Thursday, 4 July 2013

ILTID 2: Industrial Cities

Industrial Location Theory Is Dead: Part 2

Industrial Cities

Some towns’ locations were ideally suited for certain industries to develop. Those near the coalfields tended to specialise in iron and, after importing some clever knowhow from a Henry Bessemer in the middle of the 19th Century, steel as the coal (How the Bessemer Process works). Coal was the scarcest ingredient required for the smelting process as limestone, being similarly laid down as a sedimentary deposit, is often found nearby and iron ore of varying quality is fairly ubiquitous across our isles. Towns in the Midlands which were near to coal and not far from the upland regions where sheep farming was the main economic activity, were quick to develop a thriving textiles industry. Those with excellent clay nearby tended to found a plethora of potteries.

Ports such as Liverpool and London’s Docklands which were already important conduits for goods from the expanding British Empire, grew rapidly as Britain became the most industrialised nation. The ports facilitated the export of manufactured goods from Britain around the world and the importing of new and exotic raw materials from around the world. Some of these were becoming the mainstays of not only polite society, but for everybody: namely tea and coffee. There was intense competition from our European neighbours to source new products from overseas and it was considered important to secure a constant supply for our domestic market and so the process of colonisation increased apace and the trading empire developed rapidly. Iron, textiles and other manufactured goods were taken from Britain to the Gold Coast of Africa and beyond, round the Cape of Good Hope and to Kenya, India and the Far East. Each of these places had goods which could be traded: tea, coffee, spices, silks and, unfortunately, slaves. The slaves were shipped from Western Africa back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean archipelago where they were used to set up more plantations to produce the volume of luxury goods that the increasingly wealthy urban upper classes demanded.

Industrialisation meant that sail power could be replaced by steam power and ships that were formerly constrained by the eccentricities of the capricious wind, could reliably follow a timetable. The large fleet of ships meant that the cost of transporting goods became cheaper. This meant that not just goods but people too began to move around the world more freely. The invention of steel-hulled ships meant that the seas wrecked fewer craft but also they were harder to attack. The flipside of this was of course that they were better to attack with and a fleet of steel-hulled ships soon became the vital tool in any country’s arsenal.  Also, the mass-production of precise steel and iron work meant that firearms could be made quickly and in huge numbers. They also could be made bigger, giving them a greater range and accuracy. The nation with the biggest and best guns generally won through.

Britain’s towns began to grow, attracting unskilled workers from the fields with the promise of well-paid employment and a higher quality of life: the ‘Dick Whittington’ effect. In reality, the majority of jobs were poorly paid, dangerous and had no security.  The new factory workers worked extremely long hours for very little remuneration. Many swapped rural poverty for urban poverty. There were exceptions, such as Cadbury who took a philanthropic interest in his workforce, building a whole town for them, ensuring that their families had healthcare and education. The successful factory owners became incredibly wealthy, investing their profits into other enterprises and multiplying their assets still further. They bought huge estates in the country to be away from the industrial noise and grime that funded their luxurious lifestyles.

As the technology developed throughout the early 19th Century, the skilled labour that was required was gradually replaced by cheaper, low-skilled labour.  Around 1811, in the Nottingham textile mills, a group of handloom workers took matters into their own hands and began burning and smashing the new mechanised looms that threatened their job security. The group, known as ‘Luddites’, grew in size and organisation, and over the next two years they caused significant damage to mills across the North Ridings of Yorkshire (1812) and Lancashire (1813). The army was sent in to quell the uprising and several pitched battles most noticeably at Burton's Mill in Middleton and at Westhoughton Mill, in Lancashire. Eventually, Parliament took action making machine breaking a capital crime in the Frame Breaking Act in March 1812. There was a mass trial in York in 1813 and many of the 60 men tried were hanged or deported to penal colonies. 

The fear of new technology replacing skilled jobs was not confined to the Luddite attacks on textile mills. The mechanisation was forcing change on the pattern of labour and, despite the Luddites and their ilk raging against the machines, the change was unstoppable.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the workers began to get more organised. They formed Unions which argued for a reasonable wage and fair treatment for their members. If the Unions were upset, then they withdrew their labour en masse and went on strike.  The Trade Union Movement was formalised in 1871 and the Unions continued to grow in power through to the middle of the 20th Century.