Losing the Thread

BookLosing the Thread

Losing the Thread

Cotton, Liverpool and the American Civil War


January 4th, 2021





This is the first full-length study of the effect of the American Civil War on Britain’s raw cotton trade and on the Liverpool cotton market. It includes an analysis of primary sources never used by historians. Before the civil war, America supplied 80 per cent of Britain’s cotton. In August 1861, this fell to almost zero, where it remained for four years. Despite increased supplies from elsewhere, Britain’s largest industry received only 36 per cent of the raw material it needed from 1862-64. 
This book establishes the facts of Britain’s raw cotton supply during the war: how much there was of it, in absolute terms and related to the demand, where it came from and why, how much it cost, and what effect the reduced supply had on Britain’s cotton manufacture. It includes an enquiry into the causes of the Lancashire cotton famine, which contradicts the historical consensus on the subject. Examining the impact of the civil war on Liverpool and its raw cotton market, this thought-provoking book demonstrates how reckless speculation infested and distorted the market, and lays bare the shadowy world of the Liverpool cotton brokers, who profited hugely from the war while the rest of Lancashire starved.

'A thought-provoking contribution that challenges existing interpretations about key dimensions of Lancashire’s cotton textile industry during the Cotton Famine years.' Professor Geoff Timmins, University of Central Lancashire


Author Information

Honorary Research Associate, Department of History, University of Liverpool.