Cotton and the Community: Exploring Changing Concepts of Identity and Community on Lancashire’s Cotton Frontier, c.1890-1950

Southern, Jack (2016) Cotton and the Community: Exploring Changing Concepts of Identity and Community on Lancashire’s Cotton Frontier, c.1890-1950. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This thesis explores the evolution of identity and community within north east Lancashire during a period when the area gained regional and national prominence through its involvement in the cotton industry. It examines how the overarching shared culture of the area could evolve under altering economic conditions, and how expressions of identity fluctuated through the cotton industry’s peak and decline. In effect, it explores how local populations could shape and be shaped by the cotton industry.

By focusing on a compact area with diverse settlements, this thesis contributes to the wider understanding of what it was to live in an area dominated by a single industry. The complex legacy that the cotton industry’s decline has had is explored through a range of settlement types, from large town to small village. A key focus is therefore on the role of the locality in ordinary life.

By utilizing a case study approach to highlight how conceptions of community and identity varied, this thesis draws together empirical sources with the voices of the people involved, bridging the gap between academic and local histories. It shifts the focus of many previous studies from economic and technical aspects of the cotton industry to one on the communities it dominated. It gives context to the role of the mill within people’s lives, allowing for the distinctive story of certain sites to be studied within the context of the wider region.

The thesis considers how a dynamic industry generated a confidence amongst operatives, and how this manifested itself through the area’s development, both in terms of urbanisation and a blossoming of social and leisure opportunities. It then contrasts these developments with how in a declining industry, the very same people reacted in the face of social upheaval, as settlements actively tried to banish the image of ‘cotton towns’.

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