Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution: English Economy and Society 1700-1850
King, Steven & Geoffrey Timmins
Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2001.
£17.99, 413 pages, 0719050227.

Alain Lauzanne
Université de Rouen

Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution deals with the multiple facets of the Industrial Revolution and its numerous impacts on British society over a period of 150 years. The methods used are interesting, sometimes original, and the work abounds with precious information that cannot easily be found in other books.

Steven King and Geoffrey Timmins begin their study with the contemporary perceptions of the Industrial Revolution. The point of view of contemporaries is always interesting because they leave testimonies concerning history in the making, noticing changes for the better or for the worse, without the hindsight that may warp the historians' vision. Of course, as the authors point out, contemporary accounts also have to be taken with a pinch of salt since they are not necessarily objective. King and Timmins have noted that contemporary diarists were struck by the growth of the population, rural depopulation, the concomitant urbanisation of the country and the changing role of towns. They were also aware of the industrialization of the country. Several contemporary foreign visitors such as Léon Faucher, who was not German as the authors claim, but French (11), or British commentators corroborate the comments Patrick Colquhoun made in 1814: "It is impossible to contemplate the progress of manufactures in Great Britain within the last thirty years without wonder and astonishment" (11).

The analysis of the technological changes that the Industrial Revolution brought about is both rich and convincing. The pages on hand technology are particularly useful as people tend to forget that mechanisation was a slow process. King and Timmins explain that powered machinery was not always as efficient, rapid or satisfactory as hand technology. The spinning jenny is a case in point. Powered machinery was also very expensive to install, which is why colliery owners, for instance, were often reluctant to buy Watt engines. Besides, accidents such as boiler explosions were frequent.

The authors do not neglect the impact of changes in working techniques and conditions on the workers' health and morals, and they show the diverging opinions of contemporaries on that subject. The passage on child labour, however, is too short and the statistics given require some explanations, as they are surprising, to say the least: "Thus, taking England and Wales as a whole, figures extracted by Hugh Cunningham show that only 2 per cent of boys and 1.4 per cent of girls were recorded by census enumerators as having occupations" (95). Two questions arise: what age groups do they refer to? Were census figures reliable?

The chapter on the financial aspect of the Industrial Revolution may not be the easiest to read partly because it is strewn with figures, as numerous examples are given. The study of a 1787 balance sheet, however, plunges the reader into the financial preoccupations of an eighteenth-century firm. The links between fixed capital and working capital are finely analysed and the authors show the evolution of the financial system during the period under scrutiny. This analysis leads to a less technical aspect of the economic life of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the relations between sellers and buyers. Marketing and advertising became indispensable techniques, which men like Wedgwood realised as early as the 1770s. Advertising the patronage of royalty and the nobility along with the use of show rooms and of newspaper advertisements became essential tools in commerce. As regards indirect selling, the period witnessed not only an increase in the number of merchants, but also a specialisation of their activities.

When working on the Industrial Revolution students tend to forget agriculture, but a chapter on this subject shows that it played an important role in the British economy of the period. The improvements in farming thanks to the use of rotation, new fertilisers and seeds and plants of better quality are documented. Part of the chapter is devoted to the social fabric of rural England in which the authors study the question of the parliamentary enclosure process as well as its outcomes. Any student of the period knows that the population started to grow dramatically in the second half of the eighteenth century, but, instead of contenting themselves with giving estimates, King and Timmins choose to explain the techniques used by specialists such as Wrigley and Schofield to estimate the population at a time when official figures were non-existent or inaccurate. They go on to analyse the causes of that spectacular rise—in particular a lower age at first marriage associated with greater marital fertility and a fall in infant mortality.

Chapter 8 endeavours to show that the Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on the form and function of English families and households, but it lacks clarity, a defect perceptible in the conclusion to this part: "The 'truth' is probably that the Industrial Revolution and all the social and cultural changes associated with it probably had a subtle and contradictory impact on the meaning of terms such as 'family', 'coherence' and 'functionality' at local, regional and national level. Such conclusions are frustrating. . ." (271). The following chapter, however, is clearer. It aims to show the financial impact of the Industrial Revolution on households that coped more or less successfully with the changes it brought about. According to the authors, the population could be divided into three categories: the gainers, among whom there were factory workers; the losers, in particular, handloom weavers, agricultural labourers and people engaged in casual trades, so many men and women for whom poor law relief was vital. The third category, which included about 60% of the labouring population, was made up of people whose situation was both unstable and precarious.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to an aspect of the Industrial Revolution which is still visible in some places—the 'built environment.' The authors insist on the fact that a large number of houses were built in the first half of the nineteenth century, although this was not sufficient. Engravings and photographs show the kind of house that was built at the time, especially those where space was provided either in the cellar or on the top floor for weaving. Dwellings for the working class had to be cheap, hence the spread of jerry-building and the numerous back-to-backs which did not demand much land and which required fewer building materials than classical houses. References to Chadwick's Report illustrate the appalling sanitary conditions of working-class districts. Middle-class housing is also studied with the development of squares and, later on, with the emergence of middle-class suburbs some distance beyond the built-up area.

Making Sense of the Industrial Revolution
is without doubt a remarkable work which provides the reader with original information. Besides, it takes stock of the most recent research. However, students with scant knowledge of the period may have some difficulty making their way through the book not only because of the many details they will come across—a point that should satisfy fully-fledged historians—but also because some passages are not absolutely necessary such as the pages on historiography or because they lack clarity, a defect that can be seen in the analysis of "regionality" (37-38). Occasionally, the phrasing itself is surprising: 'The picture, then, is a complicated one. However, we can complicate it more. . . " (234). Should not the aim of a book with a title like "Making Sense of" be to make history as clear as possible, especially when dealing with complex matters? In spite of these minor defects, students willing to make an effort will have a comprehensive vision of the Industrial Revolution, devoid of misleading simplification.