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King Cotton: A tribute to Douglas A. Farnie
edited by Professor J.F. Wilson
‘What would happen if no cotton was furnished [by the southern states of America] for three years? … England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with … No, you dare not to make war on cotton … Cotton is King.’
So said Senator J. Hammond of South Carolina in 1858. Such was its reliance on Southern cotton, he reckoned, that Britain would have to side with the Confederates in the forthcoming American civil war. Fine speeches in Parliament in opposition to slavery was one matter; economic survival was quite another.
Cotton was indeed vital for both nations: raw cotton accounted for around 60% of America’s exports in the mid-nineteenth century, while for five generations woven cotton cloth was Britain’s most important export product. At the very centre of world trade in cotton, Manchester had been dubbed ‘Cottonopolis’, and in Lancashire as well as in the southern states the term ‘King Cotton’ came to be used frequently as a metaphor for the towering dominance of the cotton industry within the economy of southern Lancashire, north-east Cheshire and the Derwent valley of Derbyshire. This region was the cotton cloth manufacturing centre of the world; it was also the epicentre of what had been a whole new and radical way of working and of living. For here it could well be argued – in the water-powered spinning mills of Arkwright at Cromford and of Strutt at Belper, as well as in the thousands of handloom weavers’ cottages throughout central and south Lancashire – began the industrial revolution itself, with cotton mills bringing together hundreds of workers under one roof, and with whole districts and towns springing up around sites of water power and water transport to house them.
For Lancashire, cotton’s days of greatest, most dynamic growth came during the early part of Victoria’s reign; despite periodic downturns (and the Cotton Famine which Senator Hammond could not envisage the British ever allowing to happen), the industry continued to expand until its absolute peak in the years just before and after the First World War. In 1913 7,000 million English cotton cloths were exported.
Cotton really was King. And it would not be stretching the metaphor too far to claim that the ‘King of Cotton’ in terms of historical enquiry over the last half-century has been Professor Douglas A. Farnie.
It is entirely fitting that a group of Douglas’s ardent admirers should contribute a series of essays on topics that he has shed light on in a highly distinguished career. Anyone who has ever come into contact with Professor Farnie will be well aware of his encyclopaedic knowledge of Lancashire’s industrial history, and specifically its greatest contribution to British wealth creation, the cotton textiles industry. His ability to produce either pertinent factual information or a reference to vital primary or secondary information has been a hallmark of the way in which he has supported fellow researchers, sharing his knowledge base as a means of generating fresh interpretations or projects.
This collection of essays is based on Professor Farnie’s extensive research interests in Lancashire and textiles history. All of the chapters are original, having been written specifically for this volume as a tribute to Professor Farnie’s abiding contribution to these fields.
This collection accurately reflects the enormous contribution Douglas Farnie made to each of these subjects. Historians will consequently benefit enormously from reading this new material, given that it both extends our knowledge of Lancashire and textile history, and provokes fresh debates about issues that will never be laid to rest. This provides a fitting tribute to a man who relishes the search for knowledge creation as the driving force behind a life devoted to this pursuit.
- Date of Publication:
- 25 April 2009
- 234 × 156mm