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Coventry's unique industrial history

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K
Somewhere
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1 of 3  Thu 29th Dec 2011 4:37pm  
Member: Joined Nov 2011  Total posts:566

I was thinking (Ouch - it hurt!! Lol ) Coventry's industrial history is probably unique. It's hard to see any of it happening - cycles, cars, etc - if the watch industry hadn't mushroomed as it did. Yet Coventry wasn't the only city that had a watchmkaing industry - London, Birmingham, and Prescot (Liverpool) all had substantial watch industries - London still has a watchmaking district - mainly around St John's Square, Clerkenwell. Yet, nowhere else did watchmaking lead on as it did in Coventry to cycles, motor cycles, cars, aircraft, and machine tools. In Prescot, it just fizzled out around 1910, when the Lancashire Watch Co closed. The Birmingham industry, mainly Ehrhardt's, continued into the 1920s, and of course, Aaron Lufkin Dennison's watch case factory carried on until the 1960s (and still exists as part of Avery Dennison). The London industry carried on, though much of it was concerned with imported Swiss movements, parts, cased in Clerkenwell or Cheapside. In none of these places did it go as it did in Coventry. It's doubly intriguing, because so many "Coventry" watchmakers were from elsewhere - as well as the cities mentioned, Scotland, Ireland, Hertfordshire; why didn't they just up sticks and move elsewhere, like when they came to Coventry? The German immigrants appeared to have done so. I wonder if anyone has an answer as to why this happened in Coventry, and not elsewhere!
Coventry's unique industrial history
Rob Orland
Historic Coventry
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2 of 3  Thu 29th Dec 2011 5:29pm  
Webmaster: Joined Jan 2010  Total posts:1339

From what little I know (and believe me, it is a little!), the amazing metamorphosis from watchmaking into the bicycle and car industries was partly due to the decline of the watchmaking industry, followed closely by the pleasant coincidence of James Starley coming here with his many new ideas and inventions. I believe that one of the things that drew him here was not only the wealth of engineering knowledge in the city, but that he realised, due to the decline, that this fantastic resource was now available and looking for something new to do. Firstly with sewing machines, then bicycles, he gave our masses of potentially unemployed people a new lease of life, and the rest, as they (who?) say.... is history.
Coventry's unique industrial history
K
Somewhere
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3 of 3  Thu 29th Dec 2011 5:56pm  
Member: Joined Nov 2011  Total posts:566

I guess that what that actually equates to is an abundance of cheap skilled labour. However there was also quite a lot of cycle making long before the watch industry declined; if you look at the 1881 census it's pretty obvious - and that was when the industry was approaching its zenith. Not only that, but there were a lot more incomers as the car industry took off, especially in the 20s, and it wasn't so much skilled labour that was required as un- and semi-skilled certainly by 1930. Another factor is that the watch industry didn't decline as quickly as you might imagine; Rotherham's and two or three other large firms were still making watches in Coventry throughout the 1930s and beyond. People who lost their jobs in the small firms tended to go into the big ones. There was also an abundance of cheap skilled labour at Prescot, but none of these other industries took hold there, and that despite an actual collapse of the industry there, putting about 2,000 people out of work. London didn't have the large watchmaking firms like Coventry, and the decline took a very different dimension. Ehrhardt's in Birmingham, and there were two or three other very large watch firms there too, didn't collapse like the Prescot industry; and of course, Birmingham was a very large manufacturing centre for so many things, so could absorb surplus labour. I think something about Coventry attracted emigration into the city; perhaps it was entrepreneurial spirit, confidence, reputation? Perhaps it was just a good place for people who wanted to better themselves. Attitude of the council, perhaps? I know that high pay attracted people in the 50s and 60s; maybe it did earlier, too. I expect it was a combination of factors. But I've never seen it satisfactorily explained!
Coventry's unique industrial history

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