‘Improvements in agriculture played a crucial role in facilitating the expansion of industry and commerce in Britain by 1832’. Assess the validity of this view (25)


  • The agricultural industry experienced a number of changes from 1783-1832 which had an impact on the British economy.
  • It was the early stages of the ‘Industrial Revolution’.
  • There were however a number of other factors which influenced this growth in industry and commerce, which included government policy, cotton, steam power and iron and coal.
  • Overall, agriculture did have a part to play in facilitating these changes but this role cannot be described as crucial.

On the one hand, agriculture did have an important role in facilitating industry and commerce…

  • Enclosure and crop rotation created a more efficient system of production than ‘open farming’
  • It enabled a wider variety of goods, which had higher yields to be produced with increasing output.
  • This improved the diets of the labouring classes and therefore created a more productive workforce which would have had a positive effect on industry.
  • This period is often referred to as the ‘Agricultural Revolution’ because it became in industry in its own right.
  • The development of agriculture also had indirect impacts on industry. The mechanisation of the industry, with developments such as Miekle’s Threshing Machine meant that there was greater rural unemployment and lower wages in these areas. This drove people to the industrial centres, supplying the demand for labour.

On the other hand, agriculture was limited in its impacts on industrial development…

  • Agriculture was often hit by poor harvests which caused a great deal of unrest. This was particularly evident following the Napoleonic Wars.
  • The mechanisation of the industry also caused violent unrest which inhibited economic development. eg. Swing Riots 1830.
  • Methods such as crop rotation were regional developments and this was only really successful in Norfolk. It also took time for these developments to be in wide use. It wasn’t until the 1820s that the Threshing Machine was commonly used.
  • It could be argued that the 1815 Corn Laws limited the extent to which agriculture could boost the economy. It kept the price of bread high which was detrimental to the workforce and also was a barrier to international trade.
  • Therefore, agriculture did not play a ‘crucial’ role in facilitating the expansion of industry and commerce.

There were however other factors which were arguably more important in facilitating these changes ….

Government Policy

  • Commutations Act 1786 and Hovering Act 1784 under Pitt reduced tariffs on goods and cracked down on smuggling which led to freer trade. Reduction of smuggling increased revenue to treasury which could be invested in new infrastructure.
  • Bonded Warehouses also attracted new trade into British Ports.
  • Huskisson’s Reciprocity of Duties Act 1823 liberalised trade further by establishing 15 agreements with European nations. These included Prussia and Denmark.
  • The existence of the East India Company allowed Britain to dominate the eastern markets.
  • Britain’s naval power also allowed them to capitalise on South American markets during the Napoleonic Wars, showing the spread of their trading influence.


  • Britain’s influence in the West Indies meant that raw cotton was easily attainable.
  • Imports of raw cotton nearly tripled between 1815-1830.
  • Textile factories expanded in the regions of Lancashire and Lanarkshire, services by ports such as Liverpool.
  • Cotton became a dominant contributor to Britain’s GDP, contributing £10,500,000 in 1805. Textiles were 70% of Britain’s exports.
  • 1830s 30% of the industrial workforce was engaged in the cotton industry.
  • The rise of the cotton and textile helped to boost international trade and industrial expansion within the textile regions.

Steam Power

  • The rotary motion machine, created by Watts in 1781 was adopted by many industries, especially the cotton industry.
  • This helped to increase output by providing a more consistent energy supply. Previously manufacturers had to locate near water sources.
  • Steam also aided the development of transport, with opening of the Stockton to Darlington Railway in 1825 and the Liverpool to Manchester in 1830.
  • This meant that produce could be transported to the cities in a fresher condition meaning that the quality of workers diets improved, increasing their productivity.
  • It also meant that workers could travel more easily to the cities, supplying more labour and increasing urbanisation.
  • The development of the railways also meant that factory owners could locate anyway, as opposed to near the coal resources as this could be transported to the factory.
  • The development of steam power did in fact play a crucial role in facilitating the expansion of industry and commerce.

Iron and Coal

  • Coal production rose from 16 million tonnes in 1815 to 30 million tonnes in 1830.
  • Coal was the main energy source for industry. If coal production rose, industry was expanding.
  • The development of Neilson’s hot air blast furnace in 1828 produced better quality iron more efficiently.
  • The development of the railway industry relied upon production of iron and therefore there was a demand for coal and iron, which facilitated the expansion of this industry.
  • The coal and iron industries supplied many aspects of Britain’s industrial development and therefore played a crucial role in facilitating the expansion of industry and commerce.


  • Overall, the role of agriculture in the expansion of industry and commerce was minimal in comparison to other factors.
  • There were many weaknesses of the sector which limited the extent to which it facilitated growth.
  • Ultimately, the coal and iron industries were the most important factor and truly played a crucial role in facilitating the expansion of industry and commerce as they supplied so many inter-related aspects of the economy.

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