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.
This is a selection of tokens from mothers who, unable to keep their babies, left them at the Foundling Hospital in London. They highlight the plight of single mothers and destitute families unable to care for their children and are a poignant reminder of the growing poverty crisis as cities became more heavily industrialised and workers more mobile during the Age of Revolution. Many babies were left anonymously by their mothers, along with a token to identify them, in the hope that they might be reunited in the future.
Red Phrygian or ‘liberty’ caps were long associated with the theme of liberty in European and colonial cultures. They were used as icons during the American Revolution and worn during the French Revolution in the late 1700s and came to symbolise allegiance to the republican cause. Along with the red, white and blue cockade, pinned to these and other hats, they became a lasting symbol of revolutionary France.
The advent of steam hauled railways in the 1820s quickly revolutionised passenger travel and the transport of goods across Britain and the wider world. This is an early train ticket for a journey from Liverpool to Warrington.
John McAdam revolutionised road travel in the 1800s, through his ‘Macadamisation’ method. The greatest advance in road construction since Roman times, his principles are still applied to road building today.
This is a sampler that records the sufferings of a child, working in one of the many textile mills in Salford (Greater Manchester). It was sewn by Elizabeth Hodgates who was 12 years old in 1833 and reminds us of the terrible working conditions for children, women and men during the industrial revolution.
The 1800s saw a series of protests and uprisings in Britain, as people campaigned against slavery, unjust taxes and laws imposed by the government and in support of fair wages, the right to vote and to have their voices heard in parliament. Protest flags, posters and banners carrying radical slogans were a popular way for campaigners to get their message across at marches and rallies, and to cooperate without endangering individuals. The Skelmanthorpe flag was created in secret, in Huddersfield, initially to honour the victims of what became known as the Peterloo Massacre, in 1819.
The Pentrich Rising was a small armed rebellion initiated by political radicals in the Midlands in 1817, which they hoped would spread far and wide and bring about revolutionary changes to the structure of government and society. Deliberately infiltrated and partly provoked by government spies, the uprising was a failure, and the marchers scattered. The ringleaders were eventually caught and made an example of, through gruesome execution. The episode shared much in common with the coordinated protests that preceded it (the Luddites) and those that followed, including Peterloo. It exposed the tensions and frustrations within British society in the context of post-war economic unrest.
Between the 1500s and early 1800s, millions of Africans were kidnapped, sold and transported to the Americas to work as slaves, in unimaginably cruel conditions, on hugely profitable plantations, producing sugar, tobacco and other commodities. These plantations were largely owned by Europeans and Euro-Americans. Britain grew rich on the profits from this transatlantic slave trade, which were reinvested into other economic sectors. Only in the late eighteenth century did public opinion slowly begin to turn against the trade in Africans, and campaigners for abolition used every way they could to bring the issue to people’s attention in Europe.