Among the several books I’m reading is one titled “The Social and Economic History of Britain (1760 – 1965)” by Pauline Gregg, which I picked up at the local bookstore over a year ago. It seems it was initially published as “Modern Britain: A social and economic history since 1760” [amazon copy here ]
As pleasure in reading goes, the beginning is not that interesting. But as the story progresses, it get’s rather animated. And revealing. Having been published in 1965,it also doesn’t look that appealing in terms of aesthetics, unless a hardback is something that tickles your fancy. But as they say, do not judge a book by its cover.
Yet this book is more informative than first appears, and references to a critical period of the Industrial revolution, when Britain was rising to cement its place as a great world power, its empire as the largest in the history of mankind, its economy as one of the biggest and most resilient.
Thus like many others who have an appetite to properly understand how economies develop (or more accurately in my case – how it was triggered in Britain),I’m inclined to share some of its contents.
Firstly the book acknowledges that every nation develops differently. In some its slow – occurring over centuries, in others, its revolutionary, noticeable over a lifetime.
But before I dig into it further, there’s a summary that encapsulates the content which I’d like to begin with:
Eighteenth-century Britain was still far from being a country of capitalist enterprise. In only one of the three parts of the country in which the woollen industry was located had the capitalist form developed on a large scale. Cotton was in an intermediate stage. The iron and coal industries employed comparatively few people, and other capitalist enterprises were not typical. The agricultural interest was still dominant, and the handicraftsman was more important than the industrial or commercial capitalist.
It was not until the second half of the eighteenth century that the change towards large-scale industry quickened, becoming so rapid as to appear revolutionary. A number of interconnected causes produced this acceleration. There was a growth of population, creating an increased demand for goods. There was improved transport, making possible the carrying of finished commodities to markets and raw materials to centres of production. There were the great mechanical inventions, new materials, and improved chemical processes, which quickened and cheapened production. It is useless to try to assign priority to any of these factors; together they comprised the Industrial Revolution