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Industrial Britain (1931)


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The sails of a windmill turn, a woman weaves and a farmer piles hay into a stack. A horse pulls a barge down a canal and boats rest on the sea. Abruptly, this traditional picture of Britain is interrupted by industrial stacks billowing out smoke.

Bent-backed coal miners make their way to the seam. They arrive, take off their shirts and set to work. They swing their picks, load a trolley, then strain to push the coal back from whence they came.

A Stoke potter shapes a vase. His methods are compared with those used by the ancient Greeks. The glassmakers of Smethick, from the glory hole to the teams of men blowing glass: their work is for ultra-modern purposes (microscope lenses, railway lights), but they can be seen as direct descendants of the Egyptians.

Back to the chimney stacks, whose apparent ugliness disguises the beauty of what they produce. The hissing steel works: hot metal spurts from a furnace, the workers guiding molten rivers into pre-laid tracks. A crane picks up an ingot from one of the furnaces; it is reheated and slapped onto rollers. This process is repeated; later the girders come together in the form of a new Marble Arch hotel.

An aircraft engine is tested. Iron particles are passed over a magnetic surface to highlight flaws. The precision of the work is illustrates the continuities between traditional English craftsmanship and the industrial work of today. The character of our material world of steam, ships, railways, planes and electricity depends on the good character of the individuals who build it.