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Manchester Becomes a Thriving Industrial City
John Aikin

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries England experienced a substantial degree of urbanization, with all the attendant problems. In many respects this urbanization was the result of the expansion of factory-based industrialization, especially in the textiles sector of the economy. Manchester, located in the heart of the country, is representative of the rapid expansion of English urban centers in the industrializing era. It grew from a relatively small and obscure village to a large, bustling manufacturing center in less than two generations: in 1772 the population was about 25,000 people; by 1850 it had grown to a staggering 367,000! In the same period Liverpool, an established port city a short distance from Manchester, grew from 77,000 in 1800 to 400,000 in 1850. It was to Manchester that a young Frederick Engels would go to observe English manufacturing techniques and become appalled at what industrialization had created in the slums of this manufacturing center. This document is excerpted from the observations of a local citizen, John Aikin, in 1795. It is obvious from the tenor of his comments that Aikin was enthusiastic about the growth; he also seems to be rather accurate in assessing the causes of growth.

Questions to Consider
  • Which industry was most responsible for the initial growth of Manchester?

  • How does Aikin explain the expansion of industrial activity in Manchester?

No exertions of the masters or workmen could have answered the demands of trade without the introduction of spinning machines.

These were first used by the country people on a confined scale, twelve spindles being thought a great matter; while the awkward posture required to spin on them was discouraging to grown up people, who saw with surprise children from nine to twelve years of age manage them with dexterity, whereby plenty was brought into families formerly overburthened with children, and the poor weavers were delivered from the bondage in which they had lain from the insolence of spinners.

The improvements kept increasing, till the capital engines for twist were perfected, by which thousands of spindles are put in motion by a water wheel, and managed mostly by children, without confusion and with less waste of cotton than by the former methods. But the carding and slubbing preparatory to twisting required a greater range of invention. The first attempts were in carding engines, which are very curious, and now brought to a great degree of perfection; and an engine has been contrived for converting the carded wool to slubbing, by drawing it to about the thickness of candlewick preparatory to throwing it into twist.

These machines exhibit in their construction an aggregate of clock-maker's work and machinery most wonderful to behold. The cotton to be spun is introduced through three sets of rollers, so governed by the clock-work, that the set which first receives the cotton makes so many revolutions than the next in order, and these more than the last which feed the spindles, that it is drawn out considerably in passing through the rollers; being lastly received by spindles, which have every one on the bobbin a fly like that of a flax wheel;

Upon these machines twist is made of any fineness proper for warps; but as it is drawn length way of the staple, it was not so proper for weft; wherefore on the introduction of fine callicoes and muslins, mules were invented, having a name expressive of their species, being a mixed machinery between jennies and the machines for twisting, and adapted to spin weft as fine as could be desired.

These mules carry often to a hundred and fifty spindles, and can be set to draw weft to an exact fineness up to 150 hanks in the pound, of which muslin has been made, which for a while had a prompt sale; but the flimsiness of its fabric has brought the finer sorts into discredit, and a stagnation of trade damped the sale of the rest.

The prodigious extension of the several branches of the Manchester manufactures has likewise greatly increased the business of several trades and manufactures connected with or dependent upon them. The making of paper at mills in the vicinity has been brought to great perfection, and now includes all kinds, from the strongest parcelling paper to the finest writing sorts, and that on which banker's bills are printed. To the ironmongers shops, which are greatly increased of late, are generally annexed smithies, where many articles are made, even to nails. A considerable iron foundry is established in Salford, in which are cast most of the articles wanted in Manchester and its neighborhood, consisting chiefly of large cast wheels for the cotton machines; cylinders, boilers, and pipes for steam engines; cast ovens, and grates of all sizes. This work belongs to Batemen and Sharrard, gen[tle]men every way qualified for so great an undertaking. Mr. Sharrard is a very ingenious and able engineer, who has improved upon and brought the steam engine to great perfection.

The tin-plate workers have found additional employment in furnishing many articles for spinning machines; as have also the braziers in casting wheels for the motion-work of the rollers used in them; and the clock-makers in cutting them. Harness-makers have been much employed in making bands for carding engines, and large wheels for the first operation of drawing out the cardings, whereby the consumption of strong curried leather has been much increased.

Within the last twenty or thirty years the vast increase of foreign trade has caused many of the Manchester manufacturers to travel abroad, and agents or partners to be fixed for a considerable time on the continent, as well as foreigners to reside at Manchester. And the town has now in every respect assumed the style and manners of one of the commercial capitals of Europe.

Source: John Aikin, A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester, in Walter Arnstein, ed., The Past Speaks, 2d ed. (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1993), 2:148-149.