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Preston in 1929 a pivotal year, depression and contraction

Posted on - 10th December, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News
An aerial view of Preston in 1929 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
An aerial view of Preston in 1929 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The year 1929 was a pivotal year both locally and nationally. One of Preston’s Liberal MPs William Jowitt changed sides and caused a by-election to be held in July 1929. The former Liberal MP had defected to the Labour Party, which was now forming the first Labour government. They had won the General Election in May 1929 without an overall majority. After defecting, Jowitt resigned as an MP and re-stood as a Labour candidate. He was returned with a larger majority. This marked the end of the Liberals as a parliamentary force in Preston. Jowitt had been offered the post of Attorney General for England and Wales in the Labour government.

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William Jowitt MP for Preston 1929-31 Pic: Public Domain
William Jowitt MP for Preston 1929-31 Pic: Public Domain

Crashing markets

1929 also marked the Wall Street crash and the start of the Great Depression. The full force of the depression was not felt until 1931, in Great Britain, although the fall in trade impacted Germany more severely. However, Preston was probably better placed than many other Northern towns as electrical and other new industries were well established by the early 1930s. Unfortunately, unemployment in Preston was around 10,000 for much of the decade.

1929 and textiles still rule

Pole Street Mill, closed in 1926 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Pole Street Mill, closed in 1926 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

In the lead image, the enormous Horrocks Mill complex can be seen at the top left. Textiles still provided the bulk of employment in Preston. Over 50 per cent of employment in the town was in textiles in 1929. However, the textile industry had begun to decline sharply. Four mills had closed in 1926 and by 1932 a further six had closed. The contraction of the textile industry led to high unemployment and this slowed slum clearance. However, 3,000 council houses were built between 1920 and 1939 in and around Preston.

New industries

By 1938 employment had shifted in the town and cotton provided only 16,800 jobs with far more employment being provided in distributive trades, transport, and building. Engineering and coach building provided almost 4,000 jobs. Courtaulds rayon plant began construction in 1938. As a result, unemployment in Preston was less than in comparable Northern towns. In 1937 Preston had 6,578 unemployed while 14,000 were unemployed in Blackburn. By June 1939 Preston’s unemployment rate had dropped to just over 3,000 as production ramped up due to war preparations.

Courtaulds rayon plant

Courtaulds rayon plant Pic: madeinpreston.co.uk
Courtaulds rayon plant Pic: madeinpreston.co.uk

Courtaulds rayon plant opened in 1939 and the site was like a small town. Notably, it had its own power station and rail link. The cooling towers became a famous local landmark due to their location near the M6 motorway. Rayon was primarily used for tyre cord as well as a type of textile known as Bright. The factory was the largest rayon plant in Britain and employed over 4,000 people at its peak. The plant closed in 1979.

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