It was not until the 18th century that scientific thought and experiment were applied to the needs of everyday life and trade and industry. England was the country where the Industrial Revolution began.
The age of steamAt first the Industrial Revolution brought much misery to the people of Britain; the conditions of work in the early mines and factories were appalling. It was only later that there was prosperity and a higher standard of living.
The Industrial Revolution could not have started at all in Britain without plentiful supplies of coal and iron. Fortunately these were readily available. Iron had been used in Britain since the days of the Phoenician traders, and iron furnaces had been stoked with wood from the English forces, especially the Sussex Weald. But as long as wood remained the only fuel, output was small and there could be no machinery on a large scale. Then, early in the 18th century, new methods of iron-smelting were devised, using coal instead of wood, and gradually the iron industry moved north, to the coalfields of the Midlands and the north of England.
As the demand for coal grew, a primitive type of steam engine, invented by Thomas Newcomen, was used to pump water from the mines. But the true age of steam began when James Watt, of Greenock near Glasgow, patented his own steam engine, in which the cylinders and condensers were separated, thus economising heat. For the first time, the piston was driven by steam instead of by atmospheric pressure. Watt later went into partnership with a Birmingham businessman, Robert Boulton, and for 13 years he and his assistant experimented until they perfected steam engines for every purpose. They were used in collieries, Cornish tin mines, rolling-mills for making sheets of iron, the Wedgewood pottery works and, in 1785, the steam spinning-mill. Six years after Watt's death, steam was harnessed to transport, when George Stephenson's first locomotive carried passengers from Stockton to Darlington, and, later, from Liverpool to Manchester.
Meanwhile, water provided cheap transport for the coal, which was feeding new industries. A network of canals spread over England, linking the Trent with the Mersey, the Black Country round Birmingham with the Severn, and the Potteries with Cornwall, which supplied their china clay.
Cotton – some revolutionary inventionsThe textile revolution began slowly, gathering speed as it went on. . In 1735 John Kay of Lancashire invented the flying shuttle , which doubled the speed of weaving. Richard Arkwright of Preston patented his water frame, a spinning machine driven by a water wheel, in 1769. Then James Hargreaves, a Blackburn weaver, invented the spinning jenny, named after his wife, which could spin several strands of yarn at once by using many spindles instead of one. By 1779 Samuel Crompton had combined these ideas in his spinning mule which could produce the finer thread needed for muslin.
These new inventions often brought great hardships to the workers, for the machines did the work of several men, and consequently reduced the number of men employed. Another development, following the invention of the power loom by Edmund Cartwright (1785), was that spinning and weaving could no longer be carried on in workers' cottages, but began to be concentrated in factories.
Meanwhile the cotton trade grew until by 1806 one-third of all British exports consisted of cotton goods. The industry was concentrated in Lancashire, where plentiful streams and cheap coal supplied water and steam power. The damp climate was suitable for spinning; and the port of Liverpool imported raw cotton from the West Indies and the United States in ever-increasing quantities, and then exported the finished product. Changes in the woollen industry, centered in West Yorkshire, came more slowly, but the effects of machinery were the same as with cotton.
As small mills were replaced by large, prison-like factories, hundreds of women and children worked, for lower wages than men, up to fifteen hours a day. Children were cruelly treated to keep them awake through the long hours. The mill-owners had often risen from poverty through hard work and toughness, and – with honorable exceptions like Robert Owen of Lanarkshire – had little sympathy for their workers. The hand-loom weavers, like George Eliot's Silas Marner, were ruined because no government of the day would protect them by fixing a minimum wage. The political economists, who had great influence, honestly believed that State intervention would be fatal to industry and trade.
Gradually, however, the conscience of the people was stirred by the appalling life of the women and children in the mills. In 1830 Richard Oastler began his campaign against child labor in the woollen mills, and in 1833 the first effective Factory Act reduced employment of children under nine. The Factory Act of 1847, the work of Lord Shaftesbury, limited factory work to 10 hours a day. These laws marked the end of one of the worst periods of human misery, which was the price of Britain's Industrial Revolution.
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