The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution: A Comparison of England and France

By Rick Szostak | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FIVE

The English Textiles
Industry

As with the iron industry, academic research on textiles has tended to concentrate on one or two stages of production - notably spinning and weaving - while other necessary stages on the path from raw material to finished good have been largely ignored. Technological and organizational change, however, occurred throughout the textile industry. The other stages of production did not simply react so as to rectify bottlenecks created by improvements in spinning and weaving: the timing of many improvements does not accord with a challenge and response framework. 1 Instead, a picture is created of pressures for change throughout the textile industry, and my task is to describe how improvements in English transport both allowed and induced these various changes.

A necessary first step is to give an overview of the whole process of production. I will concentrate mostly on the cotton industry throughout this chapter, for two reasons. First, the cotton industry undergoes by far the most dramatic transformation during this period, and is thus worthy of the closest scrutiny. Second, as the next chapter will show, the cotton industry allows for easier comparison of France and England than the other textiles do. Nevertheless, important changes occur in the other textile trades, and these will be discussed where appropriate. While falling cotton prices did cause problems for linen, silk, and wool, especially from 1790 (Edwards 1967, 32-4), they all had decent rates of growth through this period, and wool retained its predominance in English textile production until 1820. The growth rate of the cotton industry was phenomenal, "But the quantitative importance of cotton should not lead us to think that similar qualitative changes (in the organization of enterprises, or direct production of technologies) were not taking place elsewhere" (Brulard 1982, 112). Factories and new technology were not the exclusive privilege of cotton. Whether because of the suitability of the material for machinery, or because there was less

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