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Reconsidering the Industrial Revolution

1929–1939: the Great Depression[edit]

Main article: Great Depression in the United Kingdom

Unemployed people in front of a workhouse in London, 1930

In 1929, the Wall St Crash affected Britain in 1930, resulting in it leaving the Gold Standard. Whereas Britain had championed the concept of the free market when it was ascendant in the world economy, it gradually withdrew to adopting Tariff Reform as a measure of protectionism. By the early 1930s, the depression again signalled the economic problems the British economy faced. Unemployment soared during this period; from just over 10% in 1929 to more than 20% (or more than 3 million of the workforce) by early 1933. However, it had fallen to 13.9% by the start of 1936. While heavy industry sank to new lows, the consumer industry recovered by 1934 to the point production increased 32% between 1933 and 1937. A good indication of the strong consumer market was the growth of retailers during the 30s. Marks & Spencer, for example, increased its turnover from a modest ₤2.5 million in 1929 to over ₤25 million in 1939, necessitating the opening of dozens of new locations in the burgeoning suburbs to meet demand.[163]

In political terms, the economic problems found expression in the rise of radical movements who promised solutions which conventional political parties were no longer able to provide. In Britain this was seen with the rise of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Fascists under Oswald Mosley. However, their political strength was limited and unlike in the rest of Europe, the conventional political parties in the UK never saw real danger. A National Government was formed in 1931, with the Conservatives returning to power in 1935 after six years of the first Labour-led government under Ramsay MacDonald.