Spectacular growth of Lancashire towns
The nineteenth century was remarkable for the rapid growth of new towns, often based on a single industry. Perhaps the most notable growths in the early nineteenth century were in Lancashire, the heart of the English cotton industry, where huge factories dominated the skylines of towns like Preston, Blackburn and Bolton. The population of Preston grew from around 12,000 to almost 70,000 between 1801 and 1851, and the growth rates of other Lancashire towns were similarly spectacular. Manchester, itself a large town even in the early modern period, expanded from about 25,000 inhabitants in the early 1770s to over 300,000 by 1851.
Towns grew partly because of a high birth rate, but mainly due to in-migration from elsewhere. The census is a very good source for investigating the origins of town-dwellers in the nineteenth century, as each individual was required to name their place of birth. Michael Anderson, in his pioneering study of Preston in 1851 - first published in 1971 - analysed the birthplaces of a sample of inhabitants of the town. He found that in 1851, 48% of the population of Preston had been born in the town, and 52% outside. The distribution of birthplaces is shown in a table on the next page (Anderson).