Abstract: Business Networks in the Workshop of the British Empire: The West of Scotland, 1870-1920

Ronnie Johnston


The Clydeside region of central Scotland has a long tradition of internationally renowned technological excellence, and for a while was a microcosm of the British economy. Here, despite the demise of heavy engineering over the last twenty years, the expression ‘Clyde-built' survives as a declaration of craft skill and civic pride. Most of the heavy industries of this region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were heavily dependent on volatile capital goods markets, although there was much more to this region than coal mining, heavy engineering and shipbuilding. In this paper I illustrate the importance of trade networks to Clydeside's success, focusing on the period from 1870 to 1920. Two main types of capitalist networking are examined: that carried on at the economic level and that at the social level—although I argue that the distinctions between these categories are blurred. This paper utilizes a wide range of primary source material from the Clydeside region, including employers' association records, trade journals, and Chamber of Commerce minutes and other unpublished primary source evidence. Such evidence from a diverse range of industries—including coalmining, the building trade, engineering, baking and confectionary—suggests that Adam Smith's comment that "people of the same trade seldom meet together but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices," holds very true for this industrial region.