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The Industrial Revolution | Class 11 History

The chapter introduces students to the industrial revolution that happened in Britain during the 1780s and 1850s. The chapter talks about all types of development that took place. We also highlight how the revolution impacted the lives of people and what were its consequences.


The Significance of the Revolution

It was used between the 1780s and 1850s to describe the transformation of British industries and the economy. Later, many European and American countries experienced similar revolutions. This revolution had a big impact on society and the economy when it happened.

In this period, new machinery and technologies were introduced in Britain. Unlike the handicraft and handloom industries, these industries allowed mass production. The cotton and iron industries both changed. Steam, a new power source widely used in British industries, was introduced. Steam power allowed for faster communication.

They were not wealthy or knowledgeable in basic sciences like physics or chemistry.

While industrialisation increased some people's wealth, it was associated with poor living and working conditions for millions of people, including women and children. Protests erupted, forcing the government to enact labour laws.

What was the Industrial Revolution?

The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ was used by European scholars – Georges Michelet in France and Friedrich Engels in Germany. It was used for the first time in English by the philosopher and economist Arnold Toynbee (1852-83), to describe the changes that occurred in British industrial development between 1760 and 1820.

Why was Britain the first country to experience this revolution?

The UK was the world's first modern industrialised nation. It had been politically stable since the seventeenth century, with England, Wales, and Scotland united. A single set of laws, one currency, and no local governments taxing goods passing through their territory meant no price inflation.

Money was invented in the late 17th century. Rather than goods, a large portion of the population received wages and salaries. This increased consumer choice and the market for goods sold.

The 18th century saw an "agricultural revolution" in England.

Larger landowners bought small farms nearby and enclosed village common lands, creating large estates and increasing food production.

This forced landless farmers and those who relied on public grazing lands to find work elsewhere.

Towns, Trade And Finance

The population growth was seen in different parts of Europe. According to the scale of the growing population from the eighteenth century, many towns in Europe were growing in the area and in population. Out of the 19 European cities whose population doubled between 1750 and 1800, 11 were in Britain. London served as the hub of the country’s markets, with the next largest ones located close to it. London had also acquired a global significance.

The centre of global trade had shifted from the Mediterranean ports of Italy and France to the Atlantic ports of Holland and Britain by the eighteenth century.


London has supplanted Amsterdam as the primary source of international trade loans. It was also the hub of a triangular trade network connecting England, Africa, and the West Indies. Companies doing business in America and Asia had offices in London as well.

The Rivers posed as a viable mode of transportation between England's markets. Until the railways were widely spread, water transport was cheaper than land transport. English rivers provided 1,160 miles of navigable water as early as 1724, and except for mountainous areas, most of the country was within 15 miles of a river.

The Central Financial Body

The centre of the country’s financial system was the Bank of England (founded in 1694). By 1784, there were more than a hundred provincial banks in England, and during the next 10 years, their numbers trebled. By the 1820s, there were more than 600 banks in the provinces and over 100 banks in London alone.

The financial requirements to establish and maintain big industrial enterprises were met by these banks.

Coal and Iron

In England, coal and iron ore, the staple materials for mechanisation, were plentifully available, as were other minerals – lead, copper and tin – that were used in industry. There was a scarcity of usable iron until the 18th century. Iron is drawn out from ore as pure liquid metal by a process called smelting. For centuries, charcoal (from burnt timber) was used for the smelting process.

Revolution in Metallurgical Industry

The Darbys of Shropshire, also called the family of ironmasters, took the initiative to revolutionise the Metallurgical sector. Earlier, Charcoal was used for the production of iron but was too fragile to transport also its impurities led to the poor production of Iron. As a substitute forests had been destroyed for timber; and it could not generate high temperatures.

The three generations of this family – grandfather, father and son, all called Abraham Darby – brought about a revolution in the metallurgical industry. It began with an invention in 1709 by the first Abraham Darby (1677-1717) who invented a blast furnace.

This was a blast furnace that would use coke, which could generate high temperatures; coke was derived from coal by removing the sulphur and impurities. This invention meant that furnaces no longer had to depend on charcoal. The melted iron that emerged from these furnaces permitted finer and larger castings than before. The process was further refined by more inventions.

The second Darby (1711-68) developed wrought iron (which was less brittle) from pig iron.

Henry Cort (1740-1823) designed the puddling furnace (in which molten iron could be rid of impurities) and the rolling mill, which used steam power to roll purified iron into bars. In the 1770s, John Wilkinson (1728-1808) made the first iron chairs, vats for breweries and distilleries, and iron pipes of all sizes.

In 1779, the third Darby (1750-91) built the first iron bridge in the world, in 'Coal brook dale', spanning the river 'Severn'. Wilkinson used cast iron for the first time to make water pipes (40 miles of it for the water supply of Paris).

The iron industry then came to be concentrated in specific regions as integrated units of coal mining and iron smelting. Britain was lucky in possessing excellent coking coal and high-grade iron ore in the same basins or even the same seams.

These basins were also close to ports; there were five coastal coalfields that could deliver their products almost straight into ships

The British iron industry quadrupled its output between 1800 and 1830, and its product was the cheapest in Europe. In 1820, a ton of pig iron needed 8 tons of coal to make it, but by 1850 it could be produced by using only 2 tons.

Cotton Spinning and Weaving

The use of wool and flax was done to make linen by the British. Cotton cloth and bales were imported at a great cost from India in the 17th century. After the establishment of EIC's political control over different parts of India, not only cloth but raw cotton was also used to be imported, which could be spun and woven into cloth in England.

Earlier, the spinning had been so slow and laborious that 10 spinners were required to supply sufficient yarn to keep a single weaver busy. Therefore, while spinners were occupied all day, weavers waited idly to receive yarn.

A series of technological inventions successfully closed the gap between the speed in spinning raw cotton into yarn or thread, and of weaving the yarn into fabric. To make it even more efficient, production gradually shifted from the homes of spinners and weavers to factories.

The cotton industry symbolised British industrialisation in many ways during the 1780s.

This industry had two features that were also seen in other industries.

● The process of colonisation was sustained by importing entire raw cotton and exporting the finished cloth completely. This helped Britain retain control over the sources of raw cotton as well as the markets.

● The ugly face of early industrialization was that the industry was heavily dependent on the work of women and children in factories.

Steam Power

Steam could generate tremendous power and efficiency to the process of industrialization. It provided pressure at high temperatures that enabled the use of a broad range of machinery. Water as hydraulic power had been the prime source of energy for centuries, but it had been limited to certain areas, seasons and by the speed of the flow of water.

Steam power remained a reliable source of energy and inexpensive enough to manufacture machinery itself. Steam power was first used in mining industries. As the demand for coal and metals expanded, efforts to obtain them from ever-deeper mines intensified.

Miner's Friends

Thomas Savery, an English inventor and engineer, created the 'Miner's Friends' steam engine in 1968 to drain mines. Mine flooding was a significant issue. These engines were slow and operated at shallow depths, and the boiler burst due to excessive pressure.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) built another steam engine. This had the major flaw of wasting energy due to the condensing cylinder's continuous cooling. Until James Watt (1736-1819) developed his machine in 1769, the steam engine had only been used in coal mines.

In 1775, James Watt and Matthew Boulton, a wealthy manufacturer, established a 'Soho foundry' in Birmingham (1728-1809). Watt's steam engines were manufactured in ever-increasing numbers. Watt's steam engine began to replace hydraulic power by the end of the eighteenth century.

With the use of lighter, stronger metals, the manufacture of more precise machine tools, and the spread of better scientific knowledge after 1800, steam engine technology progressed further. By 1840, British steam engines had produced more than 70% of all European horsepower.

Canals and Railways

Canals were initially built to transport coal to cities. This was because the bulk and weight of coal made its transport by road much slower and more expensive than by barges on canals. The demand for coal, as industrial energy and for heating and lighting homes in cities, grew constantly.

The first English canal, the Worsley Canal (1761) by James Brindley (1716-72), was built to carry coal from the coal deposits at Worsley (near Manchester) to that city; after the canal was completed the price of coal fell by half.

Canals were usually built by big landowners to increase the value of the mines, quarries or forests on their lands.

The confluence of canals created marketing centres in new towns.

The city of Birmingham owed its growth to its position at the heart of a canal system connecting London, the Bristol Channel, and the Mersey and Humber rivers. From 1760 to 1790, twenty-five new canal-building projects were begun.

In the period known as the canal mania, from 1788 to 1796, there were another 46 new projects and over the next 60 years, more than 4,000 miles of canal were built.

The first steam locomotive, Stephenson’s Rocket, appeared in 1814.

Railways emerged as a new means of transportation that was available throughout the year, both cheap and fast, to carry passengers and goods.

They combined two inventions, the iron track which replaced the wooden track in the 1760s, and haulage along with it by a steam engine. The invention of the railways took the entire process of industrialisation to a second stage.

- In 1801, Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) had devised an engine called the ‘Puffing Devil’ that pulled trucks around the mine where he worked in Cornwall.

- In 1814, the railway engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) constructed a locomotive, called ‘The Butcher, that could pull a weight of 30 tons up a hill at 4 mph.

The first railway line connecting the cities of Stockton and Darlington in 1825, a distance of 9 miles that was completed in two hours at speeds of up to 24 kph (15 mph), and the next railway line connected Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. Within 20 years, speeds of 30 to 50 miles an hour were usual.

In the 1830s, the use of canals revealed several problems. The congestion of vessels moved slow on certain stretches of canals, and frost, flood or drought limited the time of their use. The railways were a convenient alternative. About 6,000 miles of railway was opened in Britain between 1830 and 1850, most of it in two short bursts.

During the ‘little railway mania’ of 1833-37, 1400 miles of line was built, and during the bigger ‘mania’ of 1844-47, another 9,500 miles of line was sanctioned. They used vast amounts of coal and iron, employed large numbers of workers and boosted activity in the construction and public works industries.

Most of England had been connected by railway by 1850.

How The Revolution Impacted The Lives Of The People?

The individuals with talent played a major role in bringing revolutionary changes. The rich individuals invested money in the industrial sector in the hope of profit. Everything has its pros and cons, similarly, in most cases, the individuals did earn the profit in the form of goods, incomes, services, knowledge and productive efficiency. At the same time, there was a massive negative human cost.

This was evident in broken families, new addresses, degraded cities and appalling working conditions in factories. The number of cities in England with a population of over 50,000 grew from two in 1750 to 29 in 1850.

For the betterment of the rapidly growing urban sectors, the provision of adequate housing, sanitation or clean water was there. The difference of the residential settlements was seen, the newcomers were forced to live in overcrowded slums in the congested central areas of towns near factories, while the rich inhabitants escaped, by shifting to homes in the suburbs where the air was cleaner and the water safe to drink.

The Workers

Amid the dangerous working conditions of the workers a survey was conducted in 1842, that reported that the average lifespan of the workers was lower than that of any social group in cities. The figures that came out were hilarious as it was 15 years in Birmingham, 17 in Manchester and 21 in Darby.

The death rate count of the young was more, as half of the children failed to survive beyond the age of five.

There was more increase in the population through the immigrants coming into the city than by the number of children born to families who already lived there. The Unhygienic conditions of the city were leading to the epidemics of disease that sprang from the pollution of water. like; Cholera & Typhoid or air Tuberculosis. More than 31,000 people died from an outbreak of cholera in 1832.

The municipal authorities were negligent in attending to these dangerous conditions of life and the medical knowledge to understand and cure these diseases was unknown.

What was the role of women and children in the industrial sector?

Prior to the "Industrial Revolution," women and children had poor living conditions. Children and women's working lives changed dramatically during the Industrial Revolution. Rural poor children had always worked at home or on the farm, at jobs that changed throughout the day or between seasons, under the supervision of their parents or relatives.

Women were actively involved in farm work in villages; they reared livestock, gathered firewood, and spun yarn at home on spinning wheels. Factory work, on the other hand, was a completely different experience, with long, uninterrupted hours of the same type of work, strict discipline, and harsh forms of punishment. Women's and children's earnings were required to supplement men's meagre wages.

As the use of machinery increased and fewer workers were required, employers preferred to hire women and children who would be less upset about their poor working conditions and would work for lower wages than men. They worked in the cotton textile industry in Lancashire and Yorkshire in large numbers.

Women were also the primary workers in the silk, lace, and knitting industries, as well as in Birmingham's metal industries (along with children).

With their small build and nimble fingers, machinery like the cotton spinning jenny was designed for child workers. Because they were small enough to move between tightly packed machinery, children were frequently employed in textile factories. Younger children worked as ‘trappers,' opening and closing doors as coal waggons passed through mines, or as ‘coal bearers,' carrying heavy loads of coal on their backs.

Factory managers saw child labour as crucial preparation for future factory work. According to evidence from British factory records, half of the factory workers began working when they were under the age of ten, and 28% when they were under the age of fourteen. Women may have gained financial independence and self-esteem as a result of their jobs, but this was more than offset by the humiliating working conditions they endured, the children they lost at birth or in infancy, and the squalid urban slums that industrial work forced them to live in.

Protest Movements

The early decades of industrialisation coincided with the spread of new political ideas pioneered by the French Revolution (1789-94). The movements for ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ showed the possibilities of collective mass action, both in creating democratic institutions like the French parliamentary assemblies of the 1790s and in checking the worst hardships of war by controlling the prices of necessities like bread.

In England, political protests against the harsh working conditions in factories kept increasing, and the working population agitated to be given the right to vote.

The government reacted by repression and by new laws that denied people the right to protest.

● England had been at war with France for a long time – from 1792 to 1815.

● Trade between England and Europe was disrupted, factories were forced to shut down, unemployment grew and the price of essential items of food, like bread and meat, soared to heights beyond the level of average wages.

Parliament in 1795 passed two Combination Acts which made it illegal to ‘incite the people by speech or writing to hatred or contempt of the King, Constitution or Government’; and banned unauthorised public meetings of over 50 persons.

The term ' Old Corruption' was used to refer to the privileges linked to the monarchy and parliament. Members of Parliament – landowners, manufacturers and professionals – were opposed to giving the working population the right to vote.

Corn Laws

The Corn-laws prevented cheaper food until prices had grown to a certain level in Britain. As workers flooded towns and factories, they expressed their anger and frustration in numerous forms of protest. There were bread or food riots throughout the country from the 1790s onwards.

● The bread was the staple item in the diet of the poor and its price governed their standard of living.

● Stocks of bread were seized and sold at a price that was affordable and morally correct rather than at the high prices charged by profit-hungry traders. These riots continued until the 1840s.

Another cause of hardship was the process known as ‘enclosure’ – by which, from the 1770s, hundreds of small farms had been merged into the larger ones of powerful landlords.

The introduction of machines in the cotton industry threw thousands of handloom weavers out of work and into poverty since their labour was too slow to compete with machines. The weavers began to demand a legal minimum wage during the 1790s, which was refused by Parliament. They went on strike, they were dispersed by force.

In Lancashire, cotton weavers destroyed the power looms which they believed had destroyed their livelihood.

There was also resistance to the introduction of machines in the woollen knitting industry in Nottingham; protests also took place in Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

In Yorkshire, shearing-frames were destroyed by croppers, who had traditionally sheared sheep by hand. In the riots of 1830, farm labourers found their jobs threatened by the new threshing machines that separated the grain from the husk.

The rioters smashed these machines. Nine of them were hanged and 450 were sent to Australia as convicts.

What was Luddism?

It was another type of protest led by the charismatic leader General Ned Ludd. The objective of the protest was to feed the demands of a minimum wage, rational labour laws for women and children, to provide job security to those who had lost their jobs because of industrialization.

and the right to form trade unions so that they could legally present these demands.

The Peterloo Massacre

During the early years of industrialisation, the working population possessed neither the vote nor legal methods to express their anger at the drastic manner in which their lives had been overturned. In August 1819, 80,000 people gathered peacefully at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester to claim democratic rights – of political organisation, of public meetings, and the freedom of the press.

They were suppressed brutally in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre and the rights they demanded were denied by the Six Acts, passed by Parliament the same year.

These extended the restrictions on political activity introduced in the two Combination Acts of 1795. But there were some gains. After Peterloo, the need to make the House of Commons more representative was recognised by liberal political groups, and the Combination Acts were repealed in 1824-25.

Reforms Through Laws

How attentive was the government to the conditions of work of women and children?

Laws were passed in 1819 prohibiting the employment of children under the age of nine in factories and limiting the hours of work of those between the ages of nine and sixteen to 12 hours a day. This law lacked the powers needed for its enforcement.

It was not until 1833, after an intense protest by workers throughout the north of England, that an Act was passed that permitted children under nine to be employed only in silk factories, limited the hours of work for older children and provided several factory inspectors to ensure that the Act was enforced.

Finally, in 1847, after more than 30 years of agitation, the Ten Hours’ Bill was passed. This limited the hours of work for women and young people and secured a 10-hour day for male workers. These Acts applied to the textile industries but not to the mining industry.

The Mines Commission of 1842, set up by the government, revealed that working conditions in mines had actually become worse since the Act of 1833 because more children had been put to work in coal mines.

The Mines and Collieries Act of 1842 banned children under ten and women from working underground. Fielder’s Factory Act laid down in 1847 that children under eighteen and women should not work more than 10 hours a day. These laws were to be enforced by factory inspectors, but this was difficult to do.

The inspectors were poorly paid and easily bribed by factory managers, while parents lied about the real ages of their children so that they could work and contribute to family incomes.

The Debate on the ‘Industrial Revolution’

Historians used the term industrialisation to describe changes in Britain from the 1780s to the 1820s. Industrialisation was too gradual to be called a revolution. It elevated existing processes. Thus, workers were concentrated in factories and money was used more widely.

England had changed regionally, notably around the cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham, and Newcastle, rather than nationally.

The impressive growth of cotton textiles was based on new machinery, non-British raw materials, exports (especially to India), non-metallic machinery, and few links to other industries. Metal and steam power were uncommon until the late nineteenth century.

As trade with North America resumed after the War of American Independence, British imports and exports grew rapidly. This growth was noted as rapid only because it began at a low point. Observations of economic change before and after 1815-20 suggest that sustained industrialisation occurred after these dates.

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had disrupted the decades after 1793.

Industrialisation is associated with increased capital formation, or investment in new infrastructure and machinery, as well as increased productivity.

Both productive investment and productivity grew steadily after 1820. Until the 1840s, cotton, iron, and engineering industries produced less than half of industrial output. Technical progress was visible in other branches as well, such as agricultural processing and pottery. Historians have pointed to the fact that from the 1760s to 1815.

Britain tried to industrialise while also fighting wars in Europe, North America, and India, and it may have failed at one. From 1760, Britain was at war for 36 years. Borrowed funds were used to fight wars rather than invest. Up to 35% of the war's costs were financed by income taxes. The army took over factories and farms.

Food prices soared, leaving the poor with little money for other purchases. Napoleon's blockade policies and the British reaction to them closed the European continent to British traders.

The word ‘industrial' with ‘revolution' is too narrow. The transformation impacted society as well as the economy, giving rise to two classes: the bourgeoisie and the new class of proletarian workers in towns and rural areas.

In 1851, thousands of people flocked to London's Crystal Palace to see the British industrial achievements. At the time, half of the population lived in towns, but handicraft units outnumbered factories. From the 1850s, a large proportion of the population lived in cities, mostly industrial workers – the working class.

Rural Britain's workforce had shrunk to 20%. This was a much faster rate of industrialisation than other European countries.


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