There has been little industry in the Exeter area since history began – perhaps a certain amount of shipbuilding and some weaving for local consumption. The area is much more known for agriculture and fishing and, in recent years, for tourism.
However a dramatic increase in employment in the area came about in the early post-war years when a number of insurance companies, building societies and other financial institutions opened regional offices in Exeter. The beautiful countryside and nearness to the sea made the area popular with staff. The attraction of good communications to London and the Midlands and North of the country added to the appeal. And, with increasing improvements in electronic communications, the ability to move substantial parts of the organisations away from the expensive south east of the country, encouraged firms to invest in the area.
Allied with the chronic shortage in housing caused by the bombing throughout most of country during the war, this created a desperate need for more housing. The government, with its sights set on the welfare improvements introduced in the late 1940’s and the shortage of funds for new projects, was slow to react to this need. As a result a new breed of entrepreneur emerged – people willing to buy up cheap land and find a way round the newly-introduced planning laws to provide the housing at a price the public could afford.
Before the war a large part of the housing stock had been owned by landlords (sometimes public bodies). These houses and flats had been rented out and many of the middle and lower classes had never considered the concept of owning their own home. Now the idea became attractive and, helped by generous tax relief arrangements, a large part of the population were soon looking to buy their own place. The main theme of Riversmeet is about this new and rapidly expanding industry.
The novels also explore the way that the upper classes, already shrinking as a result of inheritance taxes introduced early in the century, began to collapse under the pressure of the modern age. No longer could a local aristocrat expect to live off the income from his estates without working to earn his income.
Another theme is the way that morals had declined as a result of the way they were freed in the war. And the former rigid class structure was breaking down faster in Britain than in almost any other country in the western world. The former close links between the UK and the commonwealth and North America were to weaken substantially in the next two decades and this will be explored more closely in the subsequent books.
The photo is of the famous Dutch houses in the Strand in Topsham.
‘Riversmeet – Starting Out’ is now available as an e-book from Amazon Kindle, Kobo and a number of other e-publishers. Next week I will tell you about my novel on the banking and receiver industries called ‘BANK-cor-RUPT’ which I am currently working on and which should be available in one or two months time.