A time of challenge and change: An analysis of Birmingham's industries during the 'Great Depression' of 1873 to 1896

Turner, Malcolm John (2019). A time of challenge and change: An analysis of Birmingham's industries during the 'Great Depression' of 1873 to 1896. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a grade in either the Pass 1 band (equivalent to a 1st) or the Pass 2 band (equivalent to a 2.i).
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author and all rights are reserved.

Abstract

The period from 1873 to 1896 saw an economic slowdown in the U.K. which so alarmed the Victorians that they called it the ‘Great Depression’. However, the suitability of this term has been questioned both by some contemporaries and historians who regarded it as an exaggeration. One reason for different views about the period is an absence of national data about levels of business profits and unemployment.

This paper focuses on the industries in a specific manufacturing centre, Birmingham, which allows a more detailed analysis of profits and unemployment than a national survey would allow. It first considers how the period was perceived at a national level, both by contemporaries and historians, in order to put Birmingham’s experiences into a wider context. It then analyses levels of profitability and unemployment in Birmingham’s industries, first generally and then in relation to two of its core manufacturing industries: guns and jewellery. Other changes which took place in the period, as Birmingham’s industries tried to adapt to changing economic conditions, are then analysed.

This paper shows that Birmingham suffered periods of severe distress between 1873 and 1896, with increased unemployment and reduced profits. However, the difficulties were not felt equally by all business sectors and workers. It concludes, therefore, that the term ‘great depression’ should not be applied uncritically to Birmingham’s industries in the period but neither should it be dismissed.

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