Fifty Years of Coal-mining Productivity: The Record of the British Coal Industry before 1939
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 March 2009
A downward trend in British coal-mining productivity was reversed between the world wars. Declining productivity before 1914 was accompanied by wide regional differences, especially at the coalface. Scotland attained the best overall. productivity, while coalface productivity was highest in Durham and Northumberland. Regional differences narrowed by the 1920s but re-emerged in the 1930s, as mines in the North Midlands outpaced the productivity gains made elsewhere. Only a multifaceted interpretation can explain these distinctive patterns—over time, between regions, and at different stages of the coal-mining operation.
- The Journal of Economic History , Volume 50 , Issue 4 , December 1990 , pp. 877 - 902
- Copyright © The Economic History Association 1990
1 Taylor, Arthur J., “Labour Productivity and Technological Innovation in the British Coal Industry, 1850–1914”, Economic History Review. 14 (08 1961). pp. 48–70:CrossRefGoogle ScholarWalters, Rhodri, “Labour Productivity in the South Wales Steam Coal Industry, 1870–1914,” Economic History Review, 28 (05 1975), pp. 280–303Google Scholar.
2 McCloskey, Donald N.. “International Differences in Productivity? Coal and Steel in America and Britain before World War 1,” in McCloskey, Donald N., Essays on a Mature Economy: Britain after 1840 (London, 1970). pp. 285–304:Google ScholarMitchell, Brian R.. Economic Development of the British Coal Industry (Cambridge, 1984):Google ScholarHirsch, Barry T. and Hausman, William J., “Labour Productivity in the British and South Wales Coal Industry, 1874–1914”, Economnica, 50 (05 1983). pp. 145–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
4 Buxton, Neil K.. “Entrepreneurial Efficiency in the British Coal Industry between the Wars,” Economic History Review, 23 (02 1970). pp. 476–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
5 Report of the Technical Advisory Committee (P.P. 1944–1945, IV, London).Google ScholarReport of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry (P.P. 1926, XIV. London):Google ScholarKirby, Maurice W.. “Entrepreneurship in the British Coal Industry between the Wars,” Economic History Review. 25 (11 1972), pp. 655–57:CrossRefGoogle ScholarJohnson, Walford. “Entrepreneurial Efficiency in the British Coal Industry between the Wars: A Second Comment,” Economic History Review. 25 (11 1972). pp. 665–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
6 Boyns, Trevor. “Rationalisation in the Inter-War Period: The Case of the South Wales Steam Coal Industry,” Business History. 29 (07 1987). pp. 282–303;CrossRefGoogle ScholarDintenfass, Michael, “Entrepreneurial Failure Reconsidered: The Case of the Interwar British Coal Industry,” Business History Review, 62 (Spring 1988). pp. 1–34:Google ScholarFine, Ben. The Coal Question (London. 1990)Google Scholar.
9 Greasley, David, “The Diffusion of Machine Cutting in the British Coal Industry, 1902–1938,” Explorations in Economic History, 19 (07 1982), pp. 246–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
11 Hirsch and Hausman, “South Wales Coal,” pp. 145–59: Walters, “Labour Productivity,” pp. 288–91Google Scholar.
12 Greasley, David, “Wage Rates and Work Intensity in the South Wales Coalfield, 1874–1914,” Economica, 52 (08 1985), pp. 383–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
14 Royal Commission on Labour (P.P. 1890, LXVIII, London):Google ScholarReport of the Eight Hours Day Committee (P.P. 1907, XIV, London)Google Scholar.
15 Taylor, Arthur J., “The Coal Industry,” in Aldcroft, Derek H., The Development of British industry and Foreign Competition (London, 1968). p. 54Google Scholar.
16 McCormick, Brian and Williams, John, “The Miners and the Eight Hour Day,” Economic History Review, 12 (1959–1960), pp. 223–37Google Scholar.
19 The Act became effective in most areas, including South Wales. on July 1, 1909. In Durham and Northumberland the legislation was applied from Jan. 1, 1910Google Scholar.
20 Daunton, Martin J., in “Down the Pit: Work in the Great Northern and South Wales Coalfields, 1870–1914,” Economic History Review, 34 (11 1981), p. 593. took the alternative viewGoogle Scholar.
21 Increased refinement in the division of labor in the northeast created greater interdependence between hewers and other underground workers. Reduced hours for support workers generally disrupted face operationsGoogle Scholar.
23 Buxton, Neil K., “Avoiding the Pitfalls: Entrepreneurial Efficiency in the British Coal Industry Again,” Economic History Review, 25 (11 1972). pp. 669–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
24 Buxton, Neil K., The Economic Development of the British Coal Industry (London, 1978). p. 180Google Scholar.
25 Kendrick, John W., Productivity Trends in the United States (Princeton, 1961), p. 152Google Scholar.
26 Only two-thirds of collieries were covered by the sample, and those data specifically pertained to June 1914Google Scholar.
28 For details see Royal Commission (1926). p. 170,Google Scholar and International Labor Office Yearbook 1937–38 (Geneva, 1938)Google Scholar.
29 The noncoal productivity data is from Matthews, Robin C., Feinstein, Charles H., and Odling-Smee, John C., British Economic Growth, 1856–1973 (Oxford, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
31 Dintenfass, “Entrepreneurial Failure”: Slaven, Anthony, “Earnings and Productivity in the Scottish Coal Industry during the Nineteenth Century,” in Payne, Peter. Studies in Scottish Business History (London, 1967)Google Scholar.
33 Bamforth, K. and Trist, H., “Some Social and Psychological Consequences of the Longwall Method of Coal Cutting,” Human Relations, 4 (1951), pp. 3–38Google Scholar.
37 The number of working places was reduced from 23,178 in 1926 to 10,005 in 1930 and to 3,749 in 1938. Output per working place increased eight times in the Ruhr between 1926 and 1938. See Report of the Technical Advisory CommitteeGoogle Scholar.
39 Defensive new investment may also have occurred. See Lamfalussy, Alexandre, Investment and Growth in Mature Economies (London, 1961)Google Scholar.
40 The workings of this legislation is described by Kirby, Maurice W. in “The Control of Competition in the British Coal-Mining Industry in the Thirties,” Economic History Review, 26 (05 1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
41 Days worked are from the Annual Report of the Secretary for Mines (Board of Trade, London, 1937)Google Scholar.
42 Treble, John G., “Sliding Scales and Concilliation Boards: Risk Sharing in the Late Nineteenth Century Coal Industry,” Oxford Economic Papers, 39 (1987), p. 696CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
44 For machine prices, see Lancashire Records Office. Preston. Box NCBw 4/1. Reports in the technical journals indicate a 3- to 5-year life for rotary machines. See. for example, Report of the North of England Mining Engineers' Committee on Machine Mining (Newcastle, 1905)Google Scholar.
45 For a discussion see Greasley, David, “The Diffusion of a Technology: The Case of Machine Cutting in the British Coal Industry, 1900–1938” (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. University of Liverpool, 1979), p. 230. The data are from the Mining Engineers' CommitteeGoogle Scholar.