Working-Class Capitalists; The development and financing of worker-owned companies, in the Irwell Valley, 1849-1875.

Hampson, Peter Wright (2015) Working-Class Capitalists; The development and financing of worker-owned companies, in the Irwell Valley, 1849-1875. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The mid-nineteenth century was an age of reform, which affected the whole of British society. Working people in southeast Lancashire were far from passive at this time, and the co-operative experiment in Rochdale was an inspiration. Many had pinned their hopes on the Chartist Land Plan, but when this failed they seized an unintended opportunity offered by changes in company law. The result was that over fifty industrial worker-owned and controlled companies were created in the period from 1850 to the onset of the Cotton Famine in 1861, with shares sold to other local people through pubs and shops. A database of these shares forms the basis of this thesis and their analysis provides much of the raw material.
Following the Cotton Famine, a commercial revolution in the Irwell Valley and adjoining districts resulted and by the 1870s brought about a virtual stock market, where companies of all kinds were floated, including traditional family businesses. Many such businesses became worker-owned and added to the prosperity of the Irwell Valley. This valley had a quite unique geography and culture, which bred men and women willing to turn their hands to a variety of tasks. The worker-owned companies were intended to provide profit, but independence, pride and self-help were also important factors. The concept spread, and contributed to the formation of the better-known ‘Oldham Limiteds’.
Despite many attempts, the source of industrial finance in the late Victorian period remains an unanswered question. This thesis demonstrates that for some industries, in this area, the finance came from the working classes, including women, a possibility not previously taken seriously. They funded a diversity of industries throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, providing millions of pounds of capital. The thesis also breaks new ground in being able to identify a significant percentage of investors as individuals whose activities can be reconstructed, sometimes in detail.

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