2.5. Non-representative Regions and Industries

When trying to make useful generalizations about a group of persons with variable characteristics, one recommended step is to identify some “abnormal” sub-group, separate it from the rest of the group, and then analyse the data of the abnormal sub-group, and analyse the data of the majority. What we should not do is to take the textile industries of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire from 1770 to 1820 as representative of the entirety of England, Wales and Scotland. We should remember that 35 % of the population until 1840 was in agriculture, and 20 % in non-machine (domestic) industries. 

The following maps show that the areas where the majority of the men and women were engaged in industry were Lancashire (cotton) and the West Riding (wool), and a lesser percentage in the West Midlands (metals and metal manufacturing)

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, Cambridge University; Mapping the occupational geography of England and Wales c. 1817-1881 http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/occupations/britain19c/occupationsenglandwales/secondary.html

The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, Cambridge University; Mapping the occupational geography of England and Wales c. 1817-1881; http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/occupations/britain19c/occupationsbritain/secondary.html

The above maps of the occupational situation in 1851 can be “filled out” with the following information as to the geographical distribution of textile and other manufacture in 1835.

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(Ure, Andrew; The Philosophy of Manufactures: or, An Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain; Charles Knight, London, 1835, pp. 74-80)

E. P. Thomson in his “Making of the English Working Class” clarifies that Lancashire and cotton was not “the only possible picture” of Industry in this period:

 “From the time of Arkwright through to the Plug Riots and beyond, it is the image of the “dark, Satanic mill” which dominates our visual reconstruction of the Industrial Revolution. In part, perhaps, because it is a dramatic visual image – the barrack-like buildings, the great mill chimneys, the factory children, the clogs and shawls, the dwellings clustering around the mills as if spawned by them. …. In part, perhaps, because the cotton-mill and the new mill-town – from the swiftness of its growth, ingenuity of its techniques, and the novelty or harshness of its discipline – seemed to contemporaries to be dramatic and portentous. ….. And from this both a literary and an historical tradition is derived. Nearly all the classic accounts by contemporaries of conditions in the Industrial Revolution are based on the cotton industry – and, in the main, on Lancashire: Owen, Gaskell, Ure, Fielden, Cooke Taylor, Engels, to mention a few. Novels such as Michael Armstrong or Mary Barton or Hard Times perpetuate the tradition. And the emphasis is markedly found in the subsequent writing of economic and social history.

But many difficulties remain. Cotton was certainly the pace-making industry of the Industrial Revolution, and the cotton-mill was the pre-eminent model for the factory system. Yet we should not assume any automatic, or over-direct, correspondence between the dynamic of economic growth and the dynamic of social or cultural life. For half a century after the “break-through” of the cotton-mill (around 1780) the mill workers remained as a minority of the adult labour force in the cotton industry itself. In the early 1830s the cotton hand-loom weavers alone still outnumbered all the men and women in spinning and weaving mills of cotton, wool and silk combined.” (p. 192)

The “Times” in 1833 corrected a German politician who thought that England was “one huge factory”:

“His description is not overcharged as limited to our factory children, although he is wrong in applying its features inconsiderately to our whole population. He seems to imagine that England is one huge factory; that all our children are employed in spinning cotton or weaving calicoes for German consumption; and that there is a perfect contrast, resulting from this labour, between an English and a German village. Now, we need not remind our own countrymen, though we may apprise M. Gagern and our German customers, that although a large body of children in our manufacturing towns are subject to the toils and restraints which he so feelingly describes, the blight has not spread over the whole land; and that our villages are often as happy as those of any nation which wears our broad-cloths or our calicoes.”

(Editorial of The Times, 1833, replying to the passionate speech of M. Gagern in the Hesse Parliament, about the bad treatment of children in the English cotton mills; quoted in “Wettlauf in die Moderne: England und Deutschland seit der Industriellen Revolution”, ed. Adolf M. Birke, K. G. Saur Verlag, Munich, 1988, p. 44)  

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