Edited by Chris Wrigley
Chapter 4: Impact of the First World War on the Lancashire cotton industry and its workers
Alan Fowler The British economy as it developed over the course of the nineteenth century was still largely in place at the outbreak of the war in 1914. Britain’s industrial structure was dominated by the basic industries of cotton, coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding and heavy engineering. The industries which were to come to dominate the twentieth century, electrical, chemical, car, were considerably less important in Britain than in other major economic powers (Kirby, 1981). There has been debate among economic historians about the success or failure of the British economy before 1914. The key issues in this debate have centred on the question of the over-commitment of the British economy to the staple industries, the failure to invest in new technology in those industries, the failure to develop new industries, the role of the entrepreneur in the British economy, and the reliance on free trade and on Empire. All this is set against a background of economic liberalism which espoused a minimal role for the state (Pollard, 1994). Economic historians have attempted to explain the relative decline of the British economy in the twentieth century by seeking the genesis of that decline. The debate has centred on whether or not the British economy was in decline before 1914 and whether the economic dislocation of the war was the catalyst for change. The cotton industry provides a major case study for this debate. Cotton had been the key industry of the British industrial revolution and in 1914 still remained the...
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