chapter  29
38 Pages

The archaeology of industrialization

WithMarilyn Palmer

Industrialization brought about a fundamental transformation in the social and economic structure of the western world in a very short space of time. Within a century, the adoption of sources of power other than human or animal muscle, together with the use of artificial lighting, meant that the lives of men and women need no longer be governed by the rhythm of the seasons, or even those of each day and night: they became subservient to the incessant demands of a machine which never slept. Traditional craft skills were no longer a valuable asset, since the machines could guarantee a standardized product which satisfied consumer demand, and speed of output was the main requirement. The nature of technological innovation meant that the production process was broken up into a number of discrete stages, since all processes were not mechanized at once: the yeoman clothier of Yorkshire in England, who had taken in wool and marketed his finished ‘piece’ in the cloth halls of Halifax or Leeds, was replaced by a spinner working in one place and a weaver in another. This fragmentation of the production process gave much greater powers of control to the capitalist entrepreneur, who could manipulate its different stages to satisfy market demand. His ability to control his workforce was assisted by its changing composition, since a man’s strength was no longer a prerequisite for many of the tasks he had once carried out and these could now be undertaken by women and children. Of necessity, the workforce lived near the mill, factory or workshop, enabling the entrepreneur to exercise some surveillance over their domestic as well as their working lives. The settlement pattern was transformed, and the pace of urbanization quickened. Increased output demanded a change in the transport

infrastructure, and within the same century tracks became paved roads and river navigation was supplemented by canals and railways. The construction of these still made use of human muscle, as machines were slow to replace a male workforce eager for employment when strength and persistence were the main requirements: technological innovation per se is a product of the twentieth rather than the nineteenth century, when manufacturers and employers were only too ready to spare their capital if people were available to undertake the tasks at a cheap rate. Such attitudes also prevailed in the extractive industries, where what was possible technologically was not necessarily employed when a cheap labour force was available.