Subject Material

The Industrial Revolution

Published: 08.09.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
The Industrial Revolution
Text in Brief

Britain was the first country in the world to become a modern industrialized nation. Before 1750, most people were poor and lived and worked in the countryside. The Industrial Revolution occurred about the middle of the 18th century. Many people moved to towns to work in factories. Iron and coal were important materials for building, tools and fuel. Britain had large supplies of these materials. Transport was by canal, train and road. New inventions helped industry to grow. Coalbrookdale is a valley in the west of England where the iron industry first developed. The first large cast iron bridge in the world was built there at Ironbridge in 1781.


Before the Industrial Revolution

Britain was the first country in the world to become a modern industrialized nation. Until 1750, little had changed since the Middle Ages. Industry was mainly cottage-based and the majority of people lived in the countryside and worked in agriculture. Towns were small. The country was ruled by rich landowners who had inherited the right to rule. The rest of the population was poor, lived at subsistence level and the majority had no influence in the government of the country.


Ironbridge over slow river. Photo.Ironbridge Around the middle of the 18th century a “revolution” occurred, the Industrial Revolution. It turned society around and people’s lives changed completely. Machines took over from people; factories replaced cottage industries; iron and coal were used for building, tools and fuel, instead of wood; canals, trains and better roads improved transport; people moved from the countryside  to the towns. In Britain, three main factors were of vital importance for the change. There were plentiful supplies of investment capital, raw materials and labour. Also, Britain already had markets at home and abroad for the finished products. New inventions and manufacturing processes fuelled the growth in industry. Industrial development eventually spread from Britain to the rest of the world.


Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale

Coalbrookdale at night. Painting.Coalbrookdale at night 

Coalbrookdale is a valley in Shropshire in the west of England and is part of the Ironbridge World Heritage Site. It was an important area for the development of the iron industry during the Industrial Revolution. Perhaps you have heard of the famous iron bridge over the River Severn. It was the first large cast iron bridge in the world when it opened in 1781.

A visitor to the area in 1776 wrote about one of the furnaces in Coalbrookdale; “It continues to vomit out its flames and emit a vast Column of Smoak.” (J.M. Fisher’s Travel Journal of 1776, The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Ltd) The painting above confirms this description.


Tasks and Activities


Industrial Revolution T/F Comprehension 



Discuss the painting of Coalbrookdale by Night. What is your first reaction to the painting? Describe what you see. What is important in the picture? How does the artist draw your attention to particular aspects of the scene?

What effect do you think the factory in the painting and others like it had on the environment?


Listening Comprehension

Jeff currently works as a taxi driver in Manchester. As it turns out, he also teaches history at university level. In this interview he shares his knowledge about his main interest - the Industrial Revolution and how it all started in Manchester. Manchester - the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution 



Project Work: The Industrial Revolution 


Suggested Reading

Oliver Twist's Story 





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