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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Growth of the cotton industry and Scottish economic development, 1780-1835 Robertson, Alexander James


This study is intended, first of all, to be an examination of the growth of the cotton industry in Scotland from 1760 to 1835. During this period, it became the largest and most important sector of the Scottish industrial economy, producing over 70% of the country's exports by value. There is, however, a subsidiary problem, that of placing the industry's growth within the general context of Scottish economic development in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The choice of terminal dates was to some extent dictated by the availability of material. The Old Statistical Account of Scotland, probably the most important single source of information on the establishment of the cotton industry, was compiled in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. The early 1830's saw the compilation of the New Statistical Account and the publication of the findings of the Factories Inquiry Commission and the Select Committee on Manufactures, Commerce and Shipping, all important sources for the industry's later development. Separate Scottish Customs records ceased to be kept in 1827, after which date no reliable guide to the importation of raw cotton into Scotland is available. But the date I780 does mark approximately the industry's foundation in Scotland, while 1835 marks the end of the main period of its expansion. The problem of the industry's foundations and growth was dealt with by adopting a topical approach. The first topic to be discussed in this connection was that of the physical growth of the industry from 1780 to 1835, which involved an examination of the expansion of raw cotton consumption and of the number and size of the units of production. At the same time, the industry's location was considered. The next step was to consider the capitalization of the industry, the factors which stimulated the transference of capital and entrepreneurial ability from other sectors of the economy, and the response of the industry to consumer demand by specialization in certain types of product. These were considered to be the factors which made the industry's expansion possible. The most important problems involving labour in the new industry - labour recruitment, wages and conditions of work and the formation of labour organizations - were also considered. In dealing with the subsidiary problem, a narrative approach was adopted. The first chapter, therefore, is simply a description of the developments within the Scottish economy which preceded the establishment of the cotton industry. Thus, the economic conditions out of which the industry grew and in which the capital, production skills and other requirements for its growth were acquired could be set out. The last chapter is intended to show the effects of the cotton Industry's development on other sectors of the Scottish economy. The Scottish cotton industry developed out of the economic crisis which followed the loss of the American colonies in 1783. Its expansion after that date was rapid, though subject to considerable fluctuations due to uncertain market conditions arid a rather narrow specialization in the type of fabrics produced. The industry's expansion was undertaken by means of the adoption of new production-techniques and new forms of organization, which marked a change-over from the system of manual production in small-scale units to mechanized production in large-scale factory units. These came to be centred in the south-west of Scotland, around Glasgow, because of the advantages which that area enjoyed over others in respect of access to markets and raw materials and because it possessed resources of highly-skilled labour which other areas lacked. Capital and entrepreneurial skills acquired in the pre-American Revolutionary period, mainly in other textile industries, were utilized to build up the new industry, which also appears to have based its initial expansion on the exploitation of' markets previously served by the linen industry. These proved to be inadequate, however, and new products had to be developed to ensure continued expansion while avoiding direct competition with Manchester. The industry relied heavily on supplies of immigrant labour to man its factories. The working conditions within the factories varied from place to place according to the attitudes of individual managers, and wages, too, varied from one factory to the next, and even from man to man in any one mill. In general, factory wages fluctuated with the trade cycle, while wages in the remaining domestic section of the industry, handloom weaving, seem to have declined steadily at least from 1806. The concentration of the labour force in large units offset the advantages which the employers had always enjoyed in disputes with labour, and permitted the foundation of strong and effective militant labour organizations. The development of the cotton industry led to the expansion of other industries in Scotland, notably the secondary textile industries like bleaching and dyeing. Its adoption of mechanized techniques of production promoted the growth of the engineering industries in the Clyde Valley, and the increased demand for chemicals for cloth-finishing which resulted from its expansion led to considerable expansion of the chemical industry. In these ways, the cotton industry laid the basis of the Scottish economy of the twentieth century.

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