IN the centuries before the Industrial Revolution, English overseas trade went through three waves of expansion, separated by periods of near stagnation. These waves of growth arose out of quite different types of external circumstances, to which English manufacturers and merchants successfully responded and adapted. Between 1475 and 1550 the volume of sales of well-known commodities (broadcloths and some other types of woollen cloth) in long familiar markets of central Europe suddenly began to grow rapidly because these markets were becoming more prosperous. This was not, essentially, the defeating of another industry’s competition, nor the widening of the market through cost reductions; incomes expanded rapidly in the existing markets, for reasons that were external to England, and they demanded more of the goods they were accustomed to getting from England. In the second phase, 1630–89, the annual rate of growth was driven forward exceptionally rapidly because there were two expansive elements. One was the capture of south European markets from Italian and Spanish industry, in competition with the Dutch; the decline of the Mediterranean industries that opened these markets to the English and Dutch was an aspect of an overall economic decline whose reasons are disputable, but was, again, external to England.
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