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By L. A. Clarkson (eds.)

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The cotton market at Liverpool was a highly competitive one, approximating to the economist's definition of a 'perfect market'. By constant circulation of samples and information bulletins (known as 'cotton circulars'), the brokers provided the 'perfect knowledge' necessary for the maintenance of this market [52: Ch. 6; 53: 75-83]. As the cotton trade expanded and became more sophisticated in its organisation and finance, the Liverpool family firms who had provided the enterprise for the eighteenth-century development of the port were augmented by branches of merchant houses from the United States, London and Glasgow.

While admitting that 'there was terrible suffering in some districts in the 1820s, 1830s, and early 1840s' (particularly in fringe areas like Burnley, Colne and Padiham, where few new mills were being built or equipped with power looms), Bythell thinks that 'most of the handloom weavers in the cotton industry were absorbed into alternative employment with remarkable speed and ease' [65: 271]. This divergence of views, both depending on incomplete evidence, can only be evaluated when we have the benefit of more local studies, particularly those founded on parish registers and the census enumerators' returns of 1841, 1851 and 1861.

Farnie, taking the long view ( 1815-96), notices that the combined spinning and weaving firm first appeared in numbers in the 1830s but failed to proliferate due to geographical separation and specialisation, spinning in south Lancashire and the Stockport area, weaving in the north of the county [2: 313-18]. Gatrell, after querying the existence of substantial economies of scale in the early cotton mills, finds an answer in 'social constraints', a sense of 'moderation in enterprise' among contemporary entrepreneurs (20: 117].

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