Life in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution

Life in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution

Industrial revolution is defined as the vast social and economic changes that resulted from the development of steam-powered machinery and mass-production methods, beginning in the late eighteenth century in Great Britain and extending through the nineteenth century elsewhere in the world.

Industrial revolution brought unprecedented development in the lives of human beings. What are the impacts of industrial revolution on the lives of the British people during that time? Some of the basic questions that would be discussed are the impacts of industrialization on society and individuals from the technological changes in the agriculture, textile, railroad and mining industries.

One can clearly observe the differences in life style in Britain before and after the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution brought fundamental changes in the livelihoods of people and in their standards of living. The central feature of industrialization – revolution in technology yielded a massive increase in per-capita productivity. Increased output could be used to improve material condition of the masses and sustain the population growth. It could also create inequalities among the standard of living by creating different classes of people. The factory owners aimed at making profits by maximizing their Return on Investment by maximizing the utilization of the machinery by making their workers work longer hours and by slashing wages. This created an upper middle class whose standard of living improved dramatically but the lives of the worker class changed very little or even became worse as they were exploited by the new factory owners.

Britain leads the way

The pre-cursor for technological innovations to be created and adopted by the masses is the social, economical and political climate of the place along with the educational qualifications of the people.

Political and Socio-Economic situation - One of the major reasons why Britain was foremost in industrial revolution is that Britain had a stable political system and made technological progress in the late 1700s. Britain’s political system favored property owners. Well defined property rights are essential to promote innovation as a lot of money is invested in research. British patent law dates from the 1600’s. In some cases, the society itself rewarded innovators when the social benefits of the innovation are deemed to be much higher than the benefits from patents.

Transportation, Market Integration and favorable export policies – Britain had a good network of roads, canals and railroads which helped with the speedy transportation of raw materials and finished goods. Additional goods were exported to foreign countries as there were no restrictions on the same.

Textile Industry

One of the most impressive developments during the industrial revolution was the introduction of power-driven looms and spinning wheels in the textile industry which led the way for the early factories of Britain.

The textile industry in Britain started as a home based industry in the late 1600’s. In the 1690’s the wool industry started as small ventures by farmers using family members to work the wool to provide supplemental income. Some of them started employing more workers to work for them and slowly became business owners. As more and more small businesses began expanding their operations by hiring wage workers during the early phases of the industrial revolution a new manufacturing middle class emerged. The mass production of goods resulted in cheaper products being available in larger quantities. The industrial revolution progressively replaced humans as the primary source of power for production with motors powered with steam.

By the 1730s, cotton industry started picking up in Britain. In 1733, John Kay invented the flying shuttle that was powered by the foot pedal, in 1733, by John Kay, an English artisan increased productivity by 100%. Resistance to the new technology by workers sensing this as a threat to their jobs delayed the widespread introduction.In 1764, James Hargreaves invented a spinning jenny device which drew out and twisted fibers into threads. In 1769, the first water powered spinning machine was invented by Richard Arkwright. The waterwheel demanded a constant supply of water and the factory had to be located near a river. He created accommodation for the factory workers as they had to be now relocated to be closer to their work locations. In 1770s and 1780s new bleaching and drying procedures were invented and roller printers for cloth designs. This replaced the intensive manual labor that involved block printing by hand. This increased productivity hundredfold at the same time reducing the skill levels of workers. With the invention and eventual adoption of the steam engine for powering looms by 1770, workers had to move into factories to do their work as opposed to their homes as the steam power could not be transmitted over long distances. This change forced people to abandon their homes and move closer to the factories. Increased productivity resulted in surplus goods available at lower prices. Export of goods became essential and cotton products were exported to Continental Europe, Latin America and Africa.

Transportation Industry

The most spectacular feature of industrialization in Britain occurred in the field of transportation. As productivity soared, ability to transport raw materials to the factories and finished products to market over long distances became a necessity. Improved roads and canals and rail transport were essential to sustain the growth. A major factor in Britain’s head start in technology in the early stages of Industrial Revolution is market integration – people and goods moved easily inside Britain.

Waterways were the cheapest and most effective mode to transport goods. Rivers were widened to make them more navigable and canals were built to connect cities with rivers. The first transatlantic steamship started carrying raw materials and finished goods by 1840’s. To improve road transportation, a series of turnpikes were built in the mid 1700’s.

Advances in rail transportation had begun in the coal mines and the first steam engine for hauling coal was introduced in 1804.Reliable locomotives operating at speeds of 16 miles per hour became operational in 1827.Between 1820 and 1850 6000 miles of railways were opened and Britain entered the period of full industrialization. It’s economy was no longer dependent just on the textile sector but on capital goods production which moved it further along.

Major Inventions

* The first commercial Steam Engine was produced in 1698. It was patented by Thomas Slavery.
* In 1712 Thomas Newcomen improved on Savory’s Engine and it came into general use during the 1720’s.
* In 1733, John Kay invented the flying shuttle-which increased the width of the cotton cloth and speed of a single weaver.
* In 1738, Lewis Paul and John Wyatt patented the roller spinning machine and the flyer-and bottom system. This allowed yarn to be spin quickly and efficiently.
* In 1764, The first cotton mill in the world was constructed in Lancashire, England.
* In 1771, Richard Arkwright invented the water frame. He used waterwheels to power looms that produced cotton cloth.
* In 1779, Samuel Crompton created the spinning wheel. His invention produced a stronger thread, and could be used in mass production.
* In 1785, James Watt improved New cowmen’s engine. His engine used heat more efficiently and less fuel.
* In 1803, William Radcliffe invented the dressing frame which allowed power looms to operate continuously.
* 1830-Nearly all basic tools for modern industry are in use.

Impacts on the Society

The industrial revolution was the driving force behind social change between the 18th and 19th centuries. It changed nearly all aspects of life through new inventions, new legislation, and spawned a new economy. As a result of many new inventions such as the steam engine, locomotive and powered looms production and transportation of goods radically changed. With new mechanized machinery factories could be built and used to mass produce goods at a rate that human labor could never achieve. When the new factories were built they were often located in cities which lead to the migration of people from rural landscapes to an urban center. The growth and expansion of the industrial revolution depended on being able to transport the goods that were produced. With the beginning of the revolution in Great Britain and the rest of Europe the amount of railways increased dramatically. As well as railways, more and more canals were being constructed because it was a cheaper alternative such as the Grand Trunk Canal built in 1777. With an increase in goods the economy began to surge. The only way for the industrial revolution to continue expanding was through individual investors or financiers. This lead to the founding of banks to help regulate and handle the flow of money, and by 1800 London had around 70 banks. As the price of machinery and factories climbed the people who had the ability to provide capital became very important.

Life of the workers during the Industrial Revolution

The working conditions in the textile factories were substandard and the workers had to put in 70 hour weeks on a regular basis. The additional hours were supported with legislation. The manufacturers in the run to maximize productivity from the improvised machinery tried to extract more work from the over-stretched workers making their lives miserable. According to a cotton manufacturer, "We have never worked more than seventy-one hours a week before Sir JOHN HOBHOUSE'S Act was passed. We then came down to sixty-nine; and since Lord ALTHORP's Act was passed, in 1833, we have reduced the time of adults to sixty-seven and a half hours a week, and that of children under thirteen years of age to forty-eight hours in the week, though to do this latter has, I must admit, subjected us to much inconvenience, but the elder hands to more, inasmuch as the relief given to the child is in some measure imposed on the adult." [cite web | title = The Life of the Industrial Worker in Ninteenth-Century England | year = 2008 | accessdate = 2008-04-28 | url=]

Michael Sadler and was one of the pioneers in addressing the living and working conditions of the industrial workers. In 1832, he led a parliamentary investigation of the conditions of the textile workers. Ashley Commission was another investigation committee that studied the plight of the mine workers. The excerpts below from the interviews with witnesses bring out the life of the industrial class during the middle of the industrial revolution when there was a great deal of technological innovation resulting in increased productivity. What came out of the investigation was that with increased productivity the number of working hours of the wage workers also doubled in most cases. The efforts of Michael Sadler and the Ashley Commission resulted in the passage of the 1833 act which limits the number of work hours for women and children. The Michael Sadler and the Ashley Commission invited people from different background as witnesses to examine the living conditions of the workers during that time. The committee report clearly tells us how miserable the situation was. An excerpt from Matthew Crabtree’s and Elizabeth Bentley’s testimony with the committee is quoted below.

Mr. Matthew Crabtree:What age are you? — Twenty-two.:What is your occupation? — A blanket manufacturer.:Have you ever been employed in a factory? — Yes.:At what age did you first go to work in one? — Eight.:How long did you continue in that occupation? — Four years.:Will you state the hours of labor at the period when you first went to the factory, in ordinary times? — From 6 in the morning to 8 at night. :Fourteen hours? — Yes. :With what intervals for refreshment and rest? — An hour at noon. :When trade was brisk what were your hours? — From 5 in the morning to 9 in the evening. :Sixteen hours? — Yes. :With what intervals at dinner? — An hour. :How far did you live from the mill? — About two miles.

Elizabeth Bentley:What age are you? — Twenty-three. Where do you live? — At Leeds. :What time did you begin to work at a factory? — When I was six years old. :At whose factory did you work? — Mr. Busk's. :What kind of mill is it? — Flax-mill. :What was your business in that mill? — I was a little doffer. :What were your hours of labour in that mill? — From 5 in the morning till 9 at night, when they were thronged. :For how long a time together have you worked that excessive length of time? — For about half a year. :What were your usual hours when you were not so thronged? — From 6 in the morning till 7 at night. :What time was allowed for your meals? — Forty minutes at noon. :Had you any time to get your breakfast or drinking? — No, we got it as we could. :And when your work was bad, you had hardly any time to eat it at all? — No; we were obliged to leave it or take it home, and when we did not take it, the overlooker took it, and gave it to his pigs. :Do you consider doffing a laborious employment? — Yes. :Any time allowed for you to get your breakfast in the mill? — No.

Child Labor

Child labor usually refers to a child who works to produce a good or service that can be sold for money whether they were paid or not. In pre-industrial Europe it was common for children to learn a skill or trade from their father, and open a business of their own in their mid twenties. During the industrial revolution, instead of learning a trade, children were paid menial wages to be the primary workers in textile mills and mines. Sending boys up chimneys to clean them was a common practice, and a dangerous and cruel one. Lord Ashley became the chief advocate of the use of chimney-sweeping machinery and of legislation to require its use.

During the industrial revolution, factories were criticized for long work hours, deplorable conditions, and low wages. Children as young as 5 and 6 could be forced to work a 12-16 hour day and earn as little as 4 shillings per week. Finally seeing a problem with child labor the British parliament passed three acts that helped regulate child labor

# Cotton Factories Regulation Act 1819

## Set the minimum working age to 9

## Set the maximum working hours to 12 per day

# Regulation of Child Labor Law 1833

## Established paid inspectors to inspect factories on child labor regulations and enforce the law

# Ten Hours Bill 1847

## Limited working hours to 10 per day for women and children


Primary Sources

# Mokyr, Joel. ( 1990). The Lever of Riches - Technological Creativity and Economic Progress. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506113-6. This book documents the analysis and comparisons in technological progress between Britain and the rest of the world.
# Stearns, Peter N. ( 1993). The Industrial Revolution in World History. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-8596-2. This book discusses the causes for industrial revolution and why it happened in eighteenth-century Britain. It documents the economic transformation in Britain during the Industrial Revolution.

econdary Sources

# [ The Industrial Revolution: An Introduction] . This site provides an introduction to the industrial revolution in Britain.
# [ The Growth of Victorian Railways] .

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