The Growth of New Industries
The growth of new industries in the towns of east Lancashire transformed the landscape and environment, turned the local economy upside down, and drastically altered the character of each place which was affected. But industrial development (and especially the arrival and eventual dominance of cotton) had another important consequence - it reshaped the social structure of every town, making some people wealthy, creating an entirely new middle class, and vastly increasing the size and numerical importance of the working classes. Places such as Blackburn had been country market towns and stayed as such until the 1780s. Then, within half a century ( the lifetime of one individual) they became the workshops of the world. Some of the towns were much newer. While Blackburn had been a significant market town for five hundred years, Darwen was only a village in the later 18th century, but by 1861 it was a town of over 20,000 people. As in all places in any part of the world where an economic and commercial boom suddenly arrives, and where industries and towns grow overnight like mushrooms, fortunes were made and people who were once ordinary citizens suddenly became prominent, powerful, influential and ostentatious.
This change is essential to any understanding of what life was like in the cotton towns. The self-made men had the surplus cash to buy their way into society, politics and local affairs. People respected them but at the same time there were jealousies and rivalries, and some fellow-townsmen who had not made the grade felt embittered and discontented. The leading merchants were not only associated with cotton - in each town there were other industries which also enriched certain individuals - but the eventual dominance of cotton ensured that the millowners were prominent. In Darwen, a smaller town than Blackburn and one which had grown up very rapidly, the cotton interest was especially strong because, in a very real sense, cotton made the town itself. There were papermills and collieries, but nothing could rival the importance of the cotton mills which in 1921 employed almost 56 per cent of the town's workforce.
Dr. Alan Crosby