many handloom cotton-weavers there were in 1835 or 1838. It was estimated that there were in the Glasgow area in 1838 36,000 handlooms devoted mainly to cotton, but in a small percentage of cases to a mixed silk and cotton fabric. In Carlisle there were nearly 2000; in the Manchester district from 8000 to 10,000. In Bolton there were 3000. Looms were very numerous also in the Blackburn-Colne area, and in the Accrington-Todmorden districts. Perhaps there were more than 25,000 handlooms in Lancashire, which number, added to the figures above given, will give over 60,000 handlooms in all devoted to cotton-weaving, inclusive of the number in which mixed fabrics were woven. An estimate made at Carlisle gave an average of two persons to each loom; in Manchester of two and one-third, which suggests that between 120,000 and 150,000 individuals were in 1838 still dependent upon the precarious trade of handloom cotton-weaving. As the Committee of 1834–35 estimated the total number of handloom weavers in all four branches (cotton, linen, wool, silk) as 840,000, this estimate is perhaps not exaggerated. The cotton-weavers did not form any very considerable proportion of the population of Lancashire—perhaps 60,000 or 70,000 out of a million and a quarter in 1838; but as they were concentrated in a comparatively small area, and as there were amongst them old men, who in the halcyon days of handloom-weaving had acquired knowledge and culture and could make their influence felt by other people, they attracted considerable attention.
The comparative slowness with which machinery was applied to weaving was due to several causes. There was the technical difficulty; there was the very heavy cost of the machines, and there was the period of abnormally high prices at the beginning of the nineteenth century which encouraged manufacturers to produce on the old lines so as to reap the immediate profits with as little capital outlay as possible. A great boom in handloom-weaving marked the years 1795–1805. Wages were high owing to the abnormal demand for weavers as compared with spinners. The industry was swamped by an influx of unskilled hands who quickly learned sufficient to enable them to earn vastly more than they had earned elsewhere. Irish labourers poured into Lancashire and Glasgow. A flood of small masters appeared and for a while prospered. The end of the war brought on a terrible
- Parliamentary Papers, 1840, xxiv. p. 6.
- Parliamentary Papers, 1839, xlii. pp. 584, 578, 602.
- Pp. 584, 578.