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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Industrial Revolution

A term first used in the mid-19C to describe the process by which Britain, during the previous 100 years, had been transformed from a society in which most people lived in the country, and most goods were produced by hand, to one in which urban living and machine production were the norm. Many different factors contributed to Britain being the first nation to go through this process, but they can be broadly divided into natural and political causes.

Nature had provided England with an abundance of two essential ingredients, *iron and *coal. A third natural commodity, water, played its part in several ways. There were reliable streams to drive the machinery of the early textile mills; the island's coastal waters simplified the distribution of fuel, raw materials and finished goods; the development of the *canal system greatly improved inland transport; and the moist climate and soft water of Lancashire were peculiarly well suited to the manufacture of *cotton goods, which were at the forefront of the revolution.

The political advantages stemmed from the *Revolution of 1688, which made possible the beginnings of a middle class with capital to invest, eager for more wealth and willing to take risks. Inventors and entrepreneurs were able to rise from quite humble beginnings to reap the rewards of their energies (*Arkwright was an outstanding early example), and the process was fostered by a strong *Nonconformist tradition of hard work and thrift. There was also a ready-made economic advantage in Britain's available market, larger than any other nation's at the time; the Act of *Union had made England, Wales and Scotland an unusually large tariff-free internal zone, and the developing *British empire provided wide opportunities abroad.

A further boost came in the early 19C with the extension of *steam power, increasing output from the mills and improving methods of transport (see *railways). Britain's emerging industrial society was long blemished by the exploitation of cheap labour – an abuse gradually redressed in the series of *Factory Acts.

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