2.1. Introduction to the Industrial Revolution in England

The Industrial Revolution changed England into a country which the world had never seen before: a country in which the physical work was not done by men, women, or horses, but by machines which were faster, stronger, more exact, and more dependable. The net effect on the people from 1770 to 1860 was positive, as to increase of income, food consumption, and reduction of physical work. But there were many bad experiences along the way. 

The first technical changes occurred in metal working in the West Midlands, with the production of better types of iron, which are demonstrated in the famous Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale (1779). In the cotton industry, which was small at the beginning of the period, there were a number of inventions in spinning and weaving, which increased the output per person by a factor of 100 times, and the output of the country by much more. The price of clothing to the people decreased to one quarter, and cotton was exported to all the world. The production of woollen clothing was also made more efficient, and the price went down considerably. From 1835 railways were built all over England, which made possible the fast and cheap transport of people and goods. In all industries, the inventions increased the efficiency of production and decreased the costs of the articles produced.

The population of England and Wales increased from 6,000,000 in 1780 to 15,000,000 in 1860. The Agricultural Revolution, and a continuous improvement in farming methods up to 1860, made it possible to produce enough food for the population, with only a small increase in the number of agricultural workers. This meant that a large number of people from the rural areas had to find work in the towns – that is, they could work “under cover”, and in general with less bodily work -, but also that there was a large pressure on wages due to the number of people seeking work.

The most important currents as to the position of the United Kingdom in the world, were the victorious wars against the French Revolutionary forces and against Napoleon, the conquest of India and of other non-European parts of the world, and the large-scale exports of textiles. The internal condition of the country was marked particularly by the Reform Bill of 1832 (which created parliamentary seats for the new manufacturing towns, and abolished “rotten boroughs”), and the New Poor Law in 1834 (which introduced the workhouses, and abolished payments to unemployed outside the workhouses). As a general statement, the country was ruled by the “upper classes”, formed by the land-owners, the professional men in the House of Commons, with “input” from the commercial and factory-owning classes. Obviously, the majority of the people did not have the vote. There was no imprisonment without trial, and little press censorship.           

The country was not poor in 1770 or in 1790. Nearly everyone had a productive job, there was enough bread to eat, and many people ate meat regularly; the old people in the poorhouses ate well. From 1795 to 1815 there were a number of years with a scarcity of cereals, and some deaths from starvation. The general level of wages (adjusted for inflation) increased a little from 1790 to 1830, and then improved by about 30 % to 1860. The very good situation of the working classes in general in 1851 was illustrated by the installation of the Great Exhibition.

The general improvement in monetary terms has to be evaluated against the very bad working and living conditions in the industrial towns. There was a general lack of sanitary installations (privies in the houses, sewers in the town), overcrowding of the houses, very high infant and child mortality, long hours and bad treatment of the children in the factories (up to 1833), long hours for the textile workers, and pollution and industrial diseases. 

It is the purpose of this book to present a comparison of the good effects and the bad effects of the Industrial Revolution, and also to investigate if the bad conditions applied to 100 % of the times and places.    

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