By Richard Dennis
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Extra resources for A Social Geography of England and Wales
The figures are somewhat misleading, for while these towns had the fastest rates of growth they started the century with such small base populations that any growth yielded a very high percentage growth rate. In terms of absolute population growth the largest increases were recorded in the major cities: Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Newcastle and, of course, London. Two other features of nineteenth-century urban growth have been illustrated by Robson (1973). Firstly, for any particular decade, the range of growth rates is much greater for small than for large towns.
At the same time the role of agriculture in English life declined substantially and more rapidly than in all other European countries. As a result, the differentiation between town and country and between manufacturing and farming became increasingly obvious as the nineteenth century progressed. England was rushing headlong into a precocious urban revolution which distinguished it from all other parts of the world. Rural manufacturing activities were being transformed in the first half of the nineteenth century but not until after mid-century were craftsmen to lose the struggle with urban factories and agricultural mechanization permitted a release of farm labour on a massive scale.
Many by-employments were found, with miners and spinners working smallholdings and agriculturalists taking on temporary work in mines and quarries during slack periods of the year or indulging in domestic industries in their farmhouses when hands might otherwise be idle. The pattern of mining, potting, tiling and iron-smelting activities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries closely reflected the natural environment, but in order to understand the distribution of textile manufacture and many other craft activities it is necessary to recognize that some areas generated surplus reserves of labour which actively sought alternative employment to supplement what was offered by farming.