Saturday, April 21, 2018

Iron Age/ Industrial Revolution Origins, Plus Housekeeping

By Stone Monki - 100_9866.jpg.ok.jpg, CC BY 3.0,
So Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins Research Base was inaugurated on 16 February, 1948, by President Gabriel Videla, "the first head of state to visit Antarctica." It is officially the capital of Antarctic Commune, and the way things are going, will probably be the northernmost inhabitable place on the planet in fifty years or so. The Wiki article  says that Chile began to perform acts of sovereignty in the Antarctic the year before. 

Either someone's been Google Translating out of the Spanish, or this might belong on Pornhub. 

President Videla and some Wehrmacht cosplayers enjoy an old time Antarctic summer. (Enjoy some Chilean goose-stepping here. It's oddly compelling, I have to say.)
The Economist does not mention that the Chilean Antarctic Expedition was a response to Operation Tabarin, and the islands in question were actually the South Shetlands, and specifically, Greenwich Island, on which Chilean "Base Arturo Pratt" is located. My bad! As for The Economist, it is not clear that President Videla was ever on Greenwich, and it is certainly not clear why it would be trying to start a war with the southern cone of Latin America over possession of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Maybe there's coal there?  

In other news, the prototypes of the Neo-Assyrian Royal Annals might be epic literature, with an "Epic of Sargon" predating and informing the more famous Epic of Gilgamesh? I don't know that this gets us anywhere: We've reached the point where writing about technology is batting its wings against the same cage as writing itself. Ancient scribes aren't up to anything as ambitious as a year-chronicle, so they're not up to telling us how iron was made. 

Okay: Enough of that. I started this post with the idea that I was going to recap my explanation of the origins of the British Industrial Revolution. (Spoiler: It happened because of export subsidies, high taxes, especially revenue-raising tariffs on imports, and persistent, large, state deficits. If you're wondering why I decided to talk about that this week; Yeah, me, too. Kidding! Before the week turned out to be about porn stars, there was a stir on the tariff front. If I were postblogging Monday --and I'm frankly beginning to think that someone needs to make that project happen-- you'd know what I mean.)

Unexpectedly, the post did not develop in the direction of recapping state spending on wars, generating foreign exchange for the use of, and export bounties/tariffs. Recall that I jumped aboard a project of reinterpreting the beginnings of the Iron Age because I'm all about the relationship of early iron production to woodland management. At first the connection seemed obvious. Iron axes are good for woodland clearance; charcoal is necessary for making iron; more woodland clearance makes for more charcoal. Positive feedback! (Or, "hysteresis,"  if you're an economist and want to show off your Latin, rather than a former physics undergrad, and want to show off your Introduction to Partial Differential Equations scars.) It was only recently that the revelation that salt, soda and potash are made from charcoal as well, impinged. Soda, being a primordial industrial component (and substituable for potash) leads to glass and detergents. The latter, in turn, leads to the production of "luxury," that is, clean and dyed, cloth.

Okay, well, my postblogging has directed attention to British exports of coal, and natural resource exports have also been in the news of late. Rather than directing you to the political side of the Kinder Morgan question, here's a link to a recent post by Liveo di Matteo at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. So what about coal and the origins of the Industrial Revolution? A scorching hot take would be that, if "Dutch Disease" were real, British exports of coal ought to have retarded industrial development. Certainly the old time English were obsessed with the idea that exporting raw yarn was like exporting jobs and revenues!(In the stone age of economics, people thought that a combination of tariff barriers and subsidies could be used to promote industrialisation and national prosperity. Nowadays, we've turned economics into a science, and can resolve such questions by simply inputting some data series into one of those computer models I hear so much about every time we ask at work why computers can't order carrot juice.*)

On the other hand, English exports of coal were subsidised. One way of understanding that is that by undercutting competitive fuels, coal might have made those competitors cheaper, and promoted growth in other industries. Since charcoal and firewood make salt, soap and glass,there's a valid line of inquiry here. In Iron Age or even Industrial Revolution studies, it's hard to get at soap, and even hard to get at salt, but glass is pretty robust. What might turn up if one pursued that line of inquiry?
Vann Copse, Waverley, Surrey. It's the local government area that includes Godalming, if you were wondering, and it is in the Weald, as probably doesn't surprise you at all.

There's a little more than pure serendipity to this exercise. If the Iron Age looks very much like a period when a major new technology transformed society in all of its aspects, that is also the narrative we've applied to the Industrial Revolution. If so, then technological disruption can have very different effects from one case to another. Or else something quite else was going on in the Industrial Revolution; or else I should just stand on my "revival of the state" thesis.

Anyway, coal:

It's somehow an eternal surprise that our earliest ancestors were capable of recognising and using resources such as coal and oil. If we want to know why the cavemen did not have a coal industry, we cannot settle on a claim along the lines of "Coal hadn't been invented yet." It is, indeed, an open question whether a claim like this ever makes sense, except perhaps in the context of a clever businessman who happens to have been the first to patent a significant innovation, and thereafter has to protect his business and reputation from others with a prior claim under American patent law. In the case of coal and Britain, we dispose of this question by talking about "sea coal." The issue isn't that Britain has coal, but that that coal is at sea level, making it easy to ship to various places. This doesn't really explain why coal has to wait until after 1700 to be shipped in large quantities, but it does have the virtue of drawing our attention on to the railroad and the steamship. Coal is about its applications; you can't get more Industrial Revolution than that!

Except, well. . .As we've seen, one of the problems bedevilling postwar Britain was a shortage of coal being lifted. Somehow, in some way, "coordination" broke down between all that coal down there to be lifted, and the consumer who wanted that coal. This is not a small matter for the modern. It was these kinds of problems that eventually made a policy of periodically goosing unemployment to, uhm, control inflation, yeah, that's it, control inflation. And so, of course, we find ourselves where we are today. (Going to work in a neighbourhood where the houses are so expensive that no-one lives there, for which I am sure there is a "rational choice" explanation. [pdf])

The Economist of 1948 is not greatly given to introspection. I think we got to talking about Stanley Jevons via a series on coal mining in Fortune, but this older debate about the "Coal Question" wasn't explicitly referenced in either The Economist or Fortune. It is well enough known to modern economic historians, who are perhaps more focussed on it by the way that history repeated itself over North Sea oil. "Peak oil," "Peak coal." Jevons is a precursor to arguments about the future trajectory of oil prices. Coal, it seems, lies under pretty much the whole of the United Kingdom, but after it became too expensive to extract, oil drove it out of the market. Which is certainly an interesting story, but coal most definitely did not find a new market in other industries. Fortune's fantasies about gasification remain just that.

If history is repeating itself, from coal to oil, then the repetition is, as it were, first as farce, then as tragedy. (I had an old English teacher who defined comedy as the genre in which young lover protagonists are set against old antagonists in an eternal quest for nookie; Jevons' archaic graphics show a lot of nookie going on in the coal age; less so in the age of North Sea oil, aka "the Age of Thatcher.")

 The Economist (1948) can fairly claim that this time it's different, that Jevons is no longer relevant. The key question is not the consumption of coal in Britain to power British industry, but the freeing up of an exportable surplus of coal to pay for imports and jumpstart the continental European economy so that it can take even more British exports, and pay for them with convertible currency by exporting things to the United States. Indeed, you can construe the numbers to show that Britons are coal-poor.
Total Consumption (millions of tons)
Kg per head
USA (1937)
England (1937)
Germany (1937)
France (1937)
France (1950)

Britain isn't raising enough coal to support industrial output at an American level, and is barely keeping ahead of Germany. There is, of course, a reason for that, and it would warm the cockles of Correlli Barnett's heart. The British industry is inefficient, although this cannot be laid off to public school educations. It was over-expanded during exactly the coal rush that Jevons documents above. As low-cost producers come onto the market, high price British coal is driven off it. I this the breaking of a spell of Dutch Disease? Is Britain moving, in 1948, towards a more industrial economy, as declining coal exports undermine the value of the pound?

And what about the period in which America was the world's major petroleum exporter pretty neatly fitting the period in which its economic and demographic growth began to fall towards "stagnation?" Hughes Tool Company is moving away from the oil industry and towards aviation and electronics. Howard Hughes will never be the inventor his father was; but as an innovator, well, that's another matter.

Is this saying that the "Dutch Disease" proponents are right about stuff? No. I am not smart like that,  and am reluctant to say anything that (spoiler alert: only Canadians care) might get Jason Kenney  elected. At least we can say that a period of rapidly-growing raw natural resource extraction-and-export is not one that we would, a priori, expect to find correlated with one of rapid industrial growth.

Only, glass, which is definitely a growing industry in the late Seventeenth Century, as the window stops being a palatial luxury and starts becoming a feature of a middling home.

 One of the obvious consequences of putting Newcastle coal on sale in London is to undercut the cost of its competition. That competition happens to be from charcoal, produced from managed woodlots, notably in the Weald. This would lower the cost of charcoal (ash, when not meant for burning) for soda and potash-makers, and thus for glassmakers. Since these kinds of goods were on the upswing in Jacobean times (inspiring some of the first British patents), I typed "Jacobean glass" into Google search and I'm glad I did. Things do get a bit tricky, in that I learned about an "early energy crisis," here laid out in a 1977 Scientific American article by John U. Neff, a name you may recognise if you have ever been interested in the history of the British coal industry. The tl;dr of it is that Jacobean legislation of 1615 banned the use of wood in glass furnaces, because the country was running out of firewood. (Or charcoal made from firewood.) That being said, a look at Nef's handling of his sources in the article may make you shake your head and think, "Oh. The University of Chicago."

This post will not just be about drive-bys of great but-perhaps-overconfident universities founded by Rockefellers. It is about the long history of glass being produced in the Weald, and that glass collectors know all about it. The "forest glass" produced by Wealden handicraft smallholders gives way in Tudor times to a more industrial scale of glass production, and a glass furnace at Vann Copse has been the subject of an archaeological investigation that puts meat on the bones of speculation about the transfer of "Venetian" technology to Britain under the protection of some of the nation's earliest patents.

Forest, or green glass, made of Wealden sand, with potassium oxide, made by filtering beech and oak ash; and lime, was the most purely indigenous English glass. Soda fluxes were deemed necessary to produce clear glass in the Venetian fashion, and required halophytic plant ash, was imported from the Mediterranean or, at least, the seashore, where seaweed was burnt to produce soda ash. (It is interesting that Mediterranean imports were competitive with the more local product. I have no idea whether that means that barilla ash was a better quality input.) Only potassium glass is relevant to the price-being-undercut-by-competition-from-coal thesis.

On to the Weald, where Colin Jeremy Clark did extensive fieldwork for a 2006 PhD thesis for --the University of Sheffield's School of Education? I'm a little surprised, and also want to take this moment to point out that the thesis is an automatically downloading pdf. I would link to Dr. Clark's web page if I could find it, but I have a sinking suspicion that no-one cares about the Wealden forest industries. Look, guys, if you want to know how the Industrial Revolution began, it would help to investigate the place where it began!

Arundel Castle in Arundel, West Sussex. Attached to one-fifth of Sussex by the Conqueror, it passed to the Aubigny lineage via Henry II's second wife, and from the Aubignys to the Fitzalans to the Howard Dukes of Norfolk by failure of the male line, the latter in 1580, with restoration of the castle and lands to the Norfolks after a discrete interval following a bit of light high treason in 1572. By Chensiyuan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

 Whatever. Stylised facts and Just So Stories about textile spinning machinery are good, too, I'm sure.

It's probably not good form to bury important facts in a picture caption. Summarising what I just said, a solid fifth of Sussex, and particularly the area around Arundel in the Low Weald, belongs to a fabulously wealthy British aristocratic family, the Howards, who also hold the title of Duke of Norfolk, and has since 1572. This is important because the Wealden glass industry is very geographically concentrated in the Low Weald around Godalming, near Arundel. This doesn't just mean that the glasshouses of the Weald were more likely to be Howard tenants than people who happened to live in more remote parts of Sussex. In fact, it doesn't necessarily mean that at all. What it means is that the glasshouses lived in the immediate hinterland of the port of Littlehampton/Arundel, something that very definitely brings the glasshouses to the attention of their illustrious landlords. In the course of the 1570s, the last Fitzalan earl of  Arundel widened and cleared the channel of the Arun River, allowing ships to be loaded at Arundel, instead of having their cargos carried downstream overland to Littlehampton. The change was dramatic, although not entirely due to the improvements, since French politics were also involved: From the port books of Rye (a Cinque Port serving the eastern Weald) and Littlehampton/Arundel, Clark shows that shipments of the relevant cargo fell from 36 and 17 respectively in a ten month period in 1566, to 25 and 4 in a six month period in 1582. They're not ideal statistics, but they're what we've got.

"Relevant cargo?" Well, obviously I don't mean glass, or I would have said so: firewood. Firewood! Firewood! The Weald was exporting firewood to France. Crazy. At the peak of the industry, in the five months between Easter and Michaelmas in 1580, 86 shipments containing 112,000 units of "tallwood" were shipped from Arundel. On the assumption of an average load size of 20 tons and dividing by working days, the port loaded somewhere on the order of 10 tons of firewood, probably cut in fairly long trunk sections, every day.

Firewood was a very important resource in Sussex in the last half of the Sixteenth Century. The iron industry, long established in the east and centre of the county, relied on charcoal made within 3--5 miles of the foundry, as charcoal is too friable to be moved long distances, and timber too heavy. Increasing demand for Wealden iron thus led to a geographic extension of the industry to new foundries in western Sussex, rather than the exploitation of woodlands at greater remove from the existing foundries. The traditional industry, although under some strain, was known to use managed forests to supply its charcoal needs. We do not, unfortunately, have the data to say whether the glasshouses did the same. Three-and-a-half cords of wood make twelve sacks of charcoal, around 17 hundredweight, make a load, and seven loads of charcoal are needed to make a ton of (fined wrought, I assume) iron bar, and a 200 ton annual output furnace would require 160 acres of coppiced woodland. Coppicing, which implies enclosing managed woodland and excluding animals, was not exactly uncontroversial, but it seems that the Wealden ironmakers were able to push it through.
A cord of firewood. That's a lot of chopping!
Other Wealden wood-burning industries, Clark reminds us, include brickmaking, tanning, and alkali production for purposes other than glassmaking, but he doesn't have consumption numbers for those industries. So there.

As for the glass industry itself, the Wealden business emerges from the dark forest into the shining light of Glimmerglass in the course of the Sixteenth Century, as immigrants from Normandy, Lorraine and the Netherlands enter the business, keeping better personal records, but, unfortunately, vaguer property records, since they were not allowed to own real property legally. At the same time, the rush of glassmaking patents continue down in London, culminating in Sir Edward Zouch's patent for making glass out of sea coal, a patent followed by a series of orders banning the use of wood charcoal in glassmaking, including Nef's 1614 act, which is actually attached to one of Zouch's patents, because that is a perfectly reasonable way to make new law --through the patent office! (Shh. I don't want to be giving Google any ideas.)  Somehow, Zouch's patent is soon associated with a monopoly on glass sales in London, held by Sir Robert Mansell. Soon enough, the glaziers of London are complaining about the ban on foreign imports that protects Mansell's monopoly, and ally themselves with those Wealden glasshouses that are determined to remain in the business. Others see the way the wind is blowing, and the names of a number of glasshouse families disappear from the Weald and reappear in Newcastle, happily making glass out of sea-coal.

When we look at the archaeology of glassmaking in the Weald, some interesting points emerge. First, one would think that the chemistry of the fluxes would be important, but chemical composition shows not only potassium hydroxides in potash glass, but also residuals of sodium and magnesium oxide, and other alkalis as well. Glasshouses do not appear to have been overly concerned about the sources of their ash. What mattered far more to quality was the temperature of firing and annealing, and, for this, new furnaces were brought into production at a number of Wealden glasshouses in the latter half of the Sixteenth Century. The conventional story is that these furnaces, and supporting materials such as crucibles, were brought over by immigrants. There was, however, also the matter of investment in this new capital equipment. Although the market for window glass was rapidly expanding, the newly equipped Wealden glasshouses preferred to concentrate on vessel glass. It is also worth noting that glasshouses burned firewood, not charcoal.

Given the costs of overland transport, it would make sense for the Wealden glasshouses to turn their relative advantages in fuel and raw material sources into a higher value added product, leaving window glass manufacture to competitors closer to tidewater --and, importantly, tidewater from which it was easy to sail to London, as it was not from Arundel/Littlehampton. After 1615, however, even that specialist industry fades away.

What happened? First, we can dismiss the idea that it was all down to a shortage of fuel. There was certainly a large and lively concern expressed in London, in Parliament, and in controversial literature, that Britain was running out of timber. That perennial subject of conversation can be traced back to the 1400s, and into the 1800s; the point is that no-one targeted the brick or ironmaking industries; and the Howards' little racket exporting firewood to --Paris, perhaps, given the importance of Rouen as a receiving port?-- went on with no disturbance whatsoever. The patents and monopolies issued in London seemed to have had exactly the function often attributed to them by their critics. They were a means of harassing the competition out of the industry.

None of that would have mattered had the Wealden industry succeeded. Plenty of patent plays were made in the Jacobean court; the ones that attracted high profile resistance did not end well for would-be innovators. George Longe claimed in the 1570s to be the only Englishman accomplished in the art of glassmaking, and who promoted a business making glass in Ireland (where there was plenty of wood, apparently), and importing it into Britain for finishing in the few glasshouses that would be permitted to operate. Forgotten today because he crossed the wrong people, Longe enjoyed a stay in the Tower of London instead of monopoly profits.

The question hanging here is, why did the Howards not step in? That's what patrons do! Perhaps the industry was seen as a lost cause. Quality was certainly an issue; the Wealden glasshouses lacked the chemical acumen to source their ash and sand properly, and Wealden sand is simply not that high a quality. The market, largely export, was uncertain due to tariff barriers. The future belonged to people who could ship to London. But beyond that, it is hard to believe that their flourishing firewood export business did not represent a conflict of interest. I'm not saying that the Howards were bad patrons: Someone certainly eased the passage of the glasshouse families to Newcastle! I'm just saying that, from the vantage point of Arundel's high towers, the Wealden glass industry's day was done, and it was time for it to give way to more modern enterprises.

Like exporting firewood. 

*Computers can't order carrot juice because the programmers mis-typed the entry for two sizes of Bolthouse brand carrot juice in the initial run through our Computer Assisted Ordering system, and we can't take the damn thing down to correct the typos, for some reason. Carrot juice is not, by a long shot, the only thing affected. This ought not be a problem, and isn't a problem where we have a category manager riding herd on CAO, but produce managers are usually too busy to worry about their juice walls, and let the "AI" do it, for them. Oops!

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