At the outbreak of World War I, Britain's maritime industries still dominated the world. The British merchant fleet was by far the largest in the world, the nation's shipbuilding output eclipsed all rivals, and British ports were busy and expanding. By 1990, British shipping was a shadow of its former self, shipbuilding seemed on the verge of total collapse, and although the ports had been modernised, trade was concentrated at only a few of them. For almost four centuries, these industries had been of vital importance to Britain's wealth and power, but by 1990, politicians scarcely gave them a second thought.
Alan G. Jamieson is Leverhulme Research Fellow in British Maritime History in the Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, University of Exeter.