The Beginning of Industrialization in Britain

The Industrial Revolution saw a rapid development of industry take place in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, soon spreading to Western Europe and North America. New and improved large-scale production methods and machinery marked the beginnings of Industrialization. Many different factors contributed to the rise of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The new inventions, access to raw materials, trade routes and partners, social changes, and a stable government all paved the way for Britain to become an industry-driven country. Britain started the revolution that would develop the way in which we live today.

The Main Reasons Industrialization Broke Out in Britain First

Causes

Access to Raw Materials

Britain had access to cotton from its colonies and could use slaves to collect it. As technology improved, cotton picking became easier and was a booming industry. Coal, iron, lead, copper, tin, limestone, and water power were also readily available for the British to use for their industrial advancement.1  In conjunction with the navigable waterways in Britain, these ships could transport much larger amounts of coal than land modes. This coal was widely available in 18th-Century Britain. Also, coal provided much more energy potential than wood, which was the main prior producer of energy.2  The city of Bristol saw massive increases in coal production over a course of 120+ years, beginning with 90,000 tons produced in 1700, all the way to a production of 600,000 tons by 1830. Iron was the preferred metal for tools and equipment until steel was used. The iron and steel factories caused dense fogs of soot and noxious waste gases, which then caused diseases. The burning of coal also caused severe air pollution.

Trade Routes and Partners

ARTSTOR_103_41822001177193
England: Railroad tunnel entrance: print. 19th Century (16)

According to Eric Hobsbawm, “transportation and communication were comparatively easy and cheap, since no part of Britain is more than seventy miles away from the sea, and even less from some navigable waterway.” This was true in eighteenth century Britain. Canals were built in the rivers of Britain from 1760-1800 to allow ships to transport goods and for a quicker rate. Britain had access to local and international economies because of their powerful Navy and other ships.3  Railroads were also built to allow more efficient trade and transportation of goods. The first public railway opened in 1825 and ran from Stockton to Darlington. Built by George Stephenson, the Newcastle based father of the railways, this was the precursor of the Liverpool to Manchester railway and ultimately the national rail network.(4) The British government allowed foreign trade and domestic to occur to expand the economy and grow industries.

 

A Stable Government/Stable Monetary System

CORNELL_ADWHITE_1039419930
House of Commons. Speaker’s Chair. Barry & Pugin. Building date: 1840-1888. (15)

All of these changes occurring in Britain were held together by its stable government. Regular meetings of Parliament, and longer legislative sessions, allowed time to deal with local issues. Fewer bills failed, and promoters grew in confidence so that the number of petitions and bills increased rapidly.(12) There were drastic differences in the economies when comparing Britain to other European mainland countries. The pound sterling was the national currency during the entire pre-industrial and Industrial Revolution time period time, and it is still the currency used to today in Britain.

 

Effects

New Inventions

The creation of new inventions sparked the change of many industries in Britain. The Steam Engine, invented in 1763 by James Watt, created a huge boost in production. From the years 1804-1805, an engineer, John Farey, visited every steam-powered establishment in London, from calico printers to iron foundries and breweries. While he was there, he counted 112 steam engines at work, which were producing 1,355 horsepower. He then compared that to the 32  steam engines in Manchester, which was producing less than a third of that energy. In 1825, on the cusp of the railway era and the massive expansion of the Lancashire textiles industry, there were about 290 steam engines in London, compared with 240 in Manchester, 130 in Leeds, and 80 to 90 in Glasgow.(6)

 

Edmund Cartwright invented The Power Loom, which was a steam-powered, mechanically operated version of the regular loom. It was an invention which combined threads to make cloth. When the power loom was created women replaced men as weavers in textile factories. He set up a factory in Doncaster, but went bankrupt in 1793. Cartwright ended up helping an American inventor, named Robert Fulton, with the invention of steamboats.(9)

Richard Arkwright owned Arkwright’s Cotton Mill by the River Derwent, in Derbyshire. His cotton mill had a water frame powered by a water wheel that made strong, lengthwise cotton warp threads. This was the first cotton mill purposely built to house working spinning machines, spinning four spindles of cotton threads at a time. This cotton mill allowed many people to be employed and it caused the cotton textile industry to boom.(11) In the 1780’s,  Britain produced close to 40 million yards of cotton cloth per year. By 1850 Britain produced nearly 2000 million yards per year.

Education

University_College_Oxford
Front Quad, University College, Oxford University. Wikipedia. Date of Creation-January 23, 2006. Date Accessed- April 27, 2016

While the economy was growing in pre-industrial Britain, education was becoming readily available for a larger portion of the population. British citizens had access to education that was lacking in other countries around the world. The increased amount of literacy created improvements in reading skills, meaning more people could read instruction manuals about machines.(5) This also meant that more people could start reading books about the Revolution as it occurred, thus sparking/maintaining interest in technology and innovation.

Schools like the University of Oxford (shown to the left), were where many people learned the skills they needed in order to become skilled industrial workers.

A Workforce Able to Relocate

A few centuries before the industrial revolution in 1500, nearly 75% of the English population were agricultural workers, which would be down to 35% in 1800. They would end up leaving these agricultural fields in order to go to the city to find jobs with industrialized machinery. The rich population, who used to live in the city, would relocate themselves to new areas for their careers (2). Please follow this link for more information on the agricultural revolution.

Geographic Location During Napoleonic Wars

Due to the English Channel separating Great Britain and mainland Europe, the British were largely able to focus on their homeland. While the rest of the Europe’s young men were in armies were fighting each other in Europe, the British youth were in schools learning skills such as Mathematics and Engineering, which would prove very useful during the Revolution. Being separated from the rest of Europe was probably the best thing for Britain. It made it much more successful, not just in the industry aspect, but for the country and people as a whole.  As much as being separated from the rest of Europe by the English Channel helped Britain further their advancement into their Industrial Revolution, it helped aid them in the wars they took part in also.  The English Channel was the perfect place for British people to smuggle goods into France.  France banned all goods from Britain to come into France.  Gavin Daly supports this idea when he states, “English subjects along the Channel shore continued to trade illegally with the enemy, with the Channel providing a permeable border rather than an impenetrable defensive barrier”.(13)  This smuggling supports Britain’s growth in the Industrial Revolution because their good are still getting distributed and sold. Daly also declares, “English smugglers were an integral part of cross‐Channel contraband networks involving capital formation, production, transportation, distribution, and sales. The larger‐scale operations were clandestine international business enterprises, at the forefront of supplying eighteenth‐century Britain’s “consumer revolution” with cheap tea and tobacco.”(14)

Map of England
Map illustrating the fear of Napoleon’s invasion of Britain, 1804.

This map (provided by the BBC) shows each military district that Napoleon would have had to face if he actually did invade. The government tried to downplay the threat that the French military presented, but many civilians took notice of the threat. Soldiers were prepared and equipped to fight a land battle on their homeland.

 


The Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on Great Britain as well as the rest of the world. New inventions such as James’ Watt’s Steam Engine helped propel the economy forward like never seen before. Great Britain’s access to valuable materials such as coal, iron, and lead are what provided the “fuel” for the nation to revolutionize its industry. The strong British Navy, along with its easily navigable inner waterways, helped transport all of these materials to the British mainland. A new educational system was implemented to provide a capable workforce for these new areas affecting the British society. Regular Parliament meetings tied into a free-thinking society, which meant that the country would be a stable place where new ideas could grow and prosper. The large amount of ideas and the new machinery caused many workers, who were formerly employed in large amounts in the agricultural field, to move in the city to find the jobs concerning technology. In this era, England was also able to keep its homeland away from the Napoleonic Wars, creating a sense of stability and security. All of these factors are combined to provide some insight into Great Britain’s role in the Industrial Revolution.

 

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1 New World Encyclopedia Editors, “History of the Industrial Revolution”, February 26, 2014, Accessed February 29, 2016, http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/History_of_the_Industrial_Revolution.

2 Barrie Trinder, “Britain’s Industrial Revolution” (The Making of a Manufacturing People), Page 282, Carnegie Publishing, 2013.

George P. Landow, “The Industrial Revolution: An Introduction,” Victorian Web, Last modified October 9, 2015, http://www.victorianweb.org/technology/ir/ir1.html.

David Waller, “Technology capital then and now,” History Today 65, no. 11 (2015): 36-38, Accessed April 5, 2016, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=338f916a-2d0a-446d-a7af-0811be4cdbfd%40sessionmgr103&vid=7&hid=128.

George P. Landow, “The Industrial Revolution: An Introduction,” Victorian Web, Last modified October 9, 2015, http://www.victorianweb.org/technology/ir/ir1.html.

David Waller, “Technology capital then and now,” History Today 65, no. 11 (2015): 36-38, Accessed April 5, 2016, http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=338f916a-2d0a-446d-a7af-0811be4cdbfd%40sessionmgr103&vid=7&hid=128.

7 Barrie Trinder, “Britain’s Industrial Revolution (The Making of a Manufacturing People)”, pg. 282, Carnegie Publishing, 2013.

Matthew White, “The Industrial Revolution”, British Library/Georgian Britain, Accessed April 26, 2016, http://www.bl.uk/georgian-britain/articles/the-industrial-revolution.

9 R.M. Hartwell, “The Causes of the Industrial Revolution in England”, pgs.104-105, Methuen & CO LTD, 1967

10 William Wiliams, “The Iron Bridge across the Severn,” Images of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.netnicholls.com/neh2001/pages/aspects2/24frame.htm.

11 Joseph Wright , “Arkwright’s Cotton Mill,” Images of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Accessed April 4, 2016, http://www.netnicholls.com/neh2001/pages/aspects2/25frame.htm.

12 John Beckett,”The Glorious Revolution, Parliament, and the Making of the First Industrial Nation,” Parliamentary History (Wiley-Blackwell) 33, no. 1 (February 2014): 36-53, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed February 25, 2016), http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=96972adc-3d7d-4636-a00f-08c3e872b98c%40sessionmgr114&hid=118.

13 Gavin Daly. 2007. “English Smugglers, the Channel, and the Napoleonic Wars, 1800–1814”. Journal of British Studies 46 (1). [Cambridge University Press, North American Conference on British Studies]: 30. doi:10.1086/508397.

14 Ibid., 30.

15 Barry & Pugin, (Architect). “House of Commons. Speaker’s Chair.” Artstor. Accessed April 5, 2016. http://library.artstor.org/library/welcome.html#3|search|1|House20of20Commons2E20Speaker27s20Chair|Multiple20Collection20Search|||type3D3126kw3DHouse20of20Commons2E20Speaker27s20Chair26id3Dall26name3DAll20Collections26origKW3D

16 “England: Railroad tunnel entrance: print.” Artstor. Accessed April 5, 2016.http://library.artstor.org/library/welcome.html#3|search|5|All20Collections3A20England20railroad|Advanced20Search|||type3D3526kw3DEngland20railroad7Call26geoIds3D26clsIds3D26id3Dall26bDate3D3137303026eDate3D3139303026dExact3D3026origKW3DEngland20railroad7Call

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