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La révolution industrielle au XIXème siècle November 26, 2005

Posted by Iglika in Révoluion industrielle.

Britain was perhaps never the “workshop of the world,” but her industrial dominance was such in the middle of the nineteenth century that the phrase is legitimate. She produced perhaps two thirds of the world’s coal, perhaps half its iron, five sevenths of its small supply of steel, about half of such cotton cloth as was produced on a commercial scale, and forty per cent (in value) of its hardware.

On the other hand even in 1840 Britain possessed only about one third of the world’s steam power and produced probably something less than one third of the world’s total manufactures. The chief rival state, even then, was the USA — or rather the northern states of the USA — with France, the German Confederation and Belgium. [112] The British middle-class citizen who surveyed the scene in the early 1870s might well have thought that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Nothing very serious was supposed to go wrong with the British economy. But it did. Just as phase one of industrialization stumbled into self-made depression and crisis, so phase two bred its own difficulties. The years between 1873 and 1896 are known to economic historians, who have discussed them more eagerly than any other phase of nineteenth-century business conjecture, as the “Great Depression.” The name is misleading. So far as the working people are concerned, it cannot compare with the cataclysms of the 1830s and 1840s, or the 1920s and 1930s. But if “depression” indicates a pervasive — and for the generation since 1850 a new — state of mind of uneasiness and gloom about the prospects of the British economy, the word is accurate. [105] How important were the railways to Great Britain?· There was a growth in the capital market: many people who had never invested before did so with railways.· The industry employed large amounts of labour. However there were peaks and troughs. It could go as high as 250,000 but dip as low as 40,000.· This increased spending power then led on to the multiplier effect as it created jobs for bankers, lawyers etc.· The demand the railways had for iron and steel was huge, and it also encouraged the technological development in the iron industry. With a steady increase in demand at home the overseas markets could be developed. This was vital for the growth of the South Wales iron and steel industry.· The demand for coal grew, and so did the services required from the mechanical and civil engineers.· The miles of track available went from 6,000 miles in 1850 to 13,500 by the late 1860s. Every mile of track needed more than 300 tons of iron.· The huge fruit and veg industry around the Vale of Evesham in central England grew rapidly as the produce could be inside the major cities within hours.· Obviously the canal operators/investors and the owners of coaching inns suffered. Coastal shipping was also hit.· The suburb became the feature of the city. Railway towns like Swindon and Crewe grew, and the working class became more mobile as there was at last a cheap form of transport other than walking.· The growth of the railway was largely unchecked throughout the period. There was regulation in an act of 1844, but little thereafter, in spite of concerns about safety and company concentration.· There was a Royal Commission in 1865, which reported in 1868, recommending few changes.· With over 200 MPs and Peers involved in railways, as directors and so on, there was little likelihood of demand or desire to reform.To what extent was this a boom time for British agriculture?· There was stability in the price of wheat and other prices rose steadily, but not spectacularly.· The best growth in prices lay in livestock-related areas.· A steady increase in major elements of farming was bound to have a good impact on farmers generally.· As real wages rose nationally, and in particularly urban areas, and with a growing m/c spending an increasing proportion of their income on quality food, there was certain to be an increase in demand for meat, all types of dairy produce, and of course wool.· Rural depopulation could be absorbed by the growing demand for labour in the towns and factories, so the problems caused by mechanisation and the switch to live-stock based farming, which used less labour than crop farming, was not too noticeable. Also the huge drainage works absorbed a lot of labour.· The huge urban demand for milk, which rail could meet, also lead to a shift in the use of the labour force to milking and transportation.· With excellent market conditions and a growing population and rail making access to towns easy, prices rose steadily in most parts of farming produce (20%-50%). So when a severe depression came in the 1870s this period was looked back on as a period of prosperity.To what extent was this a period of industrial boom?· There was also the possible misapprehension that the boom was caused by free trade.· There was too great a dependence on single industries such as textiles.· When the American Civil War broke out, the supply of the vital raw material – cotton – dried up. Lancashire was devastated and the workhouses could not cope.· Countries that were to be future rivals – USA, Germany – were involved in wars, from which Britain benefited.· There was little or no investment in vital areas such as coal cutting. It was still done by a man with a pick.· However, Henry Bessemer made vital inventions in steel manufacturing in 1856, and a product of real quality produced in 1858 in Sheffield, but it took a long time for the benefits of steel to be known.· There was too great a dependence on world trade.What was the impact of the repeal of the Corn Laws?· The concern about the damaging impact it might have had may have acted to make farmers look at their methods and management to compensate for possible damage.· Wheat prices did drop briefly between 1848 and 1852, but not enough to seriously concern even those against repeal, as it was an asset to have food prices drop at a time of social unrest.· The world prices of wheat rose to British levels in the few years after repeal.· Other agricultural prices rose, some quite rapidly, which more than compensated the farmer for the slight fall in wheat prices.· The size of the landed interest in the House of Commons fell slightly, but still about 50% of its members in 1868 were directly involved in the management of farming land.· Any legislation that may have directly or indirectly helped farmers (e.g. cheap gov loans for improvement, or compensation for the arrival of the railway) had an easy passage in parliament, both in the Commons and the Lords.· There was gradual decline in the power of the landed interest.· The protectionists’ case vanished easily, and Disraeli was aware that his backbenchers hadn’t been reduced to poverty when the Conservatives abandoned protection in 1852.· There was not yet the means of transportation to ship the cheaper American wheat to Britain and the Crimean War was later to hold up Russian supplies as well.What were the main developments in agriculture during this period?· A major survey of agriculture by Caird in 1850-51 showed a lot of backward husbandry, and many cases where bad landlords and poor agents had neglected to develop and improve.· However in some areas neglect decline and effective use spread. It was an age of real capital investment.· The graduates of the new Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester (founded 1845) came out on to the job market, and ideas from the Rothamstead Agricultural Research Station (founded in 1843) began to spread as well. Membership of the Royal Agricultural Society (founded in 1838) grew and blossomed under royal support. There was a growth in professional standards among the agents who managed the great estates for their aristocratic owners.· There was a huge increase in drainage projects, always expensive, to improve both the quality of land and the amount of land that was cultivated. In this period in the region of £20 million was spent on draining over 4 million acres of land.· There was a growth of technical efficiency: some have called it another agricultural revolution, with much more intensive farming, designed to produce a much higher output per acre.· There was development in the use of fertilisers (including imported ones like guano) and a lot of thought went into the correct feeding of animals and the way in which the land was used and the crops rotated.· Machinery such as the steam driven threshing machines appeared on larger farms.· There was also a much greater awareness of the needs of the market place, and the speed with which farmers adapted to the arrival of the railways was impressive. Cattle were shifted to market quickly without the need for long-distance droves that weakened them and reduced their weight and price. The Vale of Evesham in central England rapidly adapted to the provision of fruit and vegetables for the London markets.What were the main weaknesses in British agriculture during this period?· The agricultural labourer was still badly treated, and there was no serious improvements in their pay, working or living conditions until trade unions developed layer in the century.· There was still a great deal of conservatism in farming. At the beginning of this period over 20% of the cultivated acreage consisted of units under 100 acres (40 hectares) and there is little evidence of change throughout this period. The farms really suited to the age of ‘high farming’ were over 300 acres and they were less than 30% of the total number of farms. The majority of farms were not suited to the new age, and in many cases it passed them by.· There was often a poor return on money invested. The Duke of Northumberland spent over £500,000 on improvements in this period and never got more than a 2% return on his capital.· There was still insecurity of tenure for tenant farmers who cultivated the smaller farms, and therefore had little need to improve the quality of land or their methods. The situation was not confined to the Irish tenant farmer, and a parliament dominated by large-scale landowners, who got their income from tenant farmers, was unlikely to support any major changes. Landlords liked to keep leases short as in the age before the secret ballot they liked to influence their voting behaviour. If they voted contrary to their landlords wishes they could easily be evicted.· The system of farming had become too dependent on growing markets and rising prices, and was unable to rid itself of the need to grow wheat.· Farming was still dependent on the weather and heavy rainfall in the early 1860s caused major problems and showed the limitation of the ‘boom’. Much of the boom was dependent on outside factors over which neither Britain nor any of its farmers had any control.Why was this such a period of growth for British industry?· The 1850s and 1860s are always seen as the high point in the growth and development of the British economy. Some of the reasons for Britain’s success were the complete absence of any serious rivals, either in Europe or elsewhere. Other reasons were a good banking system, a superb geographical position, a tradition of international trade, an excellent transport network and a growing home market.· However, as with agriculture, warning signs could be seen:o A lack of investment in new technologieso A decline in entrepreneurshipo A poor educational system· A growing social divide between those who generated the wealth and jobs, and the political and social elite who wished to have less and less to do with ‘trade’, and who failed to understand its needs and its role in the creation of wealth.· Viewed from almost any angle this was a period of ‘boom’. The ‘feel good’ factor was evident wherever you looked. The ‘Great Exhibition’ in London at the beginning of the period demonstrated the ingenuity and longstanding success of British industry.· The boom used large amounts of labour in any town or city – Aberdeen to Glasgow, Leamington Spa to London – which is illustrated in large housing developments from the 1850s and 1860s onwards.· Prices, investment and production rose.· The quantity theory of money points to the increase in gold supply (there were discoveries in California in 1848 and Australia in 1852, the bulk of which ended up in vaults in the Bank of England).· The rise in public demand, however, seems to be the primary reason. The demand for British manufactured goods was stimulated by wars such as the Crimean in the 1850s and the American Civil War of the early 1860s. Reasonably inelastic supply and increased demand was bound to have a healthy impact on prices from the British point of view.· Britain made a great deal of money in opening up and developing industries in other countries.Development of overseas tradeClosely related to this expansion of manufacturing, overseas trade grew in importance: during the 18th century the proportion of industrial output exported rose from a quarter to a third and multiplied eight times in value. Textiles still predominated but cotton replaced wool and export cargoes became much more varied. The biggest change was in their destination: America became Britain’s biggest market. Scarcely interrupted by the War of Independence (1776-83), in 1800 nearly 60 per cent of Britain’s exports crossed the Atlantic (a proportion that declined as the USA industrialised and British trade and empire turned eastward). The other major cargo was human: British merchants were responsible for shipping over three million slaves (half the total) from Africa to the slave plantations of the Caribbean and southern USA, before their trade’s abolition by parliament in 1807. Driving this Atlantic trade was British demand for plantation produce: industrial raw materials, such as cotton and dyestuffs, and exotic groceries, in particular sugar. Sweet-toothed Britons consumed 20 pounds of sugar per head by 1800 – five times as much as a century before – and most of it in their tea, another exotic import, from Asia. Underpinning the trade was Europe’s largest and most expensive Navy, keeping the sea lanes open, suppressing pirates and, in frequent wars, stripping the French of their Caribbean colonies. The Royal Navy was, by far, Britain’s biggest enterprise and investment, uniquely responsible for the huge rise in government spending during the 18th century. Tea-swilling, cotton-clad Britons could scarcely complain of the import duties they had to pay to help maintain it! Sugar was, however, more than a morale-booster for British workers; it contributed important calories to a diet which domestic agriculture was struggling to supply. In 1800 imports of staple foods, such as grain, butter and meat, were still small in comparison with a century later, but vital nonetheless. Ireland was Britain’s biggest single supplier. This is not to underestimate the achievement of British farmers in largely feeding the fast-growing population. During the 18th century they brought 50 per cent more land under cultivation and increased yields per hectare by the application of new techniques that allowed more animals to be raised and thereby improved the fertility of the soil. At the same time, less labour per hectare was required, owing to the increasing size of farms and the resultant economies of scale. In industrial regions redundant workers were snapped up, elsewhere they languished, rarely employed outside harvest time.

Référances :

Hobsbawm, Eric. Industry and Empire: The Birth of the Industrial Revolution. rev. ed. New York: New Press, 1999.


Développement du transport :

– de nombreux canaux sont creusés

– des bateaux à vapeur sont développés (R . Fulton 1802)

La locomotive est développée (R.Stephenson 1829)

– favorise la concentration des industries

– nécessite beaucoup de fer et de charbon = création d’emplois

– la bicyclette est inventée


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