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3. The Great Inventions 1
Wool was the most ancient and most important of English manufactures. Custom seemed to point to the permanent superiority of the woolen trade. The Chancellor of England sat on a sack of wool, and when men spoke of the staple trade they always referred to the trade in wool. For centuries British sovereigns and British statesmen had, after their own fashion, and according to their own ideas, actively promoted this particular industry. Edward III had induced Flemish weavers to settle in this country. The Restoration Parliament prohibited the exportation of British wool, and had ordered that the very dead should be interred in woolen shrouds. The manufacturers spread over the entire kingdom. Wherever there was a running stream to turn their mill there was at any rate the possibility of a woolen factory. Norwich, with its contiguous village of Worsted, was the chief seat of the trade; but York and Bradford, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, Manchester and Kendal, were largely dependent on it.
The steps which Parliament took to promote this particular industry were not always very wise; in one point they were not very just. Ireland, in many respects, could have competed on advantageous terms with the woolen manufacturers of England. English jealousy prohibited, in consequence, the importation of Irish manufactured woolen goods. The result hardly answered the sanguine anticipations of the selfish senators who had secured it. The Irish, instead of sending their fleeces to be worked up in Great Britain, smuggled them, in return for contraband spirits, to France. England failed to obtain any large addition to her raw material, and Ireland was driven into closer communication with the hereditary foe of England. The loss of Irish fleeces was the more serious from another cause. The home supply of wool had originally been abundant and good; but its production at the commencement of the century was not increasing as rapidly as the demand for it; the quality of home-grown wool was rapidly deteriorating. The same sheep
From Spencer Walpole's Ilistory of England from 1815, I, 52-76.
do not produce both wool and mutton in the greatest perfection. Every improvement in their meat is effected at the cost of their fleece. English mutton was better than it had ever been, but English manufacturers were compelled to mix foreign with native wool. Had trade been free, this result would have been of little moment. The English could have easily obtained an ample supply of raw material from the hills of Spain and other countries; but at the very time at which foreign wool became indispensable the necessities of the country, or the ignorance of her financiers, led to the imposition of a heavy import duty on wool. Addington, in 1802, levied a duty upon it of 5s. 3d. the cwt.; Vansittart, in 1813, raised the tax to 6s. 8d. The folly of the protectionists had done much to ruin the wool trade, but the evil already done was small in comparison with that in store.
Notwithstanding, however, the restrictions on the wool trade, the woolen industry was of great importance. In 1800 Law, as counsel to the manufacturers, declared, in an address to the House of Lords, that 600,000 packs of wool, worth £6,600,000, were produced annually in England and Wales, and that 1,500,000 persons were employed in the manufacture. But these figures, as McCulloch has shown, are undoubtedly great exaggerations. Rather more than 400,000 packs of wool were available for manufacturing purposes at the commencement of the century; more than nine tenths of these were produced at home, and some 350,000 or 400,000 persons were probably employed in the trade. The great woolen industry still deserved the name of “our staple trade”; but it did not merit the exaggerated descriptions which persons, who should have known better, applied to it.
If the staple trade of the country had originally been in woolen goods at the commencement of the present century, cotton was rapidly gaining upon wool. Cotton had been used in the extreme East and in the extreme West from the earliest periods of which we have any records. The Spaniards, on their discovery of America, found the Mexicans clothed in cotton. “ There are trees,” Herodotus had written nearly two thousand years before, “which grow wild there [in India], the fruit whereof
is a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep. The natives make their clothes of this tree wool.” But though the use of cotton had been known from the earliest ages, both in India and America, no cotton goods were imported into Europe; and in the ancient world both rich and poor were clothed in silk, linen, and wool. The industrious Moors introduced cotton into Spain. Many centuries afterwards cotton was imported into Italy, Saxony, and the Low Countries. Isolated from the rest of Europe, with little wealth, little industry, and no roads, rent by civil commotions, the English were the last people in Europe to introduce the manufacture of cotton goods into their own homes.
Towards the close of the sixteenth century, indeed, cotton goods were occasionally mentioned in the Statute Book, and the manufacture of the cottons of Manchester was regulated by acts passed in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth. But there seem to be good reasons for concluding that Manchester cottons, in the time of the Tudors, were woolen goods, and did not consist of cotton at all. More than a century elapsed before any considerable trade in cotton attracted the attention of the legislature. The woolen manufacturers complained that people were dressing their children in printed cottons, and Parliament was actually persuaded to prohibit the introduction of Indian printed calicoes. Even an Act of Parliament, however, was unable to extinguish the growing taste for Indian cottons. The ladies, according to the complaint of an old writer, expected to do what they please, to say what they please, and wear what they please.” The taste for cotton led to the introduction of calico printing in London ; Parliament, in order to encourage the new trade, was induced to sanction the importation of plain cotton cloths from India under a duty. The demand which was thus created for calicoes probably promoted their manufacture at home; and Manchester, Bolton, Frome, and other places gradually acquired fresh vitality from the creation of a new industry.
Many years, however, passed before the trade attained anything but the slenderest proportions. In the year 1697 only
1,976,359 pounds of cotton wool were imported into the United Kingdom. In the year 1751, only 2,976,610 pounds were imported. The official value of cotton goods exported amounted in the former year to only £5915; in the latter year to only £45,986. At the present time Britain annually purchases about 1,500,000,000 pounds of cotton wool. She annually disposes of cotton goods worth £60,000,000. The import trade is five hundred times as large as it was in 1751; the value of the exports has been increased thirteen hundred fold. The world has never seen, in any similar period, so prodigious a growth of manufacturing industry. But the trade has not merely grown from an infant into a giant, — its conditions have been concurrently revolutionized. Up to the middle of the last century cotton goods were really never made at all. The so-called cotton manufactures were a combination of wool or linen and cotton. No Englishman had been able to produce a cotton thread strong enough for the warp, and even the cotton manufacturers themselves appear to have despaired of doing so. They induced Parliament in 1736 to repeal the prohibition, which still encumbered the Statute Book, against wearing printed calicoes ; but the repeal was granted on the curious condition that the warp thereof be entirely linen yarn." Parliament no doubt intended by this condition to check the importation of Indian goods without interfering with the home manufacturers. The superior skill of the Indian manufacturers enabled them to use cotton for a warp, while clumsy workmanship made the use of cotton as a warp unattainable at home.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, then, a piece of cotton cloth, in the true sense of the term, had never been made in England. The so-called cotton goods were all made in the cottages of the weavers. The yarn was carded by hand; it was spun by hand ; it was worked into cloth by a hand loom. The weaver was usually the head of the family ; his wife and unmarried daughters spun the yarn for him. Spinning was the ordinary occupation of every girl, and the distaff was, for countless centuries, the ordinary occupation of every woman. The occupation was so universal that the distaff was occasionally
used as a synonym for “woman.” tombe point en quenouille";
“ Le royaume de France ne
See my royal master murdered,
To this day every unmarried girl is commonly described as spinster.
The operation of weaving was, however, much more rapid than that of spinning. The weaver consumed more weft than his own family could supply him with; and the weavers generally experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining sufficient yarn. About the middle of the eighteenth century the ingenuity of two persons, a father and a son, made this difference more apparent. The shuttle had originally been thrown by the hand from one end of the loom to the other. John Kay, a native of Bury, by his invention of the fly shuttle, saved the weaver from this labor. The lathe, in which the shuttle runs, was lengthened at both ends; two strings were attached to its opposite ends ; the strings were held by a peg in the weaver's hands, and, by plucking the peg, the weaver was enabled to give the necessary impulse to the shuttle. Robert Kay, John Kay's son, added the drop box, by means of which the weaver was able “ to use any one of the three shuttles, each containing a different colored weft, without the trouble of taking them from and replacing them in the lathe.” By means of these inventions the productive power of each weaver was doubled. Each weaver was easily able to perform the amount of work which had previously required two men to do, and the spinsters found themselves more hopelessly distanced than ever in their efforts to supply the weavers with weft.
The preparation of weft was entirely accomplished by manual labor, and the process was very complicated. Carding and roving were both slowly performed with the aid of the clumsy implements which had originally been invented for the purpose. “ Carding is the process to which the cotton is subjected after it has been opened and cleaned, in order that the fibers of the wool may be disentangled, straightened, and laid parallel with