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(2008) The Evolution of the Economy of the West Midlands 1750-2007



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The Evolution of the Economy of the
West Midlands 1700-2007
Mike Haynes,
University Wolverhampton Business
School (2008)
NB this is a discussion paper only
Mike Haynes
Professor of International Political Economy
The aim of this paper is to provide a brief overview of the development of the West
Midlands region of the United Kingdom cast within a framework of more recent
debates about the pattern of capitalist development.
Traditionally the West Midlands
has been seen as the ‘heart of England’. Although many regions of Britain can claim
to have played a strategic role in British (and therefore global) industrialisation the
West Midlands has as good a claim as any to be the ‘cradle of the industrial
revolution’, at least in its non textile aspects. It was in Shropshire, in Coalbrookdale,
that Abraham Darby first smelted iron using local coal and so allowed development of
a local iron industry. It seemed to a 1813 contemporary that Shropshire had ‘the most
considerable iron works in England … [which] with all their vast machinery, the
flaming furnaces and the smoking lime kilns, forms a spectacle horribly sublime’.
Here too that in 1802 Trevithick produced the first steam railway locomotive. It was
in Birmingham that James Watt and Matthew Boulton began to commercially develop
steam engines that would help drive the industrial revolution forward. ‘I sell here, Sir,
what all the world desires to have – POWER’ said Boulton to Boswell in 1776. And
to the north of Birmingham, in modern day Stoke, in 1767-1769, Josiah Wedgwood
had his Etruria works built from which was pioneered the development not only of
factory based pottery industry but a whole series of new work practices and work
disciplines ‘making of men such machines as cannot err.’
In the nineteenth century
the Birmingham conurbation developed into the UK’s second largest conurbation
after London and Birmingham itself the second city – a position that is retained today
despite fluctuating fortunes over the last two centuries. In 2006 some 5.4 million
people, 9% of the UK population lived in the West Midlands of whom some 2.5
million were officially employed and 170,000 unemployed. The employed population
(using slightly different statistics) is set out in table 1. But whereas half a century ago
the West Midlands was at the forefront of prosperity in the UK, now (along with the
rest of the UK) it is below the average on many indicators, albeit not as far behind as
some of the more peripheral regions.
Table 1 Employment in the West Midlands Region 2006
No. %
Public admin and education 636,280 26.8
Distribution, hotels, restaurants 573,679 24.1
Banking, finance and insurance 416,208 17.5
Manufacturing 362,252 15.2
Transport and communications 133,742 5.6
Other services 112,673 4.7
Construction 107,165 4.5
Agriculture and fishing 20,613 0.9
Energy and water 13,762 0.6
Source: Advantage West Midlands
In surveying the economic and social development of the West Midlands from the
eighteenth century to today we will only have space to pursue a limited number of
issues. These are
The definition of the region
Its location in the national and global economy
The area on the eve of industrialisation
Industrialisation in the nineteenth century
Social conditions before 1914
Changing fortunes in the twentieth century
Modern social change and the shaping of the labour movement in the West
1. Defining the West Midlands
Standing between firms with a location in specific places and the global economy in
which they operate are states and regions. Traditionally writing on development has
had a state based focus but more recently there has been an interest in the dynamics of
regional change where the region is usually (but not inevitably) a sub unit of the
national state.
But if defining a ‘nation state’ in economic terms is problematic then even more so is
the definition of a ‘region’. Regions are usually defined administratively by national
governments. They are therefore something of a fiction. If a nation is an ‘imagined
community’ within a politically defined state then this is even truer of a region.
Writing in the 1980s Cunliffe and Hey, suggested that, ‘English regional identities are
imprecise and no boundaries can be drawn … any attempt to define a region must be
somewhat arbitrary, particularly in the Midlands ...’
While a sense of there being an English midlands has a long history the current focus
on the modern West Midlands arises because of its formal definition as a UK region
by the UK government and the EU in which it is what is called a NUTS1 region (the
largest kind) and a constituency of the European Parliament. Within this larger UK
region a smaller West Midlands Metropolitan County existed from 1974-1986
covering Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull and
Walsall. This county was established and disbanded as a result of central government
action but is broadly comparable to the greater Birmingham or West Midlands
Conurbation. This ‘region within the region’ still remains in terms of the organisation
of the police and fire service. Beyond this we could also map a wider cultural region
defined perhaps by the BBC West Midlands network.
Attempts to rationalise the unity of the West Midlands in terms of an underlying logic
(that both draws the area together and separates it from other regions) have not been
very successful. Skipp once argued that even the name was problematic, suggesting
that the area should really be called the Central Midlands.
Physically the West
Midlands have little to differentiate them. They are conventionally defined as a
triangle limited to the West by the River Severn, in the south by the River Avon and
to the north east by the River Trent. But in reality the West Midlands are ‘no more
than a transitional zone between Highland and Lowland Britain’.
Historical claims to
an early
Figure 1 The West Midlands
distinctiveness are weak.
In the Middle Ages the centre of the modern day region
was more sparsely populated than its periphery due to transportation difficulties. No
less claims about a traditional ’heart of England’ reflect the development of a modern
tourist industry built on the themes of Victorian romanticism. Equally the idea of
some localised West Midlands or Midlands cultural identity forged around language
or some other cultural marker do not persuade. They both lump together different
classes and areas within the ‘region’ and claim too much in differentiating it from its
Economically, however, the West Midlands does represent a significant concentration
of urban-industrial and service population of the UK albeit with significant rural and
more agricultural communities within the administrative boundaries of the region.
Starting in the South, the West Midlands incorporates Coventry, Birmingham and the
area north to Wolverhampton, an area which W.H.Auden once remembered as
marked by its ‘tramlines and slagheaps, pieces of machinery’. The region is bounded
in the north by Stoke on Trent. To the East there is the large town of Telford and to
the West towns like Tamworth and Lichfield.
2. The West Midlands in the national and global economy
Critical contributions to the debate on globalisation have made us aware of how long
a history the global economy has. Local and regional histories tend, however, to have
an inward looking or national focus. But the British economy, and within it, the West
Midlands has always been firmly integrated into the capitalist global economy which
began to develop in the sixteenth century. ‘Birmingham’ goods were traded the world
over. Capital flowed into the region from primitive accumulation to supplement the
process of domestic accumulation. No less it would flow out again as some investors
began to look aboard and then the bigger firms, from the late nineteenth century,
began to organise on an international scale. The growth of the area also attracted
migrant flows within the UK but also from overseas from a very early period. The
West Midlands’ economy therefore developed in a globalising context.
Within this slavery played a major role until the mid nineteenth century. Imperialism
too played and continues to play a role. While people in the West Midlands did not
build ships they supplied parts and not least chains to link machines and bind men and
women. One of the longest lived firms in the West Midlands is Hiatt and Company of
Perry Barr Birmingham which began in 1780 producing handcuffs, leg irons and
chains for felons and slaves and today produces handcuffs for Guantanamo Bay. No
less British armies were continually supplied with a stream of goods from West
Midlands' workshops and later factories, as was the air force in the twentieth century.
Army swords were forged in Birmingham and then firearms. In 1750 one
Birmingham gun manufacturer sent 12,000 weapons to Africa mostly for use in the
slave trade.
Birmingham gained its own proofing house on 1813 as a mark of its
status. By this time it was said that two thirds of the arms held by British troops in the
Napoleonic Wars had come from Birmingham.
Capitalist growth is necessarily uneven and this is reflected in the regions’ history.
Firstly, growth is uneven in space. This spatial unevenness can be seen between and
within regions. Capitalist development has paradoxical impact on regional
distinctiveness. Kuznets famously argued that regional unevenness would first rise
and then fall over time as equalising tendencies became more apparent with long
economic growth. Langton later suggested that both economic and non economic
forms of regional distinctiveness increased during the industrial revolution though the
later claim seems to us dubious.
Certainly though, over time, even closer national and
international ties seem to have reduced claims for non economic distinctiveness. In
this sense there is some (though not complete) truth in the claim that there is a long
run tendency towards homogenisation. But even as many elements of distinctiveness
are reduced or even disappear economic unevenness has grown. In the case of the
West Midlands it was a region that did converge quite rapidly in the twentieth century
only to fall back again in the later twentieth century as regional economic differentials
widened again. To this peculiar combination of cultural homogenisation and
economic differentiation must be added an additional element in the form of the
politics of regionalism. This is a politics of regional claims against national and EU
government structures – a tendency which has really emerged since 1945.
Regionalism has been more successful in some areas than others but it is built on the
questionable claims to difference in a world which, in other respects, is globalising.
This mixture seems less contradictory in those areas where regional and national
claims (e.g. around language) can be related than in the English regions in general,
and the West Midlands in particular, where it is difficult to find a focus for a
distinctive regionalised loyalty.
Over time the regional economy experienced a rural-urban shift. But agriculture
remained part of the wider process of change albeit declining in relative terms. Its
organisational forms, and the competitive pressures that affected it, reflected wider
global changes in prices and the eventual development of agro-industrial complex in
the region where farmers use cheap (now often migrant labour) and capital to supply
multinational stores or gleaming food factories which dot the apparent rural areas.
But the process of change is also uneven in time. We now understand that change in
the UK in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was slower than in many later
industrialising countries. Nevertheless the UK economy grew and only in the 1970s
was it overtaken by its European competitors. Apart from seasonal cycles, important
in some industries (including the late nineteenth century bicycle industry), the
region’s growth was affected by the classic boom-slump cycles which could have
catastrophic short term consequences. These fluctuations could to a degree be
modified or accentuated by conscious or unconscious state policy. An early example
was the signing of the Cobden Chevalier treaty in 1860 which helped create a
situation in the Coventry ribbon trade where it was said that in 1861 only 2,500 out of
18,000 ribbon weavers were employed. In the twentieth century, from the 1930s, state
policy could be argued to have been counter-cyclical until the 1980s when Tory
government policies accentuated the cycle with especially devastating results for
manufacturing in the West Midlands.
But in such a long period there were also major structural shifts – the rise and fall of
whole industries reflected the process of technological change and the comparative
redistribution of production. Agriculture gave way to manufacturing where the area
became predominant in the UK, then manufacturing gave way to services. Within
each sector production forms changed. In manufacturing, domestic industry was
displaced by factory industry though the shift was protracted. Industries rose and fell.
In the Black Country, for example, the first coke blast furnace started in 1766. A
century later there were some 200, then there was decline and today there are none. In
the twentieth century too there has been the rise and partial fall of the motor vehicle
industry. Declines can often be protracted – even charcoal iron production survived
well into the nineteenth century in Shropshire despite the association of the area with
early coke smelting. They also leave, on a larger or smaller scale, a distorted legacy.
Ironbridge may have been a boom town of the early industrial revolution but by 1912
it was described as an ‘uninteresting and somewhat squalid town, situated on a steep
declivity sloping down to the Severn, whose banks are covered with slag and
Figure 2 Stylised Creative Destruction – the Optimistic View
Schumpeter famously borrowed the term ‘creative destruction’ to describe this
process of capitalist growth. The two elements of destruction and creation go hand in
hand because capitalism develops in an unplanned way. It is impossible to have the
creation without also having the destruction. This is inevitably painful for it involves
restructuring, downsizing, bankruptcy and unemployment as capital is devalued and
labour squeezed. Economists (and policymakers) usually portray this as a smooth and
healthy process by which capital and labour is shifted from less profitable to more
profitable uses. We can represent this as in figure 2 where the curves A, B and C
represent the rise and fall of particular industries and the straight line the direction of
technical advance in the most developed economies (how it might work in other
economies is another matter).
But, as Stiglitz has insisted, destruction is easier to achieve than creation. Moreover
capital that is written down is often destroyed – some machinery may be sold on the
second hand market, some buildings reused but often both are simply scrapped. No
less when a plant closes some workers may be able to move to better paid jobs but
many will be deskilled and forced to take less well paid ones, while others may be
squeezed out of the labour force altogether. This is what has happened most recently
with different parts of the Rover plant and workforce. Even in relatively advanced
economies with stronger welfare states this process of restructuring therefore remains
very painful.
3. The area on the eve of industrialisation
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the capitalist economy took root in Britain
in its pre-industrial form. The development of the West Midlands’ region reflected a
number of aspects of this process. Political change accompanied the social and
economic transformation. A unified English and then British state developed, though
not without major conflict in the mid seventeenth century. The indistinct nature of the
physical terrain of the West Midlands meant that it was easily passed over by warring
sides and several major conflicts of the civil war were played out in what has been
called ‘the Belgium of England’.
Behind these political changes lay the process of socio-economic change. In these
centuries land ownership became concentrated. Much of the old baronial land of the
medieval period, along with the lands of the Church, passed into the hands of new
gentry. The peasantry was dispossessed and land enclosed – a process which occurred
uniquely early in England. In Staffordshire, for example, two thirds of the land had
already been enclosed before 1760 leaving only a third to be dealt with in the last
enclosure movement as a result of which the last open fields in the Midlands were
enclosed by acts of parliament in 1838 and 1847. In the countryside the rising
capitalist aristocracy built up its estates with their country houses but were often not
afraid to get their hands dirty in other branches of activity. The Wolverhampton
Leveson family, for example, bought manorial lands and Trentham Priory becoming
the Leveson Gowers. In 1703 they achieved a baronetcy, made a tidy sum in the
South Sea Bubble (selling before the crash) and then in 1746 gained an earldom.
Their rise was capped in 1833 when the male line became the Dukes of Sutherland.
The Dukes of Sutherland were the wealthiest private land owners in the UK. In 1833
they held 82,000 acres in England and a million in Scotland. They owned Stafford
House in London, Cliveden, Dunrobin Castle in Scotland and Trentham and Lilleshall
Halls in the Midlands. Other prominent Midlands based landowners who were not
afraid to exploit the potential beneath the soil included the Earl of Dudley, the sixth
wealthiest man in England at one point. Beneath the very pinnacle of landownership
were others whose wealth was less great but still immense in comparative terms. In
Staffordshire in the nineteenth century there were 129 estates of over 2000 acres
while Warwickshire had 111.
Within agriculture the cultivated area expanded and commercialisation encouraged
productivity growth and a significant degree of specialisation focusing on local,
regional and national markets. Labour began to shift – pushed and pulled off the land
– into rural industries and some towns. Craft work became subject to more complex
organisational forms and in the urban market centres some urban manufacturing
specialisation also began to develop. By the eighteenth century when writers like
Celia Fiennes, Daniel Defoe and later Arthur Young visited the area they described
local specialisations that were already well established – metallurgy, pottery, carpets
(in Kidderminster), and so on. Birmingham began to become known for its ‘toys’
which referred not to children’s playthings so much as small metal goods – swords,
ornaments, jewellery.
Table 2 Measuring population change
England CBR CDR LE % towns
>10,000 Birmingham Wolverhampton
1541 2.8 39.8 29.4 34
1551 3.0 38.7 26.0 38
1601 4.1 33.6 24.6 38
1641 5.1 32.4 28.6 34
1661 5.1 26.8 26.3 36
1701 5.0 33.1 26.5 37 13.4
1751 5.8 33.8 26.2 37 17.5 23,688 7,454
1770 30,804
1781 11,361
1801 8.7 37.7 27.1 35 24 12,565
1851 16.7 35.8 22.1 40 48
1881 515,000
1931 1,1030,000
Source: Various
Although these forms look primitive compared to later ones it was their contemporary
sophistication that stood out. The division of labour in the area was well advanced as
was the logic of bringing craft labour under one roof as a factory where it could be
supervised and perhaps deskilled even without machinery long before Adam Smith
described this process in The Wealth of Nations. In 1766 Lord Shelburne visited John
Taylor’s factory in Birmingham which employed 500 to produce goods ranging from
snuff boxes to buttons. There,
a button passes through fifty hands, and each hand passes a thousand a day, by
this means, the work becomes so simple that, five times in six, children of six or
eight years old do it as well as men ..
It was this process that helped to create the labour force and entrepreneurial skills, as
well as some of the initial accumulation of capital, that would allow for a shift to the
next stage – deepening the sophistication of some craft structures and replacing others
by more modern forms of power driven factory style production.
4. Industrialisation in the nineteenth century
Capitalist industrialisation drove the UK economy forward and the West Midlands
within it. This process helped to create a precocious urban industrial society by the
mid nineteenth century. Although growth was much slower than traditional accounts
suggest it still led to a process of regional specialisation but also economic divergence
as the more dynamic regions pulled ahead of the less dynamic. This changing regional
pattern is set out in tables 3 and 4.
The data does not support the hypothesis that regional differentials will eventually
disappear or that they narrow with a greater degree of market freedom and integration.
Table 3 shows that regional divergence increased through the nineteenth century
reaching a peak in 1914. This is reflected in the co-efficient of variation (cv1 treats
the South East as a single region; cv2 treats London and the South East separately). It
is apparent that by the late nineteenth century all UK regions ran a poor second to
London as the centre of the global economy and the British empire. It is also apparent
from table 3, that the years 1870-1911, when the levels of globalisation reached their
first peak, were a time of intense regional divergence. Thereafter, as we will discuss
later, regional divergence did diminish but it has since risen again (contrary to
traditional theory) in the late twentieth century in a new phase of globalisation.
But there was also variation within the region. This was an area where, especially in
the centre, around Birmingham, specialist craft manufacturing developed in what
were originally separate towns. In the nineteenth century these local centres were
linked by what has been called ‘unequal interdependence’ with some towns, e.g. in
the Black Country, specialising in less sophisticated and intermediary forms of
manufacturing and others, e.g. Birmingham and Wolverhampton, specialising in more
sophisticated forms. Over laid on this more traditional ‘unequal interdependence’
would be new forms. In the 1950s, for example, Briggs described Birmingham as a
city of 5 concentric rings, albeit ones that did not stretch equally in all directions
1. Inner –nineteenth century jewellery, guns, brass
2. Specialist workshops
3. Middle ring c 1900 – breweries, food, railway engineering, gas, metals
4. Outer ring electrical, and advanced engineering
5. Outlying – Longbridge – vehicles.
Birmingham became a major population and economic centre as is evident from the
population data in table 2. The city overtook Manchester in 1861 and Liverpool in
1881 to become the UK’s second city. As elsewhere the rapid growth depended on in
migration as well as natural increase which was held back by high urban death rates.
Migrants came not only from the Midlands but far afield including Ireland so that the
1851 census showed that 4.1% of the Birmingham population was Irish.
Potential resource abundance for a traditional industrial society had always existed in
the West Midlands. In the 1860s, for example, Elihu Burritt wrote that ‘nature did for
the ironmasters of the Black Country all she could; indeed, everything except literally
building the furnaces themselves’
(The three key elements were the famous and
easily mined ten yard coal seam, local limestone and ironstone). Utilising the coal
resources became possible from the late eighteenth century as a result of transport
changes which more easily connected the region to the wider national and
international economy. The pack horse gave way to a dense system of canals from the
late 1760s (in November 1769 the first load of coal brought by canal to Birmingham
– by 1838 the Birmingham canal was moving 3 million tons, largely coal)
. Then,
from the 1830s, canals gave way to the new railway system. In 1837 Birmingham
connected by rail to Liverpool and Manchester and in 1838 to London. Nevertheless
before the development of motorised road transport the region was still at something
of a disadvantage in terms of internal transport costs. In 1910, for example, 59% of
ton miles in the UK were made in the coastal trade compared to 39% by rail and now
a mere 2% by canal.
No less important was the development of steam power allowing a cheap means of
powering industry as well as a more efficient exploitation of the coal and iron beneath
the ground. Traditional accounts suggest the impact of steam was quickly felt.
Erasmus Darwin predicted that:
Soon shall thy arm, unconquer’d Steam! Afar
Drag the slow barge, or draw the rapid car;
Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear
The flying chariot through fields of air.
We are now aware, however, that in terms of industrial power the main impact of
steam outside of mining and textiles came in the second half of the nineteenth century
and even after 1870.
Table 3 Regional Per Capita GDP 1871-2001
1871 1911 1954/55 1971 1981 1991 2001
London 147.3 165.6 137.6 (1) 123.4 126.0 129.7 132.4 (1)
Rest South East 88.5 86.3 97.9 (5) 104.6 108.4 109.1 117.9 (2)
West Mids 83.6 78.4 107.9 (2) 101.9 89.1 91.9 91.0 (6=)
East Mids 102.3 90.6 101.6 (3) 95.7 95.6 95.2 91.2 (5)
Britain = 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Yorks &
Humberside 94.4 89.5 98.4 (4) 92.5 90.2 88.6 84.1 (9)
North West 108.1 97.2 97.8 (6) 95.3 92.9 90.5 89.6 (8)
Scotland 89.9 102.1 88.1 (7) 92.2 94.8 100.1 93.5 (4)
North 91.4 79.2 88.0 (8) 86.1 92.2 90.6 78.9 (10)
South West 86.2 85.7 86.4 (9) 93.9 91.8 92.4 91.0 (6-=)
East Anglia 92.0 76.8 83.5 (10) 92.8 94.7 113.7 103.7 (3)
Wales 87.7 90.1 82.0 (11) 87.5 82.0 84.1 78.2 (11)
CV1 (South
East) 0.107 0.148 0.106 0.076 0.086 0.108 0.136
CV2 (London &
south East) 0.176 0.249 0.154 0.105 0.116 0.131 0.166
Source: N.Crafts, ‘Regional GDP in Britain, 1871-1911: some estimates’, Scottish
Journal of Political Economy, vol. 53 no. 1, February, 2005, p. 61
Table 4 % Annual Regional Rates of Growth of Real GDP per Head
1871-1911 1911-1954/55 1954/55-2001
UK 0.89 1.15 2.12
South East 0.96 0.78 2.32
London 1.14 0.58 2.03
Rest South East 0.67 1.32 2.53
West Midlands 0.56 1.77 1.71
Source: Crafts 2005, op cit., p. 62
One major aspect of the early nineteenth century change was the development of the
coal fields within the region. Mining initially took off on the East Shropshire coalfield
with Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale at its centre. In 1788 England and Wales had 53
coke fired furnaces of which 21 were in Shropshire producing 23,100 of the 48,700
tons of coke fired pig iron made at that time.
But the heyday of the East Shropshire
coalfield was brief. In the nineteenth century development began in a more intense
way on the south Staffordshire field and the Black Country. Development also took
off on the Warwickshire coalfield. In manufacturing industrialisation involved
initially more of an intensification and development of smaller scale industry. If
Britain was the workshop of the world then, within it, Birmingham area was its
workshop, the city of ‘1001 trades’. For Victorians, as Asa Briggs once out it, the
accoutrements of daily life carried ‘the label “Made in Birmingham”.
was less a city of big factories than smaller workshops, said in the early 1840s to
typically employ between 6 and 30 workers.
But it is important also to recognise
that industrialisation also involved the development a service sector too – Lloyds
Bank, for example, derives from a bank created in 1765 by John Taylor and Sampson
In the late nineteenth century comparative pressures, both nationally and
internationally, began to affect the West Midlands as they helped to produce a
restructuring crisis that, when structural and cyclical changes interacted, could be
intense in some areas. The pain of creative destruction was often concentrated. One
aspect of this was pressure on the coal and iron base in the West Midlands. Output in
the Black Country coal, for example, peaked at some 9 million tons in 1861 before
falling back to 3 million in 1913. Black Country iron production peaked during the
Crimean War when some 12% of UK produced was produced there but it then fell
absolutely and relatively to only 4% in 1887. In 1875 the wages of nailers were said
to be the highest of the century, six years later in some areas as the economy went
down the trade was said to be ‘almost defunct’.
Another aspect was the
intensification of long term pressures which were deskilling craft industries and either
destroying them or turning them towards sweated labour.
The key positive shift that began to push the West Midlands in new directions was
technological change in the form of the wider use of steam power and then electricity.
This led to the beginnings of a shift from hardware production to engineering which
would be at the centre of development in the twentieth century. The workshop now
began to give way to the factory in the West Midlands on a more extensive scale. This
would push part of West Midlands industry to the forefront of technological change in
Europe though still behind the US. (One American commented in 1897 that the use of
US machine tools in Birmingham was ‘like putting a grand piano into the dwelling of
a Hottentot’
). The shift involved a movement to higher levels of sophistication from
sewing machines and bicycles to cars (Singer, Rover and Triumph were all cycle
producers). With the early car industry before 1914 came ancillary production. Lucas
began as a bucket (hollowware) manufacturer tuning to illuminating oil, cycle lamps
and other accessories before moving into car components. Joseph Sankey graduated to
pressed steel for car bodies and pressed and welded wheels. Dunlop came to
Birmingham in 1910.
The late nineteenth century also began to see a shift toward
more consumer oriented industries not least reflected in the development of the
Cadbury Company in Birmingham. These new processes helped to increase factory
size at the same time as bigger companies also began to be formed.
5. Social conditions before 1914
The unevenness of economic development in the West Midlands makes it hard to
generalise about social conditions in the nineteenth century save to say that the
benefits of industrialisation went disproportionately to the few rather than the many.
Robert Southey wrote in 1807 that
I cannot pretend to say, what is the consumption here of two legged beasts of
labour; commerce sends in no returns of its killed and wounded … Think not
that I am insensitive to the wonders of the place: - in no other age or country
was there ever so astonishing a display of human ingenuity: but watch-chains,
necklaces, and bracelets, buttons and snuff boxes, are dearly purchased at the
expense of health and morality: and if it be considered how large a proportion
of that ingenuity is employed in making what is hurtful as well as what is
useless, it must be confessed that human reason has more cause at present for
humiliation than for triumph at Birmingham.
But a few decades later in 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville could draw sharp contrasts
between Manchester and Birmingham to Birmingham’s advantage.
At Birmingham almost all the houses are inhabited by one family only; at
Manchester a part of the population lives in damp cellars, hot, stinking and
unhealthy; thirteen to fifteen individuals in one. At Birmingham this is rare. At
Manchester, stagnant puddles, roads are badly paved or not at all. Insufficient
public lavatories. All that is almost unknown in Birmingham. At Manchester a
few great capitalists, thousands of poor workmen and little middle class. At
Birmingham few large industries, many small industrialists. At Manchester
workmen ate counted by the thousand, two or three thousand in the factories.
At Birmingham, the workers work in their own houses or in little workshops
in company with their master himself. At Manchester there is above all need
for women and children. At Birmingham, particularly men, few women … the
working people of Birmingham seem more healthy, better off, more orderly
and moral than those of Manchester.
Modern accounts, however, suggest that such contrasts are overdrawn.
Over the century there was improvement but it was very uneven and it occurred in a
physical environment which, at least in the first part of the century, was deteriorating.
Queen Victoria was said to have asked to have hard the curtains drawn when she
passed by train through the Black Country. Indeed in some parts of the Black Country
even the foundations seemed to be being undermined by the way the area was
‘wastefully worked’. In 1843 Thomas Tancred wrote that ‘it is a matter of everyday
occurrence for houses to fall down, or a row of buildings inhabited by numerous
families to assume a very irregular outline … caused by the sinking of the ground into
old workings.’
Only towards the end of the century did things begin to improve symbolised by
Joseph Chamberlain’s policies which were claimed to make Birmingham ‘the best
governed city in the world’ and the attempt of the Cadbury family to create model
conditions for part of their workforce. The aim of the Bournville Village Trust was
said to be, ‘the amelioration of the condition of the working class and labouring
population in and around Birmingham and elsewhere in Britain, by the provision of
improved dwellings with gardens and open spaces to be enjoyed therewith.’
such model paternalistic practices had only a tiny impact on the situation of workers
as a whole. Birmingham was the first city to put into effect a Town Planning Scheme
after the passing of the 1909 Town Planning Act.
The pattern of development in the West Midlands inevitably imprinted itself on the
character of working class organisation - friendly societies, co-operatives, trade
unions and more political organisations. The early industrialisation of Britain
produced an early development of working class organisation but still by 1914 only
some 10% of workers (primarily male and skilled) were in trade unions and this
figure was a product of a prolonged struggle for growth and boosted by a unionisation
wave on the eve of the war. The level was higher in the industrialised areas but in the
West Midlands the fragmentation and generally smaller scale of industrial processes
in the nineteenth century coloured political development both at the top and bottom.
‘The absence of a visible upper middle class is typical of the West Midland’s
conurbation’ says one historian and Richard Cobden spoke of Birmingham having ‘a
free-er intercourse between all classes’.
For workers, craft organisation tended to
predominant where organisation existed. But organising was not always easy and it
has been argued that the fact the immigration came from agricultural communities
that were more conservative than some in the north helped to perpetuate difficulties.
In the 1890s the Webb’s produced a county map of the organisation of British trade
unions. Staffordshire was depicted as having a density of 10-15% - not as high as
South Wales, the North East and the North West but significantly ahead of the rest of
the country including the other West Midlands counties where the density rate was
put at less than 5%.
The regulation of workplace relations reflected this with
smaller employers combining both elements of paternalism with perhaps a more
extensive use of contracts and recourse to the master and servant legalisation.
Although ‘new unionism’ had some impact in the region in the 1890s it was the
industrial conflict of the 1910-1914 that began to mark a limited shift away from the
nineteenth century character of industrial relations in the region but it would not be
until after 1945 that the area would, for several decades, become a major centre of
manufacturing based trade unionism.
Although the fragmentation meant local variation it should not be interpreted as
generating an inward looking localism in working class politics. In political terms the
local was not necessarily in contradiction to the national. As early as 1816, for
example, Black Country colliers dragged coal to London to protest at their
impoverishment in the depression at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Rather the
local conditions affected the capacity to organise. Wider politics could occasionally
explode but in general terms the degree of longer term class polarisation seems to
have often been less than elsewhere.
6. Changing fortunes in the twentieth century
Table 3 shows that in the first half of the twentieth century it was the West Midlands
region that experienced the strongest relative growth and this enabled the level of per
capital GDP to rise above the national average and for some catch up with London
where growth was slower in the first half of the twentieth century.
In the inter-war years the UK economy was affected by both the depth of the slump in
the boom-slump cycle and also major structural change as the traditional nineteenth
century industries like coal, textiles and metals came under sustained competitive
pressure. Economic difficulties in these sectors were intense and in the West
Midlands there were serious problems in some areas and pockets of immense
deprivation. But this was also a period of a shift to newer industries, including cars
and consumer industries, which came to be characterised by better conditions and
higher wages. It was the concentration of many of these industries in the West
Midlands that helped to create a greater dynamism. In 1936 unemployment fell below
the national average and in parts of the West Midlands was less than 5% . This
induced continued in-migration including from some of the structurally weak regions
such as those where mining was concentrated. In 1937, for example, 21.5% of
migrants to Coventry were from depressed Wales.
Until the early 1960s the UK car industry was second only to that in the US but its
scale was much less. In the inter-war years no UK firm sold more than 100,000 cars a
year and no model more than 70,000, (Ford, by contrast, produced 1.9 million cars in
Whether ‘Fordism’ would have made better sense for UK firms has been
much debated. Although it can be argued that the fragmentation of the UK market
later backfired, for long periods it seemed to guarantee success while the attempt to
transfer US practices, and not least by Ford itself, did not. (Until 1923 Ford even
refused to make right hand drive cars in the UK. Ford’s UK market share fell from
24% in 1913 to only 4% in 1929). The UK car market was primarily an upper and
middle class one where the focus was more on quality and differentiation and less on
price and quantity.
There was therefore a need for flexibility in production over
standardisation and volume and in this situation Hillman could make 34 models and
Austin 52 in 1934.
Nevertheless, in an industry where scale, albeit at lower levels
than in the US, was important the periods saw a shift away form the use of
intimidation and rule of thumb in organisation and management to more systematic
and considered practices. The early motor industry was fragmented but in the post war
crisis rapid concentration took place. In the 1920s the number of car assembly firms
fell from 88 to 31 and by 1928 Austin, Morris and Singer controlled 75% of UK
output. It also became necessary to develop a more sophisticated approach to
management over ‘instinct and rule of thumb’ though practices remained distinct. In
the 1930s, as the industry recovered from the depression, a space opened up for newer
challengers. In 1936 the share of Austin and Morris had fallen to around 40% with
Ford, Vauxhall, Standard and Rootes with some 10% each.
It was in the inter-war years that the major car companies established new works or
developed in more ‘greenfield sites. These included the major Ford works at
Dagenham (indicatively on one tenth scale of the River Rouge plant) near London,
and Morris at Cowley near Oxford. But two major centres developed in the West
Midlands – Singer and Jaguar at Coventry and, larger still, Austin at Longbridge in
Birmingham. Austin had purchased the Longbridge site in 1906 and it grew from 270
workers in 1906 to 3,500 in 1922 and 20,000 in 1935 producing 80,000 cars.
Table 5 UK Private Car Production in the Inter-War Years
Production Price Index
1924-100 Production
Price Index
1926 153,000 1933 220,780 59.6
1927 164,550 91.6 1934 256,870 61.4
1929 165,350 80.6 1935 311,550 51.8
1930 182,350 75.0 1936 353,840 49.8
1931 169,670 68.1 1937 389,630 49.0
1932 159,000 60.8 1938 341,630
Source: Richardson, K. (1977) The British Motor Industry 1896-1939,
London: MacMillan, p.105
This pattern continued after World War 2 when the West Midlands continued to grow
faster than the UK economy so that by the 1970s it had the third highest regional GDP
per head in the UK. The third quarter of the twentieth century saw the peak of
manufacturing in the West Midlands to such an extent that the relative share of
services was significantly depressed compared to the national average. The relative
share of manufacturing peaked in employment terms at the turn of the 1960s and in
terms of absolute numbers in 1966. Employment was especially concentrated in four
sectors (by SIC): metal manufacture, engineering and electrical goods, vehicles, and
other metal goods.
Table 6 % of Employment by Sector in the West Midlands Conurbation
and the UK 1961-1981
1961 1971 1981
Ag 2.5 0.3 1.9 0.2 1.7 0.2
Mining 3.3 0.5 1.8 0.3 1.6 0.2
Manufacturing 39.3 64.5 35.4 54.5 28.0 42.3
Construction 6.6 4.9 5.6 4.5 5.2 4.5
Services 48.3 29.7 54.2 40.4 65.5 51.2
Source: K.Spencer et al., Crisis in the Heartland: A Study of the West Midlands,
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, p. 54
As in the UK as a whole the peak of employment in manufacturing was in the mid
1960s but as table 6 shows the share of manufacturing employment in the West
Midlands County was much higher than in the country as a whole. At the centre of
this complex was the car industry, and not just the big names but a cluster of specialist
component manufacturers. For Britain as a whole ‘nearly one third of industrial
growth in the economy in the 1950s and 196-0s has been attributed to the motor
industry and its suppliers’.
In the early 1950s it was suggested that car production
involved some 2500 different items supplied by 4000 independent manufacturers.
In the 1950s some 20% of the West Midlands workforce was working in some aspect
of the motor trade. In Coventry in the mid 1950s 64% of the workforce was based in
vehicles and engineering while in Birmingham the figure was 30%. As late as 1974
20% of the workforce on the West Midlands Conurbation was directly dependent on
the car industry.
This narrowness was also reflected at the level of the firm. In 1977 25 companies
accounted for 48% of manufacturing employment in the West Midlands Conurbation
and these firms were organised in large plants with 52% off employment in plants of
more than 500 compared to a national average of 39%.
In Birmingham in the mid
1970s 42% of manufacturing employment was said to be in just 10 firms.
At this time the narrowing of the manufacturing base, born of impressive and
sustained growth, did not seem a problem. In the 1950s, for example, Birmingham
and Coventry, after London, led the way in jobs created. Car workers moved to the
centre of the working class as a high wage group with significant bargaining power.
Writing in the mid 1960s one contemporary said that ‘Birmingham is self-evidently a
prosperous city’ with rates of unemployment below the national ones. The city
council even had to pay ‘excess rates’ to retain labour in the face of labour shortages
and the rise of the £1000 a year’ milk roundsman.
In the motor industry in the post
war boom it was rumoured that there were 8 jobs for every Birmingham school-
The collective Birmingham memory … is of so many employment opportunities
that you could leave school on Friday, start work the following Monday and
move to another well paid job by Wednesday if you didn’t like the first one.
Strong growth and demand for labour was characteristic of the advanced economy as
a whole. The labour force expanded by pulling in married women as also labour from
the then colonies and later ex-colonies. The 1971 census showed that in Birmingham
the Irish were still the biggest minority group at 4.4% but now 2.5% of the population
was either from the Caribbean or of Caribbean descent and 3.7% Asian.
The view also developed in the 1950s and 1960s that urban conurbations were
overloaded with people and industry and that outward movement had to be
encouraged to overspill towns and new towns like Redditch and Dawley-Telford. But
it almost immediately became apparent that state commitment to these shifts was half-
hearted; the extent of the moving uneven and the development of the new towns more
difficult than was imagined. These difficulties intensified as the optimism of the
1960s gave way to the more uncertain experience of the 1970s and the recession of
the 1980s.
It was in the 1970s that the post-war golden age came to an end. What initially
seemed to be cyclical hiccups turned into prolonged difficulties. These affected not
only the much weakened traditional industries of the nineteenth century but also the
new manufacturing sectors that had been the basis of post war growth and not least
cars. The general fall in the rate of profit from its peaks after 1945 fell especially
heavily in these areas which were marked by both over capacity and heightened
competition. But the difficulties were also accentuated by state policy which gradually
took a more free market form – a shift that was intense in the UK under the Thatcher
governments. The view was that market forces should prevail and it did not matter if
manufacturing collapsed because the economy was moving in a post industrial
direction and new sectors, and especially services, banking and finance would replace
the closed down factories. However regional disparities have continued to widen.
The West Midlands was hard hit.
Indeed on the basis of the data in table 3 the West
Midlands was the only region to grow less fast in the second half of the century
compared to the first half (1.71 per cent per year compared to 1.77).
In 1971-84
employment in manufacturing in Birmingham halved. 30% of the jobs disappeared in
1981-1984. 12% of redundancies in Birmingham in the years 1979-1983 were in
motor vehicles. In 1984 there were 28 unemployed adults for each vacancy. Within a
six year period in the West Midlands per capita regional GDP fell from the third
highest to the second lowest.
The area between Birmingham and Wolverhampton
was marked by empty factories, many which at one point had their roofs removed to
avoid tax liabilities. Problems also extended to the new towns like Telford where the
failure of growth meant slower expansion and disappointment for those who had
imagined prosperous new life was to be found away the big city conurbation.
Difficulties continued in the early 1990s when the Economist could describe the West
Midlands as ‘the black hole in the middle of the country’.
A more sustained period of growth began in the 1990s and the incoming Labour
Government of 1997 was the beneficiary of this. Growth continued into the new
century. Its basis however remains contested. Free market enthusiasts saw it as a case
of successful creation from the destruction. The manufacturing economy had now
given way to a knowledge economy albeit at a slower rate in the West Midlands
where manufacturing remained significant though diminished to the past. Moreover if
the knowledge economy existed, the region remained less well positioned to play a
part in it given weak traditions in ‘knowledge creation’ and the role of a small and
medium size sector that was less supportive than the retreating large firm sector.
The regions manufacturing past said two commentators in 1999 ‘owes everything to
the industrial revolution and manufacturing and little to education, whether of the
lifelong or once-and-for-all variety’ therefore Birmingham, and the West Midlands
more widely, had ‘a mountain to climb’.
More sceptical accounts pointed to other explanations of the recovery and fall of
unemployment which ranged from the extent to which the unemployed were now
hidden as part of a long sick and disabled part of the workforce to the positive effect
of urban regeneration and redevelopment – essentially state action by another name.
In the West Midlands, and Birmingham in particular, this led to the development of
the National Exhibition Centre (begun in the early 1970s), the National Indoor Arena,
the Conference Centre and the prestige redevelopment of the city centre. But what
was now called by some local ‘place making’ was not a coherent or broadly based
policy and alongside it councils also engaged in ‘place marketing’ to hawk their area
both to prospective incoming companies and the local population albeit subject to
organisational constraints.
Measuring what was really happening therefore became a matter of significant
dispute. The Labour Governments of Brown and Blair claimed that recovery was real
and a manifestation of a ‘third way’ that could bring together what had hitherto been
seen as contradictory elements. The statistical evidence was more ambiguous –
average incomes did rise but the gap between rich and poor grew and social mobility
seemed to decline. Regional gaps proved much more difficult to close than the words
suggested. Indeed Elliott and Atkinson have criticised the basis of Labour’s Britain
as ‘fantasy island’ and argued that much of the rhetoric about an new economy was
little more a rhetoric for ‘a bullshit economy’ which continued to undervalue real
production which remained important in other advanced economies.
7. Modern social change and the shaping of the labour movement in the West
Union organisation in the UK has often been misleadingly presented as a ‘forward
march’ which was ‘halted’ in the 1980s. In fact a graph of trade union membership
shows three great surges of growth in the last century, 1910-1921; 1934-1950 and
1968-1979. The higher levels of organisation achieved in these surges was only
sustained after the 1934-1950 one. The 1920s saw sharp falls in union membership
and density as did the 1980s and 1990s. The West Midlands has been at the centre of
these ups and downs.
The ‘forward march of labour halted’ thesis misleads in the implication that union
advance was inevitable and relatively easily achieved. In fact the peak of organisation
in the West Midlands car industry – once often seen as the embodiment of strong
union organisation and power – existed only for a short period. ‘100% trade unionism,
the construction of durable shop steward organizations and the erosion of managerial
power in the work place was achieved in most of the major companies in the 1950s
and early 1960s’. Prior to this, 'throughout most of its industrial history, the West
Midlands has had a reputation both for weak trade-union organisation and for worker
control on the factory floor’.
The first organising wave of 1910-1921 began in the context of the major pre-war
major strike wave, developed in war time conditions, and was then pushed up more in
the post war strike wave. This involved a consolidation of trade unionism in
established industries and attempts to generalise union organisation to the less skilled
and to begin to penetrate some areas of white collar work. The West Midlands was an
especially important area for the Workers’ Union which focused on the less skilled.
But the 1920s and the 1930s were especially difficult until the upturn from the worst
of the 1929 crisis. Old industries were under pressure and workers in them suffered
relentless attacks while new areas of union growth seemed limited.
Not the least problem here was the car industry. Prior to World War 2 car workers
were notoriously difficult to organise. The First World War and post-war crisis
pushed union membership to perhaps 40% but in the 1920s there was a huge loss of
membership. Even in the late 1930s when there was some recovery union density
reached perhaps only 18% in 1935 and 24% in 1939. Moreover in an industry where
65-70% of the workers were semi-skilled and unskilled union penetration was largely
amongst the skilled.
Given that car workers were at the forefront to the new
economy at this time this hardly augured well for the future of trade unionism. In
1928 one manager at Austin could say ‘we definitely set out to manage as managers
and the result is that we have no representation anywhere from the workers’ side. No
shop stewards, or shop committees, or anyone else wanting to interfere with
Several explanations have been offered for union weakness before 1939. The main
companies were authoritarian-paternalist in their practices, hostile to unions, resisted
employing union members, or recognising them, even on occasion spying on the shop
floor to weaken organisation. Car workers were also paid higher wages. In 1934 one
journalist claimed that Austin workers were ‘probably the best paid body of workers
ion Great Britain’.
Union policy and organisation has also been blamed for focusing
too much on craft and skill and failing to face up to the nature of the new industry so
that union density amongst the less skilled was perhaps only 10%.
Table 7 National UK Trade Union Membership and Density
Membership 000 Density %
1946 9,363 43.85
1960 9,835 44.92
1967 10,194 44.70
1975 12,026 52.92
1979 13,447 58.03
1983 11,236 50.10
1989 10,158 44.58
Source: R.Martin, P.Sunley & J.Wills, ‘The geography of trade union decline: spatial
dispersal or regional resilience’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers,
vol. 18 no. 1, 1993, p. 41.
In the 1950s Austin led the way with a union density of 60-90% in its plants while
Vauxhall and Ford had less than 50% and Morris in 1956 only 25%.
But alongside
high levels of organisation other parts of the West Midlands economy continued to
reflect the weaknesses of the past and workers could not capitalise to the same degree
on the economic boom. Areas remained where employers continued to take advantage
of organisational weaknesses on the part of workers. In these sectors, as Armstrong
put it in one contemporary survey, ‘full employment does not ensure full compliance
with minimum standards’.
But in the core sectors like cars strong economic growth,
wages drift and piece work bargaining, especially at Longbridge, threw the onus not
so much on national trade unions as local shop stewards who for a time gained
significant bargaining power.
When troubles began to emerge in the early 1970s workers reacted to the new
pressures with strikes and sit ins. One of the most notable was at the Triumph
motorcycle works at Meriden in 1973 and this led to the formation of workers co-
operative that won government support. But the idea of alternatives to capitalism
within capitalism or broader social change to resist restructuring soon gave away to
more defensive struggles as unemployment rose and organisation weakened.
Four factors explain the fall since the 1979 peak although there is argument about
their relative importance.
The first is the dramatic long run restructuring which has
reduced the size of unionised manufacturing workforce and especially in the West
Midlands. The second has been the return of mass unemployment both cyclical and
long term (hidden in some areas by manipulating the definition). The third has been
state-employer policy. While the state has weakened the legal position of trade unions
(even below ILO levels in some instances) employers have adopted tougher stances,
reducing support for national bargaining in favour of company level negotiations and
resisting unionisation in new areas and activities. The fourth factor has been the
inability of unions to penetrate the new sectors of the workforce. Pessimists put this
down to these sectors being unorganisable. Optimists explain this element by the
balance of power being in favour of the employer; lack of worker confidence; and
unions focusing their more limited recourses on their existing memberships. If the
latter explanations are correct then, as in the past, a new organisational wave is
possible. Evidence that it might be correct lies in the link between union decline and
restructuring – where organised sectors exist they remain resilient and the evidence of
the past that groups once though incapable of organisation e.g. car workers could on
fact be organised. In these terms the apparent difficulties of union organisation in the
service sector might be overcome with a resurgence of militancy.
A not inconsiderable factor here is the ability of the labour movement to overcome
ethnic differences. By the 1990s the Economist could describe Birmingham as ‘the
most racially mixed big city in Britain’ with 21% non white population according to
the 1991 census and 26.4% in 2001. But immigration played an important role in
many of the surrounding communities.
It was in the West Midlands in 1968 that the
right wing politician Enoch Powell predicted a future of racial conflict. But although
periodic tensions have broken out (most importantly the 1985 Handsworth riots), the
West Midlands is more remarkable for its comparative levels of integration which
goes far beyond the popularity of the Birmingham ‘balti meal’ Some explain this in
terms of a culture of tolerance; opportunities for local entrepreneurial advance in a
‘global city’ etc.
But without being complaisant (for discrimination, exclusion,
racism, poverty, exploitation continue to mark the experience of most immigrants)
part of the explanation also lies in the relative openness of the political system to
immigrant organisations and the capacity of the labour movement (for all its many
faults) to take up grievances.
Additional Reading
Allen, G.C., The Industrial Development of Birmingham and the Black Country 1860-
1927, 1927
Armstrong, E., (196?), ‘Minimum wages in a fully employed city’, British Journal of
Industrial Relations, , pp. 22-38.
Barnsby, G. (1971) ‘The Standard of Living in the Black Country during the
Nineteenth Century’, The Economic History Review, 24 (2) , 220–239
Birmingham and its Regional Setting, 1950
Briggs, A. (1950) ‘Social Structure and Politics in Birmingham and Lyons (1825-
1848)’, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 1, No. 1, Mar., pp. 67-80
Bore, A. (1992), ‘Economic Development initiatives on Birmingham’, Public Money
and Management, July-September, pp. 67-69.
T.Claydon, (1987) ‘Trade unions, employers and industrial relations in the British
motor industry c 1919-45’, Business History Review, vol. 29 no.3, July,
Court, W.H.B., The Rise of Midland Industries, 1600-1838, 1938
Department of Economic Affairs, The West Midlands: A Regional Study, 1965
R. Garbaye, ‘Ethnic minority participation in British and French cities: a historical-
intuitionalist perspective’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research,
vol. 26 no. 3, September, 2002, pp. 555-570.
A. Gerrard & T.Slater eds., Managing a conurbation: Birmingham and its Region,
Studley: Brewin Books, 1996
Langton, J. (1984) ‘The industrial revolution and the regional geography of England’,
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, new series, vol. 9 no.2, pp. 145-
McEwan C., Pollard J. & Henry N., (2005), ‘The global in the city economy:
multicultutral economic development in Birmingham’, International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research, vol. 29 no. 4, December, pp. 916-933
R.Martin, P.Sunley & J.Wills, ‘The geography of trade union decline: spatial dispersal
or regional resilience’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol. 18
no. 1, 1993, pp. 36-62.
Mole K. & Worrall, L. (2001) ‘Innovation, business performance and regional
competitiveness in the West Midlands: evidence from West Midlands Business
Survey’, European Business Review, vol. 13 no.6, 2001, pp. 353-364.
Richardson, K. (1977) The British Motor Industry 1896-1939, London: MacMillan,
M.B.Rowlands, Masters and Men in the West Midland Metalware Trades before the
Industrial Revolution, 1975
Smith, B. (1970) ‘Industrial overspill in theory and practice: the case of the West
Midlands’, Urban Studies, 7:2, pp. 189-204
Spencer K. et al., (1986) Crisis in the Heartland: A Study of the West Midlands,
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Timmkins S., Birmingham and the Midland Hardware District, 1886
Tolliday, S. (1986), ‘Management and labour in Britain 1896-1939’ in S.Tolliday &
J.Zeitlin eds., The Automobile Industry and its Workers. Between Fordism and
Flexibility, London: Polity Press, pp. 29-56
Tilson, B. ed. (1989), Made in Birmingham. Design and Industry 1889-1989, Brewin
S.Tolliday & J.Zeitlin, (1986) ’Shopfloor bargaining, contract unionism and job
control: an Anglo-American comparison’ in S.Tolliday & J.Zeitlin eds., The
Automobile Industry and its Workers. Between Fordism and Flexibility, London:
Polity Press, pp.99-115
Trinder, B., The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire, Second editions.
M.Whitehead, ‘”In the shadow of hierarchy”: meta –governance, policy reform and
urban regeneration in the West Midlands’, Area, vol. 35 no.1, 2003, pp. 6-14.
M.J.Wise, 'The Birmingham-Black Country conurbation in its regional setting’,
Geography, vol. 57 no.2, 1972, pp.
Wood, P. (1976), Industrial Britain. The West Midlands, Newton Abbott: David and
There is a huge literature on the development of parts of the ‘West Midlands’. There are a smaller
number of studies that use this more modern framework most notably V.Skipp, The Centre of
England, London: Eyre Methuen, 1979; M.B.Rowlands, The West Midlands from AD1000, London:
Longman, 1987.
Quoted V.Skipp, The Centre of England, London: Eyre Methuen, 1979, p. 26, 212.
In M.B.Rowlands, The West Midlands from AD1000, London: Longman, 1987, p. xiii.
Skipp, op cit.,
Skipp, op cit., p. 96
The Midlands are sometimes linked to the early kingdom of Mercia, focused around Tamworth and
Lichfield, and formed in the seventh century by Penda and which reached its peak under Offa the
Great in 756-796 who made the first claim to be ‘King of the English’. The meteoric rise and fall of
kingdoms, however, was a feature of all of Europe for nearly a thousand years. Moreover the old
English Mearc means ‘march, boundary, frontier’ – only reinforcing the lack of anything other than
a more politically constructed unity. Skipp, op cit., p. 108.
The role of administrative convenience is also apparent in defining the subunits of a region. Stoke on
Trent, for example, was formed in 1910 out of the merger of 6 towns and still remains ‘centre less’.
No less Birmingham in its modern from dates from ????.
Rowlands, op cit., p. 212
J.Langton, ‘The industrial revolution and the regional geography of England’, Transactions of the
Institute of British Geographers, new series, vol. 9 no.2, 1984, pp. 145-167.
P.Anderson, The Invention of the Region, 1945-1990, European University Institute, 1994.
Quoted B.Trinder, The Making of the Industrial Landscape, London: Dent, 1982, p. 1.
Skipp, op cit.,p. 163.
Rowlands, op cit., p. 180, 206, 275
Skipp.op cit.,p. 211.
K. Spencer et al.,Crisis in the Heartland: A Study of the West Midlands, Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1986, p. 2; 18.
Rowlands, op cit., p. 256.
Skipp, op cit., p. 71
Rowlands, op cit. ,p. 233.
N.Crafts , ‘Market potential in British regions, 1871-1931’, Regional Studies, vol. 39 no. 9,
December 2005, p. 1161.
Skipp, op cit, p. 224.
Trinder, op cit., p. 71.
A. Briggs, ‘Social Structure and Politics in Birmingham and Lyons (1825-1848)’, The British
Journal of Sociology, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Mar., 1950), p. 69.
G. Barnsby ‘The Standard of Living in the Black Country during the Nineteenth Century’ .
The Economic History Review 24 (2), 1971, p. 234.
Quoted A.Millward, ‘The cycle industry in Birmingham 1890-1902, in B.Tilson ed., Made in
Birmingham. Design and Industry 1889-1989, Brewin Books, 1989,p. 171.
See A.Millward, ‘The cycle industry in Birmingham 1890-1920’ pp. 165-178; B.Smith, ’The rise,
fall and minimal survival of the Birmingham motorcycle industry’ pp. 179-192; B.Tilson, ‘Lucas
Industries PLC: an outline’, pp. 205-210; J. Shenan, ’Dunlop in Birmingham: the making of an
industrial empire’, pp. 211-220 all in B. Tilson ed., ed., Made in Birmingham. Design and Industry
1889-1989, Brewin Books, 1989
Quoted Skipp, op cit., 225
Quoted Langton, op cit., p. 156.
E.P.Duggan, ‘The impact of industrialization on an urban labor market: Birmingham England, 1770-
1860’, The Journal of Economic History, vol. 34. no.1, March 1874, pp. 279-282.
Barnsby, op cit., p. 220.; Skipp, op cit. p. 203.
Quoted Trinder, op cit., p. 250.
Briggs, op cit., 71.
H. Southall, Towards a Geography of Unionization: The Spatial Organization and Distribution of
Early British Trade Unions’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, Vol.
13, No. 4 (1988), p. 478.
Barnsby, op cit., p. 221.
K. Spencer et al.,Crisis in the Heartland: A Study of the West Midlands, Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1986, p. 9; S.Tolliday, ‘Management and labour in Britain 1896-1939’ in S.Tolliday &
J.Zeitlin eds., The Automobile Industry and its Workers. Between Fordism and Flexibility, London:
Polity Press, 1986, p. 51.
S.Tolliday, ‘Management and labour in Britain 1896-1939’ in S.Tolliday & J.Zeitlin eds., The
Automobile Industry and its Workers. Between Fordism and Flexibility, London: Polity Press, 1986,
p. 32.
Whereas in the US in the 1930s it was around 10% K.Richardson, The British Motor Industry 1896-
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... Here however, former farmland field ponds were either lost to, or enveloped by, suburban development as others (few by comparison) were built as part of those developments. These findings accord with several studies of Birmingham's demography and changing landscape, where the population of Birmingham has increased from approximately 500,000 in 1900 to 1M by the early 2000s (Haynes 2008; University of Portsmouth 2017), which coincided with the expansion of Birmingham city centre throughout the 20th century as villages and hamlets coalesced into suburbs through industrial and residential development on former agricultural land (Axinte 2015). The vast majority of ponds lost within Birmingham were probably artificial in nature, however in a highly altered landscape they are likely to act as surrogates for natural habitats and studies have shown artificial ponds to have high conservation value (Vermonden et al. 2009;Hill et al. 2017;Thornhill et al. 2017). ...
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Pond networks support high levels of biodiversity when compared to other freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and streams. The persistence of species in these small, sometimes ephemeral, aquatic habitats depends on the dispersal of individuals among ponds in the landscape. However, the number of ponds across the landscape is at a historical low as urbanisation and intensified agricultural practices have led to a substantial loss of ponds (nodes in the pond network) over more than a century. Here, we examine the extent and drivers of pond loss in a heavily urbanised landscape (Birmingham, UK) over 105 years and determine how pond loss influences key structural properties of the pond network using graph theoretic approaches. Specifically, we calculated minimum spanning trees (MST) and performed percolation analyses to determine changes in both the spatial configuration and resilience of the pond network through time. Pond numbers declined by 82% between ca1904 and 2009, such that pond density decreased from 7.1 km⁻² to 1.3 km⁻². The MST analyses revealed increased distance between ponds in the network (i.e. edge length increased) by up to 49% over the 105-year period, indicating that ponds in the modern landscape (2009) were considerably more isolated, with fewer neighbours. This study demonstrates that graph theory has an excellent potential to inform the management of pond networks in order to support ecological communities that are less vulnerable to environmental change.
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We investigate how regional entrepreneurial ecosystems have adapted to the information revolution as a techno-economic paradigm since the 1960s. Particularly, we look at how the organisation of firms and labour has changed in the automotive and ICT sectors in, respectively, the UK and Bulgaria. Findings show that, in both countries, it was the degree of cooperation between the local enterprises, research institutions and the government that enabled successful innovation in the regional clusters of the West Midlands and Sofia. The resulting ecosystems allowed, on the one hand, the already mature automotive sector in the UK to survive and, on the other hand, the newly developed ICT sector to be installed successfully in Bulgaria.
The provision of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for school pupils considering their next move after compulsory schooling is of great importance to them and their families. This study focused on three schools in a region in England that has suffered economic deprivation and low educational attainment. It sought to uncover how factors such as schools, teachers, friends and families, and the provision of IAG, impact on pupils’ ideas about careers and higher study. Several investigations have set out how this provision and subsequent choice of progression to higher education (HE) is mediated through a number of cultural, social, economic and institutional influences. This research followed a mixed-methods approach to data collection, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools that provided elements of positivist and interpretivist paradigms. The results reveal a complex landscape, characterised by a limited understanding of progression to HE and a lack of clarity about options, but nevertheless, there are aspirations towards further study. The research has implications for IAG provision and has potential impact with respect to the need for a more consistent approach.
The paper examines the organizational structure and spatial distribution of the British trade union movement in the nineteenth century, with particular emphasis on the pre-1850 period. A number of novel sources are used, notably the archives of the Registrar of Friendly Societies. It is argued that existing stereotypes place excessive emphasis on the highly localised cultures of the miners; a number of different strands of experience are identified, but the dominant artisan unions evolved rapidly to organization on a national scale, reflecting a trade union culture in which loyalty to a craft dominated local ties.
Since the late 1970s, in many nations trade union membership has fallen sharply and the power of trade unions has weakened considerably. The decline in unionization has been particularly abrupt in Britain. Whether considered as a crisis or as a transition of organized labour, the unions have been in retreat. Although the broad features and dimensions of this decline have received attention, relatively little is known about its geography, about how far and in what ways the spatial contours of British trade unionism are being restructured. This paper seeks to explore this issue. Having outlined the scale and nature of the decline of recent years, the paper goes on to examine what impact this upheaval has had on the geography of unionization across the country. In particular, it examines the extent to which this decline has been concentrated in the unions' traditional regional heartlands, and whether this has led to a more spatially dispersed pattern of unionization. Our analyses indicate that the geographical heartlands have remained remarkably resilient, and that it is the failure to penetrate the new growth sectors and regions of the economy that represents the main challenge facing British unions. These findings of regional resilience, both to decline and to new organization, lead us to emphasize the role and significance of local labour traditions and employer attitudes, and hence the need for a locally focused approach, in order to fully grasp the continuing decline and restructuring of the British trade union movement.