In the mid-nineteenth century a million British workers depended on the cotton textiles industry for their livelihoods. Most of the raw cotton they turned into cloth came from the southern states of America and was cultivated by slave labour. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861 a ‘cotton famine’ ensued: the secession of the southern states not only disrupted the American Union but also disrupted the flow of cotton across the Atlantic. For more than two years the Lancashire mills stopped working and hundreds of thousands of workers relied on public relief – yet they largely accepted their lot in the noble cause of destroying slavery.
This BBC Radio 4 programme in the ‘In Our Time’ strand, broadcast on 14 May, including contributions from Lawrence Goldman (IHR), Emma Griffin (UEA) and David Brown (University of Manchester), tells the story of the Lancashire Cotton Famine.