Merchants, Markets and Manufacture: The English Wool Textile Industry in the Eighteenth Century
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Smail No preview available - He is the author of The Origins of Middle-Class Culture: Halifax, Yorkshire , and has published articles on aspects of the English wool textile industry and early industrialization.
Bibliographic information. Great Britain. Smail Palgrave Macmillan UK , Jan 1, - History - pages 0 Reviews This book explores the causes and nature of the industrial revolution through a comparative study of the main wool textile manufacturing regions of England.
Arguing against excessive concentration on the production process for signs of industrial "take-off," Smail analyses the ways in which entrepreneurs both created and responded to the opportunities for economic expansion throughout the eighteenth century. Although other historians have highlighted the importance of the market for British industrialization, this study offers new insights into the character and chronology of eighteenth-century economic change.
Cloth Merchant Textile Indusry
Smail's work centres on the English woollens industry, which, although experiencing relative decline from its once-unassailable position as the nation's dominant market, provides an excellent case-study for entrepreneurial innovation. The period covered here is essentially from the s to s, a chronological span which is designed to highlight the fact that concentration on the post production process fails to acknowledge the key changes in entrepreneurial outlook which occurred in certain regions some decades before.
Through a succession of case-studies of individual firms, he argues convincingly that we must understand how the economic environment or "culture" promoted innovation in the specific branches of the industry. Most importantly, he argues that from the mid-eighteenth century onwards the increasing significance of product innovations and the expanding export market "created an economic context which both led entrepreneurs to look for innovations in the production process and allowed them to reap the benefits of those innovations" p.
Smail is at his most convincing when focusing on the individual strategies of producers and middlemen to expand their markets. In particular, he demonstrates how Yorkshire producers manage to free themselves from dependence on London factors and merchants in order to seize the opportunities presented by the rapidly-expanding American market, especially after the War of Independence.
Wisely, the significance of technological innovation is not ignored, but it has to be linked to the workings of the market, which was influenced by innovations from merchants as well as producers. Smail lays great stress on the success of entrepreneurs who could supply ever-wider arrays of woollen cloth to satisfy consumer demand, especially in an increasingly volatile fashion-conscious age. He also espies marketing novelties such as the use of "travellers" and pattern-books to tempt retailers into dealing direct with the suppliers.
A History Of The British Cotton Industry
The commercial sophistication of several of the firms depicted here is indeed striking, and by the s they were well-placed to exploit the potential of continuing technological innovation. Smail's insights undoubtedly rank as a significant contribution to the debate on the Industrial Revolution, and suggest that we have yet to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamic forces at work within the late-eighteenth century economy. However, as the author frequently acknowledges, much of the material here is suggestive rather than conclusive.
The comparative, long-termist approach deployed here is salutary in its ambition, but readers may well question the representativeness of his case-studies. All business historians would concur with the author when he comments on the "patchy" survival of illuminating materials p.
To this end, I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the business backgrounds of the successful entrepreneurs, and of the potential difficulties of switching from manufacturing to marketing or vice versa. Contemporary attitudes towards the innovating marketeers would also be a fruitful line of inquiry, and it would be interesting to know whether neighbours and social commentators were alive to their dynamic role within the regional and national economy.
Readers may also wish that Smail had endeavoured to be even more comprehensive in his approach. Having demonstrated the subtle and significant interplay between supply and demand, he might have said more about the importance of economic agencies at either end of the industry.