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A black-and-white photograph showing a barge being loaded with bales of cotton.

1930s Lancashire; a struggling county

The interwar years were challenging for Lancashire, as the Great Depression hit the region hard

Explore Lancashire in the 1939 Register

The region emerged as a major commercial county during the Industrial Revolution, with its thriving textile production and coal mining industries. Dotted with dozens of mill towns and collieries, at one point 85 per cent of the world’s cotton was produced here. However the First World War and subsequent years were difficult for the region; textile producers in foreign countries were undercutting local manufacturers and the industry in Lancashire was ailing badly. The economic downturn that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929 poured further misery onto a struggling region.

textile producers in foreign countries were undercutting local manufacturers and the industry in Lancashire was ailing badly

Many people in thirties Lancashire made their living as general labourers, which included thousands of fishermen and others working in the county’s thriving coastal docks. If you weren’t busy spinning yarn or trawling fish, you’d probably find work in either the commercial or personal services sectors. By contrast, the primary occupation in modern day Lancashire is as a professional in a scientific or technical environment.

A sepia-toned postcard showing a promenade, busy with cars and people.
A view of Southport Promenade, 1939. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

In 1939, the population of Lancashire was 5,039,455, rising to 5,287,081 in a little over fifty years. The relatively small change can partly be accounted for by the region’s shifting boundaries. While major cities like Manchester and Liverpool were considered part of the county in 1939, the original county was abolished in 1974 to form two separate counties.

Life expectancy for Lancastrian men in 1939 was 71, surprisingly high when considering the high proportion of miners, who suffered from ill health as a result of poor working conditions. Nowadays life expectancy is even higher, at 77 for men and 81 for women.

A black-and-white photograph showing a large group of people happily eating fish-and-chips on the street.
Enjoying fish and chips in Manchester city centre, 1930s. Image:© The Wentworth Collection/Mary Evans Picture Library

Life was full of highs and lows in Lancashire in 1939. The Great Storm led to devastating gale damage across the region, while a violent smash between two carriages at Kirkby Rail Station injured 12 passengers. The St Helens Recs, an adored local cricket club, played their last game in April of that year after financial difficulties drew the curtain on their promising performances. The MP for Stretford sadly passed away while in service, leading to barrister Ralph Etherton’s victory in a subsequent by-election.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Local lad George Formby, the celebrated singer, songwriter, actor and comedian, was at the height of his fame, starring in a number of films and earning in excess of £100,000 a year

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Local lad George Formby, the celebrated singer, songwriter, actor and comedian, was at the height of his fame, starring in a number of films and earning in excess of £100,000 a year, an incredibly handsome sum in those days. Lancastrians also welcomed King George VI on his royal tour of the region, during which he visited numerous aircraft factories, and to top it all off, Blackpool Tower received a much-needed new lick of paint.

Main image:Loading a cotton barge, Lancashire, 1930s. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

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