Three kinds of key inventions produced Britain’s Industrial Revolution — first, those involved in creating the steam engine, which produced far more power than that created by animals, human beings, wind, and water; second, the means of large-scale production of iron and steel; and third, the machines, such as those that carded and spun cotton and wool, that replaced manual production of textiles. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729), a blacksmith and Baptist lay preacher born in Dartmouth, Devon, produced an early steam engine; Thomas Lombe (1685-1739), born into a silk weaving family business in Norwich, introduced a method for throwing silk; John Kay (1704-1779), self-educated and born in the Lancashire hamlet of Walmersley, just north of Bury, introduced the flying shuttle in 1733; James Hargreaves (1720-1778), born in Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire, was a poor, uneducated spinner and weaver living at Stanhill, near Blackburn, Lancashire when he invented the spinning Jenny in 1764; Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) born in Preston, Lancashire received little education and was apprenticed to a barber, Edward Pollit, a peruke maker. In 1762 he became the landlord of the Old Black Bull public house in Preston (now a listed building) and with the help of a clockmaker, John Kay, who had been working on a mechanical spinning machine, he made improvements that produced a stronger yarn and required less physical labour. He patented his new carding machine in 1775. The Scotsman James Watt (1736-1819) invented a much-improved steam engine in 1769. And Edmund Cartwright (1743-1786), born in Nottinghamshire, who went to Oxford University and became prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral, introduced the spinning mule in 1774 and patented the first power loom in 1785. In 1793, he went bankrupt. In 1809, however, the House of Commons voted Cartwright £10,000 in recognition of national benefits of his power loom.

In the early eighteenth-century Abraham Darby (1678-1717) gave the work of the pioneers a significant boost with his ground-breaking replacement of charcoal with coal for smelting iron pioneered when he worked at his Old Furnace at Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire. This was in present-day Telford and Wrekin, and the area offered supplies of sulphur-free coal, limestone, charcoal, and waterpower. The river Severn provided water transport.

Iron and Advances in Transportation that Aided the Textile and Other Industries

With its extensive production of iron, Shropshire soon featured the world’s first cast-iron bridge erected at Ironbridge in 1779. In 1787 John Wilkinson (1728-1808) constructed an iron narrow boat called The Trial. Over the next decade a series of iron boats, or ‘trows’, appeared: three in 1788; the Brothers built at Ironbridge in 1789; in 1790 the trow called Brothers built at Broseley by John Jones; in 1794 the William built at Benthall, in Shropshire on the plateau above the gorge of the river Severn; in 1795 the trow called John and Mary built at Broseley in Shropshire which Darby’s Iron Bridge linked with Coalbrookdale. The connection of these two centres resulted in the establishment of Ironbridge.

Related material

Baines, Sir Edward. History of Cotton Manufacture in Great Britain: II.  London: Fisher, R. Fisher, and P. Jackson, 1835.

von Raumer, Friedrich Ludwig Georg. England in 1835 . London: John Murray, 1836.

Redfern, Benjamin. ‘A Journey from Withy Grove to New Town’ in ‘Odds and Ends Magazine’, 1867.

Last modified 24 July 2019