On that British industrial decline

A little story about that decline in British industry. Sadly, no, not about shipbuilding, rather, about crane building.

Some of the changes that happened from the 70s onwards were simply inevitable. Doesn\’t matter who was in power, they really were just going to happen.

In the centre of Bath there used to be a crane builder called Stothert and Pitt. They made cranes for the ports of the Empire. I\’m told that Sydney Harbourside was littered with them for example. A fine and stirring tale of proper metal bashing, high wage, industry.

A slightly odd thing to have in a city like Bath you might think but it was indeed there. It formed the core of working class male employment in the city, along with the printing works across the street.

So, what happened to Stothert and Pitt? Now the site is home to a vast development of yuppie housing. Very strange housing really: in Bath but without the benefit of actually looking good like much of Bath does. Still, that\’s a shame and a tragedy for one political view of the economy. Real work pushed aside by gentrification (and there was some Robert Maxwell argy bargy in there as well, with Central and Sheerwood and Geoffrey Robinson and all sorts).

But that\’s not actually the story. What we really want to know is why is the land now worth more for housing than it is for building cranes for the world? And the answer to that is: size.

Stothert\’s cranes were, as with all cranes, simply getting larger and larger. Containerisation and offshore oil rigs just meant that cranes suffered from gigantism. And, as we\’ve noted, the site was in the centre of Bath. As they got larger, far, far, to large for road transport out, the solution was to float them down the River Avon, to Avonmouth, and thus to the world.

Excellent: but they kept getting bigger. Until this solution no longer worked. It simply wasn\’t physically possible to continue to build cranes in the centre of Bath. Thus they stopped building cranes in the centre of Bath.

We could have had an Owen Jones/Bennite workers\’ takeover of the plant, a Mondragon collective: and still they would have stopped making cranes in the centre of Bath. As much government aid as you like and it would still have stopped.

They would have stopped building cranes there whether or not they covered the land with yuppie flats afterwards or not.

2 thoughts on “On that British industrial decline”

  1. In the centre of Bath there used to be a crane builder called Stothert and Pitt.

    They still exist, I think. One of my first jobs as a graduate engineer in 2000 was doing analyses of their cranes. I remember they were west-country based, one of my colleagues was seconded into them for months.

    Tim adds: Wikipedia:

    “The firm was sold to Robert Maxwell’s Hollis Group in 1986. Following
    the collapse of Maxwell’s empire a management buy out was undertaken
    in 1988. But this failed and the company closed in 1989, resulting in
    all the works shutting down. The Stothert & Pitt name was sold to
    Langley Holdings, which now belongs to the NEI group owners of Clarke
    Chapman, and is operated for Dock crane consultancy. Despite ceasing
    all manufacturing operations, the company existing for consultancy,
    reference and repairs from their new headquarters at the Bradman Lake
    offices in Bristol.

    Stothert & Pitt moved from Bath to Bristol in Summer 2008 and now
    occupy three office annexes in the Bradman Lake British headquarters
    on Yelverton Road in Brislington.”

  2. Yes, absolutely. This is why the Port of London is in Tilbury; also why the only remaining serious Airbus manufacturing site in the UK is the one on the Dee.

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