Britain's wealth was founded not only on its own natural resources such as coal and iron which made the Industrial Revolution possible but more recently on commerce and trade around the world. Merchant venturers and then the trading companies such as Hudson's Bay and the East India Company laid down the routes and trading posts that eventually grew into the British Empire.
Manufacturing industries were world leaders: for example the shipbuilding industry which built such ships as the Cutty Sark, the Great Eastern and the Queen Elizabeth.
The banking system (Bank of England 1694, the Bank of Scotland 1696), the Stock Exchange and new company structures were important developments in commerce that helped make possible the rise of the British economy to the point at which, in Victorian times, it was called "the workshop of the world".
During the twentieth century, particularly in the postwar years, the British economy has changed dramatically.
Nowadays only around seventeen percent of the labour force work in manufacturing industry. The service industries such as finance, media, leisure, transport and healthcare employ about seventy per cent of the work force and only around one per cent works in agriculture. The UK has large reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as a still significant coal industry.
Tourism has become an important contributor to the national economy. Overseas visitors are particularly attracted by London and by the heritage and legends of historic Britain. The cathedral town of Canterbury is a good example of what Britain has to offer the tourist and the beaches and countryside of Cornwall are well worth a visit.
In recent years fashion and pop music have become major export earners for the UK.
Since 1973 the main influence on the UK economy has been membership of the European Union.