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Britain and the History of Cotton
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, merchants would trade with rural people in textile production. A clothier would buy wool from a wool stapler, carry it to the spinners, and then, take the yarn to the weavers, fuller and dyers for further levels of production. London was the finishing centre for these goods. This phase in British manufacturing history is known as proto-industrialisation. In this phase, factories were not an essential part of industry. What was present instead was a network of commercial exchanges.
The first symbol of the new era of factories was cotton. Its production increased rapidly in the late nineteenth century. Imports of raw cotton sky-rocketed from 2.5 million pounds in 1760 to 22 million pounds in 1787. This happened because of the invention of the cotton mill and new machines, and better management under one roof. Till 1840, cotton was the leading sector in the first stage of industrialisation.
Most inventions in the textile production sector were met with disregard and hatred by the workers because machines implied less hand labour and lower employment needs. The Spinning Jenny was one such invention. Women in the woollen industry opposed and sought to destroy it because it was taking over their place in the labour market.
Before such technological advancements, Britain imported silk and cotton goods from India in vast numbers. Fine textiles from India were in high demand in England. When the East India Company attained political power, they exploited the weavers and textile industry in India to its full potential, often by force, for the benefit of Britain. Later, Manchester became the hub of cotton production. Subsequently, India was turned into the major buyer of British cotton goods.
During the First World War, British factories were too busy providing for war needs. Hence, demand for Indian textiles rose once again. The history of cotton in Britain is replete with such fluctuations of demand and supply.