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Preston booms due to World War II production

Posted on - 14th August, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Leyland, Preston News, South Ribble News
Preston in 1930 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston in 1930 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Recovery from the great depression of the 1930s was boosted due to the the effects of the wartime investment boom in Preston and district. This investment, in new factory capacity, still has benefits that continue to this day.

Deflation not inflation, the depression eases

Inflation is not a new thing. After the crash of 1929 unemployment rocketed, however deflation not inflation occurred with purchasing power increasing by 3 per cent. Unfortunately, inflation took off again, and was 3.75 per cent by 1937. During World War II it peaked at 16 per cent.

Unemployment in Preston was 6,578 by December 1937 and Britain’s world trade fell by half between 1929 and 1933.

By 1936 the depression was easing, however, war clouds were on the horizon and this year saw the first large increase in military spending.

Hitler had been in power for three years and Preston’s languishing industrial base was to form a large part of the looming war effort.

The Munich Agreement of 1938 has been much criticised, however it did provide an extra year for war equipment production to gain pace.

ROF Chorley expands

The ROF at Chorley just before demolition Pic: Masonics
The ROF at Chorley just before demolition Pic: Masonics

Just before the war some munitions production was moved away from cities in the south of England. One site that saw significant investment was at Chorley. £12 million was spent on the Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton.

Samlesbury expands aircraft production

November 1938 saw 5,000 aircraft production jobs created, as Vickers Armstrong opened the central aircraft factory at Samlesbury. The English Electric works at Strand Road also began aircraft production. 

Construction soon ramped up and the first hangar was ready at Samlesbury by December 1939. As a result aircraft deliveries began early in 1940. In total 900 Hampden and 2,145 Halifax bombers were built in Preston.

However, still more aircraft were needed and another large factory was built at Warton. Lots of war production money poured into the local economy. Unfortunately, rationing meant that there was not much to spend it on.

Leyland factories produce tanks and ammunition

The Cromwell tank produced in Leyland Pic: Morio
The Cromwell tank produced in Leyland Pic: Morio

During the war, production at the motor works in Leyland was enormous. At its peak over 9,000 workers assembled 3,000 tanks and over 10,000 tank engines. Much of the workforce was made up by women. Additionally more than 10,000 other vehicles were made.

The tank in question was the Cromwell; this had a Rolls-Royce engine and was first used In Normandy after D-Day in 1944. Interestingly the Meteor engine, developed in Leyland, was based on the Merlin aircraft engine, as used in the Spitfire.

Post-war Preston 

All the wartime investment in factories and production capability had revived Preston and district’s flagging industry. Consequently, Preston and Leyland were well placed to continue aircraft production and to switch back to commercial vehicle production after the war.

The current generation of DAF trucks, made in Leyland Pic: Paccar
The current generation of DAF trucks, made in Leyland Pic: Paccar

Today, vehicle and aircraft manufacturing is still going strong. The plant at Leyland makes around 14,000 trucks a year. However, the Leyland name is not used and the site is now owned by Paccar. More than 1,000 people assemble trucks under the DAF brand.

BAE Systems today

A mock-up of the new Tempest aircraft Pic: BAE Systems
A mock-up of the new Tempest aircraft Pic: BAE Systems

The aircraft factory at Warton continues to innovate, with the production of the new Tempest fighter. 

BAE Systems of the plant:

“A first-of-its-kind industry 4.0 factory is applying game-changing digital technologies to advance manufacturing on Tempest, the UK’s next generation combat aircraft system. 

“The new facility at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire, is the result of a multi-million pound investment and collaboration with more than 40 blue chip and SME companies along with academic institutions.”



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