As the first of my spy series, released in the US in March with A Baron in Her Bed - The Spies of Mayfair Series Book One, involves some aspects of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, I thought I'd share some of my research.
| A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun (sometimes called simply The Orrery) is a painting (oil on canvas, ca. 1766) by Joseph Wright of Derby
depicting a public lecture about a model solar system, with a lamp—in
place of the sun—illuminating the faces of the audience. Wright captures
the spirit of the Enlightenment, with knowledge as a force of moral
uplift for the audience of commoners under the tutelage of the natural
A visitor to England in 1760, the year George III came to the throne would have found a nation which drew most of its living from the land. Farm workers, tenants and landowners raised sheep and cattle, grew crops or sold market garden or dairy produce. Many people took to rural crafts – as blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, wheelwrights, carters, fencers, or thatchers – to name but a few.
Local markets were the hub of life as the roads were poor.
If that visitor returned to England in 1837, the year Victoria became Queen, they would have found many great changes, especially in the midland shires. There were canals and barges laden with coal, iron and manufactured goods moving slowly through the open countryside. There were new roads linking many of the main towns, cities and ports. There were even some iron bridges. Peasants continued to weave in their cottages, as they had done for centuries – but many had new fangled steam engines in their backyards. Above all there were the huge new industrial towns such as Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield. Clouds of smoke from ironworks or mills hung over the countryside.
More and more people were drawn away from the countryside towards the towns. Here, they were often crowded into ramshackle houses built by speculators; they worked very long hours for very low wages. In many of these factories and workshops new kinds of machinery could often be seen. Usually these machines were made of iron and powered by steam engines. They were often highly dangerous for the people working them.
The changes listed above really gathered pace during the reign of George III (1760-1820). The period saw many wonderful new inventions. In this area, Great Britain led the world. Some industries such as textiles and iron-making were changed and enlarged almost beyond belief.
This was the age of some of the greatest names in British industrial history – James Watt, Edmund Cartwright, Thomas Telford, Richard Arkright, Samuel Crompton, Josiah Wedgwood, Henry Cort, the Darbys of Coalbrookdale, James Hargreaves and Richard Trevithick.
These changes came about in a relatively short period of time and were due to many factors:
· The work of scientists in many areas: on atmospheric pressure, on accurate measurement and in chemistry.
· Politics – the so-called “age of enlightenment” in the eighteenth century: Revolutionary new ideas put into practice in France and in America, which declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776.
· In religion, there was more freedom for dissenting or non-conformist groups such as the Methodists and Quakers.
· Invention was encouraged by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce which offered high payments to any inventor who agreed to open his invention to the public. Parliament too was supportive financially.
· The increase in population not due to an increase in the birth rate, but the big fall in death rates, especially among infants.
· Britain had a huge overseas empire. This provided a basic market for new products Also the empire had many of the raw materials needed by Britain, including iron ore, coal deposits and cotton. All of this international sea trade was protected by the greatest navy in the world.
Research: The Industrial Revolution, R.W. Hart.
Maggi Andersen is an author of Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense and Young Adult novels.