Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce
Monday, 3 March 2014
The story of the Industrial revolution might be a forgotten part of the history we learn at school, but Dr Stephen Caunce of the University of Central Lancashire reminded the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that we should not take for granted the extraordinary way in which previously obscure communities of this part of the Pennines actually changed the world as the birthplace of industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries.
He argued that the special landscape of the Pennines also contributed to the special nature of the communities here. In contrast to the typical villages found in other parts of England, in medieval times our landscape was sparsely populated, and people, not overseen by either a lord of the manor or a parish priest, developed ways of farming and producing textiles which contributed to an independent self-sufficiency and a mind-set open to innovation and invention.
The hills of the Pennines were a helpful factor in many ways when the textile industry began to develop. The ridges provided suitable tracks for packhorse trails; the shelves of land above the steep valleys were fertile enough to grow some crops. The plentiful streams, with the natural control of the blanket peat acting like a natural reservoir, descended in an orderly way which gave the early mills the water power they needed. There was stone for building and coal available locally in many areas. And when the process of industrialisation became unstoppable, land was easy to acquire, and both landowners and manufacturers could profit.
What made these industrial communities special was a unique culture of what Stephen called network capitalism: small family businesses which grew organically and could work co-operatively with other businesses in the town.
It was also the case, Stephen argued, that the workers in the factories also benefited, despite our popular images of a life of industrial misery and the horror of child labour. Industrialisation did not turn these new towns into places of real struggle. And women made a huge contribution too, working in the mill gave them a wage of their own, but also an independent outlook.
It is the renaissance in local history, Stephen believes, that is uncovering more and more stories about the real lives in places like this, answering some of the questions which our landscape inspires.
The next meeting of the Society is at 7.30 on Wednesday 12th March at the Methodist Hall in Hebden Bridge, when Ian Dewhirst will talk about life between the wars – sure to be entertaining.
Details from the Local History website
Previously, on the HebWeb
Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)
Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner
Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)
Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)
Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)
Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)
Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)
The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)
Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)
Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)
City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)
Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)
Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.
The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012