Flanders in the 19th century
The Industrial Revolution is usually considered to have been spread from Britain to Belgium by two British industrialists, William and John Cockerill, who moved to Liège in 1807 and formed a company producing industrial machinery and iron. Although the town of Ghent, a centre of cotton production in Flanders, industrialised rapidly, the effects of the Industrial Revolution were most felt in Wallonia.
In Flanders in the middle of the 19th century, the population started to explode and the country would double its population from 4.3 million to 8.5 bij 1947. The larger part of the Flemish population depended on their farms for their livelihood. The rapid fragmentation of farms, caused by the growth of families, resulted in a surplus of agrarian laborers. Some farms were reduce to 0.5 hectares (1.5 acres), unable to sustain the families, reducing them topoverty. the highest poverty rate was in West- and East-Flanders.
At the same time, Flanders witnessed the demise of its textile industry. Textile production was based on a thriving domestic spinning and weaving industry. The primary and secondary incomes of most working people were derived from this household industry and for most farmers it was a necessary second income. Poverty became rampant, and in a few years public assistance grew from 18 percent in 1837 to 24 percent in 1844.
This economic desaster was aggravated by the 1845 potato disease and wheat pest.In West and East Flanders the potato harves declined by 90 percent. to make matters worse, typhoid and cholera epidemics broke out and claimed scores of lives: 28.000 victos fell in 1848 alone. The combination of the demise of the domestic textile industry, the surplus of agrarian workers, the disastrous consequences of the popato disease, and the epidemics created the need to emigrate.