British-Swedish industrial cooperation in the 18th and 19th century. The case of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and the Göta Canal in Sweden

Term Paper, 2014

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Industrialization
2.1 The industrial revolution in Great Britain
2.2 The Industrial Revolution in Sweden

3 The Caledonian Canal and the Göta Canal
3.1 General facts
3.2 Objectives of canal construction
3.3 Actors
3.4 Outcome

4 Conclusion

Works Cited

1 Introduction

Throughout the course of history Sweden and Great Britain often had periods of strong contact and exchange. A few examples are the Viking era or the Hanseatic League. After few contact in the Tudor Age, both countries cooperated heavily during the Industrialization period, beginning in England around 1750. This paper will examine the development of Great Britain and Sweden and their industrial cooperation in the 18th and 19th century. During these years both countries underwent major changes in economy, generally known as the industrial revolution. First it will be examined how the process of industrialization was triggered and which effects it had on society, living standards and the general import and export trades. At the same time, the economic exchange between the two countries will be illustrated. Since the means of transportation play a big role in industrial development, the third chapter will deal with two major construction works that were realized in both countries at roughly the same time. The Caledonian Canal in Scotland and the Göta Canal in Sweden were both planned to enhance the transportation network to enable faster transit of goods across the country (cf. Scottish Canals) (cf. Bjuggren/af Donner 19). Thomas Telford, a British engineer, was responsible for the construction of the Caledonian Canal (cf. Scottish Canals). Due to that fact, Count Baltzar von Platen, who was the leading constructor of the younger Göta Canal (cf. Göta Canal 2010), also involved him in the planning of his project (cf. Smiles 1867, 237).

2 Industrialization

Investigating the economic cooperation between Great Britain and Sweden during the 18th and 19th century, terms like “industrious revolution” (De Vries 249), “industrial reformation” (Magnusson 106) or simply industrialization are (often interchangeably) used to describe the events of that era. Magnusson argues that the term industrial ‘revolution’ is nowadays being challenged due to its unclear reference to either the general advance of the economy, the importance of the industrial sector within that economy, or even on the micro-level the important organizational changes within the industrial sector itself (cf. Magnusson 106). However, this paper will stick to the traditional use of the term ‘industrial revolution’, describing “a clearly defined period of transition from the old to the new and the replacement of the old agrarian society with a modern industrial society” (Magnusson 106). Since the discussion about terminology would lead too far and much of the literature being used is older than Magnusson’s text, it is the easiest and clearest solution to interpret the term as the earlier historians and authors have done writing their works.

To process chronologically, first the British industrial revolution starting in the mid -17th century will be outlined and following that, the Swedish counterpart happening from the 1750s up until the beginning of the First World War.

2.1 The industrial revolution in Great Britain

To understand the implications of the industrial revolution, major changes in economy and society will be explained, followed by the possible triggers of events and finally, with regards to the topic of this paper, by investigating trading ties between Britain and Sweden. The same will be done for the latter country in the consecutive sub-chapter.

As already mentioned, the British industrial revolution began in the mid-eighteenth century. The period preceding that era was a time of recession. Prices in agriculture were low and a wave of unemployment and crisis troubled the manufacturing regions, especially the former hearts of the textile industry. On the other hand, as food prices went down, people were able to spend more money on consumer goods, which triggered production in that sector (cf. Langford 424f.). After the Roman Conquest, Britain had a fairly good highway system. Yet, over the decades the streets began to corrode and rivers became more and more important for the means of transport (cf. Forbes, 229). During the Industrialization, turnpike roads revolutionized the whole transport system. By 1730, these roads were restored and financed by local investors and in exchange they collected road tolls which travelers were willing to pay to escape the desolate alternative roads. Especially for merchants it was a profitable deal because now their often fragile goods like pottery reached their destination in higher quantity and without damage. However, the biggest advantage of turnpike roads was the aspect of time-saving. Before, travelling from important cities like York or Manchester to London took more than three days. After the improvement of roads and the street network in general, in 1780 one could reach London in less than 24 hours (cf. Langford 425).

This advance of turnpike roads was certainly fuelled by a growing inland economy, i.e. growing capital and consumption. Not only the inland market was growing, also trade overseas was very successful. The English colonies still served as providers of much needed raw materials, gold and silver and many British citizens were resettled there to evade overpopulation. The most important colonial property of the Crown were the West Indies, which exported tons of sugar to Great Britain. The main export markets still laid somewhere else. The new colonies in North America imported textile goods, but also the so called ‘Birmingham goods’ which were household utensils, tools, weapons and also products of the metal industry. The consequence for the inland economy was a transfer of the industrial center towards the northern part of Britain and the Midlands (cf. Langford 246f.). In reaction to the economic advance, also population began to rise again, after the period of recession in the 1920s, preceding the industrialization. Numbers went up from about 5 million inhabitants in 1720 up to 8 million in 1790. This kind of growth was also to be found in industry and urban sectors. New companies and inventions were introduced at rapid speed. Beginning in the 1760s and 70s, industrial entrepreneurs like Boulton and Watt, Arkwright and Josiah Wedgewood were pushing the Industrial Revolution. Also cities and towns were renovated and improved in conditions of space and sanitation (cf. Langford 427f.). The change in society that came with material growth was a growing gap between different social spheres. Due an uneven distribution of wealth and a lack of taxes compensating this imbalance, only the living standards of the middle and upper classes rose. The result was “a more polarized society” (Langford 431). Preceding the industrial era, when prices for food were moderate and the wages stable, the poorer people had significantly more money on hand, observable by their gin and tea consumption. However, during the second half of the 18th century the situation changed for the worse. Due to insufficient harvests, a rise in population, unemployment and new technology replacing laborers, real wages decreased drastically. The people suffering under the lowering living standards tried to protest through founding of clubs and even rebellions. Unfortunately, despite a few smaller victories, they did not succeed to improve their situation. The rebellions were seen as inevitable disturbance but not harshly punished. Even when silk weavers sieged the house of the duke of Bedford in 1765, London society saw the events as a sort of entertainment instead of a serious threat (cf. Langford 432ff.).

What powered the British industrialization were different changes and improvements in production processes and machinery. One of the major improvements was the indirect process of cast-iron-production that provided cheap iron of lesser quality than the imported Swedish iron, but sufficient for producing industrial machinery. Adjusting to the lack of wood and lumber, the old wooden machines were gradually replaced by more powerful versions made of metal. The demand for those machines was growing so big that skilled craftsmen could not fulfill it anymore. In consequence, technologies were needed that made it possible for unskilled workers to produce those machines, or at least parts of them in high quality and quantity. During the middle of the 19th century factory-made machines became reality, especially due to the invention of a self-supporting lathe and a mechanical plane. This induced a revolution in machine-production (cf. Gooch/Castensson 175f.).

Asking for the leading industrial nation during the era of industrialization the answer will clearly be Great Britain (cf. Gooch/Castensson 176). Already before the Industrialization Age, Sweden and England had strong economical trading ties, consisting of copper being exported to England and after that source being used up by the end of the 17th century, iron. England did have its own raw material (iron ore) but was running out of wood and therefore charcoal, to actually power the production sites. Sweden had more than enough of these materials and England became one of its most important trading partners. The idea to use coal for iron production came to the English much later (about 100 years), but even then the product was of lesser quality than the one being fabricated the traditional way with charcoal. Also steel was exported to what was then not only England, but united with the Kingdom of Scotland, Great Britain (GB). At the beginning of the industrialization, around the time that coal was being produced there, half of the Swedish iron and also steel exports made their way to GB. Lumber was another export good that later joined the trade relationship between the two countries (cf. Brems 11f.).

In reverse, Britain exported a lot of technology to Sweden. From 1830-35 69% of the technology imported to Sweden came from Britain. In 1846 until 1850 the amount went up to 80%. In general, Britain supplied almost four times as many goods as any of Sweden’s other trading partners such as Belgium, the North of Germany, France or Belgium. Of all the machinery that was imported, Sweden was most interested in tools for textile production. The general production of machinery-tools first took place in the London area at the beginning of the 19th century but then gradually shifted towards the Midlands to come closer to the customers. Also machines produced for the export to Sweden mainly came from those two areas. Although the quantitative amount of technology transferred seems rather insignificant, the concrete use that the country could get out of it was very important. The gain of knowledge about new production methods and new machinery eventually induced the Swedish industrialization period happening from the 1850s onwards (cf. Gooch/Castensson 176-179).

2.2 The Industrial Revolution in Sweden

In contrast to Britain, the Swedish industrial revolution occurred roughly about a century later, from the 1850s up until the beginning of the First World War around 1915. Here, as well, occurred a shift from the agricultural sector towards industrial employment of the people, which brought an increase of the gross national product. The growth of the industrial sector is seen as one of the main reason for Sweden’s economic vitality in the following century (cf. Magnusson 106f.).

The living conditions of the workers during the industrialization were not significantly better or worse than those in Britain. There was also a movement from rural into urban areas to work in factories, workers became locally attached to a factory and city and formed, due to an upcoming class consciousness, labor unions. Another similarity to Britain were the housing conditions in big cities like Stockholm, Malmö or Norrköping. Crowded barracks, poor hygienic conditions and diseases like tuberculosis made life difficult for many workers. Of course, not only housing circumstances made people sick, also the work itself entailed risks. Many workers in Ekilstuna caught pulmonary diseases because of the dust developing during knife sharpening processes. Around 1900, conditions were gradually improving for the workers and their families. The earlier founded labor unions and other institutions like the Factory Inspectorate controlled and improved conditions in the factories. Later then, from the 1920s onwards, workers even received help to finance their own home to escape the poor living standards in the barracks (cf. Magnusson, 137f.).

At the time Britain was in the middle of economic change, about three fourths of the people in Sweden were still working in the agricultural sector (cf. Gooch/Castensson 176). They lived at the minimum subsistence level and many emigrated to escape from poverty, mainly to the promising new colonies in North America. However, slowly but steadily Sweden began to discover and use its natural resources, such as the abundant woods, to sell it to industrializing countries. Also promoting an upswing of the economy was the invention of the steam saw, which made lumber production more efficient and easy. The lumber was then usually transported faster than before via horse carriages, on boats down the numerous rivers to its destination. Wood was not only important for producing lumber but also for creating paper pulp. During that time, a new chemical method for paper pulp production was introduced. With the rising demand of this material due to the advance of daily newspapers, Sweden grew to become the main exporter of paper pulp to Europe by the beginning of the 20th century (cf. Brems 13f.).

The belief that the industrial revolution was started by a few technical inventions that led to factory building and reorganization of production is outdated. In fact, looking at the processing industry as an example of rapid growth, many of the new technologies such as steam power were introduced after the factories already existed. With regards to Sweden, a much more plausible cause for the establishment of factories and centralized production was the rapidly growing demand of goods, especially when looking at trading partner Britain’s booming textile market. Consequently, more and more goods were needed to satisfy not only inland, but also export markets. This demand was not manageable within the phase of proto-industrialization, where merchant employers tasked various workers who did their work in different workshops or at home. With growing demand and higher expectations to product standards, the merchant employers needed to centralize production. This way they had better supervision of the workers and the manufactured goods, were able to bond skilled workers to the factories and secure the high quality of the product. Also organization of production and marketing was easier and cheaper and due to the supervision and close contact to the workers they were able to improve the reliability of supply. So more and more factories arose where production and organization went hand in hand to satisfy the growing market.

As mentioned before, the export market, especially Great Britain, played a big role in Sweden’s industrialization. Not only with regards to the textile industry but also when it comes to wood (sawn timber, lumber, paper pulp etc.) and iron (also iron ore and steel), it was Sweden’s most important export trading partner. That was a result of an expansion in the British capital goods sector where those raw materials were desperately needed for new machinery, production sites etc. The abolition of tariffs and excise duties in the mid-19th century also helped to strengthen this industrial cooperation between Great Britain and Sweden (cf. Magnusson, 106-109).

The import of British machinery also helped to trigger the industrialization in Sweden. Most of the imported goods were shipped to Göteborg, from which area the majority of orders came from. A smaller amount was sent to first Stockholm and later Norrköping, due to its growing textile industry (cf. Gooch/Castensson 179). Göteborg also offered the entry to a waterway across Sweden into the Baltic Sea via the Trollhätte Canal and the later examined Göta Canal. To supply the Göta Canal with tools and machinery there was a workshop in Motala, which was, after Göteborg, one of the main importers of workshop technology although it is rather far away from Göteborg. One explanation is the employment of British specialists which imported technology from their home country, and therefore knew how to put it into use. Not at last because of that, Motala became one of Sweden’s biggest industries by the 1850s (cf. Gooch/Castensson 185). While coal was fuelling Britain’s economy, Sweden was handicapped because of its lack of natural coal resources. Without this material many new methods coming from GB and other countries that were already in the middle of industrialization, could not be copied without relying on foreign coal exports (cf. Gooch/Castensson 175). In order to compete with Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, Swedish engineers were trying to develop new methods that could be powered with their own resources (cf. Gooch/Castensson 181).


Excerpt out of 21 pages


British-Swedish industrial cooperation in the 18th and 19th century. The case of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and the Göta Canal in Sweden
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
Scandinavia and Anglophone Countries
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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523 KB
Scandinavia, England, Industrialization, 19th century, economy, industrial revolution, Göta Canal, Caledonian Canal, Scotland
Quote paper
Pia Hospes (Author), 2014, British-Swedish industrial cooperation in the 18th and 19th century. The case of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and the Göta Canal in Sweden, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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