Exploiting the Sea: Aspects of Britain's Maritime Economy since 1870

By Palmer, Sarah | The Journal of Transport History, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Exploiting the Sea: Aspects of Britain's Maritime Economy since 1870


Palmer, Sarah, The Journal of Transport History


David J. Starkey and Alan G. Jamieson (eds), Exploiting the Sea: aspects of Britain's maritime economy since 1870, Exeter Maritime Studies, University of Exeter Press, Exeter (1998), 220 pp., L14.99 paperback.

The immediate context of the collection of papers published here was the 1995 annual conference of the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies at the University of Exeter. But the wider setting was the Centre's major, Leverhulme-financed, research project 'Change and Adaptation in the Maritime Dimension of the British Economy since 1870' and the opportunity that the conference offered to focus on some of the issues central to that investigation.

The volume's explicit organising framework is a functional division of maritime industries set out by David J. Starkey in an editorial Introduction: transport services (shipping, shipbuilding, ports); resources (fishing, oil/gas); power projection (defence); recreation (coastal leisure). Four chapters focus on aspects of the development of sea transport; two deal with naval policy and shipbuilding; one looks at trawling, one at yachting and one at contemporary issues in coastal resort development.

David J. Starkey, who has contributed a chapter on the south-west 1870-1914, grapples with the concept of a maritime economy in order to provide the basis for a measure of the importance of the sea to the wider economy. His criterion that significant maritime-related activity must have a coastal location will be challenged by anyone with an interest in London history, but the attention to definition, and to showing how significant shifts within a regional economy may be disguised by the broader statistical record, is exemplary. John Armstrong's chapter on the coastal trade 18 70-1930 extends his earlier published work further into the twentieth century, so providing the basis of a careful long-term economic analysis of the changing fortunes of this sector, which, as might be expected from the editor of JTH, sets sea transport within a total transport context which includes rail and road.

Alan Jamieson takes the story of decline further when he considers the fortunes of shipping and shipbuilding from the 1930s to the present. Arguably, up to now the demise of British shipbuilding has received rather more attention from historians than have the causes of the British register's shrinking share of world tonnage. Certainly, much more research is needed, particularly into the impact of alternative outlets for Britishbased capital in the period of the Long Boom, but Jamieson's focus on the consequences for world shipping of changes in the international political scene, in particular decolonisation and European integration, is suggestive. Similar issues are the subject of a chapter by Sidney Pollard. Pollard, as might be anticipated from such a distinguished historian of the British economy, sets shipping firmly within the context of Britain's overall productive performance when reviewing developments since 1870. He sees both early maritime dominance and its more recent loss of significance as inseparable from the broader picture. …

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