Capital and Labour- Capital in 1800 : The Capitalist Class

In 1800 there was a definite capitalist class, which had evolved during the preceding centuries. It had been recruited in various ways and from various classes. Partly it was composed of men who were in the direct line of descent from the master and craftsmen of the gilds, who had reached their present position by the gradual separation of functions and the gradual evolution of the " subordinate " classes of foreman, craftsman, salesman, and so on. Partly, it was composed of land owning families, who had special opportunity for manufacture, e.g. the mine-owners.1 Another section of the capitalist class, and one whose numbers had been swelled rapidly since the growth of the national debt and joint-stock companies, was the ordinary investor. The members of this capitalist class (which had been created, at first, slowly by evolution, and during the eighteenth century, had grown rapidly larger by unexpected additions) though all nominally in the same financial position, did not all exercise the same functions.

The investor, for instance, was almost in the position of our modern shareholder, except that he was more directly in touch with the business, and in many cases actually capable of conducting it himself. The separation between the two functions of supplying the capital and managing the business, even in joint-stock companies, was not yet complete.2 However, the great industrial leaders, Boulton, Wedgwood, Wilkinson..Crawshay, and Reynolds, did not belong to this investing class, who had, in many cases, made their money in one or other of the professions. Among the first investors in the Birmingham Navigation to the extent of £700 was a Doctor of Divinity;3 a Doctor and several Barristers were engaged as adventurers in the Cornish mines,4 and three Professors of Law were members of the Shadwell Water-Works Committee.5

Nevertheless, some of the largest capitalists still belonged to that merchant class which had early specialized in the business of foreign trade,6 and which was beginning to confine itself to investment, banking, and insurance ; and when they completed their careers in the city, they bought land and settled down in the country.7

The captains of industry were still exercising more than one function. The business of foreman, of merchant for raw material, and of shopkeeper for finished product, was almost invariably exercised by one man. The duties and position of the small master had not completely disappeared, and the paternal element was to be reckoned with in business organization.8 However, the payment of cash, which was to cover all the obligations of the employer who employed, was rapidly becoming customary, " and payment for labour, conditions of housing, help in bad times, education, all these were now commuted in the payment of a weekly wage."9

Moreover, the rise of the journeyman to power as a master and capitalist, instead of being the rule as under the gilds, had become the exception as the result of a harsher competition. In consequence of this, the separation of the classes of employer and employed became more rigid-they were further apart, though it was still comparatively easy for a lucky or intelligent man to cross the gap.

The generation of capitalists that introduced steam-power into their works, and saw the real beginning of modern industry, were foreman employers, and lived near their work it was the next generation that moved away from their works into pleasanter surroundings.

1 Boulton to Watt, February 11, 1783. Lord Waldegrave owned Radstock Colliery and pirated a Boulton & Watt engine. Tangye MSS. In an agreement in August, I777, with Messrs. Ronald Crawford & Co., of Wanlockhead Colliery, the partners are stated to be the " Countess of Dumfries, Sir Peter Crawford, and Gilbert Meason, Esq., of Edinburgh." The last of these seems to have been the general manager of the mine. Tangye MSS.

2 Boulton was invited to become manager of a joint-stock company for buying copper. Scott, op. cit., Passim has full details of the type of investor to 1720.

3 Boulon to R. Small, August 28, 1781. Taw MSS.

4 Boulton to Capper, November 11, 1782. Taw MSS.

5 Boulton to Watt, May 22, 1777. Tahgye MSS.

6 Boulton to Watt, April 19, 1783 ". . Mr. Pennant, who is a very amiable man, with ten or twelve thousand pounds a year, has the largest estate in Jamaica; there was also Mr. Gale and Mr. Beeaton Long, who have some very large sugar plantations there, who wish to see steam answer in lieu of horses."

7 The effect of these Enclosure Acts which took place during the Napoleonic War was to enable self-made capitalists to obtain land.

8 Ruskin, Unto this Last, p. 35 (1888 Ed.).

9 M. Hovell. The Chartist Movement, p. 29.

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