Changes in “Old” and “New” Industries in the UK Economy, 1870 – 1939. Compare and contrast the economic performance and regional impact of the Lancashire cotton industry before World War 1 and during the inter-war era (1918-1939). From the time of the coronation of Queen Victoria and the outbreak of World War One, Britain stood in a period of economic transition. There are several observations on whom or what caused the rise and fall of the cotton industry. The late 1840s saw Britain enter into a second phase of industrialisation. The railway network was almost complete, and this mode of transportation appeared to stimulate the growth of the coal, iron, steel and engineering industries. Together with the cotton industry, they began to flourish and grew at a rapid pace. Up until the 1870s, they thrived in an incomparable period of steady continuous growth, interspersed only by the two short depressions in 1857 and 1866. Britain had attained command of world trade with her early industrial lead - she had unquestionably become “the workshop of the world” (Davis). In particular in the north of England, the cotton industry had reached its pinnacle. Growth had been seen at an incredible pace across Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. The cotton industry was not totally concentrated in the north of England but Lancashire was known as the epicentre. The majority of raw cotton imported into England was done so by Lancashire cotton mills. In terms of output Britain was producing almost the same amount of goods as the United States, Germany and France combined. Britain had become a reference point for all to follow. Britain saw the world as her trading partner like no other; Britain by 1913 was thought to be in a position of great strength with unquestionable wealth. This position was more over a false image of the activities of old industries such as the cotton and coal sectors. Britain had become a nation of financial and commercial service providers. During the final third of the 19th century a sense of pessimism was already stirring amongst Victorian businessmen and investors; they had such optimism during the middle part of the century as Britain was unrivalled. Tariff protection in overseas markets and the expansion in imports for agricultural and manufactured goods caused such pessimism. This pessimism was soon to be proved correct. In 1914 the Great War had begun, changing the face of British industry and over the next twenty years the cotton industry would never be the same. The early 1870s was a period of further transition as these staple industries became concerned and were finding it increasingly difficult to continue selling goods abroad. Britain`s position was still seen as one of strength but one of unsure times as Britain had given its competitors all the ideas and built the equipment needed to compete in all markets; with the lifting of restrictions on the sale of textile machinery to foreign markets as far back as 1843. Over the next twenty three years Britain entered a period named “the Great Depression” (Kirby, 1981, p. 1) from 1873 to 1896 which saw Britain’s workers become uneasy and develop a dislike to foreign trading. This was due to the ever expanding nations of India, Brazil and Japan, who could pay their workers far less and so were able to sell their produce far more cheaply. Foreign produce flooded British markets putting Britain in a precarious position as the importation of raw cotton was no longer Britain’s largest. It was said to be the beginning of the end of dominance in world markets. With exports beginning to falter, and imports ever on the increase, Britain was now in a period of deflation, prices for goods from foreign markets were threatening to undermine Britain’s superiority in the production of cotton. The cotton industry was also slow to adopt new innovations as was seen when an American, J.H. Northrop invented the ‘automatic’ loom in which he patented in 1894. This new...
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