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.
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.
Invented 200 years ago, the humble bicycle is one of the most popular and enduring innovations of all time. Relatively cheap and simple to produce, environmentally sound, easy and fun to use, great for keeping fit and available to people of all ages and from all walks of life, it is still a significant part of our lives today.
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.
The atmospheric engine was invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. It was the first machine to be powered by steam and was largely used to pump water out of mines. Hundreds of these engines were made and used all over Britain and Europe in the 1700s. They became known simply as the Newcomen Engine and helped pave the way for the Industrial revolution.
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).
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 manufacture 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.
Throughout the 1800s Britain became a busy industrial nation. People migrated in increasing numbers from the countryside to towns and cities to work in new factories and mills. Working conditions were poor and dangerous, injuries from machinery were common and workers – including children as young as six – worked long hours. Overcrowding, limited diets and polluted water led to widespread disease and early death. 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. The ideas put into practice here marked the beginning of cooperative socialism.
This gilded bronze statue, known as the ‘Golden Boys’ (and also the ‘Carpet Salesmen’!) honours Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. They are shown studying steam engine plans. Together these three revolutionised the steam engine – the technology that would literally drive the industrial revolution.