British Manufacturing History

My exploration of the story of British Manfacturing

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World

On this page I am creating to links to short podcast extracts from my book along with a chapter by chapter extracts. But first here are some reviews and a bit about the book itself. The image, by the way, is from a car made by Ruston & Hornsby (more of this in the book)

Reviews click here

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World

The peoples of the British Isles gave to the world the foundations on which modern manufacturing economies are built. This is quite an assertion, but history shows that, in the late eighteenth century, a remarkable combination of factors and circumstances combined to give birth to Britain as the first manufacturing nation. Further factors allowed it to remain top manufacturing dog well into the twentieth century whilst other countries were busy playing catch- up. Through two world wars and the surrounding years, British manufacturing remained strong, albeit whilst ceding the lead to the United States.

This book seeks to tell the remarkable story of British manufacturing, using the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a prism. Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole had conceived an idea of bringing together exhibits from manufacturers across the world to show to its many millions of visitors the pre-eminence of the British. 1851 was not the start, but rather a pause for a bask in glory.

The book traces back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence, just as the factory system at Cromford Mill. It then follows developments up until the Festival of Britain exactly one century later. Steam power and communication by electric telegraph, both British inventions, predated the Exhibition. After it came the sewing machine and bicycle, motor car and aeroplane, but also electrical power, radio and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Explore the book

The Great Exhibition of 1851

Pre 1851

The post 1851 industries

The Great War and its long aftermath

Chapter 3 Coal and Metal

Bicycles, sewing machines and indeed railway locomotives would have been unimaginable without the energy supplied by coal or the material of metal

Chapter 4 Textiles

The British economy needed a wealth creating machine to take it from an essentially agrarian society to one thriving in industry. We had great skills of weaving with wool and flax; the import of vast quantities of raw cotton kick-started an industrial revolution.

Chapter 5 Steam and Steel

In order to manufacture vast quantities of cotton cloth at low prices, power was needed and it came in the form of the steam engine. This did of course also revolutionise transport.

Chapter 6 Communication

No society can advance without effective communication – the railway and telegraph hand in hand

Chapter 7 Armaments

Technology produced for peace can so easily be used in war. British manufacturing, as that in other waring nations, accelerated with the demands that war makes and the funding that it opens up.

Chapter 8 The Home

My father was a Victorian born in 1891 in South London. I try to imagine was his home might have been like. It was a modern semi-detached. I know he would rig up tricks for his parents giving them an electric shock when they touch his door handle. What was the source of the electricity. The Deptford power station? Probably not. So an accumulator? A dynamo? All these inventions were slowly making homes more comfortable. The memories he recorded before he died in 1965 helped me write about British manufacturing and the home.

Chapter 9 The sewing machine and bicycle

How these inventions came about and the famous names that would go on to create another even greater industry

Chapter 10 The Internal Combustion Engine

Was this the vital breakthrough?

Chapter 11 Electric Power

Or was this?

Chapter 12 The Great War

A war conducted on an industrial scale was bound to transform industry as well as the social fabric of the nation it served

Chapter 13 The Aftermath of War

The country winning a war has to create an industrial base far larger than it can sustain in peacetime. The aftermath is a painful contraction

Chapter 14 The Interwar Years

Out of the desolation of war came new shoots of manufacturing – a motor industry, radio and chemicals to name by a few

Chapter 15 Re-armament and the Second World War

A long hard slog that produced so much excellent British manufacturing, and drained the nation’s coffers

Chapter 16 The Postwar Export Drive

The cupboard was bare and exports were essential to pay for vital imports. Manufacturing industry rose to the challenge just as it had in war.

Chapter 17 The Festival of Britain

One century after the Great Exhibition, the country celebrated again. Both the country and the form of celebration had changed, but some threads survived.

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