Introduction: Business Development and Economic Structure in Britain since 1880

  • Leslie Hannah


In the last twenty years, the subject of business history has developed rapidly in the United Kingdom, largely because of the initiatives of major companies in commissioning business histories by professional historians. The histories of Unilever, ICI, W. D. and H. O. Wills, Boots, and Courtaulds1 have set a high standard and now offer to the economic historian a wealth of case study material with which to enrich his analysis of Britain’s recent economic development. Yet there seems to be general agreement that the harvest from these rich possibilities has so far been a limited one. There has been too great a temptation to generalise from the single case, or — it is difficult to see it as the lesser failing — not to generalise at all. The intellectual ‘spinoff’ from business history to economic history and economics has not been as great as might reasonably have been hoped. Yet two works which have attempted to generalise from business history case study material have been widely welcomed by economic historians and social scientists in general. I refer, of course, to Professor Edith Penrose’s Theory of the Growth of the Firm2 and Professor Alfred D. Chandler’s Strategy and Structure. Chapters in the History of Industrial Enter prise.3 The intellectual traffic has thus not all been one-way, from the older disciplines to business history: the historical case study method exemplified in the work of Chandler has made an important contribution to the development of new ideas in the theory of the firm,4 and this prompts legitimate expectations of further generalisations.


Large Firm Family Firm Investment Strategy Economic History Managerial Capitalism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1a.
    C. Wilson, The History of Unilever, 2 vols (London, 1954 ).Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    W. J. Reader, Imperial Chemical Industries: A History, 2 vols (London, 1970, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  3. 1c.
    B. W. E. Alford, W. D. and H. O. Wills and the development of the U.K. Tobacco Industry 1786–1965 (London, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. 1d.
    S. D. Chapman, Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists (London, 1974 ).Google Scholar
  5. 1e.
    D. C. Coleman, Courtaulds: An Economic and Social History, 2 vols (Oxford, 1969 ).Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    (Cambridge, Mass., 1962 ). See also R. S. Edwards and H. Townsend, Business Enterprise (London, 1958 ).Google Scholar
  7. 3a.
    Bruce R. Scott, ‘Stages in Corporate Development’, unpublished paper, (Harvard Business School, 1971 ).Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    e.g. O. E. Williamson, ‘Managerial Discretion, Organisational Form and the Multi-Division Hypothesis’ in R. Marris and A. Wood (eds), The Corporate Economy (London, 1971 ).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    For a fuller consideration of the nature of the stochastic process which may determine the growth of firms, see L. Hannah and J. A. Kay, Concentration in Modern Industry: Theory, Measurement and the U.K. Experience (London, 1976).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    G. R. Hawke, Railways and Economic Growth in England and Wales 1840–1870 (Oxford, 1970 ), pp. 384–8;Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    C. H. Feinstein, National Income, Expenditure and Output of the United Kingdom (Cambridge, 1972 ) p. T92.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    A classic statement of the importance of structural change in economic growth may be found in I. Svennilson, Growth and Stagnation in the European Economy (Geneva, 1954 ).Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    I. C. R. Byatt, ‘Electrical Products’, in D. H. Aldcroft (ed.), The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition 1875–1914 (London, 1968 ).Google Scholar
  14. 36.
    On American investment generally see J. H. Dunning, American Investment in British Manufacturing Industry (London, 1958 ).Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    Honourable exceptions include P. Mathias, Retailing Revolution (London, 1967 );Google Scholar
  16. 38a.
    B. Supple, The Royal Exchange Assurance 1720–1970 (Cambridge, 1970 ).Google Scholar
  17. 41.
    Cf. I. M. D. Little, The Price of Fuel (Oxford, 1953 ).Google Scholar
  18. 42.
    R. Pryke, Public Enterprise in Practice (London, 1971 ).Google Scholar
  19. 46.
    see W. B. Reddaway, Effects of U.K. Direct Investment Overseas (Cambridge, 1968).Google Scholar
  20. 49.
    e.g. W. G. Rimmer, Marshalls of Leeds, Flax-Spinners 1788–1886 (Cambridge, 1960).Google Scholar
  21. 50.
    A. J. Merrett and M. E. Lehr, The Private Company Today (London, 1971) 67–70. However, outside manufacturing industry, owner- or family-dominated enterprises still played a major role in the postwar era, see S. Aris, The Jews in Business (London, 1970), passim.Google Scholar
  22. 52.
    Payne, ‘Emergence of the Large-Scale Company in Great Britain’, Economic History Review, xx (1967) 527–36.Google Scholar
  23. 52a.
    L. Hannah, ‘Mergers in British Manufacturing Industry 1880–1918’, Oxford Economic Papers xxvt (1974) pp.13–14.Google Scholar
  24. 57.
    D. C. Coleman, Courtaulds, An Economic and Social History (Oxford, 1969) II, 264–5.Google Scholar
  25. 58.
    D. F. Channon, The Strategy and Structure of British Enterprise (London, 1973 ) pp. 25–32.Google Scholar
  26. 59.
    R. E. Caves (ed.), Britain’s Economic Prospects (Brookings Institution, Washington and London, 1968), passim.Google Scholar
  27. 64.
    e.g. P. H. Lindert and K. Trace, ‘Yardsticks for Victorian Entrepreneurs’, in D. N. McCloskey (ed.), Essays on a Mature Economy: Britain after 1840 ( London, 1971 ); McCloskey and Sandberg, ‘From Damnation to Redemption’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations