A Perspective on the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was a significant characteristic of life in Britain during the 18th century. Major rapid changes occurred across many areas e.g. machine-labour in factories took the place of hand-labour in people’s homes and large-scale agriculture based on scientific principles replaced the medieval system of tillage on small plots of land.

This Revolution was a process and not a single event, it had no sharply defined stages, and nevertheless we can say that it had taken hold by 1783 when it was being generally introduced and applied in most leading industries at the time. In 1784 the invention of the power-loom marked the application of water-power to weaving which was the last main process of the textile industry to be power-driven. In 1785 the application of steam for driving spinning machines foreshadowed the wider development of factories using steam-power which subsequently changes the face of Britain.

This revolution in industry had results that continued into the 19th century. The introduction of machinery which replaced hand-labour caused unemployment and the consequent distress. Unemployment coupled with low wages paid to the factory workers, because of the oversupply of labour enabled the employers to pay low wages. In addition child labour formed a significant proportion of the labour force the children working to supplement family incomes. Later with the expansion of international trade made Britain became very wealthy although this wealth was concentrated in few hands. The money was very often used to fund wars and subsidise her allies.

The rapid development of manufacturing produced dreadful and dangerous working conditions in the factories. In addition large numbers of people moved into the cities and towns in order to be close to their work place which created insanitary, overcrowded houses and slums. These slums continued to exist well into the 20th century in many cities and towns,

As a result of the creation of the manufacturing base for the country agriculture experienced major changes and challenges. For example to be profitable farming had to be a much larger scale. Consequently the yeoman-farmer i.e. the farmer who was neither a large land-owner nor a tenant of a farm owner and worked his own land was in most instances forced to give up his farm. He would then become a labourer for a more prosperous person who had been able to buy his farm or move to a town to become a factory worker or to join the ranks of the unemployed in the towns.

The disappearance of the yeoman was but one of the significant changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.


Source: Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes Examination paper for English in March 1939.

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