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Transport, urbanization and economic development in England and Wales c.1670-1911

Transport, urbanization and economic development in England and Wales c.1670-1911

Future plans

I. Transport, energy and urbanization c.1670-1911

Our current project, Transport, Urbanization and Economic Development 1670-1911 has been funded primarily by the Leverhulme Trust (£278k) and the National Science Foundation ($89k). The Leverhulme funding will come to an end on the 28th February 2017 while the NSF funding will end a few months later. Since we wrote the grant applications to Leverhulme and the NSF in 2012 there have been five developments which overall have significantly expanded the scope of what we could achieve, if we can secure further funding:

  1. One key plank of the project is to model the flows of goods and services around the various transport networks at three key dates: c.1670 before the turnpiking of the main roads, the extension of navigable rivers and the building of canals; c.1830 when the foregoing were essentially complete but before the railways and rise of iron and steel-hulled steam-powered ships had become significant; c.1911 when the railway network and coastal shipping was close to its peak. Since we wrote our grant applications in 2012 we have become aware of a vastly larger body of data published among the millions of pages of parliamentary papers on the flows of goods around the economy than we were aware of then. These data would allow us to model the flows of goods along every main road, along rivers, canals, the coast and railway lines far more fully than we realised was possible in 2012. We will need further funding to exploit some of this material and to explore further possibilities more fully. Read more
  2. In addition to the body of data contained in the parliamentary papers we have also become aware of the astonishing detail and volume of material available in manuscript sources, especially in relation to coastal shipping. Some of these sources underlie the published data but provide much detail lost in the published aggregations – right down to the cargoes of individual ships moving goods between specified ports in some cases. Other data was never published in any form, for instance, much of the eighteenth century data on coastal flows or data relating to loading, unloading and journey times between specific pairs of ports. Read more
  3. Freight ton mileage at all dates in the nineteenth century was dominated by the movement of coal and this was probably true across the whole of the eighteenth century too. One key variable was the cost of transporting coal. It was the high cost of transporting coal which limited its use early in the period and it was falling transport costs which underpinned the massive increases in coal consumption over time which in turn made the Industrial Revolution possible. We have realised that we could collect a large dataset of coal prices across the country over the whole period from which we could infer overall transport costs which, simplifying somewhat, can be inferred by the differences between pit-head prices and wholesale prices at other locations. Read more
  4. One central feature of our Leverhulme funded project is to use data on occupational structure covering c.11.400 ecclesiastical parishes in 1817 and c.15,000 census parishes in 1881 to analyse the impact of changes in transport infrastructure on local economies, especially the development of the railway network from 1825 onwards and for a number of other purposes. Whilst being able to analyse economic change at this level of spatial resolution is entirely unprecedented, having only two observations some sixty-four years apart is obviously sub-optimal, and especially so given the rapid development of the railway network and the concomitant declining importance of navigable waterways. Thanks to the ESRC funded ICeM project led by Professor Kevin Schürer (University of Leicester) and Professor Eddy Higgs (University of Essex), it would now be possible, which it was not in 2012, with very modest additional funding, to add further parish-level occupational datasets for 1851, 1871, 1891, 1901 and 1911. Read more
  5. Population geography is a critical variable in understanding transport flows. We have parish level population counts from the published census returns every ten years from 1801-1911. An important element of the project was to create parish population estimates to match these for c.1680 using two key sources, the Compton Census and the Hearth Tax returns. These two sources have been very widely used by historians and underlie all current estimates of urban populations in the seventeenth century. Our aim was to generate local population estimates for every parish c.1680 rather than just for the urban centres as previous scholars have done. However, doing so revealed problems with both sources which were hitherto under-appreciated and throws into doubt the accuracy of all previous estimates of urban population and all existing assessments of the urbanisation rate in the seventeenth century. The first step on the road to more reliable parish population data and more reliable urbanisation figures will be to collect further hearth tax data for parishes were we already have data from the Compton Census. Read more

A pilot study on the above has now been funded by the Isaac Newton Trust Cambridge.

II. Market failure and state success: the neglected story of nineteenth century roads

As is well known Turnpike Trusts were an institutional innovation which overcame the inadequacies of parish highways on the main trunk roads during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The coming of the railways led to the closing down of long-distance stage coach services and fatally undermined the financial viability of the Turnpike Trusts. In consequence most of the major trunk roads reverted to local authority control during the 1860s and 1870s and all had done so by 1895. However, this reversion to local authority control did not lead to a re-emergence of the pre-turnpike problems associated with parochial control. The evidence suggests that by 1911 public authorities were spending far more than turnpikes ever did on a much larger mileage of high quality roads bearing traffic volumes that were much larger than those of the turnpike era. However, we know surprisingly little about the history of roads in the post turnpike era. Read more