The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Economy

The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to become highly industrialised. Eleven people work in min­ing, manufacturing and building for every one in agricul­ture. The United Kingdomis one of the world’s largest ex­porters of manufactured goods per head of population and the range of its industrial manufactures reflects its position as one of the most important workshops of the world.

Location. The factors that have influenced the location of industry in Britain are many and various. During the rap­id industrialisation of the nineteenth century, one of the most important influences was the proximity of coal, the major source of power, particularly when it was associated with ease of access to other raw materials, and to the coast which in turn offered easy access to imported raw materials and a quick outlet for exports. In the course of the past hundred years, the pull exercised by coal has been progressively weakened as improved means of communication and an alternative source of power in electricity have been developed.

During the inter-war period there was a tendency for the new industries such as those manufacturing motor vehicles, electrical goods and rubber products to develop rapidly in the South (especially in and around Greater London) and in the Midlands. On the other hand, this period was one of acute depression and mass unemployment for the older industrial areas which specialised in the great staple industries — coal­mining, steel, shipbuilding, marine engineering and cotton manufacture. These conditions prompted official action (which has been intensified since the Second World War) aimed at encouraging new industrial development and diversifi­cation in the areas concerned where labour and other resour­ces are to be found, and discouraging further industrialisa­tion in congested areas such as Greater London and Greater Birmingham.

The main areas of industrial concentration are still, with one exception (London), the areas which saw the beginning of Britain’s industrial greatness and which, with two excep­tions (London and Belfast), are on or near coalfields, but, particularly since the First World War, many smaller, and more widely dispersed centres of industry have grown up, notably in southern England. A brief description of the loca­tion of British industry, grouped according to broad geograph­ical areas, is given below.

Greater London.London is the main centre inBritain of the clothing and food and drink industries, of printing, of film production and of the manufacture of furniture, mate­rials for the arts, precision instruments and many other spe­cialised goods. Small firms predominate in all these industries, and the average size of manufacturing firms inLondon is well below the national average.London is also an import­ant centre of light engineering and chemicals, and has some heavy engineering plants. Indeed,London is so large and its industries are so diverse that it is a main centre for many of the broad groups of manufacturing industries, with the no­table exception of textiles and metal manufacture.

West and South-WestEngland. The largest city,Brist­ol, is both a leading port and industrial centre with aircraft, tobacco, food processing and other industries.Gloucesterhas also aircraft and engineering plants.Swindonhas railway and engineering works. TheportofSouthamptonis served by the largest passenger liners and has shiprepairing yards, oil refineries and other industries.Plymouthhas an important naval dockyard and several light industries. The west ofEnglandis also noted for its wool cloths.

East Anglia and Lincolnshire. Besides being one of the most productive agricultural regions, the eastern counties possess some sizeable towns, Ipswich and Grantham are renowned for agricultural machinery and Norwich for foot­wear and food manufacture. Food canning and freezing, based mainly on locally grown produce, have developed rapid­ly. Scunthorpe, inLincolnshire, is an important steel making centre, and the ports of Grimsby andYarmouth have exten­sive fish processing plants.

Midlands. The main industrial area of the Midlands con­sists of the great conurbation centred onBirmingham andWolverhampton where there is a wide variety of industry, including notably the manufacture of metals, electrical and engineering products, and also jewelry, rubber products and domestic metalware. The smaller conurbation of North- Staffordshire, centred onStoke-on-Trent, is devoted chiefly to the manufacture of pottery and china and to coalmining. The largest concentration of motor vehicle manufacture in theUnited Kingdom is situated in the Midlands atCoventry andBirmingham and, further to the south, nearOx­ford.

Corby, in Northamptonshire, has an expanding steel industry based on local deposits of iron ore, and atPeter­boroughthere are several large engineering works. The richest coalfield inBritainlies in the north-west^of the area and con­tinues intoYorkshire.

Lancashire. Besides being the commercial hub of the cot­ton textile industry,Manchester is one of the chief centres of electrical and heavy engineering, machine tools and dye-stuffs inBritain. Most of the cotton yarn is spun in Bolton, Oldham, and Rochdale, and at Stockport (inCheshire); further to the north lie the weaving towns of Burnley, Nelson, Blackburn, Colne,Accrington and Darwen. Engineering industries, notably the manufacture of printing, textile and electrical machinery and commercial vehicles, are, however, as impor­tant to the area today as cotton. TheLancashire coalfield also lies in the Manchester-Wigan area.

TheManchesterShip Canal, which carries a substantial volume of overseas trade, linksManchesterwith Merseyside. It passes through important industrial towns before reaching theMerseyestuary. Liverpool is the second port ofBritainand a great commercial centre and, afterLondon, the greatest centre for food processing. Among its older industries is ship- repairing. Many new industries, including electrical engi­neering and the manufacture of other heavy industrial equip­ment have been established in theLiverpoolarea.

Yorkshire. Most of the county’s industry is located in the West Riding, where about 90 per cent of theUnited Kingdom’s worsted industry and the greater proportion of its woollen industry are found.Bradford is the main city for worsteds and also the commercial centre of the whole wool trade.Leeds, the commercial capital of the area, has a large ready-made clothing industry and manufactures a range of engineering products. Further south is the heavy engi­neering centre ofSheffield, famous for its high-quality steels, cutlery and tools. The area’s extensive coalfields provide about one-fifth ofBritain’s coal. York, noted for chocolates and confectionery manufacture and with important rail­way shops, and Hull, one of the world’s largest fishing ports and with many manufacturing industries, including engineer­ing, vegetable oil processing, paints and sawmilling, are other important industrial towns in Yorkshire.

Scotland. The thickly populated, industrial area of Cly­deside, whose capital isGlasgow, isBritain’s largest ship­building and marine engineering centre.Edinburgh, the capital ofScotland and its second largest city, has printing, brewing and engineering industries. The north ofScotland possessesBritain’s only significant resources of hydro-electric power.

From Britain. An Official Handbook. 1960.


“The great question before the British people today is whether big business — the monopolies and the speculators — will continue to dominate our lives or whether the people will challenge monopoly rule and open up a new era of abundance,” declares the Communist Party’s Election Manifesto.

Despite Tory talk of a “property-owning democracy” and the myth, spread also by Labour leaders, that the capi­talist leopard has either disappeared or changed its spots, big business is today stronger than ever before.

During the years of Tory rule total profits made in Brit­ain rose from £4,089 million in 1951 to 6,121 million in 1962 — an increase of £2,032 million; profits made abroad went up over the same period from £314 million to £1,072 million — an increase of £758 million.

Ordinary dividends paid out to shareholders have risen nearly threefold—from £443 million in 1951 to £1,245 million last year.

Nearly one-fifth of all male workers earn less than £11 a week and over two million people have to depend on the meagre hand-outs of the National Assistance Board — but 1 per cent of the population owns 50 per cent of the country’s wealth.

Even four years agoBritain’s 100 largest companies owned more than half all the net assets of companies quoted on the Stock Exchange in 1960, the latest year for which figures are available.

Less than a dozen giant steel firms control the bulk of the country’s productive capacity.

I.С. I., whose chairman, Mr Paul Chambers, has expressed the view that “we need to discard outmoded ideas on such matters as monopoly and monopolistic competition”, dom­inates chemicals and man-made fibres.

Shell and British Petroleum are the kings of petrol (in conjunction with the American giants);

Three giants (two of them American) dominate our motor­car industry;

Consumer goods are more and more falling into the hands of a small number of producers and multiple stores and super­market chains (many of them American).

More and more town centres are being developed not by the elected local authorities but by a handful of property tycoons in alliance with the insurance companies.

Joining most of these up in a spider’s web are the great financial powers ofBritain— the merchant and joint stock banks, the insurance companies and investment trusts.

In 1962 the insurance companies alone, as the largest sin­gle owners of shares, held investments of nearly £2,000 million in ordinary and preference shares. They are the biggest prop­erty owners inBritain.

The controllers of this vast wealth take the major decisions that affect our economy. It is they who decide how much to invest and how much to produce. They decide which facto­ries to close and which to open. They decide how many work­ers shall be taken on and how many sacked.

The fate of whole towns and areas is in their hands. In the North-East andScotlandwe see what happens when they turn their thumbs down.

They are responsible to no Parliament. “Democracy” becomes an empty phrase when faced by their domination of vital spheres of the nation’s life.

This domination must be broken if Britain’s wealth is to be used in the interests of Britain’s people.

Comment, Oct. 3, 1964.

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