|Steel Works 1950s|
The strangeness never really goes away. If anything it just gets even stranger. By this I mean viewing an urban and industrial world from the perspective of a rural and agricultural one. And, at the same time having lived in London for 18 years, working in factory for part of the time, viewing a rural and agricultural world from an urban and industrial one.
From within either environment the view- of fields and countryside as far as the eye can see or of houses and the city as far as the eye can see- is perfectly normal and taken for granted. It is ‘reality’. But to try and bring the two views together creates a strangeness, a disconcertion.
History provides one way to combine the two perspectives. But as I have found, to use history as a method of understanding why one location is rural and another urban requires an ever expanding acquisition of knowledge. It is circle with a centre which is everywhere and a circumference which is nowhere. The history of any locality, when investigated thoroughly, eventually becomes part of global history. Example- both the Arctic and Antarctic are now subject to the influence of the history of industrialisation via climate change/ global warming.
Thus the particular history of my current locality has been influenced by the growth of London in the seventeenth century via its demand for food. Until the trade was banned 1666, one source of London’s food was Ireland, which exported 60 to 100 000 cattle/year to feed the city. Most of the Irish cattle were shipped directly to England, but about 10 % crossed from Ulster to south-west Scotland.
The Scottish route was developed after the Plantation of Ulster by the Murray and McLellan (later Maxwell) families who gained lands in Ulster via the Plantation. The cattle from their Irish lands could be fattened on their Scottish lands before being driven south. After the English ban on Irish cattle, landowners in south-west Scotland began supplying the English market with Scottish cattle, although at least some of these ‘Scottish’ cattle had begun their short lives in Ulster.
|From Donegal to Gretna Green- roughly the route the cattle followed before 1667|
By the 1690s, the cattle trade to London was well established. This is significant since it shows that even before the political Union of 1707, the Scottish economy was being influenced by the English economy. With the English ban in Irish cattle still in place, cattle were one of the few Scottish products which were ‘bought and sold for English gold’.
Landowners who were involved in the cattle trade had an advantage over those who did not. The Murray, Dunbar, Dlarymple, Stewart and Heron families in Galloway were able to extend their land holdings by using the profits from the cattle trade to buy or rent more land. They could then rear and fatten more cattle on their new land holdings.
Landowners who either failed to reinvest their cattle trade profits in buying more land or who relied on more traditional mixed arable and livestock farming began to lose out. By the 1720s, this market pressure on landowners and their tenants saw an increasing number of arable farms being converted into cattle pastures. The resulting mass evictions- the first of the Scottish Clearances- provoked an armed uprising by the Galloway Levellers in 1724. They overturned the dry-stane dykes (walls) built around the cattle pastures. Some of the dykes levelled had been built over 40 years earlier, indicating that their’s was a grievance which had been building up since before the Union of 1707.
London’s demand for food also had an impact on English agriculture, stimulating its improvement and the growth of ‘capitalist’ farming where tenant farmers had to bid for cash leases on the land paid for by producing cash crops sold to Londoners. There was also an increase in specialisation, with some farmers producing vegetables for example for sale in London’s markets.
The growth of London also depended on coal from Newcastle. There was not enough wood available to keep London’s fires burning. But as London’s demand for coal grew, so the mines in north east England had to become deeper and/or further away from rivers and the coast. Steam engines to pump out water from the deeper mines, to haul coal and miners up from the deeper mines came into use in the eighteenth century. Horse powered railways were developed to haul coal wagons from inland sites to the coast. In the early nineteenth century steam engines were used to replace horses on these railways.
Until 1830, all human societies relied on the ability of plants to capture a tiny fraction- less than 1%- of the energy reaching the earth from the sun. Humans cannot eat sunlight, but they can eat plants and animals that have fed on plants. As well as food, plants and the animals that ate them provided material for making clothes. From trees came wood for building, for making fires for warmth and fires to process raw materials.
Without coal, London would have had to rely on wood to heat its houses, but the land needed to grow the trees would then not have been available to grow crops or feed livestock. This would have limited London’s growth. By 1700, London had a population of half a million. If wood had been used to keep the city warm, every year 1250 square miles of forest would have had to be felled. To keep the supply of fire wood going, the same amount of land would have to be replanted. If coppicing was used on a 16 year cycle, 20 000 square miles of woodland would have been needed out of England’s total area of 50 345 square miles. By 1801, when London’s population reached 1 million, 40 000 square miles of woodland would have been needed.
Without the substitution of coal for wood, the conflict between land used for food and land needed by wood burning industries created another restriction on growth. The British iron industry in particular was only able to expand after coke replaced charcoal in its furnaces. And while cotton and other textile industries were able to grow using water power in the eighteenth century, their nineteenth century growth was driven by coal fuelled steam power.
However, and this is why the date of 1830 is significant, so long as transport still relied on horse power on roads and canals, the need to grow crops to feed the horses created a further land use conflict. When the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened in 1830, it was fully steam powered unlike previous railways which had used either horse power or a mix of horses and steam engines.
|Rainhill Locomotive Trials 1829|
The success of the Liverpool and Manchester railway was rapidly exported. Even before London and Birmingham were linked by rails in 1838, similar main line railways had been opened in France (1832), Belgium and Germany (1835), Austria and Russia (1837). Italy and the Netherlands followed in 1839 and Spain by 1848. In the USA, steam power was in regular use on railways from 1830. Before the end of the nineteenth century there were railways in South America, Australia, Africa, India, Japan and China.
Just as the railways cut the cost and speeded up transport on land, the development of iron steamships in the 1860s had a similar effect across the oceans. Although as the pioneering industrial nation, Britain initially benefited from the shift to coal as an energy source, the advantage was steadily eroded as other countries developed their industrial infrastructure. This shift had become apparent by 1914, when London lost its status as the world’s largest city to New York.
Today the world’s largest ‘urban agglomeration’ is Guangzhou in China where 46 900 000 people live. Altogether there are 80 cities with more than 5 million inhabitants world wide. Without the use of coal, oil and natural gas as energy sources, such mega cities would not exist.
But even if we step back from the mega cities to the countryside of south-west Scotland where farming and forestry are the main industries, there is still a reliance on oil and the internal combustion engine. Without specialist machinery and lorries, neither forestry nor farming could function.
Yet this is also a region which still the same population level today- 150 000- that it had in 1851. With only two small coalfields, the region was not transformed by the industrial revolution. It remained as it had been since the seventeenth century, a rural region supplying urban markets with food.
Although its population did grow from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century, that growth was closely linked to the expansion through improvement of the area of productive land combined with specialisation of land use. Sheep and beef cattle were kept on unimproved upland farms, while dairy cattle and arable farming on the improved lowland farms.
The process of specialisation of land use began in the seventeenth century with the cattle trade as discussed above. The improvement of arable land to increase crop yields came in the later, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. The Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture, established in 1723, connected the two phases. The Patron of the Society of Improvers was John Dalrymple, the 2nd earl of Stair. Stair was involved in the region’s cattle trade. This involvement had been begun before 1682 by his grandfather James Dalrymple. Other landowners from the south-west who were members of the Society of Improvers were George Dunbar of Mochrum, botanist and agricultural improver Alexander Heron of Bargally and Patrick Heron III of Kirroughtrie. The Heron family played a major role in the regional cattle trade over four generations between the through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
John Clerk of Penicuik was leading member of the Society and had strong links with the south-west. His father-in-law was the 3rd earl of Galloway and Clerk represented Whithorn burgh in the pre-Union parliament of Scotland. The 3rd earl of Galloway was another regional landowner who was engaged in the cattle trade by 1682 and this interest was continued by his son, Clerk’s brother in law. Visiting his brother in law in 1721, Clerk estimated that the regional cattle trade was by then worth £10 000 sterling/year.
Before continuing, it should be noted that John Dalrymple the 1st earl of Stair and John Clerk of Pencuik were leading supporters of the Union of 1707. Significantly, via the cattle trade, by then the economy of south-west Scotland had been linked to England/ London for 40 years and even longer if the Ulster Plantation cattle trade connection is included. This background is reflected in John Clerk’s support for the Union on economic grounds, including the opportunity to increase the trade in black cattle which really were ‘bought and sold for English gold’.
|John Dalrymple,1st earl of Stair|
Although the Society of Improvers did improve the knowledge of agriculture, the shift from the theory to the practice of ‘Improvement’ did not occur on a wide scale until the later eighteenth century. Patrick Heron IV, for example, was influenced by his brother in law Henry Home (Lord Kames) when he set about improving lands he owned based on directions supplied by Home. Home was a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment as was Adam Smith. Having acted as tutor to the 3rd duke of Buccleuch, Smith’s theories of economic development influenced the duke’s improvements of his extensive lands in eastern Dumfriesshire and the Scottish Borders.
But although the duke allowed a textile mill to be established in Langholm and owned a coal mine in Canonbie near the border with England, he did not support further developments. This was partly for political reasons after the French Revolution, since he feared the disruptive and riotous influence of the mill workers and miners on his ‘loyal’ agricultural tenants. (The miners also poached his game).
However it was also the case that Adam Smith’s theories of political economy did not involve or anticipate an industrial revolution. For Smith and other political economists of the period, the foundation of ‘commercial’ society, of the market economy was a fully developed and ‘improved’ agricultural economy. Once the agricultural economy was fully developed, this would limit the further development of ‘manufactures’ and economic growth would begin to slow down. Then end result would be a ‘stationary’ or steady state economy rather than one which continued to grow.
One way of looking at the rural south of Scotland is to see it as a region which has followed this model of economic development. From the seventeenth through to the mid-nineteenth century, its economy and population grew as its agricultural infrastructure was developed and improved. But once that process was complete, which effectively it was by the 1840s, there was little scope for further economic growth and so the population peaked in 1851.
This failure to grow was not due to a rural population lacking entrepreneurial skills. Local farmer’s son John Kennedy was one of several young men from the region who became pioneers of the industrial revolution in north-west England. Kennedy established Manchester’s largest steam powered cotton spinning factory in the 1790s and went on to become a promoter of the Liverpool and Manchester railway, acting as a judge at the Rainhill locomotive trials on the railway in 1829. Among his friends were both James Watt and George Stephenson..
Kennedy’s partner James McConnell was a tenant farmer’s son who grew up near Kennedy. McConnell married Mary Houldsworth. Both brothers were also cotton spinners. One stayed in Manchester, but Henry Houldsworth moved to Glasgow in 1799 and set up a steam powered cotton spinning mill and textile machine making business there.
|A & G Murray and Kennedy & McConnell mills Manchester 1815|
Then in 1836, Henry Houldsworth and his brother bought Coltness estate in Lanarkshire for £80 000. The estate was sold to the brothers by James Steuart. His father, political economist James Steuart, and grandfather had been members of the Society of Improvers in the 1740s and Coltness was a fully improved estate.
What attracted the Houldsworths, however, was that beneath the improved fields lay extensive reserves of coal and ironstone. After buying the estate, Henry set up an ironworks which had nine furnaces by 1846.
Coltness was only one of 15 ironworks in north Lanarkshire. In 1830 these had an output of 40 000 tons/year. Output then grew rapidly to 240 000 tons/year by 1840 and 560 000 tons/year by 1848. By then all the reserves of ironstone in Lanarkshire had either been bought up or leased. This prompted Henry Houldsworth to look for other areas where coal and ironstone were found together.
The Doon valley in Ayrshire was one of the few areas meeting this specification which had not yet been exploited. In 1847 Houldsworth set up the Dalmellington Iron Company in the upper Doon valley. The first pig iron was cast in 1848, but there was no railway link to the iron works until 1856. All the iron cast had to be carried by horse and wagon to the railway and docks at Ayr.
Like most roads at the time, the road to Ayr was a toll road. The extra cost of the tolls and road transport threatened the profitability of iron produced at Dalmellington. Fortunately Houldsworth’s son in law James Murray began investing in the new company in 1851 (eventually becoming its largest shareholder) which allowed production to continue until the railway from Ayr finally reached Dalmellington.
Murray was able to invest in the iron company after inheriting a share in his family’s cotton spinning business in Manchester. This had been set up by his father Adam and uncle George Murray. The Murray brothers had been born in New Galloway, 20 miles south of Damellington and close to where John Kennedy and James McConnell had been born. Like Kennedy and McConnell, Adam and George Murray had left the region as teenagers in the 1780s to become apprentices in a textile machine making business near Bolton. The business was owned by William Cannan, James McConnell’s uncle.
|Dalmellington Iron Works 1858|
Given the close business and family ties between cotton manufactures and iron masters, it was only an accident of geology which separated the economic history of Dalmellington from that of New Galloway. The Southern Upland Fault line runs between the two small settlements. To the north of the Fault coal and iron existed, to the south they did not.
On the other hand, unlike the Coltness and other iron works in north Lanarkshire which encouraged the growth of Wishaw, Motherwell, Coatbridge and Airdrie which now form an eastern extension of the Glasgow ‘urban agglomeration’, the Dalmellington iron works and its associated coal mines remained an isolated enclave of industry in a rural and agricultural landscape. The neighbouring coalfield in the upper Nith valley likewise did not stimulate urban growth, nor did the Canonbie coalfield to the south-east.
In fact, my home town, Castle Douglas, a planned rural market town established in 1791, has a higher population at 4000 than Dalmellington -1500- and Patna -2400- in the industrialised Doon valley.
On the other side of the Solway Firth, in west Cumberland, coal mining was developed in the seventeenth century to supply Dublin with coal. In the nineteenth century, iron ore from west Cumberland was used in steelmaking both in the region and beyond. Whitehaven and Workington both have about 25 000 residents and Maryport 12 000. If Tudor period copper mining and the Sellafield nuclear complex are included, the region has been an industrial one for about 450 years, but the only city in the area is Carlisle which has its origins as administrative and military centre.
Comparing population densities, Dumfries and Galloway on the north of the Solway Firth has 60 people/square mile, while Cumbria to the south has 190 people/square mile. The two regions are similar in size- Dumfries and Galloway 2481 square miles, Cumbria 2613 square miles and share a similar geography which combines better quality farmland in lowland areas with poor quality farmland in their respective uplands. The difference in population densities is therefore most likely to be a result of Cumbria’s industrial history and the exploitation of its coal and iron ore reserves.
The raises some interesting questions. If Cumbria had lacked coal and iron ore, would its pattern of development have more closely resembled that of Dumfries and Galloway? And, now that the iron ore has gone and coal mining has stopped, has Cumbria arrived at a ‘stationary state’?
At the global level there is still coal and oil and iron ore available so in theory we should be some way off from reaching a global stationary state. On the other, since 2008 the global economy has been in the doldrums. Even China which had become the workshop of the world is struggling.
On the other other hand, if there is a return to growth and more coal, oil and gas start getting burned again, global warming will continue and climate change will continue to the point where it brings growth to end through food shortages and disruption of essential infrastructure.
If there is no return to growth, where does that leave capitalism? Without coal as a fuel source and without steam engines as a power source, the stationary state would have strangled capitalism at birth. The conflicts between using land for food, land for fodder and land for fuel would have been insurmountable.
In the pre-industrial period, London’s rapid growth in the seventeenth century depended on coal from north-east England replacing wood as a domestic fuel and in the manufacture of bricks and glass- with demand stimulated by the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire in 1666.
Freed from the constraints imposed by reliance of wood as fuel, the city’s increasing demand for food provided a stimulus for the improvement of farming, drawing on the best practice of farmers in the Netherlands to increase output. The disruption these changes caused to the traditional pattern of farming led to migration of poor young people (average age 20) to London where wages were higher than in the countryside. This influx created a market/ demand for large quantities of basic manufactured goods in contrast to the situation in more traditional cities where craft manufactures produced low quantity high value goods for a wealthy elite.
But while the growth of London would have been possible, if more difficult, if supplied with firewood by fleets of ships from the Baltic rather than Newcastle, the growth of Manchester and its cotton industry would not.
Manchester was not originally a manufacturing town. Until 1780 it developed as a trading and warehousing centre for textiles produced by hand, water and even horse power produced in surrounding areas. The most of the textiles were then sent by road or water to Liverpool for onward distribution.
In the seventeenth century, the East India Company began importing cotton textiles from India. Lighter, more colourful and easily washable than linen or wool textiles, cotton became very popular. Pressure from the linen and wool industry led to bans on the import of cotton calicos between 1690 and 1721, when even the sale of fine cotton textiles was prohibited. Cottons produced for export were also exempt. The ban was lifted in 1774, but then replaced with import duties on cotton from India.
|Indian calico, 18th century|
The effect of the Calico acts and the import duties was to give British cotton makers protection from competition with imported finished cotton. Between 1740 and 1780, mechanised water and horse powered cotton spinning mills were built. The mechanised process produced stronger and finer cotton thread than hand spinning could. Stronger thread was needed because traditional British weaving techniques were based on stronger linen and wool threads. Weaving was not successfully mechanised until the early nineteenth century.
As a new industry in Britain, cotton fitted well with the new economic and social system of capitalism. Since the market for indigenous cotton products was growing at the expense of traditional wool and linen products, capital could be and was profitably invested in a new water-powered cotton spinning mill.
|Water-powered spinning mill 1770s|
But capitalism was also an economic treadmill. Once set up and running, the flow of profits from a new water-powered cotton mill could be reduced if a rival cotton spinner opened an even newer mill with more efficient spinning machines or found some other ways to cut the cost of production.
Water-spinning mills also needed a good supply of water. This created a problem. Even if there was a good supply of water in a town, finding the space for a new large development was more expensive since land-values were higher in towns. But in the countryside, where land was cheaper and good flows of water more easily available, it was necessary to building housing for the new workforce. This was done and new villages and towns sprang up alongside the water-spinning mills.
The problem of water and labour supply made it difficult to increase production from water-spinning mills. To get around this problem, Richard Arkwright, a pioneer of water-powered mechanical spinning, set up the first cotton spinning mill in Manchester in 1783. Arkwright’s plan was to use an atmospheric steam engine to power the new works, but this did not work. Instead he had to use a Boulton and Watt steam engine to pump water from a lower to a higher reservoir to keep a water wheel turning. This was not a very efficient process.
However, within ten years, the direct application of steam power to cotton spinning mills was improved and Manchester’s growth as a manufacturing town took off. The shift to coal-fuelled steam engines liberated cotton-spinning from reliance on water power. If improved machinery e more power, a more powerful steam engine could easily be installed. If more workers were needed, they could be recruited from the town.
|Kennedy & McConnell and A & G Murray steam powered cotton mills Manchester 1820|
Since Manchester had been connected by canal to nearby coal mines in 1765, there was no need to import large volumes of timber from distant regions, thus another constraint on its growth was avoided. Then, as discussed above, the Liverpool and Manchester railway broke through another growth-limit by applying steam power to the city’s transport links.
A further development, and one which led to Manchester’s leading role in the free-trade movement, was the campaign against the Corn laws which were repealed in 1845. To benefit farmers and landowners, the price of wheat was kept high by restricting imports. Capitalist manufacturers believed this was damaging to them, since it meant wages had to be higher to prevent workers starving.
However, although the UK was in favour of free-trade, other countries were less keen. Without putting up tariff barriers, their new manufacturing industries struggled to compete with cheap British goods, just as the British textile industry had struggled against imports of Indian cotton a century earlier.
So although Germany and other European nations as well as the USA did become part of a global capitalist economic and social system, to begin with they relied on a mixture of direct and indirect state support for their industries until they could compete with the UK.
In other words, the development of industrial capitalism in Britain stimulated its development in other countries which risked seeing their traditional industries destroyed by competition from Britain’s new industries.
However, without the ability to substitute coal for other sources of energy, if Britain had had to rely on renewable and sustainable sources of energy, the constraints imposed by reliance on those energy sources would have led to a stationary state rather than rapid growth.
On the other hand, the problem of firewood shortages would still have encouraged the use of coal as a substitute heat source in other countries. The military use of iron for cannons and muskets would have encouraged the use of coke instead of charcoal in the iron industry. However, as happened in France in 1777, when William Wilkinson set up an iron works to make cannon, industrial development would have been more likely state led.
|French State iron works Le Creusot, 1779|
Without the stimulus of private enterprise, the shift to coal as an energy source would have been slower, but once states realised the importance of coal as a ‘strategic national resource’ it would have been developed and exploited.
If the shift to coal might have been slower, a possible knock on effect would have been a delay in the advent of oil as a global energy source. This in turn would -potentially- have given us more time to recognise the danger of global warming and climate change, especially if state-led industrialisation took place at a slower rate.
It is difficult to imagine any scenario in which the south-west of Scotland could have become an urban rather than a rural area. Likewise, for London to have remained a small town rather than becoming a huge city, millions of tons of coal would have to have stayed under the ground in north-east England for the past 400 years.
On the other hand, even before the first cotton factories were constructed there, Manchester had already developed from a village into a town by acting as a warehousing centre for traditional textile making. Coal was consumed in Manchester before 1780, but as a substitute for firewood, not as an energy source for steam engines.
Manchester is where Friedrich Engels and through Engels, Karl , ‘discovered the proletariat’ in 1842. As Engels put it in the Introduction to ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’
The history of the proletariat in England begins with the second half of the last century, with the invention of the steam-engine and of machinery for working cotton. These inventions gave rise, as is well known, to an industrial revolution, a revolution which altered the whole civil society; one, the historical importance of which is only now beginning to be recognised. England is the classic soil of this transformation, which was all the mightier, the more silently it proceeded; and England is, therefore, the classic land of its chief product also, the proletariat. Only in England can the proletariat be studied in all its relations and from all sides.
Engels arrived in Manchester in November 1842. In August 1842 the city had been at the centre of the first attempt at a General Strike. The strike had been supported by the Chartists’ National Executive which was meeting in Manchester at the same time. Leading Chartist Peter McDouall from Newton Stewart in Galloway had proposed this move. The fear that the economic demands of the strikers and the political demands of the Chartists would converge to create a revolutionary crisis saw troops rushed to Manchester by train suppress the strike before this could happen.
For Engels these events seemed to confirm what Georg Hegel had concluded in his 1832 essay on the English Reform Bill- that the tension between the UK’s archaic political system and its advanced economy was so acute that attempts to reform the political system could lead to a revolution.
But there was no revolution. Instead of the condition of the English working class deteriorating, it gradually improved. It improved because the advent of the stationary state, which would have forced wages down and food prices up was indefinitely postponed.
In 1839 the UK produced 31 million tons of coal. By 1913 this had risen to 287 million tons. In 1841 the population of the UK was 27 million, By 1911 it was 47 million. The rise in coal production and therefore the energy available vastly outstripped the rise in population. This reversed the Malthusian equation where population growth would always outstrip food production.
People cannot eat coal, but the extra wealth generated by the coal economy as it ‘trickled down’ was enough to keep revolution at bay.
1913 marked the peak output of the UK coal industry and of the UK’s status as a leading world power. The UK’s eclipse as a great power continued through the twentieth century. The great manufacturing industries of Victorian Britain decayed. The Labour government elected in 1974 had bold plans to use the wealth of the newly discovered North Sea oil reserves to regenerate manufacturing industry but by the time the benefits of the North Sea started to flow, Margaret Thatcher was in power and they were squandered.
No longer an energy rich nation, the future of the UK seems to be one of endless ‘austerity’, of increasing impoverishment. At the same time, we are beginning to see the real price of economic growth based on coal and oil as climate change moves from future threat to present danger.
It is difficult to salvage any optimism from our current situation, let alone the future. For the past 300 years, growth has been seen as the route to prosperity and the challenge for more enlightened thinkers and activists has been how to ensure the benefits of that prosperity are more equally distributed rather than constantly creamed off by an elite.
But if further growth is now physically impossible since its benefits will be eaten up by even more severe climate change, what is to be done?
Some forty years ago it might have been possible to manage the transition to a carbon-neutral society and economy based on renewable / sustainable energy sources. Today and tomorrow it is much harder to do this since the major economic and social changes required will have to take place at the same time as food production and essential infrastructure are being destabilised by climate change.
What is required is a massive cultural shift, a social revolution such that it would be, for example, unthinkable to invest in airport expansion instead of railways, road-bridges rather than hydro-electric schemes, nuclear power plants rather than wind farms and solar energy.
Unfortunately as yet there is little evidence that such a revolution is anywhere at hand.