Economy in the mid 1800s, York’s
The railways brought employment and migration to the city, especially with the establishment of the related railways works. By the end of the century the North Eastern Railway company had 5,500 workers and the railways became the city’s biggest single employer. Railway connections also meant a boost in the tourist trade, and guide books were published as early as during the 1850s. People were now able to travel to the Great Exhibition of 1851, for example.
Coupled with the railways were the changes in navigation and in the volume of coal traffic. The erection of Leetham’s Flour Mill (today Rowntree wharf) also made a difference to the traffic on the Foss and the Ouse. In 1851, glass and chemical manufacture, flour-milling, confectionery, and iron-founders were all major employers, even though no industry dominated the economy notably, and it was not until the development of the confectioners in the 1880s that any major development was seen – and this development is not directly tied to the strength of the railway industry.
‘York remained a city of small enterprises’ though it is worth noting that the success of the Rowntree company was more connected with the introduction of techniques learnt abroad, advertising, and the favourable circumstance of rising real incomes in this period than with the industries already established in the city.