~ Edward Carpenter, Towards Democracy, p.452
From a cottage industry, the cotton industry rapidly became dominated by huge factories, or 'manufactories'. Cotton mills and warehouses were built in Nottingham, Derbyshire and also in Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Lancashire and the Midlands became the main areas of cotton production. But it was Lancashire that quickly dominated the industry. 29 of the 35 steam driven engines acquired by cotton businesses were installed in Lancashire.
The new factory system heralded an age in which the cottage was replaced by the slum dwelling, the country by the town and the workshop by the factory. The local market gave way to the central exchange; the pack-horse gave way to the barge and train and the factory bell and hooter reminded the cotton spinner and weaver that their time was no longer their own. "The slowly dissolving framework of medieval industrial life was suddenly broken in pieces by the mighty blows of the steam engine and power loom." (Arnold Toynbee, Industrial Revolution).
As Edward Baines noted of the new factories in 1835: "we may see in a single building a 100 horse power steam engine (which) has the strength of 880 men, set in motion 50,000 spindles. The whole requires the service of but 750 workers. But these machines can produce as much yarn as formerly could have hardly been spun by 200,000 men..."
Before the rise of the factory, Manchester and surrounding towns already had a tradition of small textile workshops in addition to the countless cottages producing yarn and cloth. The ancient wool (and later linen) industry was already well advanced before the reign of King Cotton. Linen is made from flax, and flax was grown around Manchester, Derby, Carlisle and Leicester. With a ready supply of raw material, Manchester became the centre of the linen trade. Linen drapers "put out" materials to local weavers, who employed local women and children to card and spin yarn, which prepared the way for a similar system in cotton production. Manchester and Salford were also early centres for dyeing and finishing, with specialists who had workshops in the area. Thus with an established network of ready labour and skilled textile workers with the ability to spin and weave linen (which is a similar fibre to cotton), Manchester was well set to lead the cotton revolution. Linen and cotton fibres are similar (linen is slightly coarser and stronger than cotton), and were woven together to make a material called fustian (cotton yarn was not strong enough to be strung lengthways on a loom, but linen yarn was, with the softer cotton fibres being woven crossways against the linen).
A number of conditions made the rise of the cotton factory in Manchester and Lancashire:
* The immigration of Flemish weavers to Lancashire (via East Anglia) in the 16th and 17th centuries added to the existing body of skilled textile weavers.
* Raw cotton from the Mediterranean (especially Cyprus) was imported from the mid-17th Century onwards, usually to make fustian.
* High quality cotton cloth was already being made in India. Cotton became more common as the East India Company imported pure, printed cotton cloth - calico - a new novelty as wool could not be printed.
* Lancashire's damp climate was perfect for maintaining the moisture in fine cotton yarns (factories outside Lancashire suffered around 10% more cotton breakages in spinning mills).
* The ancient guilds, (trade associations, particularly powerful in London) that enforced trade restrictions and high prices, had little hold in the North West.
* Abundant supply of water via plentiful rivers in Pennine towns and cities to drive water-powered mills.
Lemire, Beverly. 'A Good Stock of Cloaths' - the changing market for cotton clothing in Britain 1750 - 1800. Textile History 22 (2) 311 - 328. 1991 (article)
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