An examination of the Halifax textile industry in a period of intense technological change, 1700 to 1850

Humphreys, Valerie (1989). An examination of the Halifax textile industry in a period of intense technological change, 1700 to 1850. PhD thesis The Open University.



Land in Halifax parish was steep and infertile, partible inheritance was traditional, and the inhabitants resorted to industry. By 1700 the occupational structure indicates exceptional industrialisation. The study examines developments as additional products were introduced, each with distinct origins and technology, and industry transferred from cottages to factories.

In 1700 Halifax industry was rural, its product woollen kersey, its driving force the larger-scale clothiers who made goods themselves, put work out, and bought from smaller producers. They sought markets and built up networks of mercantile contacts. Accumulated capital enabled them to extend the product range with worsteds, to meet new and growing demand for lighter fabrics, which required more labour than kersey.

Factors which prompted the emergence of industry facilitated early adoption of new technology. Water power was exploited to enhance output of existing industry, and reduce its costs. The earlier possibilities for mechanisation, and for growth, presented by cotton manufacture were taken, and a new industry introduced.

Land formations which provided water power delayed urbanisation and adoption of steam power in Halifax, where industry remained dispersed. Natural advantages, at that time, lent impetus to industrial growth in Bradford, and the centre of the worsted industry moved there. Greater diversification into separate branches of textiles, each made in wide product ranges, compensated in Halifax.

The determination of Halifax manufacturers had expanded hand industry, and assisted its successful transfer to factories. They foresaw changes in taste, and produced suitable goods. Costs were reduced, and output increased, by their adoption of new methods. During the transition, they had a pool of skill on which to draw; on its completion they relied on power, and lower grades of labour, which might, later, be found better elsewhere.

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