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Significance of Cotton to the British Industry

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How significant to the British economy was the cotton industry in the period up to 1914? The cotton industry can be considered to be the biggest and the most important part of the textile industry at the time of the Industrial Revolution. It grew from practically nothing to the greatest industry in the country. This had a particularly large impact on a society, which had been economically quiet for a long time. Due to an increasing demand for cotton, even in poorer regions of the world, Britain began to benefit hugely from trade links. As Farnie claimed 'The growth of exports..transformed the pattern of trade and provided the British Empire with a new economic base'. From 1750-1830, retained imports of cotton increased from 2,820 thousand lb to 173 million lb. This staggering increase shows just how much of the British economy was accounted for by the cotton industry alone. Productivity improvements also continued at an average of 2.1% per annum in the spinning sector and 2.7% in weaving. ...read more.


The cotton industry seemed to expand far faster than other textile industries. The rise of the cotton plantations of the southern USA meant the huge demand of the British cotton factories could be met. Additionally, the machines supplied were particularly suited for use with cotton. During the 18th century, there were a series of important inventions that may have in fact been the reason for the enormous impact that cotton had on the British industry. Kay's flying shuttle in 1933 seemed to trigger a line of extraordinary inventions that was to revolutionise the British cotton industry. Wheels were fitted to the shuttle and a spring at each side to drive the shuttle to and fro across the loom. This simple improvement meant one weaver could weave as much cloth as two weavers did before. This was closely followed by Hargreave's spinning jenny in 1764. By 1780 the jenny was capable of spinning 80 spindles and was used in many spinner's homes. Arwright's frame in 1769 was large and expensive but was used widely in factories. ...read more.


The growth of the export sector provided the greatest spur to production accounting for 60% of the total sales in 1871. In the years when climatic conditions demanded a lightweight cloth and high poverty levels demanded low price products, cotton moved away from its traditional markets and Asian markets such as China and India grew noticeably. In fact, India became critical to the Lancashire cotton industry. The export of cotton cloth to India accounted for 16.6% of total cloth by value produced in Britain in 1851. This had reached 19.4% in 1873. In conclusion, the British economy benefited greatly from the cotton industry. Due to new mechanisation and revolutionary new ideas and technology, cloth could be made to a very high standard. Cheaper and often more wearable than wool or silk, cotton began to be exported all over the world and not just in Europe. This made up a significant portion of not only the British textile industry but the economy as a whole. However, it is important to consider cotton in comparison to other industries. In reality not a great deal changed in the way cotton was manufactured so perhaps its impact up to 1914 was not as substantial as it appears. ...read more.

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