Workshop of the World

Workshop of the World

Raphael Samuel

Edited by John Merrick

Verso 2024

An extract to stimulate similar writing

about Stroud and the Five Valleys

through a cooperative collective endeavour

with people proffering a couple of sentences or more

about trades and jobs and sights to be seen

through the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.


‘The orthodox account of the industrial revolution concentrates on the rise of steam power and machinery, and the spread of the factory system … But if one looks at the economy as a whole rather than at its most novel and striking features, a less orderly canvas might be drawn – one bearing more resemblance to a Breugel or even a Hieronymus Bosch than to the geometrical regularities of a modern abstract. The industrial landscape would be seen to be full of diggings and pits, as well as tall factory chimneys. Smithies would sprout in the shadows of the furnaces, sweatshops in those of the looms. Agricultural labourers might take up the foreground, armed with sickle or scythe, while behind them troops of women and children would be bent double over the ripening crops in the field, pulling charlock, hoeing nettles, or cleaning the furrows of stones. In the middle distance there might be navvies digging sewers and paviours laying flags. On the building sites there would be a bustle of man-powered activity, with housepainters on ladders, and slaters nailing roofs. Carters would be loading and unloading horses, market women carrying baskets of produce on their heads; dockers balancing weights. The factories would be hot and steamy, with men stripped to the singlet, and juvenile runners in bare feet. At the lead works women would be carrying pots of poisonous metal on their heads, in the bleachers’ shed they would be stitching yards of chlorine cloth, at a shoddy mill sorting rags. Instead of calling his picture ‘machinery’ the artist might prefer to name it ‘toil’.’