Kent, How Agriculture Prevailed Over Industry
iron ore and coal were the two natural resources essential to the Industrial Revolution, yet Kent's iron ore mines were empty and the coal was too deep.
Kent is commonly known as the Garden of England. What is not common is how Kent challenged the Industrial Revolution and managed to maintain this title in all England!
The WealdThe clue to this success starts in the Weald, which spreads from southern Kent to Sussex and Surrey and on into Hampshire. The name comes from old English and means forest. The whole area used to be densely covered with woods and forests and over a period of many centuries was a source for timber production. Many of England’s ships were built with Wealden timber. The Wealden areas of Kent and East Sussex also had iron ore in plenty.
The timber and iron production made this part of the Weald into one of England’s important industrial centres during the Middle Ages, and the abundance of wood in the vicinity of the iron ore mines supplied cheap fuel for the furnaces without incurring into great expenses for the transport.
The Industrial RevolutionDuring the nineteenth century – the period which saw the Industrial Revolution change British society – factories appeared in large numbers in the towns and villages located in the vicinity of coal and iron ore mines, as this enormously reduced the cost of transport of the coal and iron ore over long distances to far away factories. In that period the roads were little more than beaten earth-tracks, and the railway still did not exist. As a result, miners and factory workers moved to these new industrial centres by their millions, often bringing their families with them, and within decades villages became towns and small towns became industrious cities.
Kent Resisting the Industrial RevolutionWhen machines powered by steam made their appearance around the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Weald’s iron ore had been used up, making the mines unproductive. Consistent numbers of Kent’s Wealden population actually moved to other areas of the County. Adding to this, the vast coal reserves in Kent had still not been discovered, as they are very deep and so escaped detection.
Kent’s coal reserves were found around the end of the nineteenth century, but it proved too difficult and uneconomic to extract the coal from under the ground. Consequently only a few mines in Kent remained in production, not far from Dover, but with unsatisfactory results for the mining companies, and the quarries were eventually closed.
Kent was preserved for agriculture owing to the fact that Kentish generations had already exploited the iron ore, and because nature made Kent’s coal largely inaccessible and therefore unproductive to mine. These two factors prevented the transformation of Kent into a centre of mass mining and industrial production, as hundreds of thousands of people would otherwise have moved into the County and large cities would have developed out of small towns and villages.The Garden of England
Throughout the twentieth century and on into the present millennium, Kent has maintained a position of preeminence in agricultural production, cultivating about half of England’s orchards and accounting for half of the national hop production, as well as being home to intensive horticulture. Important food-processing factories employ thousands of people in various locations within the County.
Agriculture has remained one of Kent’s major sources of revenue because the transport of goods over long distances has gradually become more expensive owing to increasing fuel costs. As a result, imports of food from abroad produced at considerably lower costs than in Britain lose some of their competitiveness, whereas Kent’s vicinity to London, whose markets require a daily supply of food for millions of people, has continued throughout the twentieth century to be an incentive to cultivate the Garden of England.
Written by D. Alexander