As an island, Britain has always depended on its maritime trade. With the Industrial Revolution, shipping increased in importance as the distribution of products and the movement of people increased dramatically. The coastal, foreign and slave trades placed new demands on the shipping industry, and brought employment and substantial wealth to the coastal towns. At the same time, the need for shipbuilding and ship repair also grew. The introduction of steam power, the use of iron and steel in shipbuilding and other advances in the design of merchant ships made sea travel faster and more reliable, and by 1819 steamships had extended beyond rivers, and were undertaking ocean voyages. With the export trade dominating markets, and trade routes expanding, shipping became very important for the British economy and was closely linked to the progress of the Industrial Revolution.
Local bankers were often ship owners too, and the imagery of maritime industry and trade that they used on paper money illustrates the significance of shipping, fishing and shipbuilding in local economies. Liverpool, Newcastle and other cities prospered and became increasingly urbanized during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Docks grew in size, new canals and warehouses were constructed and significant numbers of people moved to major ports. The following cities are indicative examples of the development of shipping and maritime trade during this period and they all issued paper money featuring maritime imagery, thus emphasizing the importance of such trade in the local and national economy.
Sited on the east side of the Mersey Estuary, Liverpool’s proximity to Manchester was crucial to its development as one of the most important English ports.
Similarly, Newcastle had a long history as a centre of trade and shipbuilding, but from the mid-18th century its port became even more important. Sunderland, also in the north east, was another major trading port during the 19th century.
Local industries such as glass, pottery and rope-making, combined with the long established coal trade and shipbuilding, brought new prosperity to the north east, as well as a larger population and an increasingly urban landscape.
Equally significant in the economic prosperity of the time was Bristol. An important commercial port and shipbuilding centre from its earliest days, Bristol profited greatly from the slave trade, and the shipping industry remained crucial to the city’s development throughout the 19th century.
During this period of intense industrialization the landscape of the countryside was transformed. New towns were established and industrial centres became even bigger, crowded with more factories and warehouses. At the same time, the increases in production made necessary the creation of a well-organized system of transport. With the adoption of the steam engine in locomotives, transportation of goods became quicker, easier, cheaper and more reliable. Railways expanded significantly and the new railway connections boosted coastal towns as well as previously remote and isolated provincial towns. Improved roads were built and new iron bridges were erected in areas where previously communication had been difficult. At the same time, navigation through rivers and canals expanded the distribution network of raw materials, livestock and consumer goods, and the major industries consequently benefited greatly from the new advances in communications. The first canals were dug in Lancashire and others soon followed, connecting industrial centres with ports, coalfields and trading centres. Liverpool, for example, was connected by canals to Manchester and its thriving textile industry.
Following the expansion of urban centres, ports and transport networks, changes also took place in the architecture of the cities, with the construction of new housing as well as grand public buildings, such as town halls and libraries, botanical gardens and concert halls. A revival of the neo-classical and gothic styles created a visual link to a glorious past and stood as a testament to a city’s grandeur and urban prosperity, inspiring a sense of civic pride. Such pride is evident in a number of the provincial banknotes issued in the 18th and 19th centuries, which include vignettes of new public buildings or historical landmarks.