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The History Of England - A Study In Political Evolution
The Industrial Revolution
by Pollard, A. F.


The Industrial Revolution is a phrase invented by Arnold Toynbee, and now generally used to indicate those economic changes which turned England from an agricultural into an industrial community. The period during which these changes took place cannot from the nature of things be definitely fixed; but usually it is taken to extend from about the middle of the eighteenth century to the close of the reign of George III. Two points, however, must be remembered: first, that there was a commercial as well as an agricultural and an industrial stage of development; and secondly, that this period contains merely the central and crucial years of a process of specialization and expansion which occupied centuries of English economic history. There was also before the agricultural stage a pastoral stage; but that lies beyond the scope of English history, because both the English people and the Celts they conquered had passed out of the pastoral stage before recorded English history begins. Each of these stages corresponds to a different social organization: the pastoral stage was patriarchal, the agricultural stage was feudal, the commercial stage was plutocratic, and the industrial stage leads towards democracy. The stages, of course, overlap one another, and every national community to-day is partly pastoral, partly agricultural, partly commercial, and partly industrial. We can only call a nation any one of these things in the sense that they denote its dominant characteristic.

This evolution has been the result of man's increasing control over nature. In the pastoral stage he takes of the produce of nature, providing little or nothing himself. In the agricultural stage he manipulates the soil and subdues it, he harnesses the wind and the streams to grind his corn, and to water his land; Providence may have placed all things under his feet, but he takes long to discover their use and the means to use them. In the commercial and industrial stages he employs the wind and water, steam and electricity, for transport, communications, and manufactures. But he can only develop this mastery by the interdependent processes of specialization, co-operation, and expansion. A lonely shepherd can live on his flocks without help; a single family can provide for its own agricultural subsistence, and the normal holding of the primitive English family, the "hide" as it was called, was really a share in all the means of livelihood, corn-land, pasture-land, rights of common and of cutting wood. This family independence long survived, and home-brewing, home-baking, home- washing, are not even now extinct. Each family in the primitive village did everything for itself. When its needs and standard of comfort grew, increased facilities beyond the reach of the individual household were provided by the lord of the manor, as, for instance, a mill, a bakehouse, a wine-press. Indeed, the possession of these things may have helped him into the lordship of the manor. Certainly, some of them are mentioned in early Anglo-Saxon days among the qualifications for thegnhood, and when the lord possessed these things, he claimed a monopoly; his tenants were bound to grind their corn at his mill, and so forth. But there were things he did not care to do, and a villager here and there began to specialize in such trades as the blacksmith's, carpenter's, and mason's. This specialization involved co-operation and the expansion of household economy into village economy. Others must do the blacksmith's sowing and reaping, while he did the shoeing for the whole village.

Thus village industries grew up, and in unprogressive countries, such as India, where, owing to distance and lack of communications, villages were isolated and self-sufficing, this village economy became stereotyped, and the village trades hereditary. But in western Europe, as order was slowly evolved after the chaos of the Dark Ages, communications and trade-routes were opened up; and whole villages began to specialize in certain industries, leaving other commodities to be produced by other communities. For the exchange of these commodities markets and fairs were established at various convenient centres; and this in turn led to the specialization of traders and merchants, who did not make, but only arranged for the barter of, manufactures. Through the development of local industries and markets, villages grew into towns, and towns expanded with the extent of the area they supplied. A town which supplied a nation with cutlery, for instance, was necessarily bigger than a town which only supplied a county. This expansion of markets meant that towns and cities were more and more specializing in some one or more industries, leaving the great majority of their needs to be supplied from elsewhere; and the whole process was based on the growing complexity of civilization, on the multiplying number of implements required to do the work of the world.

The comparatively simple organization of feudal society broke down under the stress of these changes; a middle class, consisting of neither lords nor villeins, was needed to cope with industry and commerce. Handworkers also were required, so that from the middle of the fourteenth century we find a regular flight from the land to the towns in progress. Another great change took place. No one had been rich according to modern notions in the early Middle Ages, and no one had been destitute; there was no need of a Poor Law. But with the expansion of the sphere of men's operations, the differences between the poor and the rich began to increase. There is little to choose between a slow runner and a swift when the race covers only ten yards; there is more when it covers a hundred, and a great deal when it covers a mile. So, too, when operations are limited to the village market, ability has a limited scope, and the able financier does not grow so very much richer than his neighbour. But when his market comprises a nation, his means for acquiring wealth are extended; the rich become richer, and the poor, comparatively at any rate, poorer. Hence, when in the fourteenth and following centuries the national market expands into a world market, we find growing up side by side capitalism and destitution; and the reason why there are so many millionaires and so much destitution to-day, compared with earlier times, is that the world is now one market, and the range of operations is only limited by the globe.

The control of the world's supplies tends to get into the hands of a few big producers or operators instead of being in the hands of a vast number of small ones; and this has come about through ever-expanding markets and ever-increasing specialization. Even whole nations specialize more or less; some produce the corn-supply of the world, some its coal, some its oil, and some do its carrying trade. It is now a question whether there should not be some limits to this process, and it is asked whether a nation or empire should not be self-supporting, irrespective of the economic advantages of expansion and specialization, and of the fact that the more self-supporting it is, the less trade can it do with others; for it cannot export unless it imports, and if each nation makes everything it wants itself it will neither sell to, nor buy from, other nations.

There have been two periods in English history during which these general tendencies have been especially marked. One was at the close of the Middle Ages, and the other during the reign of George III. The break-up of the manorial system, the growth of a body of mobile labour, and of capital seeking investment, the discovery of new worlds and new markets, heralded the advent of the middle class and of the commercial age. Custom, which had regulated most things in the Middle Ages, gave way to competition, which defied all regulation; and England became a nation of privateers, despoiling the church, Spain, Ireland, and often the commonwealth itself. Scores of acts against fraudulent manufacturers and against inclosures were passed in vain, because they ran counter to economic conditions. The products of the new factories, like Jack of Newbury's kerseys, could not equal in quality the older home-made article, because the home-made article was produced under non-economic conditions. Spinsters today knit better garments than those turned out in bulk, because neither time nor money is any consideration with them; they knit for occupation, not for a living, and they can afford to devote more labour to their produce than they could possibly do if they depended upon it for subsistence. The case was the same with the home-products of earlier times, and compared with them the newer factory-product was shoddy; because, if the manufacturer was to earn a living from his industry he must produce a certain quantity within a limited time. These by-products of the home were enabled to hold their own against the factory products until the development of machinery in the eighteenth century; and until that time the factory system, although factories existed on a rudimentary scale, did not fully develop. So far as it did develop, it meant an increase in the efficiency and in the total wealth of the nation, but a decrease in the prosperity of thousands of individual households.

The effect of inclosures was very similar. The old system of the villagers cultivating in turn strips of land in open fields was undoubtedly unsound, if the amount of wealth produced is the sole criterion; but it produced enough for the individual village-community, and the increased production accruing from inclosures went to swell the total wealth of the nation and of those who manipulated it at the cost of the tillers of the soil. The cost to the community was potential rather than actual; common lands which are now worth millions were appropriated by landlords in defiance of the law. This illegality was remedied in 1549, not by stopping the inclosures but by making them legal, provided that "sufficient" commons were left; if the incloser considered his leavings enough, the gainsaying of the tenants was to be ignored, or punished as treason or felony in case of persistence. England, however, was still fairly big for its three or four millions of souls, and an Act of Queen Elizabeth provided that every new cottage built should stand in four acres of its own. This anticipation of the demand for three acres and a cow did something to check excessive specialization; for the tenants of these cottages added a little cultivation on their own account to their occupations as hired labourers or village artisans. In the seventeenth century the land- hunger of the landlords was generally sated by schemes for draining and embanking; and vast tracts of fen and marsh, such as Hatfield Chase and Bedford Level, were thus brought under cultivation.

Commerce rather than industrialism or agriculture is the distinctive feature of English economy during the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century. By means of newly developed trade-routes, the East and the West were tapped for such products as tobacco, tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, rum, spices, oranges, lemons, raisins, currants, silks, cotton, rice, and others with which England had previously somehow or other dispensed; and the principal bone of contention was the carrying trade of the world. Shipbuilding was the most famous English industry; and when Peter the Great visited England, he spent most of his time in the Deptford yards. For some of these imports England paid by her services as carrier; and so far as India was concerned it was a case of robbery rather than exchange. But exports were more and more required to pay for the ever-increasing imports. It is impossible to state categorically either that the imports provoked the exports or the exports the imports; for the supply creates the demand as much as the demand creates the supply. There can have been no conscious demand for tobacco in England before any Englishman had smoked a pipe; and when an English merchant in Elizabeth's reign took a thousand kerseys to Bokhara, he did so without waiting for an order. Both exports and imports, however, can only develop together; the dimensions to which English commerce had attained by Walpole's time involved exports as well as imports; and the exports could not have been provided without developing English industries.

In particular, England had to export to the colonies because the colonies had by the Navigation Acts to export to England; and Walpole's abolition or reduction of duties on colonial produce illustrated and encouraged the growth of this trade. In return for colonial tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar, England sent chiefly woollen and afterwards cotton manufactures. These woollens had long been manufactured on the domestic system in the sheep-rearing districts of England, particularly Yorkshire; many a cottage with its four acres for farming had also its spinning-wheel, and many a village its loom; and the cloth when finished was conveyed by pack-horses or waggons to the markets and fairs to be sold for export or home consumption. But between 1764 and 1779 a series of inventions by Arkwright, Hargreaves, and Crompton, transformed the simple spinning-wheel into an elaborate machine capable of doing the work of many spinners; and once more an advance in national productivity was made at the expense of the individual workers who took to breaking the machines to stop their loss of work.

Similar changes followed in cotton-spinning and other industries, and the result was to alter the whole economic structure of England. The cottager could not afford the new and expensive machinery, and his spinning-wheels and hand-looms were hopelessly beaten in the competition. Huge factories were required for the new inventions, where the workers were all huddled together instead of working in their scattered homes; and large populations grew up around these new and artificial manufacturing centres. Their locality was, however, determined by natural causes; at first water-power was the best available force to drive the new machines, and consequently towns sprang up along the banks of rivers. But Watt's application of steam- power to machinery soon supplanted water; and for steam-power coal and iron were the greatest necessities. Factories therefore tended to congregate where coal and iron were found; and the need for these materials created the coal and iron industries. Moreover, the pack- horse, the waggon, and the old unmetalled roads soon proved inadequate for the new requirements of transport. For a time canals became the favourite substitute, and many were constructed. Then Macadam invented his method of making roads; finally, Stephenson developed the steam locomotive, and the railway system came into existence.

Closely connected with these changes was a renewal of the inclosure movement. The introduction of turnips and other roots, and the development of the rotation of crops increased the value of the soil and revived the stimulus to inclosure; and hundreds of inclosure acts were hurriedly passed by a parliament which contained no representatives of those who suffered from the process. It was assisted by the further specialization consequent upon the industrial revolution; while the agricultural labourer gave up spinning under the stress of factory competition, the spinner deserted his cottage and four acres in the country, to seek a dwelling near the factory which employed him; and the Elizabethan Act, insisting upon the allocation of four acres to each new cottage built, was repealed. But for that repeal, factory slums would be garden cities, unless the incubus of this provision had stopped the factory development. The final result of the inclosure movement upon the country was to deprive the public of most of its commons and open spaces, to deprive the agricultural labourer of all right in the soil he tilled, and to rob him of that magic of property which, in Arthur Young's phrase, turned sand into gold.

The inevitable adjustment of the population to these altered economic conditions entirely changed its distribution. Hitherto the progressive and predominant parts of England had been the south and east; conservatism found its refuge in the north and west, which rebelled against the Tudors and fought for Charles I. The south and east had been the manufacturing centres because iron was smelted with wood and not with coal. Now that coal was substituted for wood, the juxtaposition of coal and iron mines in the north attracted thither the industries of the nation, while the special features of its climate made South Lancashire the home of cotton-spinning. The balance of population and political power followed. To-day southern England, apart from London and some other ports, hardly does more than subsist, and its occupations are largely parasitic. The work and the wealth and the trade which support the empire and its burdens have their origin and being in the north.

The population not only shifted, but rapidly increased. The uprooting of peasants from their little plots of land which acted in medieval England and acts to-day in France as a check upon breeding, and their herding in crowded tenements, weakened both moral and prudential restraints in the towns; while in the country the well-meant but ill- considered action of the justices of the peace in supplementing the beggarly wages of the labourers by grants out of the rates proportioned to the number of each man's children produced a similar effect. The result was an increase in the population welcome to patriots who hoped for hordes of soldiers and sailors to fight Napoleon, but startling to economists like Malthus, who inferred therefrom a natural law constraining population to outrun the earth's increase. Malthus did not foresee the needs of the empire, nor realize that the rapid growth in the population of his day was largely due to the absence from the proletariate of a standard of comfort and decency. Without the Industrial Revolution Great Britain would not have been able to people the lands she had marked for her own.

This increase and shifting of the people put the finishing touch to the incongruities of the old political system, in which vast centres of population teeming with life and throbbing with industry were unrepresented, while members sat in parliament for boroughs so decayed that nothing was left of them but a green mound, a park, or a ruined wall. The struggle with the French Revolution and then with Napoleon gave the vested interests a respite from their doom; and for seventeen years after its close the Tories sat, clothed in the departing glories of the war, upon the safety-valve of constitutional reform. Then in 1832, after one general election fought on this issue, and after further resistance by the House of Lords on behalf of the liberties of borough-proprietors and faggot-voters, the threat to create peers induced a number to abstain sufficient to ensure the passing of the first Reform Bill. It was a moderate measure to have brought the country to the verge of political revolution; roughly, it disfranchised a number of poor voters, but enfranchised the mass of the middle and lower middle-class. Absolutely rotten boroughs were abolished, but a large number of very small ones were retained, and the representation of the new towns was somewhat grudging and restricted. A more drastic measure, giving the vote to most of the town artisans was--being introduced by a Tory minister, Disraeli, in 1867--passed by the House of Lords without difficulty. The last alteration of the franchise, giving the vote to agricultural labourers was--being introduced by Gladstone in 1884--only passed by the House of Lords at the second time of asking and after an agitation.

Political emancipation was but one of the results of the Industrial Revolution; commercial expansion was another. England had now definitely and decisively specialized in certain industries; she could only do so by relying upon external sources for her supply of other wants. The more her new industries gave her to export, the more she required to import from customers upon whose wealth her own prosperity depended. In particular, England became dependent upon foreign producers for her food supplies. During the war the foreign supply of corn was so hampered that it was as dear to import as to grow at home; but after the peace the price began to fall, and the farmers and landlords, whose rents depended ultimately upon the price of corn, demanded protection corresponding to that which extensive tariffs on imported articles gave to the manufacturers. The manufacturers, on the other hand, wanted cheap food for their workpeople in order to be able to pay them low wages. As a compromise, the Corn Laws of 1814 and 1828 provided a sliding scale of duties which rose as prices fell, and fell as prices rose, a preference being given to colonial wheat.

The Reform Act of 1832, however, and the rapid increase of manufactures, transferred the balance of power in parliament from the landed to the manufacturing classes; factory hands were persuaded that the repeal of the duties would largely increase the value of their wages; and the failure of the potato-crop in Ireland in 1845-46 rendered an increase of imported food-stuffs imperative. Sir Robert Peel accordingly carried a measure in 1846 providing for the gradual abolition of the corn-duties, saving only a registration duty of one shilling, which was removed some twenty years later. This repeal of the Corn Laws did not appreciably affect the price of corn, the great reduction of which was subsequently effected by the vast expansion of corn-growing areas in the colonies and abroad. But it enormously increased the supply at once, and gradually gave England the full benefit of growing areas and declining prices. It is obvious that the retention of the duty, which had been fixed at 24s. 8d. in 1828 when the price was 62s. or less a quarter, would have prevented prices falling as they subsequently did below the value of the duty; and it is no less certain that it would have impeded the development of corn-growing districts in the colonies and abroad, and of British imports from, and exports to, them.

The enormous increase in the import of corn helped, in fact, to double British exports within ten years. This was the result of the general freeing of trade, of which the repeal of the Corn Laws was only a part. In the third quarter of the eighteenth century there were hundreds of Acts, covering thousands of pages, on the statute-book, imposing an infinity of chaotic duties on every kind of import; they made the customs costly to collect and easy to evade; and the industry they stimulated most was smuggling. The younger Pitt, influenced by Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations appeared in 1776, reduced and simplified these duties; but 443 Acts still survived when in 1825 Huskisson and other enlightened statesmen secured their consolidation and reduction to eleven. This Tariff Reform, as its supporters called it, was a step towards Free Trade. Peel gradually adopted its principles, induced partly by the failure of his efforts to use existing duties for purposes of retaliation; and between 1841 and 1846 he abolished the duties on 605 articles and reduced them on 1035 more, imposing a direct income-tax to replace the indirect taxes thus repealed. The process was completed by Gladstone, and what is called Free Trade was established as the fundamental principle of English financial policy.

This does not mean that no duties are imposed on exports or imports; it simply means that such duties as are levied are imposed for the sake of revenue, and to protect neither the consumer from the export of commodities he desires to purchase, nor the manufacturer from the import of those he wishes to make. The great interests connected with land and manufactures had ceased to hang together, and fell separately. Protection of manufactured goods did not long survive the successful attack which manufacturers had levelled against the protected produce of the landlords and the farmers. The repeal of the Navigation Acts rounded off the system; British shipping, indeed, needed no protection, but the admission of colonial goods free of duty and the removal of the embargo on their trade with foreign countries may not have compensated the colonies for the loss of their preference in the British market. The whole trend of affairs, however, both conscious and unconscious, was to make the world one vast hive of industry, instead of an infinite number of self-sufficient, separate hives; the village market had expanded into the provincial market, the provincial into the national, the national into the imperial, and the imperial into the world market.

We have not by any means exhausted the results of the Industrial Revolution, and most of our social problems may be traced directly or indirectly to this source. Its most general effect was to emphasize and exaggerate the tendency towards specialization. Not only have most workers now but one kind of work; that work becomes a smaller and smaller part of increasingly complex industrial processes; and concentration thereon makes it more and more difficult for the worker to turn to other labour, if his employment fails. The specialist's lack of all-round capacity is natural and notorious. Hence most serious results follow the slightest dislocation of national economy. This specialization has also important psychological effects. A farmer, with his varied outdoor occupations, feels little craving for relief and relaxation. The factory hand, with his attention riveted for hours at a stretch on the wearisome iteration of machinery, requires recreation and distraction: naturally he is a prey to unwholesome stimulants, such as drink, betting, or the yellow press. The more educated and morally restrained, however, seek intellectual stimulus, and the modern popular demand for culture arises largely from the need of something to relieve the grey monotony of industrial labour.

So, too, the problems of poverty, local government, and sanitation have been created or intensified by the Industrial Revolution. It made capitalists of the few and wage-earners of the many; and the tendency of wages towards a minimum and of hours of labour towards a maximum has only been counteracted by painful organization among the workers, and later on by legislation extorted by their votes. Neither the Evangelical nor the Oxford movement proved any prophylactic against the immorality of commercial and industrial creeds. While those two religious movements were at their height, new centres of industrial population were allowed to grow up without the least regard for health or decency. Under the influence of laissez-faire philosophy, each wretched slum-dweller was supposed to be capable, after his ten or twelve hours in the factory, of looking after his own and his children's education, his main-drainage, his risks from infection, and the purity of his food and his water-supply. The old system of local government was utterly inadequate and ill adapted to the new conditions; and the social and physical environment of the working classes was a disgrace to civilization pending the reconstruction of society, still incomplete, which the Industrial Revolution imposed upon the country in the nineteenth century.

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