'A town built on migration'? The human capital value of migration to Reading, 1851-71

Gooch, Daniel James (2019). 'A town built on migration'? The human capital value of migration to Reading, 1851-71. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


This dissertation provides an estimate of the human capital value of migration to Reading in the period 1851-71 to the town’s economy. This is calculated in two ways. First, using techniques devised by both local and economic historians, the net productive lifetime value of migrants is arrived at, by calculating an estimate of total net migration across this period by age and gender and assigning these migrants a value for expected lifetime economic output less expected lifetime consumption costs. The final figures are contextualised by comparison with contemporary national indicators of economic output and the value of social overhead capital used to fund significant local infrastructure projects in the same time period. Second, a case study calculates the human capital value embodied in migrant employees working for Reading’s Huntley & Palmers biscuit manufacturers in 1851, comparing this with the value of the same firm’s fixed capital assets. These calculations show that, from a human capital perspective, the value of migration to Reading was very significant, both for the town as a whole and for this specific business. Chapter 2 sets the aims and techniques of this study in context with the historiography of local population studies. While, as Chapter 3 explains, the roots of Reading’s early industry lay in other supply- and demand-side factors related to Reading’s position as a regional agricultural processing centre, the calculations and comparisons in Chapters 4 and 5 show that the availability of a wide pool of human capital through the phenomenon of migration was a crucial catalyst for the later expansion of mass industry in the town.

The dissertation focuses predominantly on the A825 theme of industrialisation, but also touches lightly on family and urban history, through the demographic composition of migration and change migration wrought (or lack thereof) on the urban fabric of Reading. It addresses significant historiographical gaps in the study of Victorian migration to Reading during this crucial period in the town’s industrial expansion and also more generally, in regional studies of Victorian labour migration in the South East of England.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions