The subject of these lectures is the industrial and Agrarian Revolution at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The course is divided into three parts. The first deals with Adam Smith and the England of his time. It will describe England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution, and the system of regulation and protection of industry as it existed in 1760.
Previously to 1760 the old industrial system obtained in England; none of the great mechanical inventions had been introduced; the agrarian changes were still in the future. It is this industrial England which we have to contrast with the industrial England of to-day. For determining the population of
the time we have no accurate materials. There are no official returns before 1801. A census had been proposed in 1753, but rejected as ’subversive of the last remains of English liberty.’ In this absence of trustworthy data all sorts of wild estimates were formed. During the American War a great controversy raged on this subject. Dr Price, an advocate of the Sinking Fund, maintained that population had in the interval between 1690 and
1777 declined from 6,596,075 to 4,763,670. On the other hand, Mr Howlett, Vicar of Dunmow, in Essex, estimated the population in 1780 at 8,691,000, and Arthur Young, in 1770, at 8,500,000 on the lowest estimate.
In describing the agriculture of the time the first point of importance is the proportion of cultivated land to waste. Gregory King, who rather overestimated the total acreage of England and Wales, put the arable land at 11,000,000 acres, pasture and meadow at 10,000,000, houses, gardens, orchards, etc., at 1,000,000, being a total of 22,000,000 acres of cultivated land, or nearly three-fifths of the whole country. A land-agent in 1727 believed one-half of the country to be waste. Arthur Young, writing fifty years later, puts the cultivated area at a much higher figure. Estimating the total acreage of England alone at 54,000,000 acres, he considered that 52,000,000 of these were in arable and pasture, in equal proportions.
Among the manufactures of the time the woollen business was
by far the most important. ‘All our measures,’ wrote Bishop Berkeley in 1737, ’should tend towards the immediate encouragement of our woollen manufactures, which must be looked upon as the basis of our wealth.’ In 1701 our woollen exports were worth ?2,000,000, or ‘above a fourth part of the whole export trade.’ In 1770 they were worth ?4,000,000, or between a
third and a fourth of the whole. The territorial distribution of the manufacture was much the same as now. This industry had probably existed in England from an early date. It is mentioned in a law of 1224. In 1331 John Kennedy brought the art of weaving woollen cloth from Flanders into England, and received the protection of the king, who at the same time invited over fullers
and dyers. There is extant a petition of the worsted weavers and merchants of Norwich to Edward III in 1348. The coarse cloths of Kendal and the fine cloths of Somerset, Dorset, Bristol, and Gloucester are mentioned in the statutes of the same century. In 1391, we hear of Guildford cloths, and in 1467 of the woollen manufacture in Devonshire-at-Lifton, Tavistock, and Rowburgh. In 1402, the manufacture was settled to a great extent in and near London, but it gradually shifted, owing to the high price of labour and provisions, to Surrey, Kent, Essex, Berkshire, and Oxfordshire, and afterwards still further, into the counties of Dorset, Wilts, Somerset, Gloucester, and Worcester, and even as far as Yorkshire.
There were three chief districts in which the woollen trade was carried on about 1760. One of these owed its manufacture to the wars in the Netherlands. In consequence of Alva’s persecutions (1567-8) many Flemings settled in Norwich (which had been desolate since Ket’s rebellion in 1549), Colchester. Sandwich, Canterbury, Maidstone, and Southampton, The two former towns seem to have benefited most from the skill of these
settlers so far as the woollen manufacture was concerned. It was at this time, according to Macpherson, that Norwich ‘learned the making of those fine and slight stuffs which have ever since gone by its name,’ such as crapes, bombayines, and camblets; while the baiye-makers settled at Colchester and its neighbourhood. The stuffs thus introduced into England were known as the ‘new drapery’, and included baiye, serges, and other slight woollen goods as distinguished from the ‘old drapery,’ a term applied to broad cloth, kersies, etc.
The chief seats of the West of England manufacture were Bradford in Wilts, the centre of the manufacture of super-fine cloth; Devizes, famous for its serges; Warminster and Frome, with their fine cloth; Trowbridge; Stroud, the centre of the dyed-cloth manufactures; and Taunton, which in Defoe’s time possessed 1100 looms. The district reached from Cirencester in the north to Sherborne in the south, and from Witney in the east to Bristol in the west, being about fifty miles in length where longest, and twenty in breadth where narrowest – ‘a rich enclosed country,’ as Defoe says, ‘full of rivers and towns, and infinitely populous, insomuch that some of the market towns are equal to cities in bigness, and superior to many of them in
numbers of people.’ It was a ‘prodigy of a trade,’ and the ‘fine Spanish medley cloths’ which this district produced were worn by ‘all the persons of fashion in England.’ It was no doubt the presence of streams and the Cotswold wool which formed the attractions of the district. A branch of the industry extended into Devon, where the merchants of Exeter bought in a rough state the serges made in the country round, to dye and finish them for home consumption or export.
The third chief seat of the manufacture was the West Riding of Yorkshire, where the worsted trade centred round Halifax, which, according to Camden, began to manufacture about 1537; and where Leeds and its neighbourhood manufactured a coarse cloth of English wool. In 1574 the manufacturers of the West Riding made 56,000 pieces of broad cloth and 72,000 of narrow. It will be seen from this short survey that, however greatly the production of these different districts may have changed in proportion since 1760, the several branches of the trade are even now distributed
very much as they were then, the West Riding being the headquarters of the worsted and coarse cloth trade, while Norwich still keeps the crape industry, and the West manufactures fine cloth.
The increased demand for English wool consequent upon the extension of this industry led to large enclosures of land, especially in Northamptonshire, Rutlandshire, Leicestershire, and Warwickshire, which counties supplied most of the combing wools used for worsted stuffs and stockings; but parts of Huntingdon, Bedford, Bucks, Cambridgeshire, Romney Marsh, and Norfolk competed with them, and by 1739 most counties produced the fine combing wool. Defoe mentions the sale of wool from Lincolnshire, ‘where the longest staple is found, the sheep of those parts being of the largest breed”. and in Arthur Young’s time
Lincolnshire and Leicestershire wools were still used at Norwich. The Cotswold and Isle of Wight sheep yielded clothing or short wools, ‘but they were inferior to the best Spanish wools,’ and could not ‘enter into the composition without spoiling and degrading in some degree the fabric of the cloth.’ Consequently in the West of England, occupied as it was with the production of the finest cloths, Spanish wool was largely used, though shortly before Young’s time it was discovered that ‘Norfolk sheep yielded
a wool about their necks equal to the best from Spain.’
Next in importance was the iron trade, which was largely carried on, though by this time a decaying industry, in the Weald of Sussex, where in 1740 there were ten furnaces, producing annually 1400 tons. The trade had reached its chief extent in the seventeenth century, but in 1724 was still the principal manufacturing interest of the county. The balustrades which
surround St. Paul’s were cast at Lamberhurst, and their weight, including the seven gates, is above 200 tons. They cost ?11,000. Gloucestershire, Shropshire, and Yorkshire had each six furnaces. In the latter county, which boasted an annual produce of 1400 tons, the most famous works were at Rotherham. There were also great ironworks at Newcastle.