James Watt’s ingenious improvements to the steam engine transformed this relatively simple technology, making it more efficient and adapting it so it could be used to turn wheels. His ideas revolutionised steam power, literally driving the industrial revolution and transforming the British landscape and the lives of its people.
In the 1700s, work was localised and family-orientated, largely agricultural and driven by hand and horse labour. But innovations in steam power and the design of machinery in the late 1700s and early 1800s transformed manufacturing and the way people lived and worked. In the 1820s and 30s, factors such as increasing industrialisation, poor harvests and, specifically, the introduction of the threshing machine meant farming wages were low, working conditions poor and unemployment high. Agricultural workers in the South and East of England protested in what became known as the Swing riots (or agricultural labourers’ risings).
In the early 1700s, work in the textile industry was mainly hand-operated and undertaken by people skilled in crafts - such as weaving and knitting. But innovations in steam power and the design of machinery in the late 18th and early 19th century transformed manufacturing and the way people worked. Much of the new labour could be undertaken by unskilled workers in factories away from the household, quicker than ever before and for a fraction of the price. Skilled textile workers, who found their livelihoods threatened by new, labour-saving technology, responded witha series of violent protests. They became known as the Luddites.
Cotton was one of the latest textile fibres to be introduced to Britain as a raw material within a manufacturing system, but between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it rose to prominence as a cornerstone of the British economy. Cotton manufactures stimulated industrialisation, global commercial influence, and new communities of labour. This is one of five early sample books illustrating the cotton and calico designs produced by the textile industry in Salford between 1769 and 1851.
The spinning mule was invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779. It revolutionised textile production by vastly increasing the amount of cotton that could be spun at any one time. But this also meant textile manufacturers no longer needed to pay individual spinners to create spindles (wooden rods) wound with cotton thread, as just one operator could now use the machine to spin hundreds of spindles at once.
New Lanark, a village on the River Clyde near Glasgow, was a revolutionary industrial and housing complex, combining a cotton mill with purpose-built housing, education and social care for its workers and their families.
This is the first steam powered railway engine to run on a public railway. It was designed by George Stephenson and sparked a transport revolution that transformed the lives and fortunes of people across Britain and the wider world.
This gilded bronze statue, known as the ‘Golden Boys’ honours Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), James Watt (1736-1819) and William Murdoch (1754 – 1839).
The steam engine was one of the most important technologies of the industrial revolution. But it could be dangerous. The invention of the steam whistle made steam power much safer, saving countless lives as steam technology developed and grew through the 1800s.