The West Midlands in War and Peace

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The French Wars (1793-1815) influenced life in the region, but the impact of the conflict was not total. Births, deaths and daily existence continued often unaffected by the struggle.

Moreover, industrialisation, agricultural improvement and urbanisation preceded and succeeded the conflict, but war and peace influenced the economy, shaped living standards and stimulated political activity.

The West Midlands was the silicon valley of the late eighteenth century. Pioneering iron-making in the Ironbridge Gorge, including new uses for the metal in bridge and building construction, ceramics in the Potteries, glassmaking in Stourbridge and chemicals in Tipton, married manufacturing with what we would now call scientific discovery. Carpet-making in Kidderminster, cotton manufacturing in the Derwent Valley and nail-making and coal mining in the Black Country, were other important industries, but less dependent on scientific knowledge.

The centre of West Midlands industry was the Birmingham area. This city of a thousand trades was renowned for its products before the outbreak of the French Wars. Matthew Boulton’s Soho manufactory in Handsworth, which produced metalwares and the Boulton and Watt Soho Foundry in Smethwick, which made the parts for steam engines, were large factories by the early nineteenth century. They applied the division of labour, mass-production methods, precision engineering and mechanical power to making goods.

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