have emphasised the importance of the steam engine to the industrial revolution though this has been played down by recent writers. Wind and water remained important as sources of mechanical energy. Windmills were used for grinding corn, land-drainage and some industrial processes. Waterpower was far more important and remained so until the mid-nineteenth century. Before 1800, most textile mills were water powered and in 1830, 2,230 mills used waterpower as against 3,000 using steam. Metalwork, mining, papermaking and pottery continued to use waterpower. The development of steam power in the eighteenth century was gradual. Newcomen developed his engine in 1712. It was largely used for pumping water out of mines and though costly and inefficient was in widespread use by 1760. Watt trebled the efficiency of the Newcomen engine by adding a separate condenser in the mid 1760s. This made steam engine far more cost-effective but they could still only be used for tasks involving vertical motion. The breakthrough came in 1782 with the development of ‘sun and planet’ gearing that enabled steam engines to generate rotary motion and power the new technologies in textiles. By 1800, about a fifth of all mechanical energy in Britain was produced by steam engines. Steam power was a highly versatile form of energy and its impact on British industry was profound. It allowed industry to move into towns often on or near to coalfields where it could be supplied by canals. Though older means of generating energy remained important, the application of steam power to mining, iron-making, the railways and especially the booming cotton industry meant that by 1850 it was the dominant form of energy.

How important was technical advance to the industrial revolution? Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations published in 1776 seemed unaware that he was living in a period of technical change and mechanisation. For him, economic growth was achieved through the organisational principle of division of labour rather than the application of new technologies. Others followed Smith in assigning less importance to technical change that historians subsequently did. The effect of technological change was neither immediate nor widespread until after 1800. Cotton and iron set the pace of change but other industries, like glass and paper-making, shipbuilding and food-processing were also undergoing organisational and technological change. Change varied across industries and regions. Steam power did not replace waterpower at a stroke. Work organisation and the uses of newer technologies varied and in 1850 factories coexisted with domestic production, artisan workshops and large-scale mining and metal-producing organisations. Both revolutionary technologies and traditional techniques remained important to Britain’s economic development.

Geographical diversity and urbanisation

The pace of economic change and its geographical distribution after 1780 was uneven. Dynamic growth took place in specialised economic regions. Cotton was based in south Lancashire and parts of the joining counties of Derbyshire and Cheshire. Wool was dominant in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Iron dominated the economies of Shropshire and South Wales. Staffordshire was internationally renowned for its pottery. Birmingham and Warwickshire specialised in metal-working. Tyneside was more diverse with interests in coal, glass, iron and salt. London with its huge population and sophisticated manufacturing and service sectors – docks, warehouses, engineering, shipbuilding, silk weaving, luxury trades, the machinery of government and the law, publishing and printing, financial centre and entertainment – was an economic region in its own right. De-industrialisation was also region in character. After 1780, the West Country and East Anglia textile industries declined. The iron industry disappeared from the Weald in Kent. The Cumberland coalfield disappeared.

Regional growth or decline depended on a range of factors. Growth depended largely on access to waterpower as an energy source or as a means of processing, easy access to coal and other raw materials, and an ample labour force. In 1780, regions and their industries retained their rural character in varying degrees. Increasingly, however, industrial growth took on an urban character and the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the rapid expansion of towns that specialised in various industries. Around each of these urban centres clustered smaller towns and industrial villages whose artisan outworkers specialised in particular tasks. Walsall in the Black Country, for example, specialised in buckle-making; Coventry in ribbon production, tobacco boxes at Willenhall. The concentration of specialised commercial and manufacturing industries, especially skilled labour, in and around towns was a major advantage for entrepreneurs and businessmen. They were helped by the expanding communication network of roads and canal and after 1830, railways that provided cheap supplies of raw materials and fuel as well as helping distribute finished products.

Economic change and population growth led to the rapid expansion of urban centres. Towns, especially those in the forefront of manufacturing innovation, attracted rural workers hoping for better wages. They saw towns as places free from the paternalism of the rural environment and flocked there in their thousands. For some migration brought wealth and security. For the majority life in towns was little different, and in environmental terms probably worse, from life in the country. They had exchanged rural slums for urban ones and exploitation by the landowner for exploitation by the factory master. Between 1780 and 1811, the urban component of England’s population rose from a quarter to a third. This process continued throughout the century and by 1850, the rural-urban split was about even. The number of towns in England and Wales with 2,500 inhabitants increased from 104 in 1750 to 188 by 1800 and to over 220 by 1851. England was the most urbanised country in the world and the rate of urban growth had not peaked. London, with its one million inhabitants in 1801, was the largest city in Europe. The dramatic growth of the northern and Midland industrial towns after 1770 was caused largely by migration because of industry’s voracious demand for labour. Regions where population growth was not accompanied by industrialisation or where deindustrialisation took place found their local economies under considerable pressure. Surplus labour led to falling wages and growing problems of poverty.

Economic growth and rates of development

What was ‘economic growth’ in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries and what were its major characteristics? The main indicator of long-term growth is the income the country receives from goods and services or gross domestic product (GDP). During the eighteenth century, GDP grew slightly from just under one per cent per year to just over it. Between 1800 and 1850, growth remained at over two per cent per year. Growth in GDP depends on three things: an increase in labour, an increase in capital investment and an increase in productivity. Growing population accounted for the increase in labour after 1780. Labour grew at around one per cent per year between 1780 and 1800 and 1.4 per cent for the next fifty years. Increased capital investment is also evident after 1780. Between 1780 and 1800, capital investment rose by 1.2 per cent per year. This rose slightly to 1.4 per cent between 1800 and 1830 and, largely because of investment in railways rose to 2.0 per cent between 1830 and 1850. Increasing productivity is more difficult to estimate.

The debate about economic growth and rates of development is largely statistical. Historians face major problems in trying to work out precisely what rates of development were in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Statistical information is far from reliable. This has led to major discrepancies in modern estimates. For example, the production of coal in the late eighteenth century is estimated to have grown annually at 0.64 per cent or alternatively at 1.13 per cent, twice that speed. The statistics also show only part of the picture and it is very difficult to extrapolate from specific data on specific industries to the economy as a whole. Total figures also blur the important differences between the experience of different industries and regions. It was not until the development of the railways after 1830 that the notion of a British economy, as opposed to localised economies had real meaning.


Historians face significant problems in examining the industrial revolution. First, there is the problem of what precisely the ‘industrial revolution’ was. Secondly, its national nature has been questioned. How far was there a British industrial revolution or was economic change essentially local or regional? Thirdly, there is the question of timing. When did the revolution begin? When did it end? Finally, historians increasingly recognise the diversity of economic experiences and the existence of both change and continuity of experience in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century? The ‘industrial revolution’ is increasingly seen as a metaphor for the changes that took place in the British economy between 1780 and 1850. While it would be perverse to refrain from using a term ‘hallowed by usage’, it is important to recognise that change occurred slowly in most industries and rapidly in a handful.

Contemporaries were aware that they were living through a period of change. Robert Southey wrote in 1807, ‘no kingdom ever experienced so great a change in so short a course of years’. Population growth, economic and social change, technological advances, changes in the organisation of work, the dynamism of cotton and iron as well as urbanisation were bunched in the last twenty years of the eighteenth century and the first thirty years of the nineteenth. This was revolutionary change. However, change was itself a process that extended across the eighteenth century. The revolution in the economy did not begin in 1780 nor was it entirely completed by 1850.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A series of ‘Ds’…

The state of the West can be summed up in a series of Ds: ‘demoralised, decadent, deflating, demographically challenged, divided, disintegrating, dysfunctional, declining’. The chronic problems include economic failure as a result of the 2008 financial crash, verse demographics and a sense of ‘impotence’ in shaping world affairs in the face of the so-called ‘barbarians’ inside as well as outside the gates. Some of those who are challenging the West, such as China, are altering the rules of the game. Others, such as Russia, simply and wilfully flout them, while ISIS simply wants to burn the clubhouse down. Something is not working properly. There is a lack of social trust and powerful monopolies are rigging markets. Equality--or rather fairness--is under threat and this helps to explain why Western voters are turning to authoritarian populist hucksters and demagogues and economic protectionism.
In the workplace, there is a gulf between permanent workers with legal protections and job security and those on temporary or zero-hours contracts, whose rights are no more elaborate than the phone call telling them they are needed that day. Various questionable forms of human resources management  are used to distance overworked and underpaid contract personnel from the parent corporations that in reality govern their working days, as a recent documentary on Amazon delivery drivers showed. Banks, hedge funds and technology companies spend huge sums on lobbyists to keep regulation soft and corporate taxes low, despite nearly collapsing the global economy in 2008 with their artificially confected financial products. It should come as no shock that so many ordinary people think that every political system is rigged against them by big money. Many young people think the system is also rigged by the pampered over-sixties, the ‘baby-boomers’ who are more assiduous voters and have the full attention of the politicians they effectively elect, though the intergenerational warfare that alarmists predicted is not in evidence. Money buys much more than a few biddable political friends. Access to the best private schools leads to admission to top universities. Privilege is reinforced by informal networks acquired at elite institutions and ‘associative mating’ that is then reproduced in the next generation.
Big money also has a strong political voice. Many commentators argue that democratic political systems are being corrupted by vested interests every bit as powerful as the overmighty trade union barons of the 1970s. Two US Supreme Court rulings in 2010 and 2014 allowed rich corporations and individuals to make unlimited political donations, on the grounds that their constitutional right to free speech would otherwise be infringed. Donald Trump played on this to his advantage in the 2016 election campaign, frequently stating that he did not need anyone else’s money. Geert Wilders does the same in the Netherlands, ostentatiously declining state subvention though he allegedly receives money from anti-Islamic organisations in the USA. We have taken our democracies in the West for granted for too long.

Let the divorce begin!!

With the Article 50 letter sent on Wednesday and the EU response yesterday, we have a (slightly) clearer idea about how the negotiations will proceed over the next two years. Those who said during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would mean leaving the single market and customs union has--despite the incredibly weak remoaning argument that the people weren’t asked if they wanted to leave them—again been confirmed.  Those who argued that the UK could leave the EU and yet remain in the single market were never going to get that point accepted; as several European leaders said, you can’t cherry-pick the bits you want and leave the bits you don’t.  Since control over immigration was a significant issue in why the country voted to leave, leaving the EU always meant leaving the single market…there was no way that the EU would concede abrogation of what is regarded as one of the four key principles of the Union.

Central to the UK leaving is the question of control.  As a society the referendum suggested that we are prepared to give up certain things—and that may include a slower rise in standards of living—so that we have control over our own destiny.  What seemed like a good idea in 1975 is not seen as being the case today.  There have always been some who were opposed to its membership but since the global crisis after 2008 that accelerated and was reinforced by the crisis in the Eurozone over which the EU had some control and the mass migration from the East and South over which its response was little short of shambolic.  The problem was that the EU seemed incapable of introducing the fundamental reforms necessary after 60 years in existence—does what applied in 1957 still apply in 2017?  Well for the many integrationists in the EU, it appears that its fundamental principles are non-negotiable as David Cameron found to his cost. 

The government has been talking up how they see the negotiations progressing while its opponents just keep banging on about how bad it’s all going to be, a reflection of their reticence towards the referendum result. Where we end up will be somewhere between the two extremes…a free trade deal that’s not as good as the single market but good enough…a compromise on both sides if the negotiations are handled well.  But it all could come to nought if Spain vetoes the deal over the contested position of Gibraltar despite its acceptance of the principle of self-determination and the EU including this possibility in its response to Article 50 was inept.  Gibraltar may only have a population of 30,000 people but it would be a grave error to think that the UK would bargain Gibraltar’s position to get a clean Brexit.  It may appear as a minor issue in the negotiations but it’s the little things that can lead to negotiations failing.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

How and why did industrialisation occur in Britain between 1780 and 1850?

In the latter part of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century, Britain underwent what historians have called an ‘industrial revolution’ with factories pouring out goods, chimneys polluting the air, escalating exports and productivity spiralling upwards. This was an epic drama, of Telford, the Stephensons and the Darbys, Macadam, Brunel and Wedgwood, a revolution not simply of inventions and economic growth but of the spirit of enterprise within an unbridled market economy. This is, however, misleading. Industrial change was not something that occurred simply after 1780 but took place throughout the eighteenth century. There was substantial growth in a whole range of traditional industries as well as in the obviously ‘revolutionary’ cases of textiles, iron and coal. Technical change was not necessarily mechanisation but the wider use of hand working and the division of labour. Changes were the result of the conjunction of old and new processes. Steam power did not replace waterpower at a stroke. Work organisation varied: the ‘dark satanic mills’ were not all conquering. In 1850, factories coexisted with domestic production, artisan workshops, large-scale mining, and metal production. Change also varied across industries and regions.

Why did economic change occur in Britain between 1780 and 1850? Answering this question usually focuses on why industries like cotton, iron and coal expanded and what influence the spread of steam power had. These areas were important but undue emphasis on them neglects the broader economic experiences of Britain. Similarly, the question ‘Why did the industrial revolution take place in Britain rather than France or Germany?’ misses the crucial point that economic change did not occur in Britain as a whole. Growth was regional and industrialisation took place in particular locations like Lancashire, the Central Lowlands of Scotland and South Wales and around Belfast. Explaining the industrial revolution is a very difficult undertaking since economic change had an effect, however small, on all aspects of society. Some circumstances that were present in Britain made change possible and, in that sense, can be said to be causal. Others held back progress but change occurred despite them. This section will look at the importance of certain ‘key’ factors in explaining growth in the economy.


If it is possible to identify a single cause for the industrial revolution, then a strong case can be made for population increase. Between 1780 and 1850, the population of England and Wales increased from over seven million to nearly eighteen million. This led to mounting demand for goods like food and housing. Nevertheless, the increase in demand for other goods – more manufactured goods or more efficient means of communication – did not necessarily follow from population expansion. The problem is one of timing. When did population growth occur? When did economic growth occur? Did they correspond? Although historians broadly accept population growth from the mid-eighteenth century, they do not agree when the economy began to grow.
  • If population growth stimulated demand, you would expect economic and population growth to coincide. However, they did not. Accelerated economic growth was concentrated in the last quarter of the eighteenth century while the maximum rate of population growth on mainland Britain was not achieved until after 1810.
  • Population began to expand after 1750 and some historians argue that this provided the final ingredient necessary to trigger off industrialisation. Berg and Craft have shown that the origins of higher growth rates went back to the early decades of the century. In this scenario, population growth came after the beginnings of economic growth.
The impact of population growth causes problems for historians who argue for economic growth from the 1780s and those who see growth as something that began earlier in the century. It had favourable effects on economic growth in three important respects:

1. Population growth provided Britain with an abundant and cheap supply of labour.
2. Population growth stimulated investment in industry and agriculture by its effects on demand for goods and services.
3. Urbanisation made it profitable to create or improve services. For example, the building of the canal from the Bridgewater coalmines at Worsley to Manchester took advantage of the growing demand for domestic coal.

The role of population growth in the origins of Britain’s industrial revolution was far from straightforward. 


Britain was a relatively wealthy country in the mid-eighteenth century with a well-established system of banking. This enabled people to build up savings and provided them with capital to invest. Between 1750 and 1770, there was growing investment in roads, canals, and buildings and in enclosing land. This process continued after 1780 through to the 1850s with continued investment in transport and enclosure and in the expansion of the textile and iron industries, and after 1830 in the development of railways.
  • The annual rate of domestic investment rose from about £13 million in the 1780s to over £40 million by the 1830s.
  • The ratio of gross investment to the gross national product rose from 6 per cent in the 1770s to 12 per cent by the 1790s at which level, it remained until 1850.
  • Widespread capital investment was largely confined to a small, though important part of the economy. Capital investment rose in farming, communications and textiles, especially cotton and in iron and steel. Other areas of the economy were often undercapitalised relative to these industries.
Capital investment in farming was largely on enclosures, drainage and buildings. Landowners ploughed back about 6 per cent of their total income into the land. This rose to about 16 per cent during the French wars when high wheat prices encouraged investment in enclosure. Investment fell back after 1815 with the onset of depression and did not revive until the 1840s. In the 1780s, a third of all investment was in farming. By 1850, this had fallen to an eighth. By contrast, there was a rapid growth of investment in industry and communications. Annual investment in industry and trade rose from £2 million in the 1780s to £17 million by 1850. Between 1780 and 1830, there was an annual investment of £1.5 million on canals and roads and for the improvement of docks and harbours. These figures were dwarfed by investment in railways that peaked at £15 million per year in the 1840s, some 28 per cent of all investment. The increase in the availability of capital to invest allowed economic growth to occur.


Britain was already a well-established trading nation. Colonies were important sources of raw materials as well as markets for manufactured goods. London was a major centre for the re-export trade. The slave trade played a major role in the development of Liverpool and Bristol and its profits provided an important source of capital for early industrialisation. By the 1780s, the export trade was expanding annually by 2.6 per cent. Cotton production depended on international trade and was responsible for half the increase in the value of exports between 1780 and 1830. Cotton accounted for just over half Britain’s exports by 1830 and three-quarters of all exports were associated with textiles. This represented a narrow trading base and helps to explain why the British economy underwent depression in the 1830s and early 1840s. British factories were over-producing for European and global markets already saturated with textile goods. The result was some changes in the goods exported with iron exports growing from 6 per cent in the 1810s to 20 per cent by 1850 and the growing importance of coal exports. In the 1780s, Europe was a major market for British goods and this remained the case in 1850. However, there were important changes in the destination of British goods.
  • The United States increasingly became a focus for exports of manufactured goods and for raw cotton. This process was helped by the opening up of the Latin American markets in the early nineteenth century.
  • India was a huge market for cotton goods. Similar possibilities exited in the Middle East and South America. Britain increasingly shifted trade towards less developed economies that provided growing imports of tropical products to Britain and other industrialised countries like Germany and France.
  • Overseas trade has been highlighted by some historians as a primary cause of economic growth. The growth of export industries at a faster rate than other industries was closely linked to foreign trade.
To what extent was the growth in trade between 1780 and 1850 central to Britain’s economic development?
  • It stimulated a domestic demand for the products of British industry.
  • International trade gave access to raw materials that both widened the range and cheapened the products of British industries.
  • It provided purchasing power for countries to buy British goods since trade is a two-way process.
  • Profits from trade were used to finance industrial expansion and agricultural improvement.It was a major cause of the growth of large towns and industrial centres.
The role of British trade must, however, be put into perspective. Changes in the pattern of British trade between 1780 and 1850 – the export or re-export of manufactured goods in return for imports of foodstuffs and raw materials – were relatively small and the industrial developments from the 1780s consolidated already existing trends. Exports may have helped textiles and iron to expand but they made little impact on the unmodernised, traditional manufacturing sectors.


By 1750, Britain was already a highly mobile society. Travel may have been slow and, on occasions dangerous but it was not uncommon. Within a hundred years, the British landscape was scarred by canals and railways and traversed by improved roads and the movement of goods and people quickened dramatically. Turnpike roads and the emergence of a sophisticated coaching industry, canals with their barges carrying the raw materials and manufactured goods of the industrial revolution, new harbours and the railways were symbolic of ‘progress’ as much as factories and enclosed fields.There were 800 market towns in England and Wales in the 1780s. This reflected the intensity of production and the ability of particular areas to specialise in particular products. These products were then moved to markets across the country often using the turnpike roads. In 1767, 16,000 sheep and 14,000 cattle passed through the Birdlip Hill Turnpike in Gloucester en route from south Wales to London. Imports of coal into London from the north-east rose from one million to three million tons per year between 1720 and 1790.

Britain’s road system in the mid-eighteenth century was extensive but under-funded. Just over £1 million was spent annually. This was, however, insufficient to maintain the road system necessary to growing trade and manufactures. Turnpike roads, the first was established in 1663, grew slowly in the first half of the eighteenth century. An average of eight were established each year. From the 1750s, this went up to about forty a year and from the 1790s, to nearly sixty. By the mid-1830s, there were 1,116 turnpike trusts in England and Wales managing slightly more than a sixth of all roads, some 22,000 miles. Parallel to this organisational development, there were improvements in the quality of road building associated particularly with Thomas Telford and John Loudon Macadam. What contribution did turnpike and parish roads make to improved communication in Britain between 1780 and 1850? Spending on parish roads did not increase markedly though there was a significant growth in spending by turnpike trusts. This reached a peak of £1.5 million per year in the 1820s. The problem was that improvements to the road system were patchy and dependent on private initiatives. Despite this, there were significant reductions in journey times between the main centres of population. In the 1780s, it took ten days to travel from London to Edinburgh; by the 1830s, 45 hours. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of passengers carried by a rapidly expanding coaching industry. The road system transported all kinds of industrial material and manufactured goods. There was a significant growth of carrier firms after 1780. In London, for example, there were 353 firms in 1790 but 735 in the mid-1820s and a five-fold increase in the number of carriers in Birmingham between 1790 and 1830. These firms were, however, unable to compete with the canals or the railways and concentrated on providing short distance carriage of goods from canals and railway stations to local communities.

The major problem facing early industrialists was the cost of carrying heavy, bulky goods like coal or iron ore. The solution was to use water, rivers, coastal transport and from the 1760s, canals. The first phase of canal development took place in the 1760s and early 1770s beginning with the construction of the Bridgewater canal. The second phase, in the 1790s, has rightly been called ‘canal mania’ with the completion of several important canals and the setting-up of fifty-one new schemes. By 1820, the canal network was largely completed linking all the major centres of industrial production and population.
  • Canals dramatically enhanced the efficiency of the whole economy by making a cheap system of transport available for goods and passengers. The price of raw materials like coal, timber, iron, wood and cotton tumbled. The needs of farming, whether for manure or for access to markets for grain, cheese and butter, were easily satisfied where farmers had access to canals.
  • Canals were a means of overcoming the fuel crisis that threatened to limit industrial growth by making cheap, abundant coal supplies available.
  • The building of canals created massive employment and spending power at a time when growing industries were looking for mass markets.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of canals to Britain’s industrial development between 1780 and 1830.

From 1830, railways were the epoch-making transport innovation. Between 1830 and 1850, 7,000 miles of track was laid with railway ‘manias’ in the 1830s and between 1844 and 1847 when investment was at its peak. Their economic importance lay in their ability to handle both major types of traffic – people and goods – that no other single mode of transport had previously been able. They offered lower costs and greater speed attracting passengers, mail and high-value goods. Mail went to new railways in six months and coaches running in direct competition lost out. However, canals were able, by cutting their rates and improving their services, to continue to carry goods for several years. In 1840, the volume of traffic carried by canal from Liverpool to Manchester was more than twice that carried by railway. The Victorians had no hesitation in assuming a direct link between railways and economic growth though historians are today far less convinced. There was increased demand for coal and iron. In the 1840s, 30 per cent of brick production went into railways and between 1830 and 1845, some 740 million bricks were used in railway construction. Towns grew up round established engineering centres at Swindon, Crewe, Rugby and Doncaster. Food could be transported more cheaply and arrived fresher. There is, however, no doubting their social and cultural impact of railways. This is clearly supported by the statistics. 64,000 passengers were in 1843 but 174,000 in 1848 with an increase in the third-class element from 19,000 to 86,000 in the same period. The Great Exhibition of 1851 reinforced this increased mobility of population.

Between 1780 and 1850, great output was achieved by the transport industry, as in manufacturing industry, by applying a rapidly increasing labour force to existing modes of production as well as using new techniques and applying steam-driven machinery. Historians have emphasised the importance of canals and railways that respectively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in reducing transport costs. However, coastal and river traffic and carriage of goods and people by road remained important and the horse was the main means of transport well beyond 1850.

Social factors

British society in the eighteenth and nineteenth century was profoundly conservative. How was a society with highly traditional structures able to generate changes in so many areas of economic life? First, by 1780, British society was capitalist in character and organisation. Its aristocracy was remarkably ‘open’, allowing the newly rich and talented to ‘climb’. The most successful merchants, professional and businessmen in each generation were funnelled off into landed society. Success brought wealth and the ultimate proof of success in business was the ability to leave it. In France, where social climbing was discouraged there was political and social discontent and ultimately political revolution. In Britain, where social climbing was not obstructed, there was an industrial revolution.

Secondly, Britain was already a highly market-oriented society. Imports, whether smuggled or not, were quickly moved to market. Domestic goods, both agricultural and manufactured, were bought and sold directly at the network of markets or through middlemen, who acted as a channel between producer and consumer. Until 1830, the key to economic growth was the growing home demand for consumer goods. Growing consumption influenced trade and economic growth. Possessing and using domestic goods enhanced social status or displayed social rank. Lower food prices after 1780 may well have stimulated a consumer boom: people had more disposable income. There was a dramatic increase in the number of permanent shops in major urban centres and many of the characteristics of modern advertising emerged with circulars, showrooms and elaborate window displays. Changing patterns of consumption created an environment in which manufacturers could exploit known and growing demand.
Finally, entrepreneurial skill and ‘enterprise’ played a major role in the development of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century economy. Entrepreneurs did three things:
  • They organised production.
  • They brought together capital (their own or others’) and labour.
  • They selected the geographical site for operations, the technologies to be used, bargained for raw materials and found markets for their products.
They often combined the roles of financiers, capitalists, work managers, merchants and salesmen. Three main explanations for the place of entrepreneurs in leading economic change have been identified by historians:
  • There was a change in the ways people viewed social status from one where it was the result of birth to one where it related to what individuals achieved. Status was based on what you did, not who you were. This was a reflection of the openness and mobility of British society.
  • Nonconformity seems to have been a crucial experience for many of the first-generation entrepreneurs encouraging a set of values outwardly favourable to economic enterprise.
  • Entrepreneurs were able effectively to exploit advances in technology and industrial organisation. Most entrepreneurs were not pioneers of major innovations or inventions but realised how best to utilise them. James Watt would not have been successful but for the entrepreneurial skills of Matthew Boulton. This allowed them to manufacture and market goods effectively within a highly competitive consumer society.
British society did not prevent entrepreneurs from using their talents and motivation.

There was no blueprint for the ‘industrial revolution’. Population growth stimulated demand that entrepreneurs were able to satisfy. Developments in transport led to reductions in the cost of production making manufactured good cheaper. Investment in industry often brought good returns. The state made little attempt to control growth. Foreign trade brought raw materials and profits that could be invested in enterprise. The social structure was adaptable and relatively flexible. Each of these factors helped create an environment in which change could occur.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Politics and Religion

How did Britain’s political system work?
The United Kingdom, based on a single Parliament at Westminster, was quite new in the 1780s. Wales was united with England by legislation in 1536 and 1542. The Act of Union with Scotland was in 1707. However, Ireland did not lose its independence in 1801. The British Constitution of monarchy, House of Commons and House of Lords was held up, particularly by continental writers, as a model of how a country should be run. The American War of Independence (1775-1783) and the outbreak of revolution in France in 1789 led to increasing radical demands for reform of the system.

The electorate.

In the 1780s about 435,000 people in England and Wales could vote out of a population of nine millions, or just over five per cent. In Scotland and Ireland it was less than one per cent of the total population of ten millions. The Septennial Act 1715 established seven-year parliaments though general elections were also held on the death of the monarch, a practice finally ended in 1867.
The House of Commons was made up of MPs from the boroughs or towns and the counties. Both counties and boroughs sent two MPs each to Parliament. In the counties, all forty-shilling freeholders were entitled to vote and some of the counties had a considerable number of voters. Yorkshire, for example, had about 20,000 in the 1780s. Bedfordshire had nearly 4,000 just before the Reform Act, which was average for English counties. In the boroughs, the situation was much more confused. In some towns, the vote was given to the corporation or town council. In others, it was restricted to 'freemen' or to all who owned or occupied certain types of property, who paid local taxes ['scot and lot'] or who were not getting alms or charity ['potwallopers'].

Counties were more democratic than boroughs because the size of the electorate was important in determining the level of corruption. There were 'rotten boroughs', like Dunwich in Suffolk where thirty-two electors chose the two MPs. Where there were a small number of voters, elections allowed them to sell their votes. When William Cobbett stood, unsuccessfully, for parliament in 1806 on a non-corruption ticket he was accused of talking the bread from the mouths of voters. The price varied. Some electors accepted straightforward bribes. Others preferred to negotiate benefits for the town or corporation. Successful candidates were expected to show their gratitude and 'treating' was widespread. An elector had two votes, but could give both their votes or ‘plump’ for one candidate. When it is recalled that more than 40 per cent of the English boroughs had electorates of less than 100 and that two-thirds had electorates below 500, the importance of influence through corruption or 'management' is more understandable. Some boroughs were under the control of a particular family or patron: they were known as 'pocket boroughs' or 'nomination boroughs'. Although control by patrons was accepted, it could not be taken for granted and once achieved it had to be cultivated carefully. Since elections were expensive great efforts were made to avoid a contest whenever possible. Local Whigs and Tories might agree to share the representation rather than incur the cost of disputing it. When the ambitions of two families clashed, it was cheaper for them to take with one seat each rather than embark on the costly and uncertain procedures necessary to win both.

Eighteenth and early nineteenth century elections were noisy, rough and held in public. Drunkenness and rioting were normal events and through the days on which polling took place, the mob revelled in the exhilarating diversions that accompanied the poll. Voting took place over several days on an open husting and unpopular preferences were greeted with catcalls, whistles or over-ripe fruit. Opponents were lured into taverns where they were got drunk and locked up until voting was completed. A memorial tablet in Leeds Parish Church reads "Roger Holt Leigh severely injured by an excited populace when engaged in the exercise of his franchise as Burgess of Wigan that he subsequently died." Since there was no voting register documents were often forged to give people the vote that did not have it. Dead men were impersonated, votes were cast twice and the returning officer often embarrassed his opponents by transferring the hustings to some inaccessible and unadvertised spot. Known enemies were disqualified on trumped up charges. Once all the votes had been cast, there could still be disputes over whether individuals had the right to vote.

Before 1832, working out election results was complicated by the vagueness of party lines, the number of uncontested elections and the presence of 'independent' candidates. National political parties, like those we have today, offering distinctive political programmes and with an organised national and local party machine, did not begin to emerge until after the 1832 Reform Act. However, from the 1780s the number of MPs consistently supporting Tory or Whig positions in divisions in the House of Commons did increase. To talk about the 'Whig' and 'Tory' parties is deceptive. In neither case did the term mean a tightly knit political group, although they both came from the aristocratic landed elite, and it is necessary to give both words a very loose meaning. Lord Liverpool led a broadly Tory government between 1812 and 1827 but his cabinet was not united on fundamental issues. Liverpool remained in office not because he had a united and disciplined party behind him but because he could manage a majority in the Commons and Lords, on most occasions, and because he had the support of George, as Regent before 1820 and then as king. His long period in office demonstrated two particular things. First, as Prime Minister, he had at his disposal large amounts of political patronage, which he used to maintain his authority and 'manage' Parliament. Secondly, the pursuit of planned policies was difficult and through the period successive Prime Ministers tended to react to situations rather than determine them. Changes in direction were only possible when they had widespread support across the political establishment or if the policies were uncontroversial.

Organised religion in the 1780s played a dominant role in people’s lives. Christian principles formed the bedrock of society and its system of morality. Baptism, marriage and burial were key events for individuals. The pulpit was an important means of communication. The churches provided education, especially for the poor, in the form of day and Sunday schools. People often learned to read from the Bible. The language, images and messages of religious belief permeated throughout society.
The fundamental religious division was between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the religion of the state throughout Great Britain. The Church of England or Anglican Church was the Established Church except in Scotland where the Presbyterian Church had the same role. It was created by Parliament in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and its archbishops and bishops, a conservative body largely unwilling to contemplate reform, sat in the House of Lords. The strength of the Church of England lay in rural England and was based on the bond between the squire and the parson. By the 1780s, this cosy relationship was threatened by a weakening of social ties and widespread criticisms of clerical abuses. It was, however, weak in the growing towns. It failed to accommodate growing congregations leaving a religious vacuum among the working population that Nonconformity or Dissent filled from the 1760s and 1770s. Anti-Popery ran deep in British society and Roman Catholics were, until 1829, denied the same civil rights as Protestants. Catholicism in Ireland, the religion of the majority, was seen as a means of expressing nationalist aspirations and consequently as subversive. In Wales Calvinist Methodism increasingly took a similar stance. Chapel and Church were at the heart of many communities providing a focus for spiritual and practical support.


Friday, 24 February 2017

How was British society structured?

All societies are, to some degree, stratified or divided into different social groups. These groups may be in competition with each other for social control or wealth. They may be functional, defined by their contribution to society as a whole. They may share common 'values', have a common 'national identity' or they may form part of a society in which different 'values' coexist with varying degrees of success or conflict. What was British society like in 1780?
The working population
The labouring population made up the bulk of society consisting of those who earned their wages largely through manual work. There were, however, important differences within the working population. People worked in rural or urban environments. Their employment was agricultural, manufacturing or in the growing service sector. Some were skilled, others semi-skilled or unskilled. They were male or female. Agricultural labourers formed a major part of the workforce in rural Britain. There was, however, a distinction between the low waged southern English counties where little alternative employment was available and the higher waged northern counties where farmers had to compete for labour with expanding urban manufacturing industries. Within rural communities there was an important hierarchy based upon levels of skills that paralleled levels of income. Bird-scarers, generally children, were at the base of the hierarchy while ploughmen were at the top. Only the better-educated shepherds had greater status.
The same hierarchy of skill existed in industrial Britain and the distinction between skilled and unskilled or general labourers was one of enduring importance. Artisans formed the 'aristocracy of labour', highly paid and relatively secure in traditional trades largely unchanged by the industrial revolution. They guarded their skills, developed through the process of apprenticeship, against 'dilution' by semi-skilled workers who were paid less. Skilled factory workers, like the fine-cotton spinners and weavers of Lancashire, benefited from new technology. Others like handloom weavers and framework knitters became redundant. The creation of new skills during the industrial revolution led to the gradual creation of new skilled elites: foremen, overseers, mechanics and technicians as well as managers. Semi-skilled and unskilled manual labour was more vulnerable to economic fluctuations and to unemployment or under-employment. Men were generally able to push women to the lower-paid margins of manufacturing. In the textile industries, for example, men dominated new technology like the self-acting spinning 'mule' perfected in the early 1820s. The 'sweated trades' or the growing demands for domestic servants, low skill, low pay, long hours, was the destination for many women.
The diversity of experience is at its starkest in the debate over whether working class standards of living rose or fell between the 1780s and 1840s. Some workers, like navvies, experienced rising wages while others, for example handloom weavers, saw their income decline. This should not be surprising. There were always winners and losers of economic change especially when new technology made particular skills redundant. Even within the same occupation wages varied. In the 1810s printers earned 12-19 shillings in Scotland, 18-22 shillings in northern England, 18-24 shillings in the south east and as much as 25 shillings in London. The difference between the skilled London artisan and a Scottish crofter was, in many respects, as great as that between a member of the aristocracy and a prosperous shopkeeper. Yet, both often shared a common sense of resentment and disillusion at the inequalities in society.
The middle classes
The middle classes were increasingly defined as a 'class' in the late eighteenth century. They were distinguished from the aristocratic elite by the need to earn a living and from the labouring population by their property, however small, represented by stock in trade, tools or by educational investment in skills or expertise. As a class, they benefited from the changes in the economy and, though not exclusively urban, were increasingly found in the growing towns of the provinces. Their homogeneity as a class came from their growing acceptance of a common social and political ideology. This had three strands. First, evangelicalism, whether Anglican or Nonconformist, provided a firm religious foundation grounded in a 'call to seriousness'. This contrasted with the immoral behaviour of the aristocracy. It emphasised the virtues of hard work, plain and moral living, respectable family life and above all conscience. This converted middle class occupations like the law, medicine, the Church and the armed forces into 'callings' or vocations. Secondly, the ideas of Jeremy Bentham allowed attacks on the inefficiency of the aristocratic conception of society. Tradition, restriction and 'influence', the values particular to landed society, were compared, generally unfavourably, with middle class virtues of order, discipline, merit and application. Finally, Political Economy provided an economic justification for their growing power with its focus on the freedom of the market and the virtue of enterprise. The middle classes promoted their ideology with missionary zeal.

In the 1780s the middle classes embraced at one end city bankers and large industrialists with incomes from investment and profits of over £500 per year and at the other extreme small shopkeepers and clerks with annual earnings of only £50. The provincial elites were a small group of men and families who controlled growing industrial complexes. In London, there were the merchant bankers. This elite, on familiar and sometimes marrying terms with the aristocracy, was not representative of the middle class as a whole. The lower middle class was composed of smaller manufacturers, shopkeepers, milliners, tailors, local brewers as well as the rapidly growing number of clerks in both business and government, schoolteachers, an emerging managerial class, accountants, pharmacists and engineers. Aware of their status they maintained an important distinction between themselves as salaried or fee-earning employees and wage-earning manual workers.
The landed classes
In the 1780s, power, economic and political, still lay in the possession and exploitation of land. Landowners did not simply farm their own land or rent it out to tenant farmers. They exploited mineral deposits on their estates providing stone, slate, sand, brick-clay, timber and coal for growing industries. They rented their urban properties in response to a growing housing shortage. They invested in government stocks, the Bank of England, in industry and transport. The Duke of Bridgewater funded the first canal in the 1760s. Landowners benefited from the profits of political office since they monopolised the offices of state, their patronage and revenues. They were adaptable, if conservative, in outlook. A peerage of three hundred wealthy families dominated the landed classes. The estate and the country house were at the heart of their power providing authority and status. They controlled patronage rewarding the loyalty of friends, family and clients openly and without moral scruple to maintain their political power. Beneath of great landowners were the gentry who dominated the counties as squires, Justices of the Peace, poor law officials, churchwardens and backbench MPs. Below the gentry, landed society forked. There was a hierarchy of owner-occupiers or freeholders with incomes ranging from £700 down to as little as £30 per year; and tenant farmers who found their profits threatened by falling food prices and were the most vocal proponents of the Corn Laws.
The basis of landed society was mutual obligations within a hierarchical framework. Deferential attitudes were due to those above and paternalistic attitudes to those below. This was acceptable to most people in rural England and Scotland where the landlord was normally of the same nationality and culture. This was less the case in Wales and Ireland where landlords were often both from an alien culture and religion. However, the 'bond of dependency' between landlord, tenant farmer and labourer was beginning to break down by the 1780s. There had always be popular disturbances like food riots when people reminded those with power of their responsibilities and of the need for 'just wages' and 'just prices'. Food riots in the 1790s, the rural slump after 1815, the riots in the Fens in 1816, in Norfolk and Suffolk in 1822, and particularly the 'Captain Swing' riots across southern England in 1830 challenged established values. Each was largely unsuccessful and harshly repressed. This indicated of a breakdown in the dependency system, what Carlyle called "the abdication on the part of the governors". The market, not appeals to custom and established practice, increasingly determined the social behaviour of the landed classes.
A diverse society
Society in the 1780s was multifaceted. Attitudes were a result of particular circumstances, opportunities and fears created by an economy in which there were elements of continuity as well as change. Social attitudes, behaviour and work patterns were closely linked to support for the social hierarchy. Power was converted into moral authority and ensured the stability of a social hierarchy threatened by change. Deference, whether in urban or rural settings, remained strong because family, work patterns and communities did much to promote it. No one criterion, whether class or paternalism or dependency, can explain the complexities of society in the 1780s.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

An ‘Industrial Revolution’

Between 1750 and 1850 the British economy experienced a very rapid and, by international standards, pronounced growth in manufacturing. The proportion of the labour force employed in industry, whether in the manufacturing or service sectors increased, and the proportion employed in farming fell. The textile, iron and coal industries underwent dramatic change as new technologies and new markets stimulated growth on an unprecedented scale. This traditional view of an 'industrial revolution' provides only part of the picture. The experience of cotton textiles was not typical of manufacturing industries. There was no general triumph of steam power or the factory system by 1850. Growth was modest. There was no great leap forward for the economy as a whole, despite the experience of cotton production. Change took place on a far broader canvas. There was growth of a far less dynamic nature in a whole range of traditional industries. Most employment in manufacturing industries remained small-scale, handicraft activities producing for local and regional markets. These trades were hardly affected by new technology. It was the wider use and division of labour that allowed output to grow. Economic transition was the result of the combination of old and new processes. Steam power did not replace waterpower at a stroke. Work organisation was varied and factories coexisted with domestic production, artisan workshops and large-scale mining and metal producing industries. Change varied across industries and regions. Lancashire may have seen vigorous industrial development but in Norfolk and Suffolk, the woollen textile industry declined in the face of competition from the more advanced and mechanised production of Yorkshire.
The industrial landscape changed under the impact of the 'industrial revolution'. Industrialisation in the eighteenth century occurred largely in the countryside and rural industry was domestic often in conjunction with farming. This industry was capable of mass production and of supplying regional, national and international markets. The move of some industries to factories did not lead to the emergence of the modern industrial landscape. Waterpower did not create smoke or dirt. Only when coal and steam were used directly did towns become blackened and their air and water polluted. Steam power led to larger concentrations of industries, often near canals or navigable rivers, and of the labourers needed to work in them. The move from the rural cottage industry to the urban factory is over-exaggerated. As late as 1851, the majority of people employed in Britain worked in the unmechanised sectors of the economy.
The market, local, regional, national or international, was at the heart of the economy in the 1780s. The transport of bulky good, and a reduction in the cost of carriage, was made easier by the development of the canal network in the second half of the eighteenth century and by railways after 1830. Coastal and river transport became increasingly important but Britain remained predominantly a horse-drawn society until the late nineteenth century. The last half of the eighteenth century saw growing demands for consumer goods. London, for example, used over three million tons of coal each year and thousands of cattle, sheep and fowl were driven to the London food markets from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The experience of London was paralleled in the growing cities of the Midlands and the North. Population growth stimulated home demand for cloth, leather for shoes, bricks, pottery, iron pots and pans. Growing consumption influenced, and was in turn influenced by, trade and economic growth.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

In what ways was Britain a country of economic diversity?

Population had been growing since the first half of the eighteenth century. By the first national census in 1801 it had reached 15.7 million and by 1831 some 24.1 millions. The reasons for this were straightforward. The birth rate increased and the death rate fell after the 1750s. Women married younger at just below twenty-five years so increasing childbearing years. Historians disagree about the reasons behind these trends. Decline in 'killer' diseases like smallpox, improving living conditions, economic prosperity encouraging early marriage, higher life expectancy are suggested causes of growth. Whether there was a single cause or whether as is more likely there were several, growth was far from even. In England and Wales between 1750 and 1800, the annual average population increase was 0.7 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent for the following fifty years. For Scotland and Ireland the figure respectively were 0.5 and 1.6 per cent and 1.1 and 0.6 per cent.
Population growth stimulated demand for raw materials, manufactured goods, food and services that could be produced by the growing reservoir of available labour. Manufacturing industries, whether in the areas of dynamic growth like cotton textiles or in traditional artisan-based trades, expanded. The service sector saw particular growth with increased demand for domestic, medical and legal services and the creation of new professions to support expanding industries, towns and agriculture. Population growth stimulated urban growth with internal migration especially to the newer urban centres of production and to London. Urban growth too was far from even. Urban growth had its costs as well as benefits. It heightened squalor with many migrants finding they had exchanged rural for urban slums. There were higher levels of mortality especially among the labouring population, increasing exploitation in the workplace and a growing gulf between rich and poor.
The sweeping changes that took place in British agriculture—its agricultural revolution--over the period 1750-1850 in response to the increased demand for food from a rapidly expanding population. Recent research has shown these changes to be only part of a much larger, ongoing process of development. Changes of the latter half of the 18th century included the enclosure of open fields, the introduction of four-course rotation together with new fodder crops such as turnip, and the development of improved breeds of livestock. Many of the changes were in fact underway before 1750 and other breakthroughs, such as farm mechanisation, did not occur until after 1850. Farming dominated the British economy in the 1780s. The previous century had seen major changes particularly in the use of arable land. Turnips and crops like clover ended the need for fallow land. Cheaper iron making led to major developments in ploughs though it was not until after 1850 that machines were widely used. Selective breeding increased the quality and quantity of meat and dairy produce. Enclosure of the lighter arable land led to better use of land. This transformed the rural landscape. A pattern of field, stonewall and hedgerow already existed in northern and western England and in Wales and in much of eastern England which had already been enclosed. For central England, the open fields remained. Here the modern chequer-board pattern of small fields replaced the open landscape in a generation. Enclosure may have led to the dominance of large farms in southern England but most farming was on a much smaller scale. In Yorkshire, for example, seventy per cent of farms were less than one hundred acres and across the Pennines in Lancashire and Cheshire the figure was ninety per cent.
The growing needs of population, as well as the increased profitability of farming during the French Wars, pushed back the margins of arable land as never before. By 1820, twenty-five million quarters of corn were produced annually compared to fifteen million in 1760. This was not enough. From the 1760s, Britain relied on foreign imports of wheat to feed its growing population. Urban growth could not have been sustained without this. The French Wars marked a high point in British farming. Farmers invested heavily in improving their land, borrowing funded from high grain prices. Falling prices, a collapse from 127 shillings a quarter in 1812 to 74 shillings within two years, and cheaper continental imports after 1815 brought problems for arable farmers. It led to successful demands for protection. The Corn Laws were passed in 1815. Urban and industrial Britain saw the Corn Laws as a means of keeping food prices artificially high and of supporting farming at the expense of manufacturing industry. The advantage farmers thought they would gain was far outweighed by the propaganda advantage gained by its opponents. High costs certainly made wheat farming difficult when prices were low. Many farmers complained of 'depression' after 1815 through to the mid-1830s. Those who survived did so by reducing labour costs significantly. This was paid for through the 'distress' of agricultural labourers especially in southern England where little alternative employment was available.
The role of agriculture in the English economy was showing signs of declining national importance by the 1820s. This was less so in Wales, Scotland and Ireland where farming remained important. In Wales in the 1780s around seventy per cent of the working population worked in self-contained farming communities. Demand for farm tenancies remained high but land hunger and the ignorance of new techniques limited improvement. Similar problems existed in Ireland where sub-division of land meant that almost two-thirds of all holdings were below fifteen acres. Ireland was also an important exporter of grain and livestock to England. There was, however, a trend away from arable to pasture and livestock prices fell less dramatically than grain. Perceptive landlords soon recognised that urban growth meant markets for Irish meat. In 1825 47,000 Irish cattle were exported rising to 98,000 ten years later. In Scotland there was a clear difference between the improving farming of the Lowlands and the more traditional methods used in the Highlands. Scottish pioneers developed the threshing machine in 1786 and the horse-drawn reaper in 1826 and, more importantly, new methods of field drainage that allowed a revolution on Britain's heavy clay soils after 1840.
Between 1750 and 1850 the British economy experienced a very rapid and, by international standards, pronounced growth in manufacturing, an ‘industrial revolution’. The proportion of the labour force employed in industry, whether in the manufacturing or service sectors increased, and the proportion employed in farming fell. The textile, iron and coal industries underwent dramatic change as new technologies and new markets stimulated growth on an unprecedented scale. This traditional view of an 'industrial revolution' provides only part of the picture. The experience of cotton textiles was not typical of manufacturing industries. There was no general triumph of steam power or the factory system by 1850. Growth was modest. There was no great leap forward for the economy as a whole, despite the experience of cotton production. Change took place on a far broader canvas. There was growth of a far less dynamic nature in a whole range of traditional industries. Most employment in manufacturing industries remained small-scale, handicraft activities producing for local and regional markets. These trades were hardly affected by new technology. It was the wider use and division of labour that allowed output to grow. Economic transition was the result of the combination of old and new processes. Steam power did not replace waterpower at a stroke. Work organisation was varied and factories coexisted with domestic production, artisan workshops and large-scale mining and metal producing industries. Change varied across industries and regions. Lancashire may have seen vigorous industrial development but in Norfolk and Suffolk, the woollen textile industry declined in the face of competition from the more advanced and mechanised production of Yorkshire.
The industrial landscape changed under the impact of the 'industrial revolution'. Industrialisation in the eighteenth century occurred largely in the countryside and rural industry was domestic often in conjunction with farming. This industry was capable of mass production and of supplying regional, national and international markets. The move of some industries to factories did not lead to the emergence of the modern industrial landscape. Waterpower did not create smoke or dirt. Only when coal and steam were used directly did towns become blackened and their air and water polluted. Steam power led to larger concentrations of industries, often near canals or navigable rivers, and of the labourers needed to work in them. The move from the rural cottage industry to the urban factory is over-exaggerated. As late as 1851, the majority of people employed in Britain worked in the unmechanised sectors of the economy.
The market, local, regional, national or international, was at the heart of the economy in the 1780s. The transport of bulky good, and a reduction in the cost of carriage, was made easier by the development of the canal network in the second half of the eighteenth century and by railways after 1830. Coastal and river transport became increasingly important but Britain remained predominantly a horse-drawn society until the late nineteenth century. The last half of the eighteenth century saw growing demands for consumer goods. London, for example, used over three million tons of coal each year and thousands of cattle, sheep and fowl were driven to the London food markets from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The experience of London was paralleled in the growing cities of the Midlands and the North. Population growth stimulated home demand for cloth, leather for shoes, bricks, pottery, iron pots and pans. Growing consumption influenced, and was in turn influenced by, trade and economic growth.