Providing the necessities of life
Civilisation really began when man was able to lead a settled existence by growing rather than hunting his means of subsistence. Although many changes had taken place in Britain by 1700, a large majority of people still grew a proportion of their own food. In the course of the eighteenth century, however, the growth and redistribution of population was accom-panied by increased efficiency in agriculture which ensured that the town-dwellers and full-time industrial workforce could be fed. The number of people living in England and Wales rose from the 5.5 million estimated by Gregory King in 1688 to nearly 9 million in the first census of 1801 and to 32.5 million by 1901. In 1851 the number of people living in towns of over 5,000 population was for the first time equal to the rural inhabitants, but by 1901 the proportion had increased to three to one. Thus the number of non-growers increased rapidly, yet by dint of increasing agricultural productivity and imports, there was no famine.
Britain’s extensive coastline had for long enabled the produce of different areas of the country to reach London, but the improvements to roads and rivers in the eighteenth century, followed by canals and railways, greatly increased the circulation of foodstuffs to both regional and national markets. But they were not all home-grown. Whenever political circumstances permitted, imports of food increased both in quantity and variety. The middle and upper classes spent a growing proportion of their dis-posable income on the purchase of imports like tea, cocoa, coffee, meat, sugar and tobacco. The evidence for these developments in the processing and distribution of the basic necessities can be detected in the changing forms and distribution of mills, factories and warehouses in the landscape.