Industry and Science

London is based on trade and population – which lead to industry. London was the largest port in the world in the 19th century. London was the largest city in the world in 1800 and yet grew from 1 million to 6 million people in one hundred years. Industry was needed to process the goods arriving and departing, and to serve the needs of a fast-growing and increasingly affluent population.

The Port of London has completely changed, almost disappeared, and yet still exists as a substantial institution with over 95 miles of frontage on the River Thames which deals with a significant £4 billion of UK economy per annum.

Large and mega industries within London with associated trading over the centuries have included: beer brewing, flour milling, sugar manufacturing (Tate & Lyle), silk weaving, early motor manufacturing and cycle assembly, gunpowder and armaments, ship building – in timber and metal, glassware, transport equipment from carriages, horse paraphernalia, buses and train engines and rolling stock.

The breadth of skills and trades in UK industry and science can be seen in the diverse membership of the engineering council with 35 members and 23 affiliates, many of which have headquarters or representation in London.

 The Museum of London (MoL) plus MoL East also contain much industry and science with aspects of brewing, flour, sugar, silk weaving, motor manufacturing and cycle assembly; ship building (SS Great Eastern) plus manufacturing of multiple products for assembly – such as for carriages and horses.

Industry could also include Energy. 

  • Going back to medieval watermills on Thames and tributaries.  
  • Coppicing for timber. In just a few decades in terms of energy London progressed from candles to oil lamps, to gas for street lighting initially, to lighting inside buildings and vehicles, to electricity.
  • Gas moved on to cooking, hot water and heating.
  • There was cleanliness, light, convenience – all mod cons (modern conveniences).  
  • Artesian water pressure, hydraulic and pneumatic systems. 
  • But not much natural coal and gas! 
  • Kent coal fields and then Northumberland coal by sea. 
  • Early gas works and electrical power stations plus early distribution systems. 
  • Headquarters of energy companies.


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