Bilston, building trade, enamelled hollowware, Germany, Hadley, iron industry, Joseph Sankey & Sons, Manor Ironworks, motor industry, railways, Russia, steel industry, trade, War Office, Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce
At the end of 1914, on 31 December, the Express & Star reviewed the effect that the War had had on local trade. And, it seemed, things were generally positive:
Whether it be true or not that the Englishman takes his pleasures sadly, it can be confidently affirmed that he takes his wars with a sunny optimism that must surely be the envy of the Kaiser himself.
After an initial dip at the start of the war, when trade was disorganised and “some stagnation naturally resulted”, things picked up, and “the war has become simply a part of Britain’s daily business.” In terms of Wolverhampton and the local area, “it is frankly difficult to realise that elsewhere we are at grips with a foe whose only object is to crush us.”
The reasons for this increase in trade are given. The needs of the Army and the Navy ha brought a number of profitable orders to the area. Also, as the “imports of our Continental competitors” had been cut off, local businesses were able to pick up on new opportunities. Indeed, trade was so healthy that in “many of the large factories and workshops night shifts have been introduced to cope with the orders in hand.”
In terms of specific industries, the iron and steel trade had received a number of substantial orders from Government departments as a result of the war, “for which unlimited supplies will be necessary.” Russia, a big purchaser of construction and building materials, were likely to “make headway with the extension of her railway system”, which would give a further boost to the steel industry. Wolverhampton’s enamelled hollowware was an important business, but previously Germany had had “almost a monopoly” as their prices were cheaper. The war had caused this competition to collapse so Wolverhampton was able to benefit from orders both at home and abroad. The building trade was currently quieter, however the “housing question [was] being dealt with by legislation” so that should bring in additional work. Again, the motor trade had initially been badly affected by the start of the war, as many orders were cancelled or deferred. However, they started to receive orders from the War Office, paid for in cash “so the situation was saved”.
The only difficulty that was foreseen, as highlighted by Stephen Watkins, the honorary secretary of the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce, was that so many skilled men were enlisting in the army, so, despite the increase in trade, there was a drain on the workforce. This was highlighted at three firms in Bilston – J. Sankey and Sons., Ltd, the motor works at Hadley, and the Manor Ironworks, all had a full complement of staff and orders in hand likely to last well into the New Year. George H. Sankey “did not anticipate any slump in trade unless the war was unduly drawn own.” However, the firm already had 200 men serving with the colours and whilst “they would not place any hindrance in the way of others joining, they felt it would lead to difficulty in keeping some of the departments going.”