Changes in English Agriculture

When I think of Britain and the industrial revolution, I think of the beginning of technology. Technological advancements that would pave the way to a world we could have never imagined. After reading this article written by E. R. Chamberlin, The Awakening Giant: Britain in the Industrial Revolution (London:B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1976), pp. 40-44, I am left questioning a number of different themes and ideologies that surely changed the course of human history forever. Chamberlin sheds light on the progression of agriculture in the 18th century. Chamberlin talks about how “common man land” that was equally obtained, is redistributed through democratic power. The reader of this article can decide for themselves whether governing methods of this time were fair, ethical, or smart. All we really know, is that these methods yielded more food for society, which lead to massive increases in technological advancements. We see that food & agriculture serve as the fuel of life for human society, economy, and technology. Technology knows no limits, while it expands exponentially with every previous advancement. Without the governing law on 18th century agriculture, technological civilization could be vastly different than we see today.


In 18th Century Britain, farm land was starting to become scarce for the first time. This scarcity came from people starting to understand the true value of the land, and those who owned more of it led the way. Old farming techniques were not adequate or efficient use of the land. Large land owners controlled the power via commissioning the laws and regulations by which the common man would eventually be forced to follow. Old farming techniques were not an adequate or efficient use of the land. Eventually, the laws and regulations forced the common man to have to sell their land, due to not being able to afford to keep it. Fees and regulation forced them into taking monetary benefits for their land, and head into the city for “opportunity”. Did these people win or lose? It depends on how you look at it. The article depicts them as losing themselves after selling out, but in my opinion, they won either way. If you really think about it from a macro perspective, this was a move that created more efficient farming. This lead to more food, and of course more opportunity in the long run for the common man. There are sacrifices we have to make individually, and as a society, in order to take advantage of opportunities to progress.


A few examples that come to mind when reading this article, one would be the relationship of power control through corporate America. For example, companies like Walmart & Amazon. These industrial giants are now house hold names that make up a large portion of the world consumer market. These companies were not always popular, and still to this day are look upon in a negative light by some. Walmart has and will continue to put millions of “mom & pop” stores out of business. This article found online gives some great insight on this issue ( Walmart’s low margins through supply chain, business development, and ability to adapt to the consumer simply crush smaller businesses. These smaller business just cannot compete with their prices. Just like the smaller farmers were put out of business by the larger farmers with all of the control. Are we not to grow as a society because we feel sorry for the little guy? No, in my opinion the most economical and efficient companies will thrive and add the most value to society. There is a market for all valuable companies, big and small.


The last example I would like to relate to this article, is the theme of the survival of the fittest. In this web article, there are countless examples of how companies must adapt to survive.  ( ). In society we see countless examples of the strong making the major break throughs. Power equals strength, and the strong survive. The separation usually comes from change, like the change we saw in farming patterns in the article. These changes were on the cusp of revolution. Whenever there are massive revolutions like the industrial revolution, there are dispossessions that come along as well. In, The Awakening Giant: Britain in the Industrial Revolution (London:B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1976), pp. 40-44- by E. R. Chamberlin, we see him talk about the common farmer losing out on their property and losing themselves when forced to head into the “opportunistic” industrial towns. The article talks about these people numbing their pain with alcohol at local taverns, “The taverns welcomed them and, for a few weeks-or a few months-they knew the heady delight of dispensing largess, the numbing satisfaction of drinking hour after hour.” The people who were indulging in this type of behavior were not aware of the opportunities right in front of them. The new industrial towns were like oil fields just waiting to be drilled. Food from the agriculture brought fuel to the towns where people could eat, trade, buy, sell, innovate, and much more. Although the more powerful people took over the land, in the long run they created opportunity for other commerce to thrive. These agricultural laws and regulations, which came with sacrifice, paved the way for society to advance, and ultimately led to technological advances that were the industrial revolution.

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The Rise of Coal Technology

John R. Harris’s article The Rise of Coal Technology  highlights the technological developments associated with coal and provides the reader with a historical timeline of the inventions and industries which are bound to this significant development.  Interestingly, Harris notes that inventions of the late 18th century came about from earlier developments, less known or historically recorded, but which utilized coal in increasingly important ways.  The article distinguishes how coal and its industrial development led England, within about 200 years, to a level of superiority that the British maintained throughout the 18th century.  Harris cites John U. Nef’s work The Rise of the British Coal Industry to give examples of how British industries applied the increasing use of coal to the economy

As early as the Middle Ages, coal was used by blacksmiths and metal workers. The use of coal spread to pewter, gunsmiths and copper smiths.   It was burned and used in textiles, dyeing, and salt extraction. The manufacturing of coke, or the residue left from the distilling process and used as fuel was developed early in 16th century.  Later coal was used in the chemical industry for processing soaps, sugars, and eventually in the manufacturing of earthenware.  But a significant development came with the use of the reverberatory furnace used in glass making.  These closed furnaces required fireclay containers which used crucibles to withstand high temperatures.  This led to advancements in steel, leading to metals used in clock and watch manufacturing, smelting of nonferrous metals (ores, coppers, lead, zinc).  The expanded use of coal for various products and industries led to the need for expanded fuel, trade and continual improvements in the technology itself.

The Newcomen engine, developed in the early 18th century by Thomas Newcomen, is considered a monumental advancement in technology of the time.  The engine represented the first source of power that was not related to manual or animal driven strength.  This engine allowed steam to create power through a vacuum and piston forged by atmospheric pressure which caused rotatory movement.  The Newcomen engines were fueled by coal which gave rise to technological advancement in the coal and nonferrous mining industries.

Continual innovations based off the coal technologies added an additional need for improvements and empirical data, or observational collections of information, to support both the established and changing advancements.  Harris states that scientific literature dealing with methodology and materials may not have considered the importance of the craft or technique itself when documenting the development of furnaces and engines during this industrial period.

In reading The Rise of Coal Technology, I was stricken over and over again by how many modern day conveniences trickle back to the rise of the coal industry.  Many powerful and useful but commonplace items used on a daily basis stem from the development of coal.  So many things are taken for granted in my world.  For example, my glass-faced cell phone, my mother’s cast iron skillet, my Ford F-150 and the fuel that makes it run.  Without the industrial and technological advances based on elements such as fire, steam, and coal…my world would not be fathomable.

This article by Heather Whipps discusses how the Middle Ages aren’t usually associated with industry but that there were actually “factories” all across Asia, Africa and Europe at that time.  Beasts of burden were used as muscle power in the transportation of goods, lugging water and supplies needed for the “textile industry”.  Later coal was required for glass blowing in hot furnaces.  More importantly, coal was eventually used for powering steam engines and thus the transportation of goods and services intensified greatly.  Steam powered locomotives began to change the world in earnest in early 1804 across Britain.  Shortly after in 1807, a landmark journey in the United States,  between New York City and Albany by an engine called The Claremont changed the way transportation affected travel and other  industries in this country.

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