- Spinning with Arthur Young
- Magnifying the Foundling Textiles
1. Spinning with Arthur Young.
Between 1767 and 1771, the agricultural writer and journalist, Arthur Young (1741-1820), undertook a series of tours across the south, east and north of England. On these journeys he observed agricultural practice and collected the opinions of improving landlords and farmers about farming techniques. The results were published in three books: A Six Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales (1768), A Six Months’ Tour through the North of England (1769), and The Farmer’s Tour through the East of England (1771). Young was interested not only in agricultural techniques, but more broadly in the rural economy and rural living conditions. According to the title page of his Tour through the Southern Counties, it is a book ‘describing particularly the present state of agriculture and manufactures’, but also ‘the prices of labour and provisions in different counties’ and ‘the state of the working poor in those counties’. As a consequence, Young consistently recorded information about ‘the employment of the poor women and children’ in many of the places where he stopped to collect data from his local contacts. In the vast majority of cases that employment was spinning, and often Young tells us which fibres the spinners processed and the wages they were paid, whether adults or children.
Young’s tours do not furnish us with a systematic survey of spinning across rural England at the end of the 1760s. His tours bypassed much of the West Country and the places for which he provides detailed information are those where he already had connections, or was able to establish them. Yet Young was admirably systematic in the way he approached his task, asking the same questions in each locality he visited. Usefully he often includes negative findings, although the answers he recorded are not always consistent. His published tours provide the best available survey of spinning (and other paid manufacturing employment for women and children) at a date just before James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny and Richard Arkwright’s water frame began to transform spinning employment.
Together, Arthur Young’s three English tours include observations on the availability of women’s and children’s manufacturing work for almost a hundred places scattered across broad swathes of rural England during a period of less than four years. Below are four maps which summarize Young’s findings. For more detail, click on a map.
For more on Arthur Young’s surveys, see Liam Brunt, ‘The advent of the sample survey in the social sciences,’ Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series D (The Statistician), 50 (2001), 179-89.
2. Magnifying the Foundling Textiles
The most exciting new research tool used on the Spinning Project is a hand-held USB microscope. The Project has been using a Dino-Lite AM7013MZT at x60 and x200 magnification to identify yarns in surviving textiles. USB microscopes have only become widely available in the last decade. Their portability means it is possible to use them in archives and museum stores to undertake microscopic examination of large numbers of historic textiles, capturing the results as digital images on a computer. Microscopic investigation of this kind has been particularly useful for studying textiles made from more than one type of yarn: for example, silk and worsted, linen and wool, or cotton and linen. It has proved especially important for the study of eighteenth-century ‘cottons’, demonstrating that in all the fabrics usually described as Lancashire cottons (checks, prints, velvets, fustians, etc.) there were very high proportions of linen yarn prior to the 1780s. Below are images of mid-eighteenth century textiles from the archive of the London Foundling Hospital, captured at x60 magnification. For more details, click on an image.