The Backwoodsman: Traditional Trades
Many doomers seem to believe that industrial civilisation and industry are one and the same thing. They assume that when industrial civilisation collapses industry will inevitably follow. But industry existed for many millennia in small workshops and homes, long before the industrial revolution scaled it up and moved it into factories.
Before the industrial revolution every small town was an industrial centre, where goods were produced by local craft people for local use. I recently came across an interesting webpage about my local village of Kilnaleck in the 1821 census. The census recorded the occupations of the villages residents.
This is an interesting insight into a pre-industrial community because Kilnaleck is 50 miles from a salt water port and over 30 miles from a canal port. The only way to get mass produced goods to Kilnaleck in 1821 was by very expensive road haulage. Geography favoured locally produced artisan goods over expensive mass produced imports.
The trades of Kilnaleck residents in 1821 give a very good insight into the economy of a rural community before the industrial revolution. Some of the trades like publican, shopkeeper, butcher, surgeon (doctor) and apothercary (pharmacist) are still there. But most of the 1821 trades are long gone.
The most important tradesman in the village was the blacksmith, he made horseshoes and shod horses, and he made hand tools, like spades, shovels, and knives. He also made small metal parts for other tradesmen like carpenters. Locally made blacksmiths gates are still common in this area. They are still doing their job after many decades of service. Many older people in this area can still tell which blacksmith made a particular gate, as each had their own style.
Other trades in the village that supplied the local market were
Chandler 1 – made soap and candles.
Dress makers 2
Shoe makers 4
Shoe binder 1
Nailers 2 made iron nails in a mold
Journeymen were fully qualified tradesmen who worked for other tradesmen. There were five journeymen, three working for shoemakers, one for a tailor and one with a wheelright.
There were five apprentices serving their time with tradesmen, one with a shoemaker, three with a tailor and one with a wheelwright.
The Kilnaleck area was involved in the linen business and quite a few of the villages tradespeople worked in that export trade. It s hard to tell how many of the spinners and weavers recorded were producing for the local market and how many were in the export trade.
The breakdown of those in the cloth business was.
Read Maker 1
Flax Spinners 8
Flax Weaver 1
By the time I was born in 1963, the last of the local trades were dying. Kilnaleck still had a shoe maker and a dress maker, but by then they were repairing shoes and dresses rather than making them.
In the future if we are going to maintain our civilisation after the oil is gone, we are going to have to relearn all those lost trades and go back to local production, with local materials, for local consumption.
An interesting place to study old trades is The Hall Genealogy website which has a comprehensive list of old trades that are found in 19th century genealogical records2.
- ^ Full details of Kilnaleck in the 1821 census (sites.google.com)
- ^ a comprehensive list of old trades that are found in 19th century genealogical records (rmhh.co.uk)