The geography of industrial decline : the Black Country iron and steel industry, 1850-1900.
This thesis considers the role of the entrepreneur in the decline
of the Black Country iron industry from 1850 - 1900. The initial chapters
consider the changing fortunes of the industry from 1850 onwards. The
period 1850 - 1870 was one of piecemeal growth and prosperity. New heights
were reached in production totals and prices in pig and wrought iron and
rolled products. From 1870 onwards, decline became a characteristic
feature, reflected in increasing problems of raw material supply, cash
flow and mounting liabilities. Various firms and sectors reacted to these
changes in different ways. Some diversified production or re-structured
companies; others went bankrupt and left the industry.
To explain this decline, some observers have given prominence to
the diminishing resource base, the emergence of new competitive products,
poor technological progress and the discriminatory nature of freight
rates. Others saw changes in the general economic climate coupled with
increasing competition from abroad as the prime cause. It was shown that
all of these variables added to the pressures and anxieties experienced
by the regional entrepreneurs.
It was not until the mid 1870s that the underlying difficulties in
the iron industry became apparent to the majority of the ironmasters.
Bankruptcies and sales frequently took place, affecting a variety of
firms with the result that some re-structuring of the industry took
Whilst experiencing these changes, the entrepreneur was actively
engaged in lease and mortgage arrangements; legal and structural devices
adopted to improve management, for resource provision, or, as a purely
defensive measure. All provided the framework within which management
decisions were taken.
An assessment of the various reasons for the decline of the
region's iron trade was then made, suggesting that it was the quality of
management and the failure to appreciate and combat the increasingly
difficult environments that stands at the heart of the explanation of