By Keith Sugden
Master’s Thesis, University of Cambridge, 2007
Abstract: Northamptonshire, along with other agricultural counties in southern England, went into industrial decline sometime in the second half of the eighteenth century. This de-industrialization was a result of the shift of the worsted textile trade to the West Riding of Yorkshire. Unlike other southern counties, Northamptonshire later industrialized through the growth of shoe manufacturing. This distinctiveness offers the opportunity to better understand some aspects of the early industrialization processes at both the county and the parish levels. This study adds to the historiography through analysis of the occupational and organizational structures of the two industries, 1750- 1821. Historians have debated the causes of de-industrialization and have examined a number of factors. These include mechanization, wage differentials between the north and south, the ready availability of alternative work, particularly in southern counties with a strong agriculture presence, the influence of guild governance, inadequate supply of capital, poor quality of labour, and a weak network of producers. These potential causal factors have been considered in this study. A number of primary sources have been used to enable the timing of the decline of the local worsted industry to be more precisely defined than has hitherto been possible. These sources indicate that the worsted trade began to collapse in the 1770s and 1780s, a period before the mechanization of the industry. The evidence examined here suggests that there was a combination of other contributory influences to the decline. These include an inability to recover from the loss of trade through the American War of Independence 1777-83, a rise in the demand for worsted yarn rather than for plain woven cloth, a poor marketing network and the unavailability of local cloth halls to allow for direct commercial contact between weaver and merchant.
Shoemaking grew at the beginning of the nineteenth century, not only in the established urban centres of Northampton and Wellingborough but also in the rural parishes. The shoe industry did not develop significantly in erstwhile worsted parishes during the period of study. The provincial shoe trade developed originally through the provision of footwear to the military and as a cheap source of labour for London shoe merchants. By 1830, this had changed and there is a clear indication that Northamptonshire had become more specialized by this time.
In addition, this study has shown that parish marriage records post the 1753 Hardwicke Act are a barometer of economic and population change. From evidence gleaned through analysis of the trends in the number of annual marriages it appears that worsted parishes de-populated during the de-industrialisation period. The population of the urban weaving town of Kettering decreased at this time but recovered to original levels during the early nineteenth century. Populations in the rural worsted parishes did not recover as quickly. By 1817, some rural parishes had still not returned to the population levels of 50 years earlier. In contrast, the population of agricultural and rural shoemaking parishes grew. The growth accelerated in shoemaking parishes from the 1790s onwards. This use of marriage records is of particular value in the absence of parochial population data prior to the first census of 1801. It is also of significance as a proxy in the absence of direct occupational data. As such, it is likely to be a valuable primary source in future studies to establish occupational and economic changes elsewhere, 1754-1800.