Economic historians are now far less inclined than was once the case to frame the idea of the industrial revolution around a single, pivotal decade. Hobsbawm and Rostow, writing from very different perspectives in the early 1960s, both focused on the 1780s. 1 As the introductory section to the previous chapter discussed, the tendency now is to view British industrialization as a much flatter, evolutionary process. Rumours of the death of the industrial revolution have been an exaggeration, but it is unlikely that the old heroic model will ever be reinstated. This being the case, the acceleration of trade union activity in the late 1780s and 1790s is all the more remarkable, for it can no longer be explained in any simplistic way as linked to the ‘take-off’ of the industrial economy. Economic history’s recent emphasis upon continuities and evolution requires a re-evaluation of the evolution of labour movements. A period once seen as little more than a curtain raiser to the history of trade unionism proper, now demands a more rounded and detailed evaluation. Fortunately, for obvious reasons there never has been any shortage of interest in the history of Britain in the era of the French Revolution. More recently, an appreciation of the central importance of the last British subsistence crises – arguably deserving the description of ‘famine’ – has opened up the 1790s to historical scrutiny on a scale never seen before.