JOINING THE REVOLUTION:
THE SMITHSONS AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
The Smithsons from Weardley had been predominately a farming family in Yorkshire, England. As the 18th century closed and the 19th century dawned, that rural life was brought to a close. Living near Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire, one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution, many Smithsons were drawn towards urban, industrial centres. While numbers of Smithsons may have lived in the squalid shadows of ‘dark, satanic mills’, new vistas were also opened for the Smithsons from Weardley.
THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION
The causes of the Industrial Revolution are interwoven, complex and have been the subject of long debate. However, one factor driving the Industrial Revolution was an ‘Agricultural Revolution’ that had developed in Britain in the 18th century. New agricultural efficiencies and methods allowed sustained population growth and promoted internal migration, creating a substantial supply of industrial labour and a large domestic market. But how did the Smithsons from Weardley fare during this Revolution?
The Smithsons at Weardley were tenants of one of the new breed of improving landlords, the Lascelles family of Harewood. Henry Lascelles (1690-1753) purchased the Harewood estate in 1738-9. Originally a North Yorkshire landowning family, the Lascelles sought their fortune in the Caribbean. That fortune was won through dealings in sugar, money-lending and the acquisition of a key government appointment as well as sugar plantations worked by slaves.1 The Caribbean venture financed Henry Lascelles’ purchase of the Harewood estate, which
was a timely investment for a man who wished to influence politics in England, and further his own commercial interests… it allowed Henry to make the expression of an established member of the landed gentry who spent half of the year in London during the political season.2
The family’s prestige and power were made manifest in the construction of Harewood House and the ornamental landscape surrounding it by Henry’s son, Edwin, Member of Parliament and 1st Baron Harewood (1712-1795), in the mid1700s. They remain landmarks of national significance to this day. Effort and capital was also invested by Edwin and his heir and cousin, Edward Lascelles, M.P. and 1st Earl of Harewood (1740-1820), in improving the management of the estate and its farms. In this, the Lascelles played their part, alongside many ‘gentlemen farmers’ in England, in fostering innovation and improving production that marked Britain’s Agricultural Revolution.
The impact on the Smithsons of this new regime was not immediate or direct. Thomas Smithson (1759-1846) at Weardley and possibly his uncle, Peter Smithson (1718-1800) at Arthington Bank had originally been tenants of Sir Charles Herbert Sheffield and Sir John Sheffield, not the Lascelles. Thomas’ farm was one of several transferred to the Lascelles during a series of land exchanges between Sir John and Edwin Lascelles from 1782 to 1795. Upon taking over the estate after Edwin’s death, Edward Lascelles sought professional help from the London firm, Kent, Claridge and Pearce to improve the management of the estate, including the newly acquired land. The firm’s survey provides a good deal of what is known about Thomas Smithson’s farm. It also resulted in an increase in Thomas’ rent and an increase in his landlord’s control over the condition and practices employed on his farm.3 The emphasis on efficiency would now favour larger tenants over the smaller.4 After 1795, farmers holding 20 to 50 acres declined in numbers on the Lascelles’ estate, swallowed up by their neighbours holding 100 acres or more.5 Thomas, however, held on. He had already been practising up-to-date cropping practices and his farmhouse was in good repair.
In 1802, Lord Harewood and Sir John Sheffield came to an additional agreement and enclosed Weardley Common. Enclosure by act of parliament was one of the new efficiencies invariably associated with the Agricultural Revolution. The narrative that usually follows portrays a rural population, robbed of access to common land by large, improving landowners, forced into the new industrial urban centres. There are problems with writing the Smithsons at Weardley into this narrative because the initial impact of this efficiency on them appears mixed. Thomas increased his acreage as a result of the enclosure and obtained a greater measure of security against being swallowed up by his larger neighbours. Even his labourer brother, Richard, was able to obtain some little land. On the other hand, it may have spelled the end for their cousin Richard, son of Peter Smithson, at nearby Arthington Bank. He seems to have left his farm by 1811 and died at Otley in 1820.
In fact, the drift of Smithsons from Weardley to urban areas had begun well before the transfer to the Lascelles family and the enclosure of Weardley Common. From what is known about the Smithsons from Weardley and particularly their neighbours, the Smithsons of Arthington, Smithsons had for some centuries repaired to urban areas to seek their fortunes in trade. If successful, they would return to invest in landholdings. This seems to have been the case with William Smithson in the late 1500s, probably the case with Richard Smithson senior at Alwoodley in the late 1600s and certainly behind his plans for two of his sons as outlined in his 1704 will. In the 1770s, Peter Smithson junior of Arthington Bank sought his fortune as a cordwainer in Bramley.
The problem facing the Smithsons by the late 18th century was that land was increasingly hard to obtain and the Smithsons seemed to have had limited capital. Efficiencies imposed at Harewood by the turn of the century did not help. There was no farm to be had for Thomas of Weardley’s brother, Michael. He left for Otley by the 1780s. His brother Richard remained in Weardley, working as a labourer and, ultimately, living as a pauper.
The favour shown to larger tenants on the Harewood estate under the efficiencies of the Lascelles seems finally to have taken its toll on the Smithsons. It probably ensured that Thomas’ lease was not renewed at or soon after his death in 1846. This ended over three centuries of Smithson farming at Weardley. The Smithsons either left or, if they remained at Weardley, stayed as labourers, acquiring a few acres at best.
The experience of the East Rigton branch of the Smithsons from Weardley was different. John Smithson (b.1762) held just over 120 acres at East Rigton in 1815 and was unaffected by enclosures or imposed efficiencies. The wars with France in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 saw increases in the prices of agricultural products and a surge in agricultural investment adding momentum to the changes sweeping England’s countryside. Lord Harewood indulged in this investment surge and so did John Smithson with the purchase of twenty acres of freehold land at Burnt Hills, Bramham, in 1800. In the next two decades, he placed three of his sons on additional farms. Unfortunately, the war-time economy did not last. While Lord Harewood had the means to weather a recession, John did not. Although there were other family factors at play, the economic downturn probably contributed to the collapse of the family’s finances and an end to their rural life. Thereafter, the Rigton family joined the rest of the Smithsons from Weardley in the drift to the towns and cities of Yorkshire.
Moving to urban areas did not necessarily condemn Smithsons to wage slavery and squalor. For Peter Smithson of Arthington Bank, an urban centre provided opportunity. Peter left the farm he had inherited jointly with his brother, Richard, and worked as a cordwainer, a maker of fine leather footwear, in Bramley around 1774. By 1807, he diversified into size manufacturing.
His sons: James, Peter and John, set up as clothmaker/clothiers. It was not an altogether surprising development. Peter Smithson was associated with a community of clothiers and some of his children and grandchildren married into their families, the most notable of his descendants was John Smithson Lupton, cloth manufacturer and local politician. The executors of Peter’s will were all prominent Bramley businessmen and clothiers.
In Peter’s sons, one can see two factors operating that underpinned the Industrial Revolution. Firstly, they had chosen to deal in wool, Yorkshire’s textile specialty. It could be argued that the textile industry, initially the manufacture of cotton goods, launched the Industrial Revolution. It was the focus of technological innovation, pioneering the factory system and providing the capital for the development of other industries. Secondly, one can see in Peter’s sons another factor behind the Industrial Revolution – an entrepreneurial spirit that epitomised British society of the period.
The Smithsons had entered the textile industry in the period just prior to the development of the large woollen and worsted mills that are popularly associated with the industrial revolution in Yorkshire. The new factories with their revolutionary machines that had emerged elsewhere in Britain in the late 18th century were slow to spread into Yorkshire. Cottage production endured well into the 19th century as Herbert Heaton, writing in the 1920s, observed:
Writers in the middle of last century speak of the widespread existence of the cottage system, and the memories of people still alive reach back to the days when the hand-loom was to be found in almost every cottage.6
A clothier was an occupational term applied to a range of people who manufactured wool cloth. It encompassed the farmer who wove woollen cloth as a sideline, or weavers who farmed as a sideline. This probably describes Peter Smithson junior (b.1790) who ultimately elected to pursue farming rather than clothmaking. Clothier also described the worsted clothier who employed many workers to produce his cloth. Little is known about the development or scale of the Smithson’s clothmaking business. What is known is that Peter’s eldest son, James, stuck to the business and his sons carried it on.
James Smithson (b.1775) and his brothers probably started as small independent clothiers in what was known in Yorkshire as the domestic system. The 1806 Report from the Committee on the State of the Woollen Manufacture of England described the typical small clothier:
the manufacture is conducted by a multitude of master manufacturers, generally possessing a very small, and scarcely ever any great extent of capital. They buy the wool of the dealer; and, in their own houses, assisted by their wives and children, and from two or three to six or seven journeymen, they dye it (when dyeing is necessary) and through all the different stages work it up into undressed cloth… Several thousands of these small master manufacturers attend the market of Leeds, where there are three halls for the exposure and sale of their cloths…7
James and his three sons were clearly able to expand beyond this basic operation, perhaps approaching the class Heaton describes as wealthy clothiers:
The wealthy clothier was generally a development from the lower grade … and only differed from the meaner master in the number of outside hands he employed, and in the amount of trade which he transacted. Thus there were clothiers of every gradation, from the smallest independent master, employing only his own family, to the wealthy clothier, employing a large number of people in his house and loom-shop, as well as others who worked for him in their own homes.8
Although they produced cloth of sufficient quality to be exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, Peter Smithson’s clothier descendants were never operators of great woollen mills. In fact, Peter’s three grandsons suffered what appears to have been a major business reverse in the 1850s and only one, Thomas Smithson (b.1807), continued in the trade, but as a wool merchant rather than a manufacturer. Traditionally, the merchant bought cloth in quantity to sell wholesale. However, by the mid19th century, the merchant’s role had changed as illustrated by the careers of Thomas’ sons, Alfred Smithson (1836-1886) and Thomas Henry Smithson (1841-1883). They traded as Thomas Henry and Co., woollen manufacturers and merchants, in Leeds during the 1870s. Heaton describes the merchant’s role in the mid19th century:
The large woollen merchant who lived in Yorkshire was by this time a strange mixture. He had looms in his own establishment, and employed other weavers who worked in their own homes; he gave orders to independent clothiers to make cloth for him according to specification; at the same time he visited the cloth halls, and bought in the open market. Thus he drew his pieces from three sources of supply…
The brothers left the trade by 1880 and were probably the last of the Bramley Smithsons to engage in cloth manufacturing and marketing.
The impression one often obtains from stories of the Industrial Revolution is that there was a well-worn track from farm direct to textile mill in England. The experiences of the Bramley branch of the Smithsons from Weardley shows that there were no great concentrations of large mills to attract early Smithson migrants from Weardley. Nor was there any great rush for employment in the factories or workshops that had been established. In the ninth generation of Smithsons from Weardley, living around the first half of the 19th century, of the fourteen Smithsons whose occupations can be identified, only one was involved in the textile industry and he was James Smithson (1775-1819).
While Smithson men had abandoned their old rural heartland, many held on to the rural life for as long as was possible. Six of the fourteen working Smithsons claimed to be farmers at one point or other in their working lives. However, none of these men maintain this occupation throughout their working lives and three finally admitted to being agricultural labourers. One member of the Weardley line, Thomas Smithson (b.1782) of Clifton near Otley, held on as a farmer, but only by supplementing his income as a joiner. His descendants were able to operate as small farmers for another two generations until William Samuel Smithson (1845-1908) abandoned farming by 1881. The last two of these six men, two Smithsons of the Rigton branch, operated farms in conjunction with maltsing before abandoning farming for urban business opportunities.
Four of the remaining seven working Smithsons of this ninth generation worked as agricultural labourers (one managing, at one point, to supplement his income by farming two acres) and one was a brickmaker’s labourer. Of the balance, one was a Methodist minister and the other was the only Smithson woman whose occupation was recorded in this period. Sarah Smithson (1789-1853) had married Joshua Vince in 1819. Vince had worked in a variety of jobs before becoming an inn-keeper. Upon his death in 1836, Sarah took over as inn-keeper for a time before retiring on independent means.
The occupations of thirty working Smithsons of the tenth generation (mid 19th century) have been identified, including those of seven single women, thanks to changes in the documentation of marriages introduced in 1838. These women (23% of the working Smithsons) were all employed as servants. Only one Smithson in this generation could be classed as a farmer. The claims of two other Smithsons to be farmers are questionable and were probably agricultural labourers. One of the two was later employed as a handloom weaver and was the sole Smithson engaged in actual textile production. What is obvious from the evidence is the tendency of Smithson men to hold onto agricultural work as labourers. Some drifted into industrial labouring. Just as many worked with horses as carriers. The labourers and carriers made up 40% of the thirty working Smithsons. Nine of the thirty Smithsons were involved in business and these came from two families: most of the Smithsons from East Rigton had moved into tobacco manufacturing and the Smithsons at Bramley continued as clothiers.
The Rigton Smithsons had suffered financial reverses in the second decade of the 19th century. Miles Smithson, eldest son of John Smithson, having gone through debtors’ prison after the collapse of his farming and malting business, took up grain milling, shopkeeping and carting before following his brother Thomas into the tobacconist trade. All members of the two brothers’ families engaged in tobacco manufacturing, although Miles ended his days as a woad dealer living on four acres near Leeds.
The Bramley Smithsons, as we have already seen, also appear to have suffered a reverse in their fortunes. In the 1850s, they were pushed to the periphery of the textile industry as production was taken up by the large mills. This expansion of the factory system had an impact on many of the Smithsons from Weardley. Their migration from Weardley had initially been quite local and directed towards nearby Otley but had tapered off around the mid19th century. In the second half of the century, substantial numbers of Smithsons in Otley and nearby Newall cum Clifton moved south towards the valley of the Aire, specifically the industrial towns west of Leeds bounded roughly by Shipley, Bradford, Yeadon and Leeds. Most of those Smithsons who had remained in Weardley joined this migration.
From the mid19th century, Smithsons from Weardley began to take up employment in the woollen and worsted mills. The worsted mills were the first textile mills to develop in the West Riding of Yorkshire, with Bradford producing a quarter of West Riding’s worsted cloth. West Riding had 22 worsted mills by 1800. Several Smithsons – mainly in Shipley and Eccleshill – worked in worsted mills. They were Thomas Smithson (1822-1895); his son, John Smithson (b.1851); for a time, John’s sons, Joseph Smithson (b.1876) and Moses Smithson (b.1878); and John’s cousin, Elizabeth Smithson (b.1858). One of Thomas’ sons, Moses Jowett (1853-1878) worked as a wool sorter, and another, Richard (b.1861) initially worked as an apprenticed power loom fitter.
The worsted mills inherited the cotton industry’s technological innovations. One was James Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny, a multi-spindle spinning frame that could keep up with the demand for yarn from weavers whose productivity had been increased by John Kay’s earlier invention of the Flying Shuttle. Another was Richard Arkwright’s Water Frame, a water-powered spinning frame that facilitated the concentration of spinning machines around a water source, thus creating the first factories. In 1770, Samuel Crompton invented the Spinning Mule, a hybrid of Arkwright’s Water Frame and James Hargreaves’ Spinning Jenny. These machines were easily adapted to the manufacture of worsted, which used long, fine staple wool, the fibres of which were separated and laid parallel to each other, only overlapping at the tips and leaving little to no space between the individual fibres. The cloth produced was ‘Smooth, firm, and even in texture, it has almost a glossy appearance in a bright light, and the gloss becomes more pronounced with wear’.9
In contrast, it took longer to mechanise the production of woollen cloth, which was usually made from short-fibred wool whose individual fibres needed to be thoroughly intermingled during processing, leaving air spaces between the individual fibres. Woollen factories only began to emerge around 1820 in West Riding. As late as 1859, as many woollen workers were employed outside factories as within. Nevertheless, the numbers of woollen factories increased rapidly. In 1833, there were 129 woollen factories in West Riding; by 1850 there were 880. As the century progressed, mills proliferated, especially since the availability of water-power no longer determined the location of factories. The steam engine, initially developed to power water pumps in coal mines, could supply power to factories in any location and could power looms. As production was concentrated, so were workers; and the textile towns that resulted: Bradford, Yeadon, Shipley, Rawdon, Pudsey, Horsforth, Armley and Farnley-Wortley, were homes to Smithson families.
In the eleventh Smithson generation in England (essentially those working in the second half of the 19th century), 28% of the fifty Smithsons whose occupations have been recorded worked in textile production. If all individuals connected to the textile industry (mostly Bramley Smithsons) are counted, the proportion rises to more than a third. Around 80% of those involved in the textile industry were male. Smithsons involved in the textile industry were the largest single occupation group of all working Smithsons at this time, rivalled only by Smithson women working as servants (around 20%). Rural occupations were almost a thing of the past with only two Smithsons working as agricultural labourers/gardeners.
Those Smithsons involved in textile production were mainly descendants of Richard and Francis Smithson of Weardley by their sons John Smithson (1779-1837) and Thomas Smithson (1793-1859). Thomas Smithson (1822-1895), John Smithson’s second son by his second marriage, as we have already seen, worked in the worsted industry, as did one of his sons and some grandchildren. John Smithson’s fourth son by the same marriage, Peter Smithson (b.1828), was a weaver and his son, William Smithson (b.c.1855 at Pool in Wharfedale), worked in textile mills for a time. John Smithson’s grandchildren, Robert Smithson (1846-1923) and Joseph Smithson (b.30 Jun 1857), by his eldest son by his second marriage, William Smithson (1819-1909), worked in the textile industry, as did several of their children and at least one grandchild. The family of John Smithson (b.1831), son of Thomas Smithson of Weardley (1793-1859), are interesting in that they worked in the mills at Rawdon before immigrating to America where they were again employed in mills.
The working lives of these Smithsons, and some from Bramley, provide almost a tour through the many steps in the processing of wool into cloth: