Wilde, Peter D (1971) Growth, decline and locational change in the English silk industry of the nineteenth century: a study in historical geography. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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Abstract

The English silk industry, by its extreme fluctuations in profitability and its widespread distribution makes an interesting geographical case study of some of the forces which affected the location of industry during the Industrial Revolution. This thesis sets out to analyse the industry's changing location in times of expansion and contraction, particularly in its mechanised branches, during the nineteenth century.

The broad locational pattern of the silk industry was established during the eighteenth century when a considerable increase in the size of the industry was accompanied by spatial expansion: the old concentrations of manufacturing in London declined in importance and new centres, particularly in the Pennine province, but also in parts of southern England assumed greater significance. The first four chapters examine the factors, for example power supplies and competition for labour, which influenced its location. Because of its uncertain profitability, there were few districts in which silk could dominate the local labour force and so secure a measure of protection from stronger industries. Its labour force was thus liable to be eroded during the industry's frequent recessions and was only rebuilt with difficulty in subsequent booms. The supply of labour is therefore seen as a major factor affecting the changing location of silk manufacture, though competition for other resources, such as power and factory space were also significant, particularly in the Pennine province.

The broad pattern of the industry's distribution had been established by the mid-nineteenth century and from this time there is a wealth of statistical information available for the size and distribution of the industry in the Factory Inspectors' Returns and the Census. Chapter 5 uses these sources to give a systematic account of the distribution and structure of the industry in about 1850. Despite its widespread distribution it is evident that there existed compact localities in which silk manufacturing was concentrated and that here the domestic, as well as the factory workers were found. Moreover, there were four districts, London, Lancashine the South West Pennines and Coventry which were the dominant centres of the trade and together accounted for most of the industry's employment.

From an analysis of the technical data contained in the Factory Inspectors' Returns it is possible to distinguish some regional contrasts in the technical advancement and organisation of the industry. Chapter 6 concludes that in general silk manufacturing in the south was labour intensive and technically backward while in the Pennines contact and competition with the other textile trades made for a more advanced industry.

Chapters 7 and 8 analyse the reaction in the various regions to one of the most extreme fluctuations in fortune that the industry experienced, in terms both of changing techniques and organisation and of the size and distribution of the labour force. Differences between the throwing and weaving branches in their response to boom and slump were apparent and the greater strength of the Pennine industry was again demonstrated.

Finally Chapter 9 examines the long term decline of the industry after the Free Trade Treaty of 1860. Competition exposed the weaknesses of the industry and at a national level contraction was inevitable. But some of the regional specialisms had the ability to persist despite the general malaise, and it was not until the twentieth century that silk manufacturing was located almost entirely in one region, the South West Pennines.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Natural Sciences > School of Geography, Geology and the Environment
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2019 10:51
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2019 10:51
URI: http://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/5917

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