Rise of capitalism


In 1687, Czar Peter the Great made up his mind that Russia should wake up economically, and under his leadership play the part of a 'giant refreshed'. He set himself the task, first of discovering the secrets of Western efficiency as a money making machine and then of introducing the practice in his own country. With that aim he made a journey to Western Europe. In England he visited the rooms of the Royal Society of Arts and made excursions to Oxford, Woolwich and Portsmouth. His whole impression as derived from his fifteen months' tour, must have been a noisy, vast, smoky vista of factories, foundries, shipyards, wharves and machinery. The British had moved from a more or less agrarian economy in balance with natural resources and were committed to production systems that in the long run would prove unsustainable.

By that time the port of Poole had wharves enough to support a thriving maritime Atlantic trade. This local economic revolution had started in the fifteenth century when the town was declared a Port of the Staple. This meant that the Merchants of the Staple, who traded in wool, preferentially organised their exports of wool through Poole Harbour paying the King's customs in on organised and transparent fashion. The term staple means a market and membership was open to anyone who paid the fees and agreed to abide by the rules, but each member traded with his own capital. This is the entrepreneurial road to riches that began a few hundred years previously with a shift from a local self-sufficient manorial system to a regional market economy. The declaration of the town as a staple port set it apart from its nearest neighbours, Wareham and Christchurch, which unlike Poole had histories going back to Domesday. The community of Poole was a relative newcomer orginating as a 12th century hamlet of the manor of Canford, which also included the modern parishes of Canford Magna, Canford Parva, Parkstone, Longfleet, Poole and Hamworthy. These parishes together now comprise the urban Borough of Poole.

Poole's new 16th century status as a national mercantile centre set in motion a tide of commercial expansion. This is evident physically in 15th century remains of stone structures associated with a town wall, merchant's dwellings (Scaplen's Court) and warehouses, and politically in the regular invitation from 1453 onwards to send two representatives to Parliament. However, the town was still in the shadow of Royal power to the south emanating from Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck. There had even been a plan to create a rival new town on the southern side of Poole Harbour to support and supply it. However, by the time of Peter the Great, the outcomes of the Civil War had changed the local balance of power. The Royalist Banks family of Corfe survived the conflict and had moved inland retaining sufficient wealth to create themselves a mansion at Kingston Lacy. This new building of Kingston Hall was completed in 1665 and was stocked by Sir Ralph Bankes with fine furnishings and paintings paid for by rents from his extensive agrarian estate. In 1662 we find that Sir Ralph had been elected a non-resident burgess of Poole, a move which ensured Royal support for the town's impending economic development.

Success factors

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The German sociologist Max Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904–05), held that the Protestant ethic was an important factor in the economic success of Protestant groups in the early stages of European capitalism; because worldly success could be interpreted as a sign of eternal salvation, it was vigorously pursued. However, it has been said that trying to explain the rise of capitalism by examining its origins in certain places in Europe is a bit like trying to explain what causes thunderstorms by investigating why this one started in a certain part of the country. In other words there were many places where conditions could easily have led to the development of capitalism, if conditions had been only slightly different. A key event for Poole was the Royal Charter of 1568 which gave it independence from its parental manor of Canford and the Dorset county administration. With respect to Poole's economic progress from the 15th to the19th centuries there can be no doubt that it was the desire for economic independence and sheer self determination of a number of individuals that launched its entrepreneurial road to riches. These relatively few people were responsible as burgesses for filling 16th century gaps in basic industries such as brewing and milling and seeing new opportunities in areas such as alum mining and the commercial potential of newly discovered North American natural resources. It was the latter that brought new life and a sense of purpose into Poole, and, in particular, it was trade with Newfoundland coupled with the general national rise in Georgian consumerism, that ushered in Poole's 'age of plenty'. References that connect Poole with Newfoundland start in 1551 when on the 4th May two men 'laded away certain Newlonde fyshe'. Eventually, Royal Charters known as the Western Charters gave control of the fishery to Poole together with other western ports and Poole merchants played an important role in the development of the colony, with individual families establishing trading posts along the length of the Newfoundland coastline. These initiatives expanded with a very profitable triangular trade between Newfoundland (salt cod), the West Indies (rum and mollasses) and Poole. An alternative route was to carry salt cod to Portugal and Spain and then load wine, citrus fruits, almonds, figs, currents and raisons to carry home.

Wealth from shipping lasted for about two and a half centuries eventually petering out at the end of Victoria's reign. It was the coming of the railway in 1872 that really ended the town's maritime era because its traders turned inland for profit, and by the end of the century 80% of its workforce was dependent on non-maritime activities. A suitable tombstone for its maritime trajectory is the opening of a new fish market in 1914, which was never used. The preferential connection with Newfoundland had ended and the local fish and oyster stocks of Poole Harbour and the Bay were no longer plentiful. On the way, there were bursts of new entrepreneurial intitiatives, such as the exploitation of local beds of pottery clay. The was part of a new stimulus to Poole's economy resulting from, the development of a marine village at the mouth of the River Bourne, that was quickly to become the premier seaside resort of Bournemouth, capitalising on the growing phenomenon of mass tourism. It was left to Poole to provide the bricks and drainpipes from local clay, roofing slates from North Wales and timber imported from the North American and Baltic forests. But none of these new entrepreneurial activities could replace the wealth created by the steady flow of natural resources carried in the holds of the three to four hundred ships that had supported the high life of the town's 18th century merchant families.


Cycle of consumerism

By the 1950s, between four and five thousand people of Poole had become embedded in homes and workplaces within the medieval confines of about 180 acres of a town that had expressed its economic peak about two hundred years previously. Economic success then had been based on the luck of being in at the start of the scramble for cod on the Newfoundland Banks. There were now hundreds of empty and slum category dwellings lining narrow streets encircled by a zone of warehouses and factories, including a massive town gasworks. More than 500 of these homes were considered unfit for occupation. About a fifth were of historic interest, mostly large impressive merchant's houses dating from the peak time of early Georgian consumerism. The population was the same as it had been in 1801 and there had been no impetus for economic change since the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, there had been no planning for a steady state economy. The wealth and wellbeing of Poole's inhabitants had regressed to the point from which wholesale demolition and re-alignment of roads, and expansion of the town into the countryside were essential to regain prosperity. This was the basis of the 'town map' that was submitted to Whitehall for approval in 1952. The blueprint targeted year on year economic growth. As a set of socio-economic processes, its objectives, and those of all subsequent plans, express a cycle of consumerism, where invention drives the use of materials and energy to produce goods and services to match an increased demand from growing personal incomes. Consumption brings about an ever increasing production and it is this positive feedback to utilise ever more of Earth's limited natural resources that drives an unsustainable economic system. Poole is not exceptional and this is the general model of capitalism. Peter the Great bought into the system, and the Western planning model now drives economic development of natural resources the world over, from oil rich Siberia to the vast open cast coalfields of Australia.
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It is significant in a post-War world dominated by domestic-led consumerism that the 1950s view of Poole's future was expressed in terms of how to provide the townsfolk with adequate shopping facilities. Hillier and Blyth in their summary of town's development between 1954-63 expressed it this way:-

'High Street had been the main shopping centre for very many years: but for a population then approaching 90,000, and expected to grow by around 1,000 a year, it constituted little more than what would have been regarded as a secondary shopping area in other towns of that size. Much of the local population's spending power was supporting the economy of Bournemouth through the wide range of shops and goods available beyond County Gates (Poole's boundary). The 1950 Census of Distribution of Retail Trade showed that an average of £104.7 for each resident of Poole was spent in Poole shops, but the comparative figures for other towns were: Bournemouth, £236, Weymouth, £157.9, Wimborne, £258.6 and Blandford £350.6. A later report by the Town Clerk drew a comparison with Burnley, Rochdale, Rotherham, and Darlington, four northern industrial towns of similar size to Poole, with no particularly favourable trading conditions. It estimated that for Poole's retail trade to equal the average of these towns, it would have to achieve increases ranging from 200% for furniture to 20% for grocery'.

The solution adopted was to plan a new traffic-free shopping centre providing 60 shops, even though 26 business premises and 29 small houses would have to be acquired and demolished! The ups and downs of the planning/financing process tended to dominate the life of the town for the next decade. This contentious episode in the town's history eventually concluded in the late 1960s when the Arndale Centre opened, with integral parking for 800 cars, to keep shopping alive in the town.

In some ways the Arndale Centre was a distraction from the three more important issues that were successfuly addressed by the post-war Poole planners. The overall aim was to focus on boosting the consumer cycle by integrating job creation with the renewal and expansion of the housing stock and making the local road system suitable for an expanded flow of traffic.

Attributes of job creation are the increase in the rate revenue from business and the number of houses and flats built during the same period. In the decade from 1964 both attributes were associated with a 15% increase in the working population. This was a real achievement particularly when the renewal of the housing stock, involving a massive project to clear over a 1000 slum dwellings, had to be integrated with the preservation of some of the fine Georgian buildings of the old town that had been listed for conservation. This conservation area, known as The Precinct received national recognition as a landmark in the comprehensive approach to urban preservation when it was chosen by the Council of Europe to represent the United Kingdom in the 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year.

Despite the changes in local government since the 1970s the pride in Poole's achievements through the Council's forward-looking policies of the 60s and 70s continued to carry the town into the 21st century with high employment within a multifaceted economy, which includes both businesss and tourism.