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Great grandpa and the overture to war (part one)

Posted by on February 5, 2014

As the “celebrations” of the Great War start to ramp up I found myself wondering if I could discover whether my great grandfather, Alfred John Liversedge (AJL) had any thoughts on the impending catastrophe.

Alfred John Liversedge

Alfred John Liversedge

In December 1913 and January 1914 he published articles in The International Review of Commerce and Industry edited by T. Swinborne Sheldrake.  This seems to have been a relatively short-lived publication; the British Library only has volume 1 nos 1-6 published from December 1913 to May 1914.  The two copies I have, priced at two shillings have survived well although one has lost its cover.  The stated objective of the review “is to publish a first-class monthly review dealing with international commerce and industry in the same way that other high-class monthly reviews deal with politics, literature, social and religious questions, etc.”Each edition begins with a discussion of the current state of the world markets.  In December 1913 it is noted that there is strong evidence on all sides of a continuous decline from the recent very prosperous conditions. “Manufacturing industries on the Continent are in a worse position than our own.  The Near Eastern markets of Europe continue under a cloud.  Progress in Egypt has been rendered impossible by the Balkan unrest.” And so on through the impact of tariffs on the United States, turmoil in Mexico, depression in Brazil, monsoon in India, China is unsettled and South Africa short of both labour and capital.  Then under the heading “The Financial Position” more interestingly we learn that whilst all countries are facing problems obtaining funding for essential works the writer considers that enormous sums have been sunk “in unproductive expenditure for naval and military purposes”.

Now to the commissioned articles; the first “Commerce and the Universities” praises the number of new educational institutions being established in Germany and America and their expansion of a more commercial curriculum in contrast with the more limited opportunities in the traditional British Universities.

Then there are articles about the impact on trade routes of the Panama Canal soon to be opened to traffic; raw cotton supplies and their effect upon the Lancashire Industry; an article about insurance in Great Britain and America followed by one on the New American Tariff.  The article on the Introduction of New Products into Commerce collates those being investigated by the Imperial Institute at South Kensington including; Sudan dura (millet) as a substitute for maize, “elephant grass” as a paper-making material, “cheyi” fibre as a substitute for hemp and Tung oil from China used as linseed oil.  This brings us to an article on the Commercial Outlook in China, in terms still pertinent today the writer complains about the difficulty of doing business in China; “five great British industrial schemes involving some £20,000,000 sterling have had to be indefinitely postponed because of the enormous bribes which would have to be paid”.

The last commissioned article is on The Merchant System and Oversea Trade.  Finally the editor sums up in a piece called Retrospect and Prospect and follows with a synopsis of official reports and extracts from other published articles on subjects from West African Palm Oil to the Trade of Westphalia and the Rhenish Provinces in 1912 and Siberia of To-day to Motor Culture in France .

So where does AJL sit in this cornucopia of comment well his article on Oil Fuel and its use for Steam Raising sits between cotton supplies and insurance.  In it he queries whether it is sensible to import oil to generate power in the form of steam when materials such as coal are still available and oil has other specific uses.  His concern is based on the decline of oil production around the world at this time especially in Russia and to some extent in the United States with only Mexico showing any significant expansion and predictions of significant price rises.  However the article is a discussion and he does not seem to draw an exact conclusion.

There it is, eight months away from war; by January 1914 will anything have changed?

(to be continued….)



2 Responses to Great grandpa and the overture to war (part one)

  1. Nicola Stevens

    Oh what a fascinating piece Barbara – I can’t wait to read the next instalment. I am learning so much that you don’t get from Jeremy Paxman’s latest BBC Programme.

    Thank you


  2. Margaret McAlpine

    Very much enjoyed Barbara’s research as this is the sort of thing you don’t get in history books or popular television programmes.

    I was surprised to see in the Cleckheaton & Spenborough Guardian for August 1914 a double-page spread on the View from the Pulpit on the morality of war – the subject of a future blog of mine.

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