1920s >> 1925 >> no-256-december-1925

The Industrial Revolution

By the Industrial Revolution is meant that rapid and complete change in the methods of production and distribution, which, becoming increasingly evident during the first three-quarters and very marked during the last quarter of the eighteenth century, has continued without intermission to the present day. It involved the breaking up of the old forms of the organisation of production and their replacement by others; the superseding of the skill of the craftsman by machinery; the widespread application of mechanical power to manufacture, and later to transport both on land and sea. It was the cause of the rise of new social classes, and new social relationships with their own peculiar problems requiring to be solved.

An enormous increase of population was made possible, concentrated in fresh areas, and industrial towns arose which in turn led to important developments in sanitary science and alterations in local government. With this progress new ideas were spread abroad which were in keeping with the changed conditions.

In the middle of the eighteenth century this country was still largely agricultural. The bulk of the population (at that time about six millions) was engaged in agriculture, and even as late as 1773 corn was regularly exported. Many even of those workers who worked at other occupations also relied partly on their small plots of land. The country was, on the whole, prosperous, its population and its trade were increasing steadily, and it stood in importance second only to France. By far the largest industry was the wool and cloth manufacture, which was regarded by the Government as of great national importance. The cotton industry was small but increasing, and there was already a distinct tendency for both to concentrate in Lancashire and Yorkshire, with a consequent decline of the Eastern counties.

Owing to the scarcity of wood for charcoal making, the iron industry, never very large, was scattered and more or less stagnant. Coal had not yet come into general use for household purposes and means had not been found then of using it successfully for iron smelting. The amount raised each year was only 4½ million tons. The roads were so bad as to be often impassable after wet weather, and these being the only means of internal transport except where there happened to be navigable rivers, the amount of traffic was exceedingly small. Coal, for instance, was brought to London by sea from Newcastle.

As with goods so with people, for there was usually little need for people to travel or change their place of living.

The spinning and weaving of wool and cotton were carried on in the main in the homes of the workers, who were not, as now, brought together in the employer’s factory.

The development of machinery to replace hand labour began in the textile trades. With an increasing foreign and colonial demand for cotton goods it was found that spinning by hand could no longer suffice. Workers were also semi-independent and in a position therefore to demand high wages. As a consequence great efforts were made to invent machinery to supplant hand labour, and in 1761 Hargreaves was successful with his spinning jenny. This was supplemented by Arkwright’s water frame four years later, and in 1775 Crompton’s mule further extended the sphere of the machine.

Evidence of the revolution in the cotton industry is that the import of cotton wool rose from 11 million lbs. in 1780 to 56 million lbs. in 1800.

Similar progress was made later in the woollen industry.

When the use of coal became more general great difficulty was experienced in keeping the mines from flooding, because as the shafts went deeper hand pumps became useless. About 1700 Savery and Newcomen invented steam pumps, and Newcomen’s engine partly solved the problem for a while. In 1782 Watt so far improved on the old pattern of engine as to reduce the consumption of coal by three-quarters and his engine soon superseded Newcomen’s. The amount of coal raised had increased by 1816 to 15 million tons, the demand coming now chiefly from the iron industry. As has been said, this industry had been languishing for lack of fuel. A series of inventions, particularly those of the Darbys, made it possible to use coal instead of charcoal. Henry Cort and others found a method of purifying the iron and the development then was extraordinarily rapid. The production of pig iron, which in 1783 was only 90,000 tons, had risen hy 1820 to 400,000 tons and by 1860 to 4 million tons.


During the early years of the nineteenth century steam power was being applied to the textiles and other industries, and each of these developments in iron, coal, etc., had its reflex in a corresponding stimulus to other industries.


The last half of the eighteenth century also saw great activity in improving communications. The great turnpike roads made wheeled traffic possible, and the building of canals, which by the end of that century had become almost a mania, gave the first real solution of the problem of transporting bulky goods.


Then Stevenson built his steam locomotive, which completed the solution as regards internal communication. Railways turned this country into one big market of which no considerable area was any longer inaccessible. Steamships were built, and with the opening up of America, Russia, and later Africa, India and Asia, by means of railways the stage was reached in which the enormous powers of machine production could be adequately used in supplying the manufacturing needs of a world market, from which in turn our food and raw materials were drawn.


Another great forward leap was made when machines were produced capable of reproducing in unlimited quantities the parts of machines themselves, thus laying the foundation of the modern engineering industry.


Accompanying the process outlined above came the growth of the factory system with the massing of hundreds and thousands of workers under one roof, and the concentration of a huge industrial population in a few coal areas in South Wales, the Midlands and the North.


This led directly to struggles by the workers to organise themselves and the growth of the labour movement, with bitter conflicts between employers and workers, and the spread of new ideas of class interest and Socialism unknown to eighteenth-century England.


The nineteenth century also witnessed the political struggle for the extension of the Franchise, changing the. whole basis of government.


The State has developed wholly new functions. The growth of industrial towns and the rise of the factory system have led respectively to the systematic study of sanitation and public health, and the building up of a code of protective legislation for the workers necessitated by excessive exploitation in the factories and mines; first, for children and women, and, latterly, for men as well. The new methods have again produced the need for a wholesale raising of the level of education and the present State activity in this direction, in order to cope with the technical development of industry.


The Industrial Revolution is the general description given to the complicated movement outlined above.


To understand why the Industrial Revolution came in England it will be useful to make a brief comparison with the other nations of Europe. The only nations at that time of any serious industrial and commercial importance were France, England and Holland. Spanish sea power had been shattered in the sixteenth century and she was no longer a serious rival; Russia had but recently entered on a course of industry and commerce, and Germany was still suffering politically and economically from the exhaustion following the thirty years’ war, 1618-1648.


The population of England and Scotland was about 9 millions in 1780, that of France 20 millions and that of Holland only 3 or 4 millions. The Dutch had lost their seafaring advantages and were already declining in importance. They had in any event always specialised in financial and commercial rather than industrial undertakings, and at that time the internal condition of Holland was disturbed. The choice, therefore, lay between England and France. Why, in view of France’s larger trade and greater industrial activity did the industrial Revolution occur in England and not in France?


France had a population nearly three times as great; her foreign trade in 1780 amounted to £40 million as against £22 million for England. Domestic industry in France was developing rapidly with the removal of legal hindrances in 1762, and French peasants were in comparison with those of most other European countries fairly prosperous. French foreign trade was extending, and with America, for instance, was larger than ours. The rate of increase between 1715 and 1787 was also greater. Paris had a larger population than London, and not only in Europe, but in the West Indies, Canada and India, France had a decided advantage.


In spite, however, of whatever initial advantages France may have possessed, her position became hopeless with the disastrous internal struggle of the Revolution and the external wars which followed. It is true the outbreak of war in 1793 immediately lost us our trade with Holland and France, but already English foreign trade had doubled between 1782 and 1792, and France, on the other hand, was at once cut off from her own colonies and lost her important American trade. The internal state of chaos, while contending classes fought for mastery, meant the complete cessation of the industrial development which had begun, and, in fact, normal commercial activities became almost impossible.
Even prior to the Revolution, however, the conditions existed which gave the victory to the English capitalists.


While it is true that the French peasants were prosperous, their main desire was always to own land, and their savings became absorbed in this rather than in industrial investment. In England the Bank of England had been formed in 1694, and since then there had been considerable accumulation of capital, which, by the legal prohibition of Joint Stock trading, had been turned to industrial undertakings. In France, again, through a deplorable financial policy, the State was well-nigh bankrupt, currency was bad, and, owing to the failure of big financial schemes in the early part of the century, people had no faith in investments. When it is remembered how expensive were the experiments which led to mechanical inventions, how costly were the new machines, and how large were the new undertakings in comparison with the old, the importance of big and easily accessible capitals is obvious.


England’s second advantage appeared at first to he a misfortune. France had no lack of workers, but throughout the 18th century continual complaint was made in England that the shortage of labour and the consequent high wages made competition with the French well-nigh impossible. Many workers had small holdings and were to a large extent independent of the manufacturers who employed them. A scarcity of labour, however, always encourages the installation of labour-saving machinery. The shortage creates the demand, and this is invariably satisfied by inventions when it arises. It is instructive to note that it was in the spinning industry that machinery first became important, because weavers had long been handicapped by the insufficient supply of yarns. When machinery had solved that problem, inventions to remedy the consequent shortage of weavers were at once in demand, and before long the demand was satisfied.


Again, England enjoyed large and expanding markets, without which naturally these developments would not have occurred. Had there not been a constant and ever-growing demand for cotton goods, it would have been worth no one’s while to invest money in the large-scale production of cotton. Holland, owing to the competition of England, France and Germany, and her loss of her semi-monopoly of the world’s shipping, had a declining trade, and it was not to the interest of individual producers to commit themselves to the expense of enlarging their production.


In this country, too, the population was free from the restrictions of movement which were still the rule in France and Holland at that date. Peasants in France were tied to their birthplaces by their ownership of land and by the dues they had to render to their feudal lords. How, in such circumstances, could there have been such migrations and concentrations of population as took place in England? Without such massing in the coal areas there could have been no developments of production such as did take place with the introduction of mechanical power.


The Guilds in France and Holland were still largely in control, and were able successfully to oppose factory production. In England they had by this time long decayed. In England, too, there was a degree of security unknown in any other European country, and, of equal importance, this country (except Ireland) was economically one market. It was not split into tariff divisions, of which France had three, Holland seven, and Germany 300. While the financial institutions were by no means so delicate and complex as to-day. one has but to observe the effect of the actual, or imagined, political insecurity of the present i Russian Government to realise how incompatible are flourishing trade and a lack of political confidence.


Further, in England, coal and iron are found conveniently near each other. In the days before the building of railways even a distance of ten or twenty miles was sufficient to prohibit transport cheap enough for iron making. This need not have proved fatal to France, as wooden machines and water power were the first stage of development, but by that time French industry was already half in ruins.


Lastly, English merchants had had long experience of large-scale production and export in the wool trade, and the experience so gained was available for the many directions in which it was now needed.


The combination of these advantages gave England the certain lead over most countries, and France, the one serious rival, was—owing to the Revolution—out of the running for forty years.


Edgar Hardcastle