“To understand LDS Preston you have to understand cotton”
Cotton became such a major economic force in nineteenth century Britain that some claimed that “Britain’s Bread hangs on Lancashire’s thread.” Our LDS missionaries arrived when the cotton industry was exploding across the Lancashire landscape. There were a number of factors that contributed to its success, but a basic way to remember why Lancashire was so cotton friendly is to list the three Cs: Canals, Coal and Climate.
1. Canals. Today we tend to see canals as quiet backwaters and places for a peaceful cruise, but in their heyday they were wonders of engineering and vibrant, vital trade links. Raw cotton imported from America could be easily delivered by barge from ports like Liverpool to the Lancashire mill towns, coal could be shipped in to fuel the mill’s steam engines and the finished cotton products could be easily returned to the ports for local, national and international distribution. By the 1850s the speedier and more efficient railways quickly made the canal system obsolete, but for around 80 years canals were ‘the’ way to move products around.
These images are of the Lancaster Canal which ran north from Preston. One of our first British missionaries, Joseph Fielding, talked about travelling along this canal to visit branches of the early church. Note in the image above that the canal bridge is made by the firm of Joseph Clayton who ran an iron foundry in Preston from 1835 to 1887. The Clayton surname is a familiar one in these parts, and William Clayton, who converted just outside of Preston, went on to give us the lyrics of Come, Come Ye Saints.
2. Coal. Lancashire, surprisingly, had a large coalfield. ‘Surprising’ as most Englishmen would be familiar with the mines of south Wales and Yorkshire, but few will have heard of hundreds of pitheads scarring the Lancashire landscape. It takes a trained eye to discover any traces of a coal industry in these parts today. This local supply became essential for keeping the mills’ steam engines running. These engines powered the increasingly mechanised industry starting with spinning factories and eventually the weaving factories. Prior to mechanisation cotton production was a slow domestic affair on looms like this:
3. Climate. It is wet! Being stuck between the NW coastline and the highland of the Pennine Hills means Lancashire gets a lot of rain. The plethora of moisture is one of the accepted parts of Lancashire life. The humid conditions make cotton production easier since your cotton is less likely to snap…which, when you are operating a machine like this one below, could be a real pain.
Facts and Stats
Here are a few Facts and Stats to illustrate the cotton experience in the Preston area.
1768 – Richard Arkwright invented the cotton spinning machine in Stoneygate, Preston. This was such a monumental moment a separate article will be dedicated to the Arkwright touch.
1777 – First spinning mill built in Preston.
1830 – there were around 100,000 domestic handloom weavers in Lancashire. About a sixth of the population were dependent on handloom weaving for their livelihood. Handloom weaving still represented the largest sector but spinning companies gradually began to employ their surplus steam power to run power looms. Soon single-storey weaving sheds became a familiar feature of the townscape, and the domestic weavers began to disappear. The export of cotton represented around 30 – 40% of all the exports from the UK (Hunt 174)
1836 – Preston had 42 mills. The next thirty years were the golden age of mill construction in Preston.
1842 – Preston had 15 spinning mills, 15 combined spinning & weaving mills, 3 Power Weaving Factories, 5 Doubling Mills, 4 Mills closed. Employing 707 spinners, 1,725 pieces, 7,500 power loom weavers and 523 over lookers.
1850s – Preston had 64 mills with over one million spindles, employing about 20,000 people (Hunt 173)
1880 – the great period of expansion seemed to be over.
This industrial history might seem a bit of a tangent to a blog dedicated to LDS history, but as these articles unfold they will provide a nice foundation for the scenes we explore.
In the next post we’ll discover the domestic weavers of Preston.