The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Lancashire and Yorkshire

Category: Land + People

Two major industrial regions are situated to the north of the Midlands. They are Lancashire, which is on the western slopes of the Pennines and Yorkshire on the eastern side.

Lancashire is a historic centre of British industry, it is the birthplace of capitalism and it was here that the Industrial Revolution started.

We may distinguish two major centres in this region: Merseyside and Greater Manchester.

Merseyside is centred on Liverpool (476,000) and is regarded as a conurbation. The port of Liverpool grew up where a stream flowed into the Mersey estuary and formed a pool, where the small vessels of the Middle Ages could take shelter. In those times the trade was largely with Ireland. In the space of two hundred years — from 1650 to 1850 — Liverpool grew from a small fishing village to become Britain’s leading port. Many factors contributed to this development. The port served the Lancashire cotton industry which was the fastest growing industry in the world. Much of the prosperity was due to its taking part in the shameful ‘Triangular Trade’ or slave trade.

It was also during the period of growth that Liverpool emerged as an important industrial centre. Most of its industries were typical ‘port industries’, particularly those involved with the building and servicing of ships and the processing of imported raw materials such as grain, timber and, later, oil. Such industries provided a poor base for growth and industrial decline followed the decline of the port.

To some extent, however, the decline of Liverpool was offset by the rise of industries along the shores of the estuary and on the banks of the Ship Canal.

The chemical industry developed, using brine (water is pumped down into the salt deposits, which dissolves the salt and then the water is forced to the surface as brine) from the salt deposits in nearby Cheshire. It expanded rapidly with the development of oil-based chemicals and the soap and detergent industries, which were closely related to it, also grew quickly. Such industries could not, however,

halt the industrial decline of the area and unemployment remained high. In the 1960s the motor-car industry developed here. However, today the car industry is in decline and this in turn contributed to the growth of unemployment. Another important industry, shipbuilding and ship repairing, developed at Birkenhead. Just south of Birkenhead on imported palm oil, developed the manufacture of soap and margarine. Within the Merseyside conurbation, just to the north-east of Liverpool at St Helens glass manufacture developed. In general, Merseyside, including Liverpool, is experiencing serious difficulties associated with decline. Many districts of Liverpool suffer from urban decay caused by industrial contraction.

Greater Manchester, like Merseyside, was one of the metropolitan counties to be formed in 1974, and includes a number of towns grouped round the upper Mersey. It is more or less the same area formerly known as the conurbation of south-east Lancashire, standing on the South Lancashire coalfield. Today the conurbation also includes the town of Stockport.

At the heart of the region is Manchester itself, a city of ancient origin, probably called Mancunium by the Romans. People who live in the city are therefore known as Mancunians. Manchester (450,100) stands on the river Irwell, a tributary of the Mersey. On the opposite bank of the Irwell is Salford (98,000), which is closely associated with Manchester but functions as a separate town, and, for instance, has its own university distinct from that of its neighbour.

By the seventeenth century Manchester was the centre of a textile industry. It was a great commercial city, the actual spinning and weaving being done in other Lancashire towns, though it specialized to some extent in the finishing processes. Great advances in manufacture were made in the late eighteenth century by several inventions which marked the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The building of canals encouraged the development of the city. However, most important was the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 which made the city a seaport in spite of it being 50km from the sea.

Clothing manufacture based on cotton and synthetic fibres and food processing are important activities, but engineering (including electrical engineering) is the principal employer of labour. Between 1931 and 1971 both cities Manchester and Salford shrank considerably in population, Manchester by one-third and Salford by almost 50 per cent. This was largely owing to the loss of jobs caused by the decline of the textile industry. However, this decline has led to the expansion of general engineering, including the manufacture of textile machinery. Today, general engineering predominates in Manchester and the surrounding towns, rather than coal mining or cotton manufacture, which used to be the mainstay of the Great Manchester area.

Of the towns situated on the shore of the Irish Sea most important is Blackpool, which is a popular coastal resort in northern England.

Today it houses nearly one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.

Due to extensive industrial development agriculture is less developed in Lancashire. There is a limited proportion of permanent grassland on the fertile lowlands of south Lancashire. Cattle and sheep are relatively few, but there is a concentration of poultry. Potatoes are an important crop. Other vegetables such as cabbages and peas are also cultivated, and market gardening supplies nearby towns. On some of the lowlands in the north dairy farming predominates.

In Yorkshire situated to the east of the Pennines we may distinguish three main industrial centres: the South Yorkshire metropolitan county or conurbation with its largest and most important city of Sheffield (532,300), the West Yorkshire conurbation including its major cities of Leeds and Bradford and Scunthorpe closely connected with the Humber ports of Hull, Immingham and Grimsby.

South Yorkshire as a whole lies on the largest and most productive coalfield in the country.

Long before the Industrial Revolution the Sheffield district was engaged in iron smelting, using iron ore quarried locally and charcoal obtained from nearby forests. Sheffield was known for its cutlery centuries ago and eventually became the country’s outstanding centre of cutlery manufacture.

Sheffield and its neighbourhood produces almost two-thirds of the country’s alloy steels, though trade has been threatened in recent years by foreign competition. This in its turn has led to a serious contraction of employment.

Sheffield produces a wide range of steel goods besides cutlery, from hand tools and magnets to wood pulp and paper making machinery. Other industries include food processing, brewing and confectionery manufacture.

Like South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire represents a large conurbation, and became one of the metropolitan counties formed in 1974. It is also the home of another great industry — the manufacture of woollen goods, and has one large town – Leeds (709,000).

Being the chief commercial and cultural centre of West Yorkshire it does not lead in textile. Its main industry is the manufacture of clothing, and engineering is also important. The latter provides work mainly for men, as the ready-made clothing factories do mainly for women. Engineering products are extremely varied.

Bradford (462,500) has long been the leading centre of worsted and woollen manufacture.

In North Yorkshire the largest town is York (100,000). In Roman times it was called Eboracum. It has long been important as a route centre. Railway engineering developed, and another leading industry is the manufacture of confectionery (including chocolate). York attracts many tourists on account of its famous minster and the medieval city walls. In recent years the city’s population has changed little, but is especially swollen by tourists during the summer months.

On the North Sea coast the most popular holiday resort is Scarborough (43,000). It attracts holiday-makers from all over the country. Quite often it is chosen as a site for the annual conferences of the leading political parties.

On the basis of local ore the iron and steel industry developed in Scunthorpe (66,000). The expansion of the town was primarily due to the discovery of iron ore in the neighbourhood. The steel provides an essential raw material for the engineering plants nearby. Scunthorpe does not stand on a coalfield — a disadvantage — but coal is readily available from the nearby Yorkshire .pits.

Scunthorpe has large integrated steelworks where all the stages in steel manufacture take place: coal is converted into coke in coke ovens, the ore is smelted in blast furnaces, and the molten pig-iron is converted into steel at the same works. A massive modernization programme was carried out in the 1970s, and Scunthorpe today has become one of the leading steel-making centres in the country.

The estuary of the Humber is one of the most spacious in Britain, and it is also well placed for trade with Europe. Thus a number of seaports have grown up there, and two of them, Immingham and Grimsby, have risen to front-rank importance. Grimsby developed mainly as a fishing port. Grimsby and Hull have long been rivals in the fish trade, taking first and second places among the country’s fishing ports. Both ports have suffered from the decline in the fishing industry. Grimsby, however, has benefited from the industrial development along the south bank of the estuary. It has also become a leading centre for the preparation of frozen foods.

Hull, Kingston-upon-Hull (268,000), to give its full name, is by its size and importance ‘the capital’ of Humberside. It stands at the point where the small river Hull enters the estuary, on the north bank.

In the early days prosperity depended largely on fishing, and in most recent years the fishing fleet landed a bigger catch than of any other port. Hull had a majority of modern long-distance trawlers. When difficulties arose in the industry, in particular the adjustment of fishing limits, the effects were severely felt in Hull. Fishing and associated occupations no longer retained their leading role. Its industry is closely connected with the imports: timber goes to the saw-mills, flour to flour mills, etc. Among the other industries are shipbuilding, especially of tugs and barges, and the manufacture of caravans and pharmaceutical products. Much of the foreign trade is with Scandinavia, there are also trade links with the Soviet Union.

The economy of Yorkshire was always closely connected with wool. This is vividly reflected in the development of agriculture. The highlands along the Pennines covered with coarse grass form rough pasture for sheep grazing, especially in the western and northern regions. North Yorkshire is mainly a rural farming region. Farming is mixed and includes cattle rearing and cultivation of root crops such as potatoes, carrots and cereals, mainly barley. In the north dairy cattle outnumber beef cattle.

Much of the territory to the east, especially near the coast is under the plough. Barley and wheat are major crops, and sugar beet and potatoes are also important.

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