|Manchester cotton mills, built for Kennedy and McConnel from New Galloway |
Aaaaaaaargh. This is the most recent draft of an article I will be putting in for a £500 competition and/ or the local Natural History and Antiquarian Society Transactions. It is 5973 words long (was 6500), which is about the max limit for such articles. It is a total re-write of an article I wrote 2 or 3 years ago ‘ Some Dumfries and Galloway Pioneers of the Industrial Revolution’, which tried to cover too much ground by including about 20 such pioneers.
This article focuses on just four- John Kennedy, James McConnel, Adam and George Murray- who became very wealthy cotton spinning capitalists in Manchester between 1790-1840. But although they and their cotton factories made a big impression in Manchester, they are forgotten about in Galloway where they came from.
The article follows on from my 2009 Galloway Levellers thesis. In the last chapter I looked at what happened after the Levellers Uprising of 1724, at the 1760-1830 era of the Lowland Clearances aka the Age of Improvement. What I pointed out was that ‘lessons had been learned’. This led to the creation of new villages and towns and new industries to provide homes and employment for the people dispossessed by agricultural improvement.
In 1724, Alexander Murray of Cally had the dykes of his cattle parks levelled. When his son James set about improving his lands in the 1760s, he set up a new, planned, town- Gatehouse of Fleet- and leased land in the new town for cotton mills to be built in the late 1780s. But these new cotton mills were water powered and were soon overtaken by steam powered cotton mills.
What I found and noted in my thesis was that a group of young men from New Galloway, 20 miles north of Gatehouse, pioneered the application of steam power to cotton spinning in factories they built in Manchester circa 1800. This was an unexpected connection between agricultural Galloway and industrial Manchester and one which I had not found in any local histories. On the Manchester / industrial revolution side there was much more since the cotton spinning factories involved were the largest and most important in the town.
Rather than just write a narrative history account of the Galloway/ Manchester connections, I have looked at the background to the success of a group of country lads in the competitive environment of industrial capitalism. I argue that although industrial capitalism was brand new in the 1790s/ early 1800s, capitalist farming had been around since the seventeenth century, stimulated by the rapid growth of London.
To feed London, until the trade was banned in 1667, 50 000 Irish cattle/ year were exported to England. When Irish cattle were banned, a trade in cattle between Galloway and London was developed as substitute for the Ulster cattle which had passed through Galloway en route to London.
Although only a few landowners in Galloway made cash from cattle, this still marked a significant break with the past. With their cattle bought and sold for English gold, Galloway’s cattle barons grew wealthy and were able to buy up farms to breed and fatten more cattle. By the 1720s, the resulting social/ economic tensions had been building up for a generation and led to the uprising of the Galloway Levellers. Significantly, some of the cattle enclosures levelled in 1724 had been built 40 years earlier.
Capitalist farming in Scotland is usually see as a late 18th century
phenomenon which first developed in south-east Scotland with Galloway remaining a ‘traditional peasant society’ until almost 1800. So apart from my research, there are no other sources to back up my claim that capitalist (cattle) farming was present in Galloway from the 1670s. Another of my suggestions is that ‘traditional peasant society’ / the middle ages in Galloway ended in 1455 with the break-up of the 350 year old Lordship of Galloway.
Likewise the first signs of agricultural improvement in Galloway were early, beginning in 1726 when William Craik (1703-1798!) began farming and improving Maxwellfield in Kirkbean parish.
I argue that the Galloway/ Glenkens cotton barons were therefore the product of an already capitalist/ market based society and economy. This gave them an advantage in the newly emerging industrial capitalism of Manchester where they survived and prospered.
One- John Kennedy- did more than survive and prosper. He also helped shift attitudes in the cotton industry, which had been protectionist in the eighteenth century, towards an embrace of Adam Smith’s economic theories, actively promoted the Liverpool and Manchester railway, rubbed shoulders with Thomas Malthus and Charles Babbage in the British Society for the Advancement of Science and was father in law to Edwin Chadwick, reformer of the Poor Laws and sanitary improver…
What I am not sure is if the article gives enough of the bigger picture. That while the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars were bloodily re-shaping the political structures of Europe, the ’industrial revolution’ was setting in motion an even more profound set of changes. One part of the changes involved capitalism which intersected with industry to become a world changing system. It was able to do this because the shift to coal as an energy source broke through the ecological constraints which had limited all previous human societies.
All previous human societies had ultimately relied on plant photosynthesis to capture part of the annual flow of energy from the sun to the earth. Even the early industrial capitalism of cotton mills was still limited by water power, horse-power (using horses walking round and round to provide power) and human power to work the cotton spinning machinery. These were ‘renewable’ sources of energy and so could not be easily/ rapidly expanded.
Coal, on the other hand, was a source of concentrated energy, the product of millions of years of photosynthesis. It was seemingly limitless and so could be the source of apparently unlimited economic growth. This was confusing for political economists, who had expected that growth based, ultimately, on the exploitation of fertile farmlands would reach a ‘stationary state’ beyond which further economic and population growth would become impossible.
Unfortunately, in trying to understand what was happening made a mistake which we are only now recognising. This was the belief that -symbolised by the French Revolution- the shift from older, static societies to modern dynamic societies was a result of the triumph of reason over superstition. That it was the Enlightenment which paved the way for industrial capitalism, not coal mines. But thanks to global warming driven climate change, we can now see that the world-changing event was the use of fossil fuels as an energy source.
Before this event there were highly mechanised and organised capitalist water-powered cotton spinning mills. But they were isolated, often rural, enclaves of capitalist modernity. Most still are. They did not become centres of growth and expansion. It was only once capitalism plugged itself into energy from coal that it found a way to keep growing. And without economic growth, capitalism cannot exist. No one is going to invest money in producing commodities which are worth the same or less when sold than the money initially invested. To keep making a profit, the economy/ market has to keep growing at by least 3% per year. The growth of Britain as an industrial economy is reflected in these coal production figures. By 1952, oil was beginning to replace coal as a fossil fuel source. Britain was also no longer the dominant industrial power it had been in the nineteenth century.
1750 : 5 million tonnes
1800 : 10 million tonnes
1850 : 50 million tonnes
1900 : 250 million tonnes
1913 : 290 million tonnes
1952 : 230 million tonnes
Midnight again, here is the article.
The Glenkens, Capitalism and Cotton
Alistair Livingston FSA Scot
Lit by gaslight and powered by steam, by 1815 the cotton spinning mills of Ancoats in Manchester represented technology at the leading edge of the industrial revolution. Side by side on the Rochdale canal, two huge cotton spinning factories dominated Ancoats, each employing over 1000 workers (Kidd, 1993, p.24). Remarkably, the founders of these two mill complexes, partners John Kennedy (1769-1855) and James McConnel (1762-1831), and brothers Adam (1767-1818) and George Murray (1761-1855), all came from Kells parish in the Glenkens district of Galloway. The industrial revolution, which transformed Britain between the 1780s and 1830s, drew many thousands of people from similar rural backgrounds into fast growing towns and cities. Very few, however, were able to succeed and prosper by mastering the technological and economic challenges of these new environments. Why were the Glenkens group able to do so? To answer this question requires an understanding of the social and economic background from which they emerged. A key argument will be that the development of the cattle trade with England led to the early advent of capitalist farming in Galloway. By the later eighteenth century, the social and economic environment of Galloway had been shaped by market forces’for the best part of a century. Although this was a form of agricultural rather than industrial capitalism, it meant that when Kennedy, McConnell and the Murray brothers began their businesses in Manchester, the market place was a familiar rather than alien environment.
From the Glenkens to Manchester
On 8 February 1827 John Kennedy, a successful Manchester manufacturer, sat down to compose some recollections of his early life for his children. The date was personally significant since it was on 9 February 1784 that Kennedy had left Knocknalling in Kells parish for Chowbent near Leigh in Lancashire to become an apprentice to William Cannan who manufactured carding engines, spinning jennies and water frames. Cannan was also from Kells parish where his father James farmed Sheil and Darsalloch (Reid and Cannon, 1953, p.118). Originally trained as a carpenter, in the 1760s Cannan left the district first for Whitehaven, then Liverpool before finally settling at Chowbent where he became a textile machinery manufacturer. Adam Murray became one of Cannan’s apprentices in 1780 followed by James McConnel of Hannaston (who was Cannan’s nephew) in 1781. George Murray was another of Cannan’s apprentice’s and married Cannan’s daughter Jane.
After serving their seven year apprenticeships with William Cannan, Kennedy, McConnel and the Murray brothers made the short journey to Manchester where their newly acquired skills were in great demand. The first to complete his apprenticeship was Adam Murray. After three years building up his capital in Chowbent, he moved to Manchester in 1790 where he leased land and premises in Ancoats. Here Adam took up cotton spinning as well as machine making. In 1797 he was joined by his brother George and together they established the firm of A & G Murray. In 1798 the brothers began construction of a purpose built, 8 storey high steam powered cotton mill in Ancoats. The steam power was supplied by Boulton and Watt and the new factory was connected by a short branch to the Rochdale canal (Miller and Wild, 2006, pp. 62-66).
James McConnel moved to Manchester in 1788. After working briefly for a cotton twist dealer, like Adam Murray, McConnel began his own business. McConnel also began spinning as well as machine making, using two spinning mules he had been unable to sell. McConnel still had these mules in 1791 which, valued at £70, became part of the capital he and John Kennedy contributed to their partnership with the Sandford brothers. In his ‘Early Recollections’, Kennedy (1849, p.17) gave an account of the partnership.
I formed a partnership with Benjamin and William Sandford, who were fustian warehousemen, and James McConnel, and we immediately commenced business as machine makers and mule spinners - I taking the direction of the machine department. Our first shop was in Stable Street or Back Oldham Street and our capital was not more than £600 to £700. Here we made machines for others as well as ourselves, putting up our own mules in any convenient garrets we could find. After some time we removed to a building in Canal Street, called Salvin's Factory - from the name of the owner who occupied a portion of it himself, letting off the remainder to us. Here we continued to the end of our partnership which lasted four years, terminating in 1795.
McConnel and Kennedy then began a new business in 1795 with an initial capital of £1700. Of this, £1632 came from the profits of the previous partnership plus £105 from James McConnell and £33 from John Kennedy (Lee, 1972, p.12). By 1802, McConnell & Kennedy had become prosperous enough to begin construction of their own steam powered cotton mill, on land adjacent to the Murray brothers’ factory.
Using the records of McConnell & Kennedy, Lee (1972) was able to trace the development of the firm between 1795 and 1840. Most significantly the firm (along with A & G Murray) specialised in the production of fine cotton yarn. This was measured in ‘counts’ based on the number of hanks (840 yards) of yarn spun from one pound weight of raw cotton. While the average count for cotton spinning up until 1833 was only 40, from their beginnings in 1795 onwards McConnel & Kennedy produced yarn counts ranging from 80 to 250. Up until the early 1830s, the main market for McConnell & Kennedy’s was in Scotland where hand-loom weavers in Glasgow and Paisley concentrated on fine cotton spinning. By 1808 ‘McConnel & Kennedy and their rivals A & G Murray had a powerful hold over the Scottish fine yarn market because of the superior quality of their product.’ (Lee, 1972, p. 27). Lee goes on to suggest that the larger, steam-powered, spinning machinery used by McConnell & Kennedy and A & G Murray ‘enabled Manchester firms to produce better yarn and in greater quantities than their counterparts in Scotland.’
McConnell & Kennedy also exported to Europe. The ‘most advantageous’ period for these exports (Lee, 1972, p. 67) was during the Napoleonic Wars and the immediate post-war boom when the prices of fine cotton yarn were at their peak. Some of this trade involved the smuggling of cotton yarn into France and areas controlled by the French before 1815. Although this was risky, the profit margins were very high. Other markets supplied by McConnell & Kennedy were in the north of Ireland, Nottinghamshire and the south-west of England. Of these, the Nottingham lace thread market became the most important in the 1830s, replacing Scotland as the firm’s largest market. (Lee, 1972, p.44).
When John Kennedy retired from the partnership in December 1826 his share of the business was £85 000 (Kennedy, 2016, pp. 213-4). The business, now called McConnel & Company, was continued by James McConnel and his sons Henry and James junior. After James McConnel’s death in 1831, his third son William joined the company. From 1861, when his brothers retired, William ran the firm on his own. In 1878 his son John took over the business. In 1898 the firm became part of the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association. This Association initially included 47 separate businesses and over 60 mills. McConnell & Company were one of the largest businesses in the Association. However, after John McConnel retired in 1914, McConnell & Company lost its independent identity as it became more closely integrated within the Association (Lee, 1972, pp.151-3).
Turning to McConnell & Kennedy’s neighbours and rivals A & G Murray, after Adam Murray died in 1831, George Murray managed the firm until 1854 by which time he was 93. From 1854 to 1878 his sons Benjamin and James ran the firm after which Benjamin’s sons George and John briefly took over until Herbert Dixon became managing director in 1880. Herbert Dixon was instrumental in setting up the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association which absorbed A & G Murray in 1899 (Miller and Wild, 2006, p.86).
John Kennedy 1769-1855
The most exceptional of this exceptional group was John Kennedy. After joining the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1803, he read several papers to the Society. The first was ‘On the Rise and Progress of the Cotton Trade’ in 1815, followed by ‘An Inquiry into the Effects of the Poor Laws’ in 1819, ‘The Influence of Machinery on the Working Classes’ in 1826 and ‘A Brief Memoir of Samuel Crompton with a Description of his Machine Called the Mule and its Subsequent Improvement by Others’ in 1830 (Kennedy, 1849). In addition to these papers, Kennedy also wrote a 30 page booklet On the Exportation of Machinery (Kennedy, 1824).
In 1822 Kennedy joined the Provisional Committee of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company (Carlson, 1969, p. 49). In 1824, Kennedy was one of four members of the Provisional Committee who examined existing railways and reported in favour of the use of steam locomotives on the proposed railway (Carlson, 1969, p.64). With the railway nearing completion and with his argument for steam traction having prevailed, in 1829, Kennedy was chosen as one of the three judges at the Rainhill Locomotive Trial which was convincingly won by George and Robert Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ (Carlson, 1969, p.219).
For Wrigley (2016, p.145), the 1829 Rainhill Trials and the opening of the Liverpool Manchester railway in 1830 ‘symbolised the achievement of a definitive release from the constraints that had always limited the growth possibilities in organic economies.’ By ‘organic economies’ Wrigley means all preceding traditional societies which had relied on renewable sources of energy- wood, wind and water- plus animal and human labour human to sustain themselves. In contrast, all modern societies are what Wrigley calls ‘mineral economies’ which rely primarily on fossil fuels- at first coal, then oil and natural gas- as energy sources (Wrigley, 2010).
The water-powered cotton mills of late eighteenth century Gatehouse of Fleet were, despite their sophisticated use of current technology, still part of Wrigley’s ‘organic economy’. The steam powered cotton mills of McConnel & Kennedy and A & G Murray were part of Wrigley’s ‘mineral economy’. Cotton production in Gatehouse was ultimately limited by the flow of water from Loch Whinyeon above the town. To increase production in a steam-powered cotton mill, all that was required was the purchase of a more powerful steam engine. While a more powerful steam-engine would need more coal, until the later nineteenth century (Jevons, 1865) it appeared that reserves of coal were practically inexhaustible so there would be no physical limits on economic growth.
In reality, as John Kennedy was very aware, the imperatives of the market economy with its constant cycle of expansion and contraction act as a check on economic growth. The technological improvements he made to his firm’s spinning machines increased the quantity and quality of the cotton yarn they produced but the market could not always smoothly absorb the yarn McConnel & Kennedy produced. In 1812, Kennedy had provided information on English cotton exports to India to the Committee for Free Trade to China and India. This was a campaign against the East India Company’s monopoly led by Kirkman Finlay, Lord Provost of Glasgow, who became an MP in 1812. Finlay was a cotton manufacturer and his firm was suffering from the loss of European markets during the Napoleonic wars, hence his interest in breaking the East India Company’s monopoly on trade with India where he hoped to find an alternative market for his company’s products (Chapman, 1992, p.95).
Up until the 1820s, Scottish cotton manufacturers including Finlay and Company, provided the main market for McConnel & Kennedy so it was in John Kennedy’s interest to support Kirkman Finlay’s early advocacy of the free market. In 1830, Kennedy was called before the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company where he gave evidence on the growth of cotton exports from England to India since 1812, based on the figures he had provided to the Committee for Free Trade to China and India in 1812 (Lee, 1972, p.51 and Select Committee, 1830, pp. 434-439).
Significantly, both Berg (1980, p.195) and Parthasarathi (2011, p.110) draw attention to a further development found in Kennedy’s 1815 paper ‘On the Rise and Progress of the Cotton Trade’ where he applied Adam Smith’s concept of the division of labour to the origins of the cotton industry. As Parthasarathi notes (2011, p. 111)
The adoption of a Smithian framework to understand the rise of the cotton industry coincided with the growing acceptance in Lancashire of the free trade prescriptions of Smithian political economy. In the final quarter of the eighteenth century, the cotton men of Lancashire were unreceptive to the arguments for free trade and they favoured protection from imports of Indian cloth.
Although in his 1830 paper on Samuel Crompton, Kennedy did observe that eighteenth century manufactures copied ‘fabrics from India which at that time supplied this kingdom with all the finer fabrics’ (Kennedy, 1849, p.70), by then his earlier ‘Smithian’ account of the origins of the British cotton industry had become accepted as fact. That Kennedy was a manufacturer rather than a political economist is likely to have given extra weight to his acceptance of Adam Smith’s economic theories.
Kennedy was also a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1831. In June 1833 he was present at a meeting of the Society in Cambridge when a new Statistical Section was formed by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus and others. In September 1833 Kennedy was one of the founders of the Manchester Statistical Society and became vice-president (Cullen, 1975, pp 79 and 108). It was probably through the Manchester Statistical Society that sanitary and poor law reformer Edwin Chadwick met Kennedy since Chadwick drew on the Manchester Society’s work for his privately published Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842). In 1839, Chadwick married Kennedy’s daughter Rachel.
The cattle trade and capitalism
That a group of young men who had left Kells parish in the Glenkens of Galloway as teenagers in the 1780s were able to found businesses in Manchester in the 1790s which survived and prospered for the next hundred years is noteworthy. It is possible that James McConnel, John Kennedy, Adam and George Murray were simply lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the textile machine making skills William Cannan had taught them. Certainly it was very helpful that they were able to build their own spinning machines and were able to adapt their mules to harness the power of steam engines. However, to succeed in the new environment of industrial capitalism required the additional ability to work within a market based economy. If Galloway still had a ‘traditional’ rural economy and society in the 1780s a group of young men from the region would have struggled to survive and prosper in Manchester’s market centred economy.
Discussing the impact of the agricultural revolution which transformed lowland Scotland in the late eighteenth century, Christopher Smout (1969, p.310) described the situation in Galloway as one
where almost until the end of the century indigenous peasant society went on almost unaffected by change, paying traditional rents to traditional lairds for lands that they held at will but seldom risked losing by dispossession, and that consisted of open, ridged stony fields, wide pools of boggy water and tall thickets of whins. The crisis that ‘produced an almost magical change’ came with sale of the old estate of Baldoon to the Earls of Galloway in 1787: the new owners at once offered the leases to the highest bidders at a public roup in the courthouse at Wigtown…
If Galloway had indeed been a traditional peasant society as late as 1787, it would have been a very difficult challenge for a group of young men from the region to make the successful transition to the very different society and economy of industrial Manchester.
However, in his discussion of ‘The peasant reaction to rural change’ Smout (1969, p. 326) notes that during the Galloway Levellers uprising of 1724, ‘several hundred armed men broke into the laird of Baldoon’s park and killed fifty-three Irish cattle.’ This park was in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright but as early as 1682 there was a cattle park at Baldoon in Wigtownshire large enough to hold 1000 cattle destined for sale to markets in England. The park and cattle belonged to David Dunbar but in September 1682, 59 of Dunbar’s Scottish cattle were seized and killed by a magistrate in England who believed that they had been illegally imported from Ireland (Symson, 1823, p. 41). The references to Irish cattle in 1682 and again in 1724 are a significant pointer to the origin of social and economic changes which occurred in Galloway long before 1787.
During the seventeenth century, London’s population grew from approximately 200 000 in 1600 to 400 000 in 1650 and by 1700 it had reached 575 000, overtaking Paris to become the largest city in Europe (Wrigley, 1978, p. 215). The effects of this growth were felt as far away as north-east England, where London’s demand for coal stimulated mining in the Newcastle area and Ireland, which supplied London with up to 50 000 head of cattle per year in the 1660s. Under pressure from English landowners, the import of Irish cattle into England was banned in January 1667 and similar import ban was passed by the Scottish parliament in March 1667. Before this ban, between May and July 1666, 7287 Irish cattle had passed through Galloway and Dumfriesshire en route to London (Woodward, 1976, p.150). Irish cattle had been taking this route since at least 1627 when the Scottish Privy Council gave permission to the Murrays of Broughton to land cattle from their Irish estates at Portpatrick for sale in England (Haldane, 1997, p.163).
Since there were no restrictions on the sale of Scottish cattle to England, David Dunbar of Baldoon and other Galloway landowners were able to take advantage of the 1667 ban on Irish cattle and supply London with cattle from their estates. Symson (1824, p. 81) noted that ‘the Earl of Galloway, Sir William Maxwell, Sir Godfrey McCulloch, Sir James Dalrymple and the Laird of Logan and many others’ had followed Dunbar’s example and constructed cattle parks. As well as the Wigtownshire cattle parks, the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds (Reid, 1950, Nos.1265, 3183 and 3184) reveal that by the 1680s there were also cattle parks at Netherlaw in Kirkcudbright parish and Borgue parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.
As well as providing existing landowners in Galloway with a valuable source of income, the late seventeenth century cattle trade with England, like the cotton industry a century later, provided the opportunity for a hill farmer’s son, grandson and great-grandson to prosper. In 1671, Alexander Heron of Minnigaff parish owned the hill farm of Dallashcairn. His son Patrick I (1642-1721) began managing David Dunbar’s Baldoon cattle park in 1682 but after Dunbar’s death in 1686 he began trading in his own right. By 1689 he was able to send 1000 cattle per year to England (Woodward, 1976, p.156) and by 1695, when his father died, Patrick Heron I ‘had stock upon Glenshalloch, Garlarg, Lomashan, Draighmorn, Poldenbuy, Tonderghie, Craigdews, Kirouchtrie, the Lessons, Torwhinock, and Torrshinerack’ in Minnigaff parish. As Peter McKerlie put it in his account of the Heron family’s land holdings (1877, Vol. 4, p. 426) ‘Patrick Heron made a great deal of money in the cattle trade.’ By re-investing their profits by buying more farms in Minnigaff which were then used to breed and fatten more cattle, Heron, his son Patrick II (1672- 1761) and grandson Patrick III (1701-1761) became wealthy and extensive landowners. However, when Patrick Heron IV (1736-1803) attempted to diversify into banking by co-founding the Ayr (Douglas and Heron) Bank in 1769, he was less successful and the bank collapsed in 1772 (Checkland, 1975, pp. 124-131).
Significantly then, despite Smout’s claim (1969, p.325) that the Galloway Levellers’ uprising of 1724 was a response to the development of the cattle trade with England since the Union of 1707, the uprising had its roots in changes which had been taking place in Galloway for over forty years. These changes involved the gradual development of capitalist farming in Galloway in response to London’s growth. Unfortunately, neither Wrigley (1978) nor Wood (2002) extend their analyses of the impact of London’s growth on the emergence of capitalist agriculture in seventeenth century England to Scotland.
However, although Wrigley here (1978, p. 226) is referring to the situation in Kent and East Anglia in the century before 1650, the post-1667 cattle trade had a similar transformative impact on Galloway.
London was large enough to exercise a great influence on the agriculture of the surrounding counties, causing a rapid spread in market gardening, increasing local specialization, and encouraging wholesalers to move back up the chain of production and exchange to engage directly in the production of food, or to sink capital in the improvement of productive facilities.
Wood (2002, p.103) as a Marxist historian, summed up the outcome of the changes set in motion by London’s growth very directly: ‘as competitive market forces established themselves, less productive farmers lost their property.’
If the advent of ‘competitive market forces’ -capitalism- is revealed in farming by less productive farmers losing their lands, then in Galloway by the 1780s the transition from Smout’s traditional ‘indigenous peasant society’ to capitalist agriculture had been underway for at least a century. As a consequence, although the new industrial capitalism of Manchester in the 1790s would have been unfamiliar to John Kennedy and his compatriots, the demands of ‘competitive market forces’ were not. For Kennedy’s business partner James McConnel, these demands were very real.
In 1455, Barskeoch in Kells parish and its farms, including Drumbuie, was among the lands forfeited to the Crown by William Douglas, 9th earl of Douglas. After passing to the Gordon family, by 1660, the Newall family had possession of Barskeoch and its lands which remained in their possession until 1787. In the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds (Reid, 1950, entries 1052 and 1420) there are two tacks for Drumbuie from the 1670s which give an insight into farming practice of the time since they both require the tenants of Drumbuie to return any cattle pasturing on the west side of Meikle Millyea ‘in the summer half of the year’ to the heft. By 1741, when Samuel McConnel and his son John were the Newalls’ tenants in Hannaston and the third part of part of Drumbuie, this requirement had been dropped. Samuel and John’s tack was for 19 years, paying £33 sterling rent annually. In 1760, John’s son James took over the tenancy of Hannaston alone for another 19 years, paying £26 sterling annually. However, when the next renewal came in 1779, the annual rent had risen to £52. James struggled with this increase and gave up his tenancy in 1782 ( McConnel, 1861, pp.116-122).
Writing in the early 1790s, the minister of Dalry parish (Old Statistical Account) noted that about 20 years earlier, Mr. Newall of Barskeoch was ‘probably the first’ in the Glenkens to improve a considerable extent of land with lime. The doubling of the rent of Hannaston in 1779 would have been part of this early attempt to improve the Newall lands. Unfortunately, the Newalls’ failed to profit from their improvements and in 1787 Barskeoch and its farms were sold to William Forbes of Callendar. It is likely that 19 year old James McConnel’s decision to leave Hannaston in early 1781 to become his uncle William Cannan’s apprentice in Lancashire was influenced by the difficulties his father faced after the rent of Hannaston was doubled in 1779.
In his later partnership with John Kennedy, James McConnel managed the business side of the firm’s activities while Kennedy concentrated on the technical side. James McConnel II (1861, p.148) described his father’s approach to business matters as ‘painstaking and persevering rather than acute. He was… thoughtful, prudent and even somewhat timid, rather than impulsive or rash.’ In his summary of McConnel & Kennedy’s approach to business, Lee (1972, pp.149-50) confirms this assessment.
Their guiding principle was caution, always seeking swift payment at a time when sudden trade slumps could throw debtors into bankruptcy, and seeking to pay their debts promptly to gain the price discount offered. They were careful not to trade more than was necessary with financially insecure firms and let nobody build up large debts at their expense. They were cautious not to speculate wildly and did not invest in buildings or any kind of expansion until they could afford it.
John Kennedy’s grandfather David, a merchant in New Galloway, had bought Knocknalling in 1740 (McKerlie, 1877, p.96). However, the early death of Kennedy’s father, aged 49 in 1779, left his mother struggling to run the farm. So although Kennedy’s family were owner-occupiers rather than tenant farmers, their situation was little more promising than the McConnel family’s. After their mother’s death in 1801, John Kennedy’s older brother David inherited Knocknalling. After David’s death in 1836, John became owner of Knocknalling where he built a still impressive mansion house.
Adam and George Murray’s background is more obscure. John Kennedy (1849, p.8) states that the Murray brothers’ father had moved to the Glenkens ‘as a farmer, or greeve upon a large estate, but was unfortunate, so settled finally in New Galloway as a shopkeeper about the time (1768) of my grandfather’s death.’ Since Kennedy also states that his father and the Murray brothers’ father were good friends and that Adam and George sometimes stayed at Knocknalling, his account is probably reliable.
If so, then all four of the young men who became William Cannan’s apprentices in the 1780s shared a similar background. It was a background of uncertainty as a second wave of agricultural and economic change began to affect Galloway. The first wave, the development of the cattle trade after 1667, had begun the breakdown of ‘traditional’ farming in the region. Then, in 1765, Sir Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw built a short section of canal so that barges could carry shell-marl from Carlingwark Loch up the Dee/Ken river system and into the Glenkens. This development was part of a second wave of change. The focus of the second wave was on the revolutionising of arable farming. This was a much more expensive and involved process than the construction of a few cattle parks.
In the later seventeenth century, the cattle trade with England was an example of what Ellen Wood (2002) described as ‘the market as opportunity’, of voluntary participation in a profitable activity. By the later eighteenth century what Wood called ‘the market as compulsion’ had become the driving force behind the second wave of change. Propelled by a combination of population growth, overseas trade and the beginnings of the industrial revolution, the British economy began to grow. This created an increasing demand for food. But to produce food profitably, it was necessary to adopt the commercial farming techniques developed (Wrigley, 1978) to feed London a century earlier. Only existing large landowners or new landowners who had made their fortunes through trade could afford the costs of improvement and only the most efficient tenants could manage to pay the higher rents needed to recoup these costs.
In the Glenkens William Forbes, who made a huge fortune by putting copper-bottoms on ships belonging to the East India Company and the Royal Navy (McKerlie, 1877, p.431) was able to buy up Earlston estate in Dalry parish as well as the Newalls’ Barskeoch lands. The Newalls had tried and failed to adapt to the ‘market as imperative’ by improving their lands and raising their tenants’ rents, which led to James McConnel’s father giving up his tenancy in 1782. The ‘unfortunate’ father of Adam and George Murray (Kennedy, 1849, p.8) also had to give up his tenancy of a farm. John Kennedy’s account of his childhood in the 1770s mentions the growing of black oats and the use of a wooden plough to cultivate Knocknalling’s arable fields- both indicators of an unimproved farm. The expense of improving Knocknalling would have been beyond Kennedy’s widowed mother’s resources.
By the 1780s then, although the full impact of the second wave of agricultural change in Galloway had yet to be felt, William Cannan’s workshop in Lancashire offered James McConnel, the Murray brothers and John Kennedy an attractive alternative to an uncertain future in the Glenkens. But while most of Cannan’s apprentices remained as humble artisans, the Glenkens group did not, leaving an enduring imprint on the industrial infrastructure of Manchester and the development of industrial capitalism.
In 1755 the population of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright was 21 2005. In 1757 the population of Manchester was 17 101. By 1801 the population of the Stewartry had increased to 29 211 but that of Manchester had reached 76 788. The population of the Stewartry peaked in 1851 when it reached 43 121 by which time Manchester had 316 213 inhabitants. The difference in growth rates reflects the difference between the agricultural revolution which transformed the Stewartry and the industrial revolution which transformed Manchester. However, within the Stewartry, growth was concentrated in the more fertile lowland parishes. Between 1755 and 1801, the population of upland Kells parish grew by only 13% while that of lowland Kelton grew by 134%.
In the summer of 1800, Richard Hodgkinson from Chowbent in Lancashire visited Kells parish where his wife’s Cannan family lived. His wife was William Cannan of Chowbent’s niece. Hodgkinson also visited David Kennedy, John Kennedy’s brother, at Knocknalling. He estimated that Knocknalling was worth £100 a year. In the diary he kept of his visit, Hodgkinson noted the striking difference between the prosperity and fertility of the district between Crossmichael, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse with the ‘barren, craggy, rough and rocky’ lands of the Glenkens to the north (Wood and Wood, 1992, p.136).
Hodgkinson’s observations reflect the problem of ‘diminishing returns’ which David Ricardo (1815) identified as a limit to traditional, agriculturally based, economic growth. Improving the fertile lands of the lower Stewartry was profitable. To improve the less fertile lands of the Glenkens required greater expenditure for a smaller profit. In the Scottish Highlands, sheep farming emerged as the solution to a similar problem. The uplands of Galloway were also converted to sheep farming in the early nineteenth century. However, in her careful analysis of Ricardo’s development of political economy, Maxine Berg (1980, Chapter 4) shows that by 1821, Ricardo had identified the new manufacturing industries as an alternative route to economic growth and prosperity.
Ricardo was able to make this intellectual break with eighteenth century political economy by observing the rapid progress of what had yet to be named as an ‘industrial revolution’. By 1780 in the Glenkens, the physical and economic limits of agricultural improvement were being reached. For the Murray brothers, James McConnel and John Kennedy the road to Chowbent offered an alternative route to a more prosperous future. The move from Chowbent to Manchester was a much shorter journey, yet it was one which was to transform not only their lives but also help shape a world changing revolution. This revolution marked a shift (Wrigley, 2016, pp. 1-3) from an agricultural based economy ultimately reliant on the annual flow of energy from the sun captured by plant photosynthesis to an industrial economy based via coal on an accumulated stock of millions of years of plant photosynthesis.
Historically, both China and Graeco-Roman Europe had access to coal and the technical capacity to build steam engines. What these cultures lacked was a social and economic driver powerful enough to create an industrial revolution. Capitalism supplied this driver in late eighteenth century Britain. Capital, however, follows success. By their ability to make a success of their businesses, the Murray brothers, James McConnel and John Kennedy played a critical role in developing Manchester’s cotton industry. The growth of the cotton industry stimulated further developments, in particular the Liverpool-Manchester railway which was supported by John Kennedy from its inception. Liverpool and Manchester were connected by rail to Birmingham in 1837 and London in 1838, marking the accomplishment of what Wrigley (2016, p. 147) describes as ‘the English industrial revolution’.
More correctly, it should be described as the British industrial revolution in recognition of the vital role played by James Watt and his fellow Scots John Kennedy, James McConnell and the Murray brothers. But while Watt is celebrated in Scotland as a pioneer of the industrial revolution, the group of young men who left the Glenkens in the 1780s have been overlooked. Even in Dumfries and Galloway their impressive achievements remain unknown.
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