Inheritance and continuity in small family businesses during the early industrial revolution
Explanations for the rapid turnover rates of small businesses during the early years of British industrialisation are usually framed in terms of mismanagement or misfortune. More recently, the short lifespans of family businesses have been presented in the context of family ambitions and priorities. Whilst these explanations are persuasive, such studies tend to describe a reluctance to continue the family firm after the death of the head of household. By utilising evidence of both formal and informal methods of post-mortem estate disposal in Liverpool and Manchester we argue that the petite bourgeoisie of the early Industrial Revolution were more likely than has been thought to continue family businesses and to treat them as valuable going concerns. Moreover, we identify a degree of freedom on the part of those who inherited that allowed them to use their own judgements about the best interests of surviving family members.