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Industrial Revolution

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The conditions enabling Britain to pioneer the Industrial Revolution during the 18th century can be divided into two categories, natural and political.

On the natural side the country has in abundance three important commodities - water, iron and coal. Water in Britain's numerous hilly districts provides the power to drive mills in the early stages of industrialization; the rivers, amplified from 1761 by a developing network of canals , facilitate inland transport in an age where roads are only rough tracks; and the sea, never far from any part of Britain, makes transport of heavy goods easy between coastal cities.

The ability to make effective use of Britain's iron ore is greatly enhanced by technical advances in the early 18th century, associated particularly with the Darby family. And the abundant supplies of coal become of crucial importance in the second half of the century when steam power is successively applied to every branch of industry thanks to the efforts of Watt and Boulton.

On the political front, the contribution of entrepreneurs such as Abraham Darby and Matthew Boulton is made possible by the changes resulting from the revolution of 1688.

With royal power greatly reduced after 1688, and the nobility enjoying none of the privileges associated with France's ancien rÐ"©gime , a new middle class emerges more forcefully in Britain than elsewhere. There is money to be made, and members of this class are willing to back new inventions and mechanical improvements.

In this atmosphere exceptional men such as Richard Arkwright can rise through their own endeavors from low beginnings to exceptional wealth and prestige (though the duke of Bridgewater may justifiably insist that such flair is not limited to the middle classes).

As a final ingredient in this promising blend of circumstances, Britain can offer its budding entrepreneurs an unusually large market. The union in 1707 of Scotland and England removes internal tariff barriers. The developing British Empire provides trading opportunities for much of the century in the American colonies - and when these are lost, begins to replace them with others in India.

And British control of the seas, increasingly established during the century, contributes to a general prosperity which supports the Industrial Revolution. Much of the profitable carrying trade in the world's commerce can be secured for British merchant vessels.

Until the early 18th century the working of iron has been restricted by a practical consideration. The smelting of iron requires large quantities of charcoal, with the result that ironworks are usually sited inaccessibly in the middle of forests. And charcoal is expensive.

In about 1710 Abraham Darby, an ironmaster with a furnace at Coalbrookdale on the river Severn, discovers that coke can be used instead of charcoal for the smelting of pig iron (used for cast-iron products). This Severn region becomes Britain's centre of iron production in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. Its pre-eminence is seen in the Darby family's own construction of the first iron bridge, and in the



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