British textile industry in the 18th and 19th centuries was brutal compared to our modern computerized textile manufacturing. At the time, the fabrics were handmade, starting from growing plants and breeding animals to get the fibers, processing these fibers, spinning the yarn, weaving it into cloth, and sewing clothes from it. It was hard work, manufacturers used child labor and women’s labor because these were low-paid workers, they worked 12-14 hours, often in bad or even dangerous conditions. But Great Britain desperately needed their input in the industry to develop and thrive.
Let’s look at the 5 most interesting facts about the British textile industry in the 18th-19th century.
#1 England already had textile manufacturers in the early 1700s
At the very beginning of the 18th century, there were already small businesses that manufactured textile in England. Each of them usually specialized in one area. Such businesses became centers of textile production in their region. For example, in London, silk was made; in Whitby, sails were produced; in Lancashire – cotton; in Yorkshire and East Anglia – wool, etc. These were small craft shops, where most of the work was performed by hand. Closer to the end of the 18th century, manufacturers grew bigger and started to industrialize their production.
#2 Male weavers
In the 18th century, most professional weavers were men. And women and children did practically all of the preliminary work – much harder work, by the way. Moreover, men got a better salary, while women, elder people, and kids were noticeably underpaid. Only around the 1820s, more females became weavers – over 50% of the textile workers were women at the time.
#3 Long working hours
Today, we usually have an 8-hour working day. Some countries, such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, are even trying to establish a 6-hour working day. But in the 18th-19th century, 12-14-hour working day was a common thing. People gladly took such jobs because they had to feed their families. Often, this was their only option to earn a living.
#4 No qualification
A lot of work in the textile industry didn’t require qualification, so children and people without any experience in the craft were hired without any problems. To work with a weaving loom, you had to have certain knowledge, but most of the preliminary work didn’t require qualification. That was one of the reasons why textile workers were underpaid.
#5 Children dreamed of a job in the textile industry
Though working long hours for a penny, a lot of children wanted this job and dreamed of getting it. This was a real possibility for them to be fed, independent, and avoid domestic violence. This was the period of the industrial revolution, people had many kids because it meant more working hands. Children often did the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, while being subjected to domestic violence and constant malnutrition. So, a job in the textile industry meant for them that they could leave their parents’ home, earn a living themselves, and spend money on their own needs. Kids grew up early in that era.