Conditions in Great Britain and America
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Apr 1936, p. 334-349
Partridge, Albert G., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Highlights of the speaker's impressions as to conditions in America and Great Britain. Conditions in Canada appearing to occupy a position midway between those of Great Britain and the United States. A comparison of customs and manners, even in the use of the English language between Great Britain and America, with some illustrative examples. Some words on the nature and character of the British people. The experience of an American in Great Britain. Some of the things the speaker includes in his look at the British people in their attitude to law and order, a love of fair play, business practices, the enjoyment of holidays, attitude towards sports, betting and liquor laws, climate, outdoor activities, level of courtesy, policing, education, public duties, rights of property and capital, the Civil Service, the press, marketing, labour, trade unions, economics, wages, trade, budget, taxation, housing and social conditions, industry, manufacturing, the effects of tariffs, government. The speaker's hope to make a permanent home in Canada. A look at the possibilities for the future of our civilization.
Date of Original
2 Apr 1936
Language of Item
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Full Text
Thursday, April 2nd, 1936

PRESIDENT BRACE: When I recently read a review of the business life of our guest speaker I was impressed with the acceptance of responsibility which he took as he rose from the ranks to a senior position in the rubber industry. May I respectfully suggest that he has accepted a real challenge in taking over the office recently vacated by Mr. Carlyle. Mr. Carlyle and Mr. Partridge were both born in the United States and spent the early years of their lives there. Since coming to Canada Mr. Carlyle not only became one of us, but during his years with us he has given everything that he has had to give to his adopted country and that has been a great deal. (Applause.)

We are very glad to have Mr. Partridge come to us as a New Canadian. We believe he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and in so doing will enrich this great country of ours as well as himself. He has spent over 35 years in the rubber industry. During the past years he was the representative of the Goodyear Company in Great Britain, coming to Canada in March, 1935. He is a great believer in the programme covering educational assistance on the part of an organization for those employees who are ambitious to succeed. The results of such a programme, of course, are to the advantage of the organization as well as to the advantage of the individual. His policy as an industrialist is one of co-operation and the results from such a policy where the individual, the industry and the community are all recognized will be best for all concerned.

Mr. Partridge is going to speak to us today on the subject, "Conditions in Great Britain and America." I have very much pleasure, indeed, in introducing to you Mr. Albert G. Partridge, President of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada, Limited, a new Canadian to whom we give a very hearty welcome. (Applause.)

MR. ALBERT G. PARTRIDGE: Mr. President„ Members of the Empire Club of Canada and Guests: I wish to thank your President, Mr. Brace, for this opportunity of addressing such a representative gathering on the occasion of my first appearance before a Canadian audience. I appreciate the responsibility in following a man like Mr. Carlyle and I am only too glad to know that I stiff have him with me in spirit and he would have been here today if he were not still basking in the sunlight of Nassau.

I know you are all familiar with the old saying that generalities are dangerous and that comparisons are odious. But in a brief talk to bring out the high-lights on my impressions as to conditions in America and Great Britain, I fear that both comparisons and generalities are necessary and I request your indulgence in these two respects.

Since the greater part of my life has been spent in the United States, with only seven years in Great Britain and only one year in Canada, I would not for one moment attempt to tell you gentlemen who know so much morel of Canadian conditions in Canada than I do, what the actual conditions are here. Therefore, if my remarks seem too favourable toward conditions as I found them in Great Britain as compared to conditions on this side of the Atlantic, I might say, here in my short experience conditions and methods appear to occupy a position midway between those of Great Britain and the United States and therefore Canada can, to a great degree, take credit for any complimentary references made as to conditions over there and only to a lesser degree feel any criticism that may be made as to conditions here on this side of the water.

When one goes to a foreign land, such as France, Holland or Germany, speaking in an entirely different language, changes in customs, methods, dress and architecture are expected and are allowed for, but I do not believe in first going to Great Britain one is prepared for the variation there in manners, customs and methods and even in the use of the English language.

One small custom is the use of the words, lift instead of elevator, booking instead of making reservations, petrol, instead of gasoline, lorry instead of truck, wings instead of fenders, silencers instead of mufflers. In addition the modulation or intonation of English voices is so entirely different, one has difficulty in understanding them, just as the English have difficulty understanding us, and I am not referring to communities in Wales and Ireland where practically no English is spoken, and the vernacular used in English countries, such as Lancashire, Staffordshire and Devonshire is as hard to understand as the Russian language would be. After some little time in England the American tongues seem to adapt themselves to the situation and I found I could understand the typical Englishmen and they seemed to understand me without difficulty. Far from finding the English hard to get acquainted with, both my family and I met with the most cordial hospitality throughout our years there. In fact, when I first went over, my American clothes were noticeable and while Englishmen, proverbially, never address one another without a formal introduction, on their own initiative they got into conversation on the trains and were extremely interested to hear about America and tell about England, and to put themselves out in order to offer assistance in any way possible.

One of the most noticeable of English attributes is the law-abiding character of the people. They are most jealous of liberties but do not confuse licence with liberty.

There is little state regulation of a paternalistic nature but laws are well administered and all seem content to obey them, knowing they affect all alike.

I had a good example immediately on my arrival. My family had a pet dog which they wanted to take to England. I learned that the dog had to go into quarantine for six months before he is released in the country. Six months is a long time in the life of a dog so I hesitated to take him. Friends told us that one of the English Directors surely would be able to "fix it" so I took him along. However, on arrival at Southampton the dog was met and escorted to the quarantine kennels. On my first visit to where he was detained I found two dogs serving six months which belonged to the King's uncle. So I made no effort to do any fixing. (Laughter.)

Another English characteristic is the love of fair play, in business deals, in sport and in. every day fife. I had an early sample of this also. When this same dog was released from quarantine and sent home he was naturally happy and excited over being allowed to run loose and he immediately broke into the chicken yard of one of my neighbours and killed 21 chickens before anything could be done about it. The chickens, unfortunately were fancy stock and very expensive. When I tried to pay for them, my neighbour would only allow me to pay half the cost, saying he felt partly responsible, that he should have had them better protected. Two or three years after I hear that the same day the dog also got into the chicken yard on the other side of the place but as we were newcomers and the chickens were ordinary fowl, nothing was said about that at all.

In going to an old country like England one has very frequently to change his point of view. For instance, the railways have practically no grade crossings, going under or over the roads and streets. Of course the roads, and people using the roads were there long before the railways and for the railways to secure franchise it was necessary for them to protect the users of the already established roads. In the newer countries the railways often come in advance of population and roads are built afterward when it is more difficult to adjust the cost of eliminating grade crossings.

I wonder how the merchants on Yonge or Bloor Street would feel if once or twice a week, farmers, pedlars, and hawkers came in front of their stores, erected stalls over half the sidewalk and part of the street, stopped everything but foot traffic and sold the same kind of goods at considerably lower prices, all without paying anything for the space occupied? This happens regularly in many small towns and boroughs in England with no comment on the part of the merchants. The answer is that the market was there years before the stores. Nothing is thought of it except by visitors.

I found business done in England on a somewhat less hectic basis than here. Hours start later, but they generally work a little later, so they put in about the same amount of time, not at quite such a high pressure. All business appointments are made in advance. Decisions are probably not arrived at quite so quickly but when a decision is made you can depend upon it and a definite plan for procedure is arranged. The plan is generally well executed. Less time is wasted in trying out schemes which might or might not succeed or which do not show definitely that they are along constructive lines.

The Englishman insists on holidays and the necessity must be urgent to get him to sacrifice his week-ends, which are usually from Friday night to Monday morning, but his holidays generally are a real change and a real rest. At the seashore, in his garden, playing golf or other games, or taking leisurely walks in the country.

In England, no one who can possibly do otherwise lives in the city. They love the country and spend every moment they can out of doors.

Their attitude on sports is not quite as competitive as ours, they play more for the sake of the game itself and seem more indifferent as to the final result.

While, as I said before, there seem to be comparatively few annoying laws, law suits are extremely expensive - perhaps that is why there are so few, or perhaps because there are few they are expensive. Disagreements are customarily settled by compromise between the parties concerned, or the parties select a referee and his decision is accepted. This spirit of compromise is sometimes misunderstood as it extends into national and international affairs.

At first glance their betting and liquor laws are certainly bewildering examples of compromise. Betting is legal on the race tracks, on certain set dates only, either through bookmakers or on pari-mutuel machines, referred to as 'totes,' illegal elsewhere with some exceptions, which make it more confusing. However, although the Englishman likes an occasional flutter, he does not usually gamble for high stakes. He has some of the characteristics of the canny Scot; two-and-six on a game of golf or a race is about the average bet. There is comparatively little speculation on the stock exchanges. Drinking is illegal during certain hours except in one's own home and as a result in hotels, restaurants and clubs, as well as in public houses or saloons, one cannot get a drink before 11.30 in the morning, between 3.00 and 5.30 in the afternoon and after certain hours at night - from 10.00 to 12.00 depending on the town, again with certain exceptions allowing late closing at the discretion of the magistrate. These laws are enforced and strictly lived up to by rich and poor alike. It is recognized that many people want beer, wine or hard liquor with their meals or after work for the day is over and all kinds of liquor can be readily obtained, but the law discourages drinking during working hours and little drunkenness is in evidence at any time. The English climate is, of course, a constant topic of conversation and is much maligned, even by the Englishman, but frequent rain does not stop anything. Hiking, bicycling, sports, all go on just the same, no matter how wet it is and so much outdoor activity the year round certainly makes for health. Personally, I like the climate as they do not have the extremes of heat and cold that we do and with wool socks, heavy soled shoes and a mackintosh, one need not mind the English weather any time of the year.

There are four great holiday seasons in England, Christmas and Boxing Day, Easter Sunday and Monday, Whit-Sunday and Monday, and August Bank Holiday Monday, when it seems as though the entire population shifts from where it is to some other place. Railways put on all the extra trains the fines will carry. The roads are jammed with bicyclists travelling in parties, like swarms of bees, every motor car, truck and bus is loaded to capacity and traffic crawls along for the two or, three days these holidays are on. There is another holiday observed by the workers in Yorkshire and Lancashire, particularly, which is typical. During the summer months the various small manufacturing towns have what they call "Wake Weeks," different weeks for the various towns, when business shuts down for a week and all the workers go en masse to Blackpool, Harrowgate, Hull or some of the other northern resorts and enjoy their week at the seaside. The English generally have a profound belief in the efficacy of a few days cure at the sea whenever they are not feeling up to par.

Another outstanding characteristic is the general courtesy one meets with everywhere. The driver of a big truck makes it easy for one to pass on the road by drawing to one side and giving hand signals when the road is clear ahead. On the narrow winding roads it is almost impossible, to pass another car safely except for this help. The London taxi driver on the main streets will stop and hold up traffic to help one to filter in from a side road. Imagine that happening in New York! The police are always in evidence in both the cities and in the smallest villages and are always helpful and polite, even when giving you a summons for parking in the wrong place or for any other infraction of the law and anyone attempting to bribe a policeman not to do his duty is in serious difficulties. There is no speed limit for motor cars, except one of 30 miles per hour in builtup neighbourhoods, which has gone into effect this past year, but dangerous driving is severely penalized.

Great Britain has done more for general free education than other European countries and they are now debating in Parliament the possibility of increasing school leaving age from 14 to 15 years, both to give better education to the young people and to prevent the increase of unemployment. There are also a very considerable number of free scholarships which take care of young people showing exceptional ability, permitting even those from the poorest families to go through secondary or high school and even through the colleges and universities.

The Englishman takes his public duties very seriously. It is considered an honour to serve without pay on the borough, town, city or county council, or as alderman, mayor or magistrate and when a man becomes elderly or well enough off to retire or take time away from his business, as a matter of course he goes in for this sort of public work. As a result,, the laws while strictly enforced are tempered with humanity and common sense. By this I do not mean that anyone with influence can secure favours, quite the contrary. The higher one's position or title, the more intelligent and responsible one, is supposed to be and the more strictly is he held accountable for his actions. The poor or less responsible are given special consideration and the penalty made to fit the particular circumstances.

The rights of property and capital are always recognized and observed, both by the people and the Government, except that both property and income are subject to extremely heavy taxation. Industry is encouraged and helped to make profits. The good business man, as long as he abides by the rules of the game, is not considered a criminal but is respected and assisted and his ability is drafted for the good of his community or his country. That is quite different from some of the things that happen a little south of us right now.

The Civil Service offers a real career to many of the brightest graduates of the universities who take this up as their life work. It is a profession, the same as law or medicine. This has built up a corps of men who are secure in their positions and consequently collect the taxes, spend the governmental 'funds and generally administer the affairs of the Government intelligently, honestly, fairly and efficiently, regardless of the party in power, in accordance with the law.

Various newspapers there, like here, cater to different varieties of circulation, but all of them are held more responsible for what they print by very strict libel laws and laws which limit them severely as to publicity given to cases before the law courts. Generally, there is less yellow journalism, less scandal, and less intrusion into private affairs. The better papers, of course, give a wonderful synopsis of world news and this keeps the English public the best informed of any on world affairs.

It takes time and money to introduce a new article to the English market. It is harder to get customers there as the Englishman is slow to change. I think that is possibly the reason there have been some failures on the part of people on this side of the water in going over there and starting business and trying to make sales. High pressure advertising and salesmanship does not appeal but the right kind of consumer advertising and selling must be discovered and continued over a long period of time, for the dealer has a different attitude there than here. The dealer gives his customer what he wants and gets him what he asks for even though he may have something similar in stock. He is the agent for the customer rather than the manufacturer or wholesaler. His clients rather than his merchandise are his assets and this state of mind must be recognized to do business there. However, credit losses are small and bankruptcy is still considered a disgrace and is seldom encountered.

While English labour is not so well paid as American labour and does not have so high a standard of living, it is the highest paid in Europe and the cost of living is less rent, food and clothes are all cheaper. In addition, with State„ employers and employee contributing, English labour quite generally has unemployment insurance, health insurance, old age pensions, hospital and doctor's fees at a very low cost. This should always be taken into consideration in comparing our wages with those of England.

In Great Britain the trade unions are numerically stronger in many trades than they are over here, but again they are more responsible. They must make public their receipts and disbursements. There are no labour rackets nor irresponsible labour leaders stirring up trouble: and the laws determining legal and illegal picketing as well as other union activities are comprehensive and well enforced. Therefore, they are slow to strike and outside of the coal mining industry which, due to the loss of export trade and to the increased use of crude oil in place of coal is in the worst condition of any industry in England, there have been no threats of serious labour trouble since 1926, the year of the general strike. I might also say that the manufacturers and dealers are also permitted to organize under the union laws to protect their interests which is something that should be taken into consideration.

When I went to England in 1928, over here we were in the midst of our boom. Our high wages, due to the greatly increased use of modern machinery and mass production with our seeming prosperity, had made Englishmen commence to wonder if we had discovered some miraculous cure for all economic ills. While business conditions in England had been getting gradually worse ever since the beginning of the century, the war had postponed necessary action and since the war no Government had been strong enough to administer the drastic remedies required. They then had a socialist or labour government which seemed unwilling or unable to do anything constructive. They had an unbalanced budget, they were faced with going off the gold standard and they had al great number of unemployed who were being catered to in every way for political purposes. England had been on a free trade basis for many years. Free trade had been very advantageous as long as England was the principal manufacturing and shipping country of the world, exchanging her manufactured products for materials and foods, but since other countries had gone in for shipping and manufacturing both for themselves and for export, England was in a bad way. So bad that something had to be done about it and something, in fact many things were done. The emergency was recognized, all political differences and prejudices were forgotten, a National Government was formed and constructive moves were made which have shown an improvement there which is remarkable. In the first place, confidence was restored by balancing the budget through severe economies in all government expenditures. As Ramsay McDonald phrased it, "Great Britain did not fall but slid off the gold standard." The administration of relief was put on a business basis. The cost of administration of relief, for example, was cut from 50% to 4 1/2% Those drawing relief, although not entitled to it, were eliminated and the use of relief money to influence political support was done away with. The unemployables and those in need, but not entitled to the dole under the Unemployment Insurance Act, were taken care of under the Poor Law which carries with it disenfranchisement as far as voting privileges are concerned.

Although heavy before, taxation was increased and more widely spread amongst the population. Income tax, for example, started at 25% on all incomes of approximately $1,000 a year and over and rapidly increased to 50% on larger incomes; 18c a gallon tax was put on gasoline and so on all along the line, but at the same time every effort was made to help business, so that the increased taxation was welcomed even by business men, who were consulted as to the situation that existed and as to the best way to raise and to collect taxes.

Free trade was done away with and tariffs were adjusted so that domestic manufacturers and farm products were protected against dumping and the English workingman against the lower standards of living existing in other countries, or from unfair competition from other countries through debased currencies and other ways. For example, the British steel business, with comparatively old plants had to meet competition from the most up-to-date plants in France and Belguim, built with reparation money from Germany to take the place of old plants which had been destroyed during the war.

When you consider that in addition to this kind of competition, England's wages generally were 50% higher than those of Belgium and one-third more than those of Germany, to say nothing of the much lower wages in other European countries, the absolute necessity for protection was evident.

A great slum clearance and small house building programme was started which gave immediate employment in many lines of industry, but please remember that all building done was of a permanent construction which will endure and at costs permitting rental or installment buying prices which the people can afford to pay and that these buildings will eventually pay out as investments.

Since tariffs were imposed many new industries have located in England, helping to reduce the number of unemployed. During free trade, few of the newer kinds of manufactured articles had been made in England. For example, almost all of the new things that have come into existence during our life time were imported - pianos, automobiles, radios, typewriters, adding machines, office equipment, even spectacle frames and countless other articles were practically all imported. The manufacturers of English leather goods, considered for years the finest in the world, English luggage and hand baggage, all the metal fittings were imported. This condition is now changing rapidly as is very noticeable in the many new factories seen throughout the Midlands and on the outskirts of London, and in the old factories which have been put back to work.

The tariffs are administered by a Commission which has power to act immediately and which is in session continuously. Tariffs can be and are adjusted frequently and quickly. I think they claim the record is seven minutes for a tariff revision when brought before the Commission and handled by it. It is only necessary to show that articles are being imported which can be made in Great Britain or for which substitutes can be provided from within the country to get action.

Pressure has been put upon all countries which in the past have been selling to Great Britain more than they have bought, by various methods, quotas and so forth either to increase their purchases or cut down their sales; for in the long run a country's total imports and exports must be balanced just as the budget.

Thus, in a few short years, Great Britain has changed from a free trade country to the one which is using tariffs the most intelligently and effectively of all, and is further demonstrating how, by the old proven methods, instead of by experimenting with theoretical panaceas and quack remedies the world can really start back on the road to recovery.

I feel today that Great Britain is the best governed country in the world. (Applause.) There they are keeping their feet on the ground, confining their efforts to the most important job at hand in any country-getting their people back to work. They are neither looking for an easy way out, nor trying to introduce too many reforms which, however desirable they sound, no country can afford to introduce under present chaotic conditions.

I hope to make my permanent home in Canada. (Applause.) Looking ahead, I believe with our present small population, our immense territory, our natural wealth, the opportunities are greater here than in any other country - if we all work together, thinking straight and refusing to be led up blind alleys by theorists and experimentalists, many of whom have nothing to lose and by attempting to set class against class, are confusing the issue and retarding recovery.

Pessimists say civilization is crumbling because the machinery for international relations was interrupted, dislocated and in many cases destroyed during the war. Yet, a study of history will show that every great war, as far back as the records go, had these same effects, yet civilization has continually approached a higher standard. The aftermath from the last war, with which we are still contending, is only intensified because of the number of nations and people involved and the correspondingly greater need for each nation to put its own house in order and meet the situation.

It is encouraging that never before after a world tragedy, such as the Great War, have so many people appreciated the futility of war. Never has there been so wide-spread an interest in the welfare of their 'fellow citizens, never has there been such an immediate dissemination of news by telegraph, telephone, cable and radio which provide for relatively quick application of the proper remedies.

When so many countries are showing signs of disintegration, in spite of frantic struggles to avoid facing the real issues, by reviving medieval prejudices and superstitions - by gambling their all on either long since discredited or brand new theories of politics and economics - by turning over to dictators the freedom of the individual which it took centuries of struggle and bloodshed to obtain, can we not here in Canada take the information. which is available, sift the good from the bad, the facts from the propaganda, the sensible from the insane, the straight from the crooked, the immediate necessities from the present superfluities, the advantages from the disadvantages of democracy and by the same machinery and methods which have advanced human progress more 'in the past hundred years than in the thousands of years preceding, also set an example to the world for clear-sightedness, self-discipline and real character which will place us in the forefront of civilized nations. The law of gravity, the law of supply and demand, the law of self-preservation, the law of the survival of the fittest cannot be changed by words, by ignoring them or by trying to side-step them. If we work with these natural laws, not against them, we will commence to see results and the kind of results we are hoping for.

Thank you. (Applause.) PRESIDENT: I hope none of you will feel we have misrepresented the address that was to be given today when we entitled it "Conditions in Great Britain and the United States." I think our guest speaker has been extremely clever in not making any comparisons between what is going on in Great Britain and what is going on elsewhere. He has left that for us.

Any copyright which The Empire Club may have to addresses presented before its members is withdrawn in so far as this address is concerned. I think that as an American-born, a long time resident in Britain, Mr. Partridge would be a fine ambassador from Canada to go to the United States and tell a story of this nature, either by word of mouth or by the issue of a pamphlet covering this address.

On your behalf, and on behalf of the listeners on the radio, I extend to Mr. Partridge our very sincere thanks for this very lucid address and also again wish him Godspeed as long as he remains in this country and we trust it will be, as he says, for the rest of his life. (Applause.)

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Conditions in Great Britain and America

Highlights of the speaker's impressions as to conditions in America and Great Britain. Conditions in Canada appearing to occupy a position midway between those of Great Britain and the United States. A comparison of customs and manners, even in the use of the English language between Great Britain and America, with some illustrative examples. Some words on the nature and character of the British people. The experience of an American in Great Britain. Some of the things the speaker includes in his look at the British people in their attitude to law and order, a love of fair play, business practices, the enjoyment of holidays, attitude towards sports, betting and liquor laws, climate, outdoor activities, level of courtesy, policing, education, public duties, rights of property and capital, the Civil Service, the press, marketing, labour, trade unions, economics, wages, trade, budget, taxation, housing and social conditions, industry, manufacturing, the effects of tariffs, government. The speaker's hope to make a permanent home in Canada. A look at the possibilities for the future of our civilization.