University of Leicester
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The upbringing of the entrepreneurial and political elites of the early industrial revolution in Britain: A comparative study.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:16 authored by M. V. Wallbank
In eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain there took place two developments of profound importance in the history of the Western nations: the world's first industrial revolution and the slow gestation of modern parliamentary democracy. The present research represents an attempt to seek for some of the educational determinants of these events by analysing the upbringing of men whose influence upon them was direct and powerful, the members of the British industrial and political elites (constrained by limitations of time and energy to those who were active during the last twenty-five years of the eighteenth century). It emerges that the characteristic entrepreneurs of the period were drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the artisans and small traders, that almost to a man they had spent part of their youth within the mystique of the trades in which they were to make their marks and that something like one half of them were self-made men. All of these conclusions, it should be emphasised, are at variance with the consensus of historical opinion which has been inclined to see the entrepreneur as the beneficiary of financial and social privilege, directing capital to wherever there was a prospect of an optimum return. It is pointed out, however, that the typical industrialist of the late eighteenth century had very largely disappeared by the middle of the next to be replaced by the academically educated sons of the middle and upper classes and that this may have some connection with the relative decline of British industry that was by then under way. The aristocratic political elite, though having almost no direct influence on the growth of industry, did, in a negative fashion, act as an important catalyst of manufacturing enterprise. For the upbringing of politicians inspired them to an extent unprecedented within a ruling class to hold dear the idea of individual liberty and this provided, it is proposed, a necessary if not sufficient condition for the industrial advance of the time. Further this aristocratic upbringing developed a political persona that appears to have been remarkably acceptable to the people of Britain and which promoted therefore its own survival. Thus a form of leadership was continued which in its detachment (though declining detachment) from manufacture and in its regard for freedom encouraged both industrial prosperity and, the progress of democracy. The initial purpose of the second part of this survey was, then, to try to illuminate the political significance of a nobleman's upbringing, It soon became clear, however, that an excellent opportunity was also presented to consider upper upper class education in another major aspect, as an induction into liberal knowledge. This was therefore made into a parallel topic for investigation. Again it should be stressed that the descriptions of aristocratic childhood in the present work do not always correspond with those in the established texts. The public schools, for example, did not lose their popularity with the Georgian nobility and the universities, too, were extensively patronised by the upper classes throughout the eighteenth century. And within both of these institutions a good deal of solid learning took place which reinforced strongly the liberal influences of home and society.


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University of Leicester

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  • Doctoral

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  • PhD



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