Britain lives by manufacture and trade. For every person employed in agriculture eleven people are employed in mining, manufacturing and building. The United Kingdom is one of the world’s largest exporters of manufactured goods per head of population.
Apart from coal and iron ore Britain has very few natural resources and mostly depends on imports. Its agriculture provided only half the food it needs. The other half and most of the raw materials for its industries such as ore and other metals(copper, zinc, uranium ore and others) have to be imported. Britain also has to import timber, cotton, fruit and farm products.
Most of the British forests were cut down to make more room for cultivation. The greater part of land is used for cattle and sheep breeding and pig raising. Among the crops grown on the farms are wheat, barley and oats. The fields are mainly in the eastern part of the country. Most of the farms are small (one third of them is less than one hundred acres). Farms tend to be bigger where the soil is less fertile.
In the past century Britain secured a leading position in the world as manufacturer, merchant and banker. After World War I the world demand for the products of Britain’s traditional industries – textiles, coal and machinery – fell off, and Britain began expanding trade in new engineering products and electrical goods.
The crisis of 1929-1933 brought about mass unemployment, which reached its peak in 1932. Britain’s share in the world industrial output decreased. After the crisis, production and employment increased after some revival in world trade and as a result of the extensive armaments program.
During World War II Britain’s economy was fully employed in the war production. Massed raids of German planes on British industrial centres caused considerable damage to Britain’s industry. World War II caused a further weakening of Britain’s might. Great Britain is no longer the leading imperialist power as it was in the past. It has lost its colonies, which supplied it with cheap raw materials.
Britain produces high quality expensive goods, which has always been characteristic of its industry. A shortage of raw materials, as well as high cost of production makes it unprofitable for British industry to produce semi-finished goods or cheap articles. Britain mostly produces articles requiring skilled labour, such as precision instruments, electronic equipment, chemicals and high quality consumer goods. Britain produces and exports cotton and woollen goods, leather goods, and articles made of various kinds of synthetic materials.
The original basis of British industry was coal-mining and the early factories grew up not far from the main mining areas. Glasgow and Newcastle became great centres of engineering and shipbuilding. Lancashire produced cotton goods and Yorkshire produced woollens. Sheffield concentrated on iron and steel. Birmingham developed light engineering. There appeared a tendency for industry and population to move to the south, particularly to the London area. Great progress was made in the development of new industries, such as the aircraft, automobile, electronic industries and others. A number of atomic power reactors were made. Great emphasis was laid on the development of the war industry.