Society & Culture






This chapter reiterates the main points made in the body of the study and draws together a number of the disparate themes within the text. It also outlines some of those questions which have emerged during the course of the study, answers to which would increase our knowledge and understanding of Manchester during the period.




The study has, for the first time, quantified the importance of the textile industry to Manchester at a number of points during the course of the late eighteenth century, using a relatively consistent data set. It has also used the limited available sources to determine the extent of population growth, and to separate out the relative importance of natural increase and inward migration. A rudimentary effort has been made to show the relative proportion of the population in each of the five social groups comprising the Manchester social order. The characteristics of the labour force have been identified, along with the different methods of remuneration. The Manchester polity, and the changes which took place within it have been described and the different groups comprising the political actors identified. Significant political events during the period have also been discussed. The main features of elite and popular culture have been explored, and its transformation during the early phase of industrialisation has been illustrated. The main inventions and innovations which were behind the technological transformation of the textile industry have been discussed, and their presence in Manchester has been detailed chronologically, whilst some doubt has been cast on the overarching significance of the macroinventions. No doubt, however, has been cast on the significant growth of the Manchester market, both for textiles and for unrelated produce such as foodstuffs. It has been shown that one of the important concomitants of the development of the Manchester market was an enormous improvement to the regional transport infrastructure, at least a part of which was engineered by Manchester's textile merchants and manufacturers.


One of the traditional problems of historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution was that it focused very closely on technological developments. This enabled generations of schoolchildren to regard the process of the Industrial Revolution as "a wave of gadgets". This study has striven to show the interrelationships between the social, economic, cultural and, indeed, technological dimensions of the Industrial Revolution as is affected Manchester during the last fifty years of the eighteenth century.


The study has avoided the approach which can be described as the "march to the inevitable". This study has taken the view, shared by some post-Marxist historians, that historical phenomena are not "inevitable", and are as often the consequence of accident as design. One of the historical drivers behind the Industrial Revolution was indeed the desire to acquire wealth, but the method in which this manifested itself in late eighteenth century Britain was a cultural product. In earlier ages wealth could be acquired by the plunder following in the wake of warfare, by the selective murder of relatives, and the acquisition of their estates, by the grant of monopolies and patents by those at court, and by securing ecclesiastical or civil office. In Britain these wealth acquisition methods were very largely available only to the upper classes. By the eighteenth century, it was legitimate to produce wealth by trading and manufacturing goods, and mercantile fortunes had been made by Manchester manufacturers from humble backgrounds. There remained something of a stigma attached to "trade" during the nineteenth century, but this was largely pretension on the part of those who saw themselves as being from the traditional upper class.


In previous times surplus wealth could be invested in two ways: land was a constant and largely reliable destination for such surplus (and remained so during the period, especially by those merchants with social pretensions), and investment in the afterlife by way of endowing churches, paying for perpetual masses and bequeathing vast sums and estates to the Church. By the late 1770s a combination of social, cultural and technological factors propelled the merchants and manufacturers of the Manchester region (and elsewhere- the culture was increasingly an international one) towards making changes, the consequences of which later historians came to know as the Industrial Revolution. But, fundamentally, the cultural victory of the profit motive was as much an "accident of history" as the death of Harold II at the hands of the army of William of Normandy.


The study has established the preponderant importance of the textile industry to the Manchester region throughout the later eighteenth century. Within the town of Manchester that importance has been quantified: around 50% of the young male labour force were employed in textile-related employments during the period 1750-1800. [1] In the peripheral towns within the Manchester region this proportion was generally higher. This represents an enormous regional specialisation, but the problems of such a total reliance on a single sector was mitigated by the diverse nature of textile employments and textile products. Therefore, when the American textile markets were closed to imports of British-woven cotton cloth during the American War of Independence, there was a growth of demand for unemployed weavers to weave sail cloth in towns such as Warrington. As woollen textiles lost the popularity they had enjoyed in the early eighteenth century throughout the Manchester region, muslins and calicoes became very important to the urban economy. Indeed, there was a very clear move away from checks and fustians, which were, sans pareil, the textile products of the 1770s, towards cottons, calicoes and muslins, which were the up and coming textiles of the 1790s and for the new century. By 1800 fustians were probably produced in greater volume than the three newer products, but the expansion of the new textiles at the expense of the old was commented on by contemporaries, and this study has shown the quantitative evidence to support the anecdote. [2]

From the vantage point of 1800, this transformation of the textile industry can be explained by the success of innovations in spinning. In 1750 weavers were dependent on spinners. Spinning was a poorly paid by-employment and was almost entirely performed by women. [3] Because of seasonal and life-cycle demands on the "surplus" time of female spinners, supplies of spun yarn were not always regular. In a market economy, during such times of scarcity the labour of spinners would attract a premium, and this would either be passed on either to the eventual consumer, or depending on market conditions, to another producer in the production chain. The market, however, does not appear to have regulated the supplies of yarn, which resulted in yarn shortages and inefficiencies in the production process. The innovation of the spinning jenny, and later of the mule ended these inefficiencies, and enormously increased the amount of yarn which could be spun, whilst probably reducing the labour needed to spin it. The jenny could be used at home or in small workshops, and so did not fundamentally alter the nature of labour used to spin yarn. The mule, however, was powered by the steam engine, and it changed spinning in three profound ways. It "regendered" the process, in Manchester a large group of male spinners appeared by 1790, where previously spinning had been a by-employment of women. The second consequence was to proliferate the factory system, and bring it into the heart of the town (or rather, to the peripheral Ancoats district).


The third consequence was to relieve the traditional capacity problem, whereby the constraint on the volume of weaving undertaken in the Manchester region was dictated by a number of factors, one of the most significant of which was the volume of "surplus" female labour available for spinning. Mechanised spinning overcame this capacity constraint, and its consequence was that the weaving sector could grow to the extent that it could utilise the output of the spinning sector. This resulted in a large increase in the numbers of weavers in Manchester and in the towns in the Manchester region. [4] The capacity constraint changed, such that by 1800 William Radcliffe was able to claim that Britain didn't have the weaving capacity to absorb all the output of British spinners, and that exports of British yarn was enriching traditional commercial rivals. He therefore sought to solve the capacity problem in the same way as it had been solved in spinning: by the introduction of a mechanical process. A previous experiment in mechanised weaving in the Manchester area had failed, and the bulk of Radcliffe's efforts took place after 1800.


The expansion of demand for weavers during the period led to a movement away from agriculture and food as significant employers of labour. In 1750 in Ashton, Bolton, Bury and Rochdale these sectors had accounted for less than 15% of young male employment in 1750. By 1800, less than 7% of young men were employed in these sectors. The expansion of demand for weavers was assisted by a very mobile regional labour force. There was a tradition of geographical mobility within the region arising from apprenticeship and service customs, whereby young men and women would leave home to work elsewhere. This tradition continued into the factory era, when men and women moved to Manchester and other places to work in the factories and to take advantage of the other work opportunities which were available in the growing town. This mobility was not solely geographical, it was also occupational, men and women could change employments as circumstances demanded, and this undoubtedly assisted in the growth of new factory and other employments during the period.


There was also something of a gender mobility, in so far as women came to undertake roles traditionally undertaken by men in larger numbers than in the past. As men became machine spinners, replacing women domestic spinners, women increasingly took up weaving, and as their husbands and fathers died, women took over their businesses. Whilst women were never an enormous presence as proprietors, they increased both in number and as a proportion of the population from 71 in 1773 (0.26% of the population), to 156 in 1788 (0.31%), to 316 in 1801 (0.38%), representing an increase in the occupational opportunities open to them by 1801.


Some of these work opportunities were in the mercantile rather than production sectors. There has been some debate about the relative importance of these two sectors within the economy of Manchester, and the two alternative measures of economic importance, value of fixed capital tied up in each sector, and proportion of the workforce employed, respectively, give very different results. This study has, however, shown how Manchester's market grew in importance during the period, and that Manchester merchants and manufacturers actively encouraged measures which would promote that importance by subscribing to the companies improving the regional transport infrastructure, cultivating international trade links, catering for the international demand for "fashion" and novelty, constructing a new Exchange, and a market place.


The new work opportunities were largely filled by migrants coming into the town. The low age of marriage in the Manchester region assisted this inward movement. The combined effects of inward migration and high natural rate of growth resulted in the population of the town growing fourfold between 1757 and 1801, the largest motor of this growth throughout the period almost certainly being migration. [5] These migrants fitted each of the five social groups into which Manchester can be divided during the period. The proportion of the population which each group comprised was relatively consistent during the period 1773 and 1800. The Gentry were negligible throughout, comprising a handful of families, and they tended not to reside within the boundaries of the town. The Mercantile Elite and Middling Sort made up perhaps a third of the population. The Labouring and Hopeless Poor making up the remaining two thirds. Along with the geographical and occupational mobility of the period, there was social mobility, by which people moved between social groups, sometimes upward, but also downward.


Some members of the Mercantile Elite and the Middling Sort comprised a secret government of the town. They had a variety of common interests and endeavoured to control the town, and to use the "Manchester Voice" to influence legislation in line with those interests. Much of that influence was used in suppressing popular unrest during the period, which arose as the result of labour disputes, during times of unemployment or high food prices. At such times, the poor asserted their "rights", often, but not exclusively, by violence or the threat of violence. The secret government had the machinery of the law on their side when the poor resorted to violence: that machinery being personified by the rural magistracy. When the poor asserted their rights in a less bellicose fashion, the rural magistracy and gentry often took their side against the urban elite. However, a hegemony embracing both urban and rural elites and the bulk of the urban poor was established during the middle of the 1790s in response to the wars with France. Radical movements had emerged in Manchester and other industrial towns in the late 1780s, broadly supportive of the actions of the French revolutionaries, and this had initially had some broad appeal, spurred on by the success of groups campaigning for issues such as the abolition of the slave trade and the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. When war broke out with France, however, the reactionaries were able to portray the radicals as unpatriotic, and this unfurling of the Church and King banner assisted them to secure the complaisance of the urban poor. The relative bargaining position of the urban poor vis a vis labour disputes diminished during the 1790s, largely as a consequence of the establishment of this hegemony.


The study has shown that the culture of the poor was not deferential towards the urban elite during the period, although there was an expectation of deference on the part of their social superiors, and there was some use made of the "language of deference", especially in the early part of the period. Instead, the period saw considerable cultural negotiation, whereby the culture of different and changing social groups was formed and reformed constantly, to meet the exigencies of the situations in which the different groups found themselves. The two predominant cultural constants during the period were the efforts of the poor to invent and assert their "traditional rights" in the workplace and elsewhere, and the efforts of, initially the gentry, and subsequently the urban elite to "reform the manners" of the poor, to cajole them into being cleaner and more diligent. The roots of the Victorian ideal of the virtuous poor and the middle class home are very much in evidence in Manchester by the 1750s.


The culture of the poor was sufficiently malleable during the period to accommodate the enormous changes which took place in the economic and social sphere. The major changes were a movement from the home to the factory as place of employment, the influx of tens of thousands of migrants to the town of Manchester, such that most of the population of the town in 1800 must have been born outside it, and changes in the roles of women, both inside and outside the home. The economic changes also led to something of a social and cultural fragmentation during the 1790s, as some groups of the labouring poor, weavers and calico printers being the best examples of this group, became far more affluent than others. They were able to acquire possessions which would not be available to other members of the Poor.


The culture of the elite was sufficiently malleable to accommodate three very different models of political economy. Thompson has written very extensively about the culture of the patricians, a paternalistic, land-based system recognising reciprocal ties between master and man, and, more appropriately, landlord and tenant. The rural gentry, who largely controlled the urban magistracy, appear to have held on to this model even during the 1790s. The urban elite were divided between free-traders and protectionists, the dividing line being the extent to which an individual depended on weaving or spinning for their support. Spinners sought open markets in which to sell yarn, and had good connections with ports in the northern German states. Those involved in weaving, sought to restrict the exports of raw materials, especially yarn, because they thought it threatened to undermine their livelihood, especially as foreign labour was paid far less than indigenous labour. Both camps opposed the exportation of machinery, or the "seduction" of skilled workmen by foreign manufacturers.


The Contests


The introduction made reference to a number of "contests" which were in progress during the period. That between masters and workers was constant for much of the period. Workers would strike to procure higher wages. Masters would try to reduce the wages of their workers during times of high unemployment, or when trade was poor. Workers sought traditional perquisites, and masters overturned traditional rights. By 1800, the apparent balance had moved somewhat in favour of the masters, because of the growth of the factory system, whereby a new system of discipline could be imposed on workers. The workers had won something of a concession, however, in that the remuneration for factory employment was often higher than they could expect elsewhere.

The technological contest was a more overtly contested one. The spinning jenny and the water mule were greeted by violent opposition in the 1760s and 1770s, and only gradually did they came to be accepted by the poor. The handloom was first used in Manchester during Grimshaw's brief experiment in the early 1790s. The factory containing the machinery was burnt down shortly afterwards, so the commercial success of the experiment can not be determined. However, there were a number of "brakes" to invention and innovation. The high cost of new technology prevented its widespread diffusion, especially when it was untested. The crudeness of prototype machinery, often invented by amateurs, before "ingenious mechanics" had set to work to remedy defects, was noted by contemporaries. The lack of an economic rationale for expensive machinery was another important brake: handloom weavers were reasonably well paid for much of the decade, but when trade reduced because of external shocks such as war, they could be laid off easily. If the entrepreneur were dependent on expensive machinery, he would still be required to make interest repayments on the machinery.


The contest between the factory and the home as the locus of production was contested in most trade sectors. By 1800 only the occasional oddity would spin cotton at home in the Manchester region: spinning was undertaken in factories. Calico printing was one of the most modern sectors of the textile industry, and a relatively recent "import" to Manchester, and this employed the most modern technology and factories in the Manchester region. Despite the presence of weaving workshops in the Manchester region, weaving was still largely undertaken at home, and was to remain thus for some years to come. The failure of the early experiments in power weaving, and entrepreneurs satisfaction with the current production mode ensured this. The factory had therefore "won" the contest in spinning, but conspicuously lost it in weaving.


It is perhaps misleading to write of a "contest" between the sexes, but something of a contest was evident during the period. By 1800, women had more occupational opportunities than they had in 1750. They were more likely to work outside the home, they were more likely to be proprietors of their own business, often taking over those of their husband or father, or establishing one on their own account. These opportunities may have made them less dependent on the constraints of the patriarchal domestic system, whereby the contact with the market was through the male household head: women earned their own cash wages, made procurement and pricing decisions as proprietors, and may even have had a separate economic system from that of men, wherein women consumers bought many articles from women proprietors. By 1800, men too, had more occupational opportunities than in 1750. There was an expansion of employment opportunities at all levels in the social hierarchy, and the new technologies created entirely new occupations. Many men were also better paid than their fathers had been, and a discernible, though precarious, "aristocracy of labour" began to emerge by 1800, with handloom weavers and calico printers as the aristocrats. In this contest, therefore, both men and women were better off in some respects than their parents. There is little evidence in Manchester of the overt gender wars whereby men tried to exclude women from "their" trades and occupations.


In the contest between town and country, the evidence would seem clear-cut: Manchester's population expanded fourfold between the mid-1750s and 1801, the bulk of new inhabitants coming from the Manchester region (although there was long-range migration as well, especially of Scottish and Irish, who formed distinct groups in town by this time). However, much of this "spasmodic migrantcy": people came to town when they got a job, and when they lost it they may return to the family home in the countryside, or seek another job elsewhere. There appears to have been considerable movement, backwards and forwards between town and country during the period. Manchester's dominance as a marketing centre, however, was beyond dispute in 1800.


The contest between reform and reaction, chronicled comprehensively by Thompson, was conclusively lost by the former long before 1800. A brief flash of support for radical causes, from the abolition of the Slave Trade, to consideration of the works of Thomas Paine, occurred in the late 1780s and very early 1790s. There was much local excitement about the possible abolition of the Test and Corporation Acts, which largely disabled dissenters from taking part in public life. There were meetings of both workers and manufacturers to discuss constitutional change and to promote representative government. There was even, briefly, a Radical newspaper in town, the Manchester Herald in 1792-3. The reactionaries soon came to get the upper hand. They organised local support against the abolition of the two acts, and after the outbreak of war with France they rallied around the banner of "Church and King", as did the elites of most other towns in England. In Manchester they also "assisted" popular reaction, by supporting the burning of Tom Paine in effigy, the looting of the house of the leading radical, and the destruction of the offices of the radical newspaper, and the violent break-up of a meeting called to discuss radical issues. They also organised the farcical trial of a number of Manchester's prominent radicals, which failed, but left some of the men sufficiently harried and financially ruined by the experience to leave Manchester. The reactionaries were therefore firmly in the ascendant by 1800.




For many years, commencing shortly after the invention of the concept of the Industrial Revolution, historians have asked the question, summarised as "Why Manchester?". The question was why is Manchester regarded as the home of the industrial revolution, why did the series of inventions which led to the factory system come together in Manchester, and why did Manchester acquire its concentration of urban factories? By taking Manchester as the predominant theme of the study, the question has been avoided. This study has sought to trace the course of events in Manchester which led to the innovation of the urban factory, from 1750, a time when Manchester's economy was, to some extent, "traditional".


Manchester's experience was, like that of every other town and village, unique. It was shaped by its inhabitants, its history, its institutions, its geography and topography, and its economy. This study has endeavoured to chronicle aspects of that experience during a time of great turbulence and change.





[1] - That is, after removing those described as "soldiers" from the figures.


[2] - See Table 4, The Manchester Region.


[3] - See Table 1, The Changing Economic Structure of Manchester. During the pre-machine spinning period, there is only a single male spinner recorded in the samples which comprise the table.


[4] - In Manchester itself there was a proportionate fall in the proportion of the male labour force made up by weavers during the period 1755-1799, but this was combined by an enormous increase in population. In the towns of Ashton, Bolton, Bury, and Stockport there was an increase in the proportion of men employed by one of the textile branches. In Rochdale, between 1750 and 1800 there was a proportionate fall of 1.2%. In all these places there was likely to have been considerable population expansion.


[5] - See Table 1, Society and Demography of Manchester. The narrative associated with the table stresses the less than wholly reliable nature of the figures available to demographers.