Professor Robert J Bennett

Professor Robert J Bennett

Visiting Professor

Department of Economic History

Key Expertise
Analytical economic geography, business management and public policy

About me

Bob Bennett is Emeritus Professor Cambridge University and a Visiting Professor in the LSE Department where he is developing research using historical digital census records, and seeking to enhance cooperation with the Cambridge Group for History of Population and Social Structure (Campop).  After being Professor of Geography at LSE 1985-96, then at Cambridge, with a career in research on spatial statistics and regional economies, he has since about 2008 developed research projects using historical data spanning the 18th to the 21st centuries. The LSE Department provides an ideal environment to take this forwards over three broad themes: history of entrepreneurship, small business policy, and business associations:

History of Entrepreneurship 

I have attempted to fill the gaps that have prevented previous large-scale research on the history of British entrepreneurship over the 19th and early 20th centuries to improve the interpretation of how modern entrepreneurship differs or is part of a continuing patterns of behaviour. The historical work mainly uses the digital records of the population census. Apart from publications, a major output has been the data deposit of the British Business Census of Entrepreneurs (BBCE) at the UK Data Archive Service [SN: 8600].  An entry website gives a User Guide, online Atlas and tutorial materials   BBCE links with the historic census records for the whole population in I-CeM, the Integrated Census Microdata prepared by Schürer and Higgsat the UK Data Archive Service [SN: 7481]

BBCE is now the primary micro-data source on individual entrepreneurs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain identifying the 1.5 to 2 million self-employed people listed in each census for England and Wales 1851-1911, and Scotland 1851-1901, and their ‘employment status’ as employer, proprietor with no employees, or company director, with workforce size of their businesses. An overview of what this shows is given in The Age of Entrepreneurship

Small Business Support Policy 

I have had a long-term research agenda to examine the way in which small businesses access and use external advice, their locational needs, and the differences between different types of suppliers: such as commercial advisors (consultants, accountants, lawyers), business associations (chambers of commerce, sector trade associations), and public agents (e.g. British Business Link, LEPs). This research has tracked British policy on SMEs since the 1980s. Entrepreneurship and small business policy

expands on examples of the interface between the history of entrepreneurship, institutional developments of the 'business enabling environment', and small business policies using case studies from nations around the world.

History of Chambers of Commerce 

The history and current development of local Chambers of Commerce has been a research interest since I was commissioned to prepare the National development Strategy for British Chambers of Commerce in 1990. I subsequently developed historical analysis of chambers and other local business associations in Britain. My main outputs cover the history of the British system of private law chambers that began in cities across the Atlantic economy from the 1760s and 1770s. The earliest were in New York, Jersey, Guernsey, Liverpool, Manchester, Charleston, Boston, Jamaica, Quebec, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow and other port cities in the UK and Ireland. Their origin related to anger with business taxes, inadequate trade treaties, unsatisfactory government officials, and other government 'bads' - especially the 1775-83 war with America. 

Business Voice: The History of Chambers of Commerce in Britain, Ireland and Revolutionary America, 1760-2011 is a definitive study of the long-term history

The Voice of Liverpool Business: The first Chamber of Commerce and the Atlantic economy, 1774-c.1796 gives the first study of the previously unknown early history of this important chamber 

The Documents of the first Chambers of Commerce in Britain and Ireland, 1767-1839 provides transcribed copies and commentary on all the major documents of the earliest chambers in the British Isles


Expertise Details

Analytical economic geography; business management and public policy: focusing on small businesses; agents of local economic development; and business associations.

Selected publications

Selected recent journal publications

Bennett, R.J., Montebruno, P., van Lieshout, C. and Smith, H., 2022. Business Entry and Exit: Career Changes of Proprietors in England and Wales (1851–81) Using Record-Linkage. Social Science History, v. 46, p.255-289. doi:10.1017/ssh.2021.48.

Bennett, R.J., Smith, H., Montebruno, P. and van Lieshout, C., 2022. Profitability of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Marshall’s time: sector and spatial heterogeneity in the nineteenth century. Cambridge Journal of Economics, v. 46, p.219-249. doi:10.1093/cje/beab055.

Bennett, R.J. and Hannah, L., 2022. British employer census returns in new digital records 1851–81; consistency, non-response, and truncation – what this means for analysis. Historical Methods A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, v. 55, p.61-77. doi:10.1080/01615440.2021.2018373.

Hannah, L. and Bennett, R., 2022. Large‐scale Victorian manufacturers: Reconstructing the lost 1881 UK employer census. The Economic History Review, v. 75, p.830-856. doi:10.1111/ehr.13118.

Bennett, R.J., Smith, H., Montebruno, P. and van Lieshout, C., 2021. Changes in Victorian entrepreneurship in England and Wales 1851-1911: Methodology and business population estimates. Business History, p.1-33. doi:10.1080/00076791.2021.1894134.

Smith, H., Bennett, R.J., van Lieshout, C. and Montebruno, P., 2021. Entrepreneurship in Scotland, 1851–1911. Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, v. 41, p.38-64. doi:10.3366/jshs.2021.0313.

van Lieshout, C., Bennett, R.J. and Smith, H., 2021. The British Business Census of Entrepreneurs and firm-size, 1851–1881: New data for economic and business historians. Historical Methods A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, v. 54, p.1-22. doi:10.1080/01615440.2019.1707140.

Bennett, R.J., Smith, H. and Montebruno, P., 2020. The Population of Non-corporate Business Proprietors in England and Wales 1891–1911. Business History, v. 62, p.1-35. doi:10.1080/00076791.2018.1534959.

Montebruno, P., Bennett, R.J., Smith, H. and van Lieshout, C., 2020. Machine learning classification of entrepreneurs in British historical census data. Information Processing & Management, v. 57, p.102210-. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2020.102210.

Smith, H., Bennett, R.J., van Lieshout, C. and Montebruno, P., 2020. Households and entrepreneurship in England and Wales, 1851–1911. History of the Family, doi:10.1080/1081602X.2020.1796750.

Montebruno, P., Bennett, R., Van Lieshout, C., Smith, H. and Satchell, A., 2019. Shifts in agrarian entrepreneurship in mid-Victorian England and Wales. The Agricultural History Review, v. 67, p.71-108.

Montebruno, P., Bennett, R.J., van Lieshout, C. and Smith, H., 2019. A tale of two tails: Do Power Law and Lognormal models fit firm-size distributions in the mid-Victorian era?. Physica A Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, v. 523, p.858-875. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2019.02.054.

Smith, H., Bennett, R.J. and van Lieshout, C., 2019. Immigrant business proprietors in England and Wales (1851–1911). Continuity and Change, v. 34, p.253-276. doi:10.1017/s0268416019000171.

van Lieshout, C., Smith, H., Montebruno, P. and Bennett, R.J., 2019. Female entrepreneurship: business, marriage and motherhood in England and Wales, 1851–1911. Social History, v. 44, p.440-468. doi:10.1080/03071022.2019.1656929.

Smith, H., Bennett, R. and Radicic, D., 2018. Towns in Victorian England and Wales: a new classification. Urban History, doi:10.1017/S0963926818000020.

Radicic, D., Bennett, R. and Newton, G., 2017. Portfolio entrepreneurship in farming: Empirical evidence from the 1881 census for England and Wales. Journal of Rural Studies, v. 55, p.289-302. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.08.019.

Bennett, R.J. 2016. Interpreting business partnerships in late Victorian Britain, Economic History Review, 69, 4, 1199-1227

Bennett, R. J. 2012. Supporting trust: Credit assessment and debt recovery through Trade Protection Societies in Britain and Ireland, 1776-1992, Journal of Historical Geography, doi:10.1016/j.jhg.2012.01.001

Bennett, R.J.(2012. Government and Small Business, Chapter 4, pp. 49-75, in S. Carter and D. Jones-Evans (eds.) Enterprise and Small Business, (2nd ed.) Financial Times/Pearson

Bennett, R.J. and M. Ramsden, 2007. The contribution of business associations to SMEs: Strategy, bundling or reassurance? International Small Business Journal, 25, 1, 49-76.

Bennett, R. J. and P. J. A. Robson 2005 The advisor-SME client relationship: an empirical test of a model of client impact, satisfaction and commitment, Small Business Economics, 25, 3, 255-271.

Ramsden, M. and R. J. Bennett, 2005 The benefits of external supports to SMEs: "Hard" versus "soft" outcomes and satisfaction levels, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 12, 2, 227-243.

Bennett, R.J. and Robson, P.J.A. 2004. The role of boards of directors in small and medium-sized firms, Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 11, 1, 95-113.

Bennett, R.J. and Robson, P.J.A. 2003. Changing use of external business advice and government support by SMEs in the 1990s, Regional Studies, 37, 795-811

Bennett, R.J. and Smith, C. 2003. The spatial market of business advice and consultancy to SMEs, Journal of Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 27, 309-336