To start, then, London will be considered as a manufacturing city, a facet of the metropolitan economy often overlooked by historians, despite the fact that London was the greatest manufacturing city in Europe and was at its all-time peak as an industrial centre relative to the rest of the country. The range of manufactures in general use grew rapidly in the seventeenth century, and more and more were made in England as the country overcame its former technical inferiority. The wide range of skills among the male labour force, the existence of a
large low-wage labour force of women and children, the presence of much the largest and richest market, and easy access to raw materials combined to make London an obvious location for such new industries. At the same time, London's old industries expanded in response to the growth in numbers and prosperity of the population. London was later to lose many of her industries to the lower wages, food prices, rents and fuel costs of the provinces. However, this dispersal of industries required the development of provincial skills and capital, and a general improvement in inland transport and information networks. These things were happening, but they were happening slowly and the countervailing attractions of London skills and the London market were sufficient to limit the exodus of industries before 1730.
London's industries either made completely or at least added some value to the great majority of artefacts that were used in the capital city, with the result that manufacturing, in the broadest sense, employed a vast number of men, women and children. A recent study by Dr Beier, based on occupations recorded in a sample of burial registers, has suggested that as many as 60 per cent of the occupied labour force was engaged in 'production'. This seems too high, possibly as a result of a bias in the parishes chosen, but the author's proposition that London was a far greater manufacturing centre than is generally realized seems quite correct. No data exist to provide an exact breakdown of the occupational structure but, from a general survey of the available literature, I would suggest that something like 40 per cent of the labour force were engaged in manufacturing, higher than in either commerce or services, the two types of occupation which are normally stressed by writers discussing the metropolitan economy.
Much the biggest industry or group of industries was the manufacture or finishing of textiles and their conversion into clothes or furnishing materials, a group of industries which alone may have employed some 20 per cent of the London labour force, including a high proportion of women. Pride of place must be given to the silk industry, which grew rapidly during our period and expanded from the north-east part of the City to Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Southwark. The most expensive silks were imported, mainly from France and Italy,
but London produced a wide range of cheaper silks which were well within the reach of the middle class and even lower in the social hierarchy, while those who could not afford dress-lengths could buy silk handkerchiefs, scarves and ribbons and so bring a little glamour into their lives. All this demand gave rise to four main types of work—silk-throwing, which gave employment to several thousand women and children in the East End who prepared the imported raw silk by twisting and winding it on to reels; narrow silk-weaving, which produced such articles as ribbon and braid; broad silk-weaving, which produced fabrics; and the manufacture of gold and silver thread by twisting silk thread with flatted gold or silver wire, an industry concentrated in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate and a good example of the very skilled employment which might be generated by the vagaries of fashion in such a centre of luxury as London. '
Silk thread also provided the raw material for lacemakers and, particularly, silk stocking knitters, some of whom worked by hand but most of whom used the knitting-frame, a very complex machine of which there were some 500 in London at the beginning of our period and 2500 at the end. Finally, one should note that, although silk was much the largest branch of London's textile manufacturing industry, there were also spinners and weavers producing pure woollens and worsteds, mixed fabrics of silk and wool, such as stuffs and camlets, and fabrics made of cotton and linen or pure cotton using imported Indian yarn. How many people were engaged in all these trades is impossible to say but even the most modest modern estimate puts the number of looms in the Spitalfields silk industry as over 10,000 in the early eighteenth century, while earlier estimates put the figure much higher. Each loom employed well over one person, sometimes three or more, and to these numbers should be added perhaps 5000 for the knitting industry at its peak, many thousands of silk throwsters, not to mention gold and silver threadmakers, lacemakers and a host of lesser trades such as fringe and tassel makers. It seems likely that the total numbers engaged in silk manufacture and allied trades would have been somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 in the early eighteenth century, nearly a tenth of the population of the metropolis and a much higher proportion of its work-force. If
this figure is approximately accurate, it puts East London into the class of such famous textile centres on the continent as Lyons, Leyden or Florence.
There were also many thousands of workers who earned their living from textiles without making them. Although most woollen cloth was produced in the provinces, much of the finishing trades, such as shearing, pressing, calendering, packing and dyeing, were concentrated in London, the city which accounted for some two-thirds of all cloth exported overseas, as well as being the biggest centre for the domestic consumption of woollens and the base of most of the wholesale woollen drapers who redistributed the cloth throughout the country. London was also a major centre for the preparation and distribution of textile raw materials, such as wool, which was bought from the graziers and country dealers and then cleaned, sorted, graded, mixed and often combed and spun in London before being sent back to the cloth-producing areas. London's function as an entrepôt also created work in the finishing trades relating to the other two textiles in general use, cotton and linen, the most important of which was the calico-printing industry, which started in the 1670s and was given a great boost in 1701 by the ban on the retained import of the printed calicoes from India which had first inspired it.
The conversion of all these textiles into clothing and furnishing materials must have provided almost as much employment as the textile industries themselves, for tailors and breeches-makers, milliners, mantua-makers and seamstresses, a veritable multitude of poor men and poorer women slaving away with scissors and shears and needle and thread. Many of these were involved in a seasonal trade, creating fashionable clothes for the aristocracy and gentry who lived in the West End or visited it to renew their wardrobes, or for the men and women of the middle station who aspired to imitate the dress of their betters. But as many again, perhaps even more, were engaged in the ready-made trade, producing shirts and smocks, hoods and caps, cravats and bands, suits for men and boys, and mantuas, petticoats and gowns for women and girls. Historians have been slow to realize the size or even the existence of this ready-made industry, but the stock-lists of haberdashers, milliners and mercers and especially of those specialists in ready-made outerwear, sometimes called salesmen and sometimes
shopkeeping tailors, leave one in no doubt of the size of this industry. The sweat-shop is not an invention of the nineteenth century.
Gregory King estimated that about a quarter of the national income was spent on clothes, so one should not be surprised that textiles and clothing manufacture was much the biggest industry in London. However, it was far from being the only one and some of London's other major industries will now be briefly considered before looking at the way in which they were organized and the opportunities that they provided for the men and women of the middle station. There are no data which could be used to calculate the size of any of these industries but the second biggest, after textiles and clothing, was probably building, an industry with many ramifications, which offered a wide variety of employment to skilled men such as masons, bricklayers, tilers and carpenters and their journeymen and apprentices and also to an increasing number of unskilled labourers who were employed on such tasks as clearing sites. Building was particularly buoyant in the first twenty-five years of our period, which saw the rebuilding of some 9000 houses after the Great Fire of 1666 and, almost simultaneously, the erection of streets and squares on previously unbuilt land in both the East and West Ends as well as much construction on the south bank of the river.
The next two largest industries were almost certainly metalworking and leather manufacture, probably employing some 10,000 workers each. Both were complex industries with a wide variety of employment. Hides were tanned mainly in Southwark and were then sold to the curriers who prepared the material for the saddlers and shoemakers, the latter often buying from middlemen who cut up the hides into soles and uppers. Lighter skins were prepared by the leather-dressers for such final manufacturers as the makers of buff-coats and oilskin breeches, the trunkmakers and bookbinders and, especially, the glovers. All these trades were carried out in London, though tanning was increasingly being done in the country, and both gloving and ready-made boot and shoe manufacture were also beginning to flee the metropolis to seek out cheaper rural labour.
Metalworking was an even more complex industry, producing finished goods in gold, silver, pewter, copper, brass, tinplate, lead, iron, steel and combinations of these metals, with London dominating national production in all these finished metal industries, except for goods made of iron. Metalwork, like many other London industries, became an increasingly specialized activity, so that founders became separate from forgers and forge work was split into its component parts, 'the fire-man who forges the work, the vice-man who files and finishes it; the hammer-man who strikes with the great hammer'. Craftsmen also increasingly specialized in making just one product or a very narrow range of products, so that by 1747, when Campbell wrote his valuable guide to the London crafts, The London Tradesman, one has candlestick-makers or tweezers-case makers rather than non-specific braziers or goldsmiths, the latter terms being more often used to describe those who sold brass or gold goods rather than those who made them.
Specialization and division of labour went furthest where the final object could be made in parts, such as in locks and handguns and in the manufacture of clocks and watches, a very rapidly growing branch of metalworking, which was concentrated in Clerkenwell. 'At the first appearance of watches', wrote Campbell, 'they were begun and ended by one man, who was called a watchmaker; but of late years the watch-maker, properly so called, scarcely makes any thing belonging to a watch; he only employs the different tradesmen among whom the art is divided, and puts the several parts of the movement together.' Such developments made it possible for masters to seek out cheaper skilled labour in the provinces, so that by the late seventeenth century many London watch parts were made in south-west Lancashire and parts of London hand-guns in Birmingham, the London gunmaker merely assembling the weapon and stamping his name on it.
Apart from those already mentioned, there were at least five more London industries which certainly employed several thousand people each, though as usual exact numbers are impossible to obtain. Woodworking included box-making, turnery-ware and especially furniture and cabinet-making, which had a growing export component and was concentrated in the area north of the Strand. Slightly further north, around Long
Acre, was the home of coachmaking, the contemporary equivalent of the automobile industry and, like its modern counterpart, an employer of a wide variety of tradesmen who probably spent more of their time in maintaining and repairing the vehicles than in making them. Over the river in Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth was the main centre of hat-making, an industry which, like silk-weaving, was a major beneficiary of the skills of the Huguenots who flocked into England in the 1680s, ruining the French industry and leaving the English hatters without serious rivals. The fourth of our five industries, baking, probably employed some 5000 workers scattered in small units throughout the metropolis, while the last, ship-building and allied trades, was necessarily found along both banks of the river.
'The whole river, in a word, from London-Bridge to Black Wall, is one great arsenal,' wrote Defoe, who estimated that there were thirty-three shipbuilding yards below London Bridge. Some of these were very big employers, such as the two royal dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford, and Blackwall Yard where most of the East-Indiamen were built. Other yards were quite small, though there were at least twelve private yards big enough to build the lesser men-of-war in times of emergency. Londoners owned 43 per cent of all English shipping tonnage in 1702 but a substantial and increasing proportion of this was built at cheaper yards on the east coast, whilst much of the coastal shipping which plied to London was also built elsewhere. Nevertheless, the industries of the river were major employers, much of the work being provided by fitting-out and repairs rather than in the initial building of the ships. Such work employed not just shipwrights but also a host of other trades such as mastmakers, coopers, ironmongers, compass-makers, sailmakers, ropemakers and anchorsmiths, the last three being important industries in their own right, ropemaking in particular being a highly capitalized industry.
Brewing and distilling were two other industries which can have been only slightly smaller employers than the five mentioned above. By 1700, brewing was dominated by the 200 or so 'common brewers', who produced for a wide metropolitan market and also for export and the shipping industry, economies of scale having enabled these big brewers to undercut the
victualling or publican brewers who brewed on a small scale for their own retail outlets. The big brewers were to be challenged in their turn, for our period, amongst other things, was the 'Gin Age', a period when spirit-drinking became a national and particularly a London vice. Beer production actually declined slightly, while spirits took off, domestic production rising from half a million gallons in the 1680s to a peak of over eight million gallons in the 1740s, a period when the national population hardly grew at all. Such a thirst meant plenty of work for the distillers, both the fairly small number of wealthy malt distillers, nearly all Londoners, who produced the raw spirit, and the much larger number of compound distillers who re-distilled, flavoured and watered it. Some of the latter were big operators, but most were small men or women who rectified malt spirits on their own premises and sold the resulting lethal concoction to that motley collection of customers who claimed to be able to get drunk for a penny and dead drunk for twopence.
The growth of gin consumption was good news for the glass manufacturers, one of several smaller London industries employing about 1000 to 1500 people each. There were twenty-four glass-houses in London in 1695, mainly on the south bank of the river and in Whitechapel. These were big operations by contemporary standards, employing 50 to 100 men each, and they produced bottles, window glass, drinking glasses and mirror glass, all products which had been luxuries in the sixteenth century but were commonplace in our period. Glass was also an input into other important London industries, such as looking-glass manufacture and the production of spectacles and scientific instruments. Other industries of roughly the same order of size as glass included soapmaking, candle manufacture, sugar and tobacco refining and printing and publishing, all industries which were growing rapidly and in most of which London dominated national production. Most of these industries employed quite sophisticated techniques and were also heavily capitalized, especially glassmaking, soapmaking and sugar refining.
Such were the major industries of London, though there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of lesser ones, ranging from sophisticated industries like pottery, 'engine-making' and the manufacture of musical instruments, through important food-processing industries such as bacon-curing and the manufacture
of ships' biscuit to relatively trivial but cumulatively important activities such as fanmaking, brushmaking, sievemaking and basketmaking. One must now consider, in very general terms, how all these industries were organized in order to see what opportunities they were likely to offer to the people of the middle station.
Such organization must obviously have varied considerably and a large shipyard producing men-of-war for the navy would have been a very different place from the premises of a small boxmaker. Nevertheless, the generalization may be made that the typical unit of production in the great majority of London industries was the individual master artisan working in his own workshop with his apprentices and journeymen, this small labour force often living above the shop with the master and his family. This is the picture which one gets from inventory after inventory of such master craftsmen as weavers, tailors, pewterers, goldsmiths, joiners and the like.
Such a picture helps to maintain a superficial continuity with a past in which a progression from apprentice to journeyman to small master had not been an unrealistic expectation for the majority of young craftsmen. However, although this continued to happen, a number of factors were combining to undermine the independence of many small masters and to make it increasingly difficult for journeymen to become masters, with the result that the numbers of permanent journeymen with no prospects of advancement were increasing rapidly in our period. The most important factor was simply that nearly every branch of London industry required a greater capital to run it as time went on. This requirement reflected the widening, deepening and greater sophistication of the market as incomes rose, the variety of products available increased and it became increasingly common to buy goods from a retail shop rather than from the man who had made them. It also reflected the growing ubiquity of retail credit, which meant that manufacturers might need to wait a very long time before they received payment for their goods, while being liable for payment to their journeymen every Saturday and for their raw materials within a comparatively short time, such as three months. This obviously greatly increased the need for working capital, as did the growing
necessity to have a well-stocked shop in order to attract customers.
Such developments naturally made it harder for most journeymen to consider opening their own shops; they also had the effect of undermining the independence of many small masters, who tended more and more to sell to big masters or to specialist shopkeepers and wholesalers, at trade prices but for quick and fairly sure payment, rather than to the public. The specialization and increasing division of labour, which were observed in the metal industries and were common in many other industries, only served to reinforce this trend.
The result was that, in many industries, a hierarchy developed, which has been well described by the historians of the pewter industry, who distinguished four main groups. At the top were merchant pewterers supplying wholesale customers in England and overseas, and producing only a fraction of what they sold. Then there were more modest retailers, who produced for their own customers and for the wholesalers. These might buy in products from other pewterers to make up a respectable retail stock. At a lower level were the small masters, who derived most of their income from manufacturing rather than retailing and sold their output to retailers and wholesalers. Finally, there were the journeymen-pewterers, who might work for any of the other three groups.
A very similar hierarchy can be observed in most of the other branches of the metal industry, the bigjewellers or ironmongers replacing the master-pewterer at the highest level. It can also be found in woodworking, where a man like John Rayner, described as 'a merchant in turnery ware', sold such things as bowls, trenchers, ninepins, bed-staves and rolling-pins produced by a host of smaller masters. In the furniture trades, the key men were the upholsterers, who kept a complete range of furniture displayed in appropriate rooms in their houses for customers to view, and the big cabinet-makers such as Edward Treherne of St Martin's in the Fields, a looking-glass manufacturer by trade who also kept stocks of inlaid and carved cabinets, chests of drawers and other furniture which would have employed many small masters in independent workshops who were never themselves visited by prospective customers. The latter might run their own small businesses but they could
easily degenerate into mere wage-earners or piece-workers as economic power tended to move away from the maker to the seller.
Even in industries where the product was not made in a workshop, such as building, a hierarchical structure was likely to develop. In the past, most building had been done by craftsmen engaged directly by the owners of sites and paid individually. However, by our period, such direct labour was being superceded by the contract system in which a master-builder was engaged and paid a lump sum for the job, an obvious advantage for the man of capital, while much building was also undertaken as a speculative venture by the builder himself. As a result, one finds at the top of the building hierarchy a few very big entrepreneurs, of whom Nicolas Barbon, a speculative builder on a vast scale, was the most famous. More typical were the wealthier master craftsmen, who might be engaged on a fair number of building contracts simultaneously, sometimes to order and sometimes as a speculator. Some of the work was done with their own labour force, but most was subcontracted to small masters employing a few journeymen and apprentices, who made up the majority of the employers. Easy credit terms from suppliers and a well-organized mortgage business meant that such small men faced a constant temptation to speculate in their turn and so move up the building hierarchy. Some did so successfully but it was a notoriously risky business, then as now.
Building saw few, if any, technical innovations in our period, but innovation, especially the increasing use of machines and other labour-saving devices, was another factor tending to play into the hands of those masters with greater capital. Three good examples are the knitting, ribbon-weaving and silk-throwing industries, in all of which a labour-saving machine was to triumph in the course of the seventeenth century. None of these machines was very expensive, but they were normally too much for poor men, who had to work either in their own homes on machines hired at exorbitant rates or on machines grouped together in workshops owned by the big masters. Some of these masters were very large operators, employing as many as 500 workers, despite attempts to limit the extent of manufacture by any one master. Naturally, these big masters, with their
considerable turnover and sometimes with some economies of scale, for example, in the purchase of raw materials, were in a position to undercut the independent small masters and so reinforce the trend towards the concentration of the ownership of the machines into fewer hands.
The development of workshops in which large numbers of journeymen worked together did not necessarily require the invention of machines or other innovations, since these 'protofactories' had their own economic logic. They reduced the wastage and embezzlement which was a common feature of work put out to journeymen or small masters in their own homes; they enabled masters to maintain a closer supervision of work and also to reap the benefits of any economies of scale or division of labour which might be possible in a particular industry. Large workshops were common in most of the ready-made clothing trades, amongst 'shopkeeping' tailors and shoemakers, for instance, and also amongst the big hatters of Southwark. Such men, who controlled the supply of raw materials such as beaver fur, were amongst the richest manufacturers in London. They owned large complexes of buildings, comprising dwelling-house, workshops and warehouses where they might employ scores of journeymen directly, as well as subcontracting work to smaller masters with fortunes of a few hundred pounds at most.
What one is seeing, then, is an increase in the scale of the operation of the wealthier masters, sometimes in the form of bigger workshops, sometimes through an extension of a 'putting-out' system and sometimes simply through the use of their economic power in the market, which enabled them to buy raw materials more cheaply and on better credit terms and to sell goods cheaper to the final consumer, a factor which in itself was likely to increase their turnover and the size of their business. All this did not mean that the small master could no longer become a big one. Many skilful, enterprising or lucky men continued to do just that and so move up the hierarchy of their particular industry, but such improvements in status became increasingly difficult over time, as the world became one in which the big masters, shopkeepers and wholesalers tended to hold most of the cards.
So far, most of the industries considered produced relatively
small and cheap articles using simple hand tools or machines which could easily fit into the humble living-space of a journeyman or small master. However, many London industries were not like that. Industries such as building, coachmaking and shipbuilding produced large and expensive articles which required the co-ordination of many different craftsmen over a fairly long period of time. Such work was mainly bespoke and some customers paid in instalments, but it is clear that one could not envisage making houses costing several hundred pounds or ships sometimes costing thousands without large reserves of working capital or very good credit. Fixed capital costs were also quite high, since, although the tools used by the individual craftsman might be cheap, such industries normally required a lot of expensive space—the yards and lofts of the coachbuilder or the yards, warehouses, sawhouses and wet and dry docks of the big shipbuilder.
It is a cliché of economic history that working capital was always the main requirement of the manufacturer in this so-called 'pre-industrial' age. However, space was always a major fixed cost in high-rent London and some industries used considerably more fixed capital in the form of equipment and machinery than others—glassmaking, ropemaking, soapmaking, printing, dyeing and other branches of the cloth-finishing trades such as packing and pressing, sugar-refining, brewing, malt-distilling, to name but a few in which equipment worth at least a few hundred pounds was normally required. The last three industries also had important economies of scale which encouraged a growth in unit size. The big brewers, for instance, used very large utensils, such as vats and coppers, whose price did not rise in proportion to their size, and the same was true of distilling and sugar-refining. Since it was liquid, beer could be moved about the brewery by pumps rather than by labourers, so that labour costs also did not rise in proportion to the quantity produced.
The industries listed above also needed large stocks of raw materials, a fact which increased their needs for working capital but might be a positive advantage for the bigger operator. Wealthy brewers, for instance, could buy their stocks of coal in the summer months when coal was cheap and many diversified backwards into malting or contracted to buy their barley while
it was still in the field at prices well below the market rate. Other manufacturers, such as soapmakers, dyers, ropemakers and sugar-refiners, were major consumers of imported raw materials and could reduce their costs by moving into foreign trade themselves and so cutting out the merchant's middleman profit.
It should be obvious from the above that London's industries offered a very wide variety of opportunities to the potential middle-class entrepreneur and that the size of businesses and their rewards varied accordingly. At one end of a long spectrum were very small men, artisans with no middle-class pretensions and no real hope of improving themselves, such as the small bakers, who were often little more than the employees of their flour suppliers, or the small joiners who made chairs and tables for the upholsterers. At the other end were some very big businesses whose owners had fortunes comparable to those of the merchants and wholesalers who dominated the commercial world of the metropolis.
Some idea of this variety is given in Table 2.1 overleaf, which sets out the fortunes at death of the 97 manufacturers in our sample, just over a quarter of the whole sample. This certainly illustrates the variety of experience which might be expected from what has been said previously. Builders, for instance, can be found in every one of the six wealth groups and distillers in all but one. It also suggests that the average fortune of the manufacturer was rather less than that of the more purely commercial man, the median fortune of manufacturers being less than two-thirds of that of the whole sample. This is clearly because of the large numbers who fall into the lowest wealth group with fortunes less than £500. All these men were masters and it is clear from their possessions that many of them had genteel ambitions. Nevertheless, they functioned in the economy as independent artisans, one step above the journeymen but at the lowest level of the manufacturing hierarchy discussed above. If some of them had lived a little longer, they might have improved their fortunes sufficiently to move up one or even two wealth groups but such men were never likely to get really rich in the London of our period.
To get rich you had to start rich or at least comfortably well off, as will be discovered later in the book, and there is no doubt
that all the men in the top three wealth groups would have started their businesses with a capital of several hundred pounds and often with much more. Such a large starting capital was essential in some industries requiring large amounts of
fixed equipment, but it could be employed in virtually any industry, as was seen in the discussion of the London manufacturing world and as is illustrated by the wide variety of occupations included in the top three wealth groups.
In no group is this variety more apparent than in the top group, which comprises four men who are representatives of scores of other London manufacturers who were worth more than £10,000, a very comfortable fortune for the age. Joshua Marshall, who died worth just under £14,000 and was marginally the richest of the four, was one of the great master builders of Restoration London, who succeeded his father as master-mason to Charles II in 1675. He worked for the King at Windsor Castle and for Sir Christopher Wren on St Paul's Cathedral, rebuilt six other London churches after the Fire, built the Monument and was an important speculative builder in his own right as well as being a dealer in stone and monumental masonry. Joel Andrews, who died in 1692, was a cloth-finisher whose inventory includes such items of the trade as shears and packing presses. However, this manufacturing side of his business had probably produced only a comparatively small part of his fortune and Andrews' main activities were as a middleman in the cloth trade, buying from the country clothiers, selling to the exporting merchants and sometimes exporting himself, what contemporaries normally called a Blackwell Hall Factor after the market where woollen cloth was supposed to be bought and sold in London.
Robert Maddox, who also died in the 1690s, was a big malt distiller, producer of the raw spirits which fuelled the early years of the Gin Age. He had a distillery and vaults in Thames Street, warehouses in York and Exeter, and his inventory lists 835 separate debtors—merchants, dramshops and other drink outlets—from 205 places all over the country. The last wealthy manufacturer, William Ladds, reflects a different type of fashion, being a bodice-maker, hardly the first product that one thinks of when considering big business. But Ladds was a giant in the trade, whose business extended as far as New England. The scale of his operations is indicated by the eleven tons of whalebone which he had in stock when he died, while his unpaid debts to the bone-cutters who boiled and split the whale fins remind one of yet another unknown London industry.
People like Ladds, Maddox and Andrews can be defined as manufacturers, as they are here, but they were of course just as much merchants and wholesalers, the two groups of the London middle class which together with shopkeepers and financiers are considered in the next section.