Industrial Location Theory is Dead: Part 4
On the Land
As the towns became cities, a similar revolution was happening in the countryside. The younger generation were leaving to find their fortune in the expanding cities leaving behind an increasingly aging rural population. The Victorian period (1837-1901) was a period of British history which was full of inventions such as radio, vacuum cleaners, the camera and the flushable toilet. The Victorians sought to solve all problems and improve efficiency and output with technology. This applied to all aspects of Victorian life: medicine, transport, waste disposal and farming.
Technology was seen as the answer to improving yields on the nation’s farms. Nature was very much treated as a system which could be understood and harnessed for increased profitability. Highly selective breeding programmes redirected evolution along a path towards bigger animals. Cattle, poultry, sheep, goats, dogs and all manner of far animals were carefully bred using techniques honed the country’s racing stables to produce animals that were more specialised. Some were bred to be bigger for their meat, others stronger for working or more aggressive for fighting, either way there was a focus on particular breed of animals being bred for a particular purpose. The history of the Holstein-Friesian (high milk producing cows from the Friesian Islands, Netherlands) breeding stock in the UK can be traced back to the importing the progeny of one famous dairy bull, Ceres 4497, in the first years of the 20th Century. (British Friesian Breeding Society)
|This Stubbs painting of ‘The Lincolnshire Ox’ was painted in 1790 and is part of the collection of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. It is of a Shorthorn prize bull, bred at the village of Gedney in Lincolnshire by John Bough in November 1782 and subsequently owned by John Gibbons of Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, a neighbouring village. The bull was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 205½ stone: some 2,880 lbs. Having grown to this enormous size in Lincolnshire where his fame began to spread by repute, the ox was taken to London where it was put on show to paying spectators from February 1790 , first at the Lyceum in the Strand and then briefly at the Duke of Gloucester’s riding stables in Hyde Park. This royal interest in the ox earned it the title ‘The Royal Lincolnshire Ox. (Ref)|
At the same time, ingenious machines were being invented to increase efficacy of farming and reduce the amount of physical labour required.
|Ingenuity in action:The Fisken Steam Cultivating Machinery as explained in its brochure used in its 1871 trials at the Marquis of Tweeddale's home farm at Yester, and at Offerton Hall, near Sunderland.|
The Fisken Steam Cultivating Machinery is a good example of how over-complicated some of the solutions were becoming. The stationary tractor engine at the bottom of the field pulls the rope which winds in on the two ‘windlass’ pulley wagons automatically dragging the plough across the field. Letters show that the contraption was bought by several farmers and, although they came across a variety of issues with the setup and local conditions (Source). It is important to note that the chief selling point of the equipment at the time was comparing its speed and running costs with ‘old fashioned’ horses and their feed.
Just as in the cities, where factories were filtering society into a well-defined system of class based upon the type of work done and level of affluence, a similar process began to show itself in the countryside. The wealthy became wealthier at the expenses of an increasingly poor working class. The farmers who could afford to buy and maintain the new technology found themselves rising to the top of rural society. They could afford to buy more land from their profit and invest in more efficient machinery. The poorer tenant farmers found themselves being pushed into further poverty and eventually away from the land as new machines took away their livelihood. Many land-owning farmers experimented with the new technology but either made unwise choices or else could not afford to keep up the maintenance of the new machinery. Sometimes they were just sold ‘white elephants’. Either way, their utopian vision of mechanised and highly profitable farming came crashing around them and they too had to live in abject poverty or migrate to the city in search of work. The net effect was that the wealth gap expanded and the landed farmers thrived at the expense of the poorer labourers.
In the same way that Luddites raged against the industrial machines that were replacing the need for their skilled work, so the same protests appeared on the farms of Britain. A well-documented example of people destroying the new technology was in 1830, when farm labourers in East Anglia rose up and smashed threshing machines in what became known as the Swing Riots.