Modern British History

Palgrave master series

by Norman Lowe

Chapter 15

The industrial depression

Study Sources A to D carefully and then answer the questions that follow.

Source A: Cartoon in Punch, 1896, entitled ‘Caught Napping’

Caught Napping - cartoon in punch 1896

Source: Punch, 1896

In Sources B, C and D, three modern economic historians write about the causes and nature of the depression.

Source B:

It might be questioned whether all Britain’s losses can be attributed simply to the emergence of new industrial competitors; perhaps they stemmed from internal deficiencies. A country whose industrial structure is too narrowly based on a few traditional industries is obviously going to be more restricted as regards trading opportunities.

Source: D. H. Aldcroft, The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition, Allen & Unwin, 1968.

Source C:

If Britain was behind the times in technique and methods of production, she was even further behind the times in her selling methods... a frequent complaint was scarcity of British trade representatives abroad... poor packing of goods and inadequate credit facilities.

Source: D. H. Aldcroft and H. W. Richardson, The British Economy 1870-1939, Macmillan, 1969.

Source D:

It is important to remember, however, that Britain retained a wide lead in many industrial sectors to 1914. Most of these had their roots in the industrial revolution; cotton textiles and textile machinery, heavy machine tools, locomotives, ships and steam-engines.

Source: S. B. Saul, The Myth of the Great Depression 1873-1896, Macmillan, 1985 edition.


  1. How does the Punch cartoonist of 1896 try to explain the causes of the industrial depression? (4 marks)
  2. In the light of Sources B and C, how adequate is Source A as an explanation of the depression? (6 marks)
  3. From the evidence of the sources and Section 15.2, how far do you think S. B. Saul (Source D) was correct when he claimed that the industrial depression after 1873 was a myth? (15 marks)