The textile trade was always highly dependent on the import of raw materials. Flax was grown in the Preston and Fylde areas and there were flocks of sheep in the Manchester area, but flax was mainly imported from Ireland and wool from Yorkshire and the Midlands. Cotton was initially imported from the Levant via London, but by the mid 17th century it was coming increasingly from the West Indies, and by the mid 18th century nearly three quarters of the total supply came from there. Later many plantation owners turned to sugar growing and alternative sources were sought. By the 1790s imports of raw cotton from the United States were on the increase and by about 1810 they had exceeded imports from the West Indies twofold. Land was cheap in the southern states allowing increased supplies, which lowered the price of cotton and reduced production costs in Lancashire.
The cotton plant had been grown in South America for centuries and became a commercial crop after the Spanish conquest. By the late 18th century Brazil and Argentina had begun exporting cotton to Lancashire. Brazilian cotton was particularly suitable for producing muslin. By 1820 Latin America had become a valuable export market for Lancashire cotton goods, Brazil becoming Lancashire's largest market for printed fabrics. Towards the end of the 19th century Brazil began to import goods from the USA.
Cotton manufacture really began in India, evidence of needles and tools dating from 3000 BC have been found. The East India Company established a textile factory at Surat, producing cheap, attractive, brightly coloured fabrics which became popular in England and threatened domestic textile trades. Import duties were introduced on Indian goods and increased a dozen times until the Indian trading market was destroyed. India then became a major export market for Lancashire.
India did export raw cotton to England, but it was the short stapled variety and it was the longer stapled varieties from the West Indies and the USA that were preferred.
By Alan Duckworth
Raw cotton found its way into New England from the West Indies by the middle of the 17th century. Lack of labour and capital investment delayed the start of the industry. A cotton mill was set up in Rhode Island in 1790. Englishman Samuel Slater supplied the technical know-how and the venture was a success.
It wasn't until the war of 1812, when the supply of cotton goods from Britain was cut off, that investment in the American industry really began. Improvements to machinery were carried out and by the 1820s practically all the cloth woven in America was done on power looms.
Two further factors boosted the industry. The production of cotton from the southern states was increasing bringing down the cost of raw materials and the population of the country was growing and becoming wealthier, creating a bigger demand for cotton goods.
The cotton industry in America was concentrated in New England and in particular Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The industry seems to have avoided some of the abuses and unhealthy conditions that characterised the industry in England. The exploitation of pauper children from the workhouses was not a feature of the American experience.
The Civil War in 1860 made it impossible to obtain raw materials and the industry stagnated. Recovery was rapid after 1865 and the industry continued to develop and expand.
Cotton has probably grown in Brazil since pre-historic times. It was certainly discovered growing wild there by Magellan in 1519. From 1781 onwards England began obtaining much of her supplies of raw cotton from Brazil. The Civil war in America boosted Brazil's export of cotton and it reached record prices.
There was a decline in the industry's fortunes when cotton planters turned to coffee, rubber and sugar. Cotton exports fluctuated, dropping to an time low in 1932 of just 515 tons, when most of Brazil's cotton was used by its own mills and the demand was such that exported cotton had to be reshipped back to Brazil.
Brazil's own spinning and weaving mills were established as far back as 1775 in Minas Geraes, but the macinery was hand operated. Later in an Act passed in 1807 Portugal prohibited the manufacture of cotton cloth in its colony Brazil in order to protect its own mill owners.
Brazil became independent in 1822, but the growth of the cotton industry was slow until the Government imposed high import duties on foreign cotton goods and immigration boosted the country's population.
By Alan Duckworth
The arrival of imported yarn combined with export of cloth meant more capital was needed for marketing or merchanting, as there was a greater delay before payment. This enabled the merchants to survive the decay in export trade during Marlborough's continental campaign in the early 1700s. They developed a new outlet for cloth in the home market. The cloth was finished in London and distributed from there.
At this time the textile manufacturers and the East India Company were in conflict. The East India Company brought considerable quantities of Indian woven cloth into this country. Because of this an Act was passed in 1720, forbidding the printing or dyeing of cloth containing cotton, with the exception of calico from India and muslins, which also came from that country.
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