Poltics and Economics
Events gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Events of 1901
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The 1901 census
1900 was a boom year, with trade at record levels, but 1901 saw a dip in exports, a fall in demand for cotton and a mild economic depression that was to persist for several years. This was reflected in the 1901 census, which showed a decline in factory employment in both the cotton and woollen industries. The service industries - commerce, finance, transport and communications - showed the strongest growth.

Farming - link to an enlarged version

Exports versus imports

Britain's export trade grew from £298 million in 1874 to £354 million in 1900. Imports grew more, however, from £668 million to £877 million over the same period. This imbalance was partly off-set by the income from British shipping, worth £76.3 million in 1900, and from financial and insurance services, while huge dividends from overseas investments kept Britain solvent. However, the average annual growth of exports dropped to 0.7% between 1890 and 1900 (compared with a rate of 4.4% in the decade before 1870).

'King Coal'
One vital export was coal, a trade more than doubling in value between 1881 and 1901 and employing 752,000 miners in 1901. New fields had been developed in the booming areas of south Wales, south Yorkshire and the east Midlands. The government's 1907 Census of Production estimated its net value at three and a half times that of the primary iron and steel industry. Yet how long would this non-renewable energy source remain competitive? Not only were oil-fired ships beginning to come into use in 1901, but less than 2% of Britain's coal was machine-cut at a time when its rivals were turning to mechanised methods of coal production.

The crisis in agriculture
British agriculture was in serious decline in the second half of the 19th century. The proportion of the workforce it employed fell from over 21% in 1851 to 8.6% in 1901, and there was a major population shift to the towns. Rents fell by a quarter and wheat acreage by a half as cheap wheat flooded in from North America. Cheap transport and refrigeration allowed frozen meat to be imported from both North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as fresh fruit from the Caribbean. Even dairy produce came from abroad - Siberian or New Zealand butter and American Cheddar cheese.

However, by 1901, despite a brief outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the worst of the agricultural depression was probably over. Home demand for fresh milk and high-quality meat remained buoyant, and the next census, in 1911, was to show an increase in the number of farm labourers.

Politics in 1901 The Big Issues The Golden Age? Trade