Shropshire History


Industrial Revolution


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The Industrial Revolution was a process whereby manufacturing changed from predominantly hand production methods to machines. This was aided by the introduction of new methods of making chemicals and iron, as well as the use of steam power and the development of machine tools. In Britain it is regarded as happening approximately between 1760-1840. At the same time, there was a revolution in agriculture as more efficient farming techniques were introduced which allowed greater production of food using less manpower. The result was that many farm workers became redundant and they migrated towards towns where they could work at the new factories and mills. Another stimulus for workers to move away from rural economies was enclosure, where land was fenced off for the benefit of rich landowners. The Shropshire land enclosed between 1765-1891 was almost 10% of the total county area and this reduced the opportunities for poor workers to use common land to graze cattle or grow crops. The main impact of the industrial revolution can be divided into separate areas.




Mining for many minerals had taken pace in Shropshire from early times. Although coal had been used as a fuel since at least Roman times, it had been expensive compared to wood since only poor shallow seams were mined due to flooding at depth. It wasn’t until the introduction of steam pumping engines into mines during the 18th Century that miners could go deeper and exploit the large untapped seams of coal.  The volume of coal extracted increased rapidly as more mines were opened and the price dropped.  This made it more attractive as a fuel to power the new machinery.


Steam Power

Savery Engine


Newcomen Engine


Boulton & Watt Engine


In 1698, Thomas Savery invented a steam engine that would pump water. This was a combined vacuum and pressure pump that generated about 1 horsepower (compare that to a modern car with an average of 100 horsepower). It was used in numerous water works and tried in a few mines but was prone to boiler explosions in larger sizes. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented a safer steam engine of 5 horsepower and these became common at larger mines to pump the lower workings dry. Newcomen’s design was subsequently improved in the 1770s by John Smeaton and then in 1778 by the partnership of Matthew Boulton and James Watt. The engines of the latter partnership only needed 25% of the coal used by Newcomen engines, thus making mines more profitable. Bolton and Watt opened the Soho Foundry in Birmingham in 1795 for the manufacture of their engines. By 1783, the Boulton and Watt steam engine had been developed into a double-acting rotative type, which meant that it could be used to directly drive the rotary machinery of a factory or mill.


Trevithick Engine



Stationary Engine


Until about 1800, the most common design of steam engine was the beam engine, built as an integral part of a stone or brick engine house. Around the start of the 19th Century, Richard Trevithick invented a high pressure non-condensing steam engine, exhausting against the atmosphere. This allowed an engine and boiler to be combined into a single unit compact enough to be used on mobile road and rail locomotives and steam boats. The efficiency of steam engines and even modern engines are measured in horsepower. The term was invented by James Watt when he was working with ponies lifting coal at a coal mine. He wanted a way to calculate the power available from one of these animals and found that on average a mine pony could do 22,000 foot-pounds of work in a minute. He then increased that number by 50% and standardised the measurement of horsepower at 33,000 foot-pounds of work in one minute.


Iron Making


The major change in making iron during Industrial Revolution was the replacement of wood and charcoal with coke.  This was introduced in 1709 by Abraham Darby I, who using it to fuel his blast furnaces at Coalbrookdale. However, the pig iron it produced was mostly used for the production of cast-iron goods such as pots and kettles. He had the advantage over his rivals in that his pots were thinner and cheaper than theirs. Pig iron made with coke was hardly ever used to produce bar iron in forges until the mid-1750s, when his son Abraham Darby II built new furnaces at Horsehay and Ketley. By then, pig iron made with coke was cheaper than that made with charcoal. As cast iron became cheaper and more plentiful, it became a structural material and was used in the construction of the Iron Bridge in 1778 by Abraham Darby III.


Henry Cort developed two significant iron manufacturing processes during the period.  In 1783 he introduced rolling, which replaced hammering for consolidating wrought iron and expelling some of the dross. Rolling was 15 times faster than hammering with a trip hammer. In 1784 he introduced puddling as a means of decarbonising pig iron by slow oxidation.  Iron ore was the oxygen source and the molten iron was manually stirred using a long rod into globs. Up to that time, British iron manufacturers had used considerable amounts of imported iron to supplement local supplies. This mostly came from Sweden and Russia but, in the 1720s, these imports decreased because of the new iron making technology and increase in local iron mining.




The first large scale process introduced was the production of sulphuric acid by the lead chamber process, invented by John Roebuck in 1746. He was able to greatly increase the scale of the manufacture by replacing the relatively expensive glass vessels formerly used with larger, less expensive chambers made of riveted sheets of lead. Instead of making a small amount each time, he was able to make around 100lbs in each of the chambers, at least a tenfold increase. Sulphuric acid was used for pickling (removing rust) from iron and steel and for bleaching cloth. In 1791, Nicolas Leblanc invented a method for the production of sodium carbonate. The Leblanc process was a reaction of sulphuric acid with sodium chloride to give sodium sulphate and hydrochloric acid. The sodium sulphate was heated with limestone (calcium carbonate) and coal to give a mixture of sodium carbonate and calcium sulphide. Adding water separated the soluble sodium carbonate from the calcium sulphide. The process produced a large amount of pollution (the hydrochloric acid was initially vented to the air, and calcium sulphide was a useless waste product). Nonetheless, this synthetic soda ash proved economical compared to that from burning plants or kelp, which were the previously dominant sources of soda ash, and also to potash (potassium carbonate) derived from hardwood ashes. Sodium carbonate had many uses in the glass, textile, soap, and paper industries.


In 1800, Charles Tennant invented bleaching powder (calcium hypochlorite) and this revolutionised the bleaching processes in the textile industry. It dramatically reduced the time required to days, as opposed to months for the traditional process requiring repeated exposure to the sun in bleach fields after soaking the textiles with alkali or sour milk. In 1824, Joseph Aspdin invented a process for making portland cement which was an important advance in the building trades. The process involved heating a mixture of clay and limestone to about 1,400 °C, then grinding it into a fine powder which was then mixed with water, sand and gravel to produce concrete.


Machine Tools


The Industrial Revolution created a demand for metal parts used in machinery. This led to the development of several machine tools for cutting metal parts. They had their origins in the tools developed in the 18th Century by makers of clocks, watches and scientific instrument to enable them to batch-produce small mechanisms. Before the advent of machine tools, metal was worked manually using basic hand tools like hammers, files, scrapers, saws and chisels. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, machines with metal parts and frames became more common as hand methods of production were very costly and precision was difficult to achieve.


Pre-industrial machinery was built by craftsmen, ie millwrights built water and wind mills, carpenters made wooden framing, and smiths and turners made metal parts. The first large machine tool was the cylinder boring machine used for boring the large-diameter cylinders on early steam engines. The planing machine, the slotting machine and the shaping machine were developed in the early decades of the 19th Century. Although the milling machine was invented at this time, it was not developed as a serious workshop tool until somewhat later in the 19th Century. In the 19th Century, the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich used large horse-driven wooden machines for boring cannon.  Joseph Bramah invented a lathe and Henry Maudslay adapted this to a slide rest lathe, which could cut machine screws of variable pitches using changeable gears between the spindle and the lead screw.




In the late 17th and early 18th Centuries, the British government passed a series of Calico Acts to protect the domestic woollen industry from the increasing amounts of cotton fabric that were being imported from East India. There was also a demand for heavier fabric, which was met by a domestic industry around Lancashire that produced fustian. Spinning and weaving were done in households, for domestic consumption and as a cottage industry under the putting-out system. Occasionally the work was done in the workshop of a master weaver. Under the putting-out system, home based workers produced under contract to merchant sellers, who often supplied the raw materials. In the off season the women, typically farmers' wives, did the spinning and the men did the weaving. Using the spinning wheel it took anywhere from 4-8 spinners to supply one hand loom weaver. The flying shuttle, patented in 1733 by John Kay, doubled the output of a weaver and worsened the imbalance between spinning and weaving. It became widely used around Lancashire after 1760 when Robert Kay, John's son, invented the drop box.


Lewis Paul patented the roller spinning machine and the flyer-and-bobbin system for drawing wool to a more even thickness, developed with the help of John Wyatt in Birmingham. Paul and Wyatt opened a mill in Birmingham which used their new rolling machine powered by a donkey. In 1743, a factory was opened in Northampton with fifty spindles on each of five of Paul and Wyatt's machines. This operated until about 1764. A similar mill was built by Daniel Bourn in Leominster but this burnt down. Both Paul and Bourn patented carding machines in 1748, which used two sets of rollers that travelled at different speeds.  In 1764, James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny. This was the first practical spinning frame with multiple spindles. The jenny worked in a similar manner to the spinning wheel, by first clamping down on the fibres, then drawing them out, followed by twisting. It was a simple, wooden framed machine and was mainly used by home spinners.


In 1769, the water frame was invented by Richard Arkwright. For each spindle, the water frame used a series of four pairs of rollers, each operating at a successively higher rotating speed, to draw out the fibre, which was then twisted by the spindle. The roller spacing was slightly longer than the fibre length. Too close a spacing caused the fibres to break while too distant a spacing caused uneven thread. The top rollers were leather covered and loading on the rollers was applied by a weight. The weights kept the twist from backing up before the rollers. The bottom rollers were wood and metal, with fluting along the length. The water frame was able to produce a hard, medium count thread, allowing 100% cotton cloth to be made in Britain. Water power was used by Arkwright at his factory in Cromford in 1771, giving the invention its name.


In1779, Samuel Crompton invented the Spinning Mule, which was a combination of the spinning jenny and the water frame. The spindles were placed on a carriage, which went through an operational sequence during which the rollers stopped while the carriage moved away from the drawing roller to finish drawing out the fibres as the spindles started rotating. Crompton's mule was able to produce finer thread than hand spinning and at a lower cost. Mule spun thread finally allowed Britain to produce good quality calico cloth. In1785, realising that the expiration of the Arkwright patent would greatly increase the supply of spun cotton and lead to a shortage of weavers, Edmund Cartwright developed a vertical power loom. This improved on a design he had invented in 1776 which was operated by two men.  He built two factories, the first burned down and the second was sabotaged by his workers. Cartwright's loom design had several flaws, the most serious being thread breakage. In 1813, Samuel Horrocks invented a loom, which was improved by Richard Roberts in 1822. These were produced in large numbers by Roberts, Hill & Co.



The population of England and Wales rose dramatically in the 19th Century from 8.3 million in 1801 to 16.8 million in 1850.  By 1901 it had nearly doubled again to 30.5 million. The Industrial Revolution saw a new middle class emerge of industrialists and businessmen. Ordinary working people easily found employment in the new mills and factories but these often had strict working conditions with long hours of work. Industrialisation led to the creation of the factory and the first example is believed to be John Lombe's water-powered silk mill at Derby, which was in use by 1721. However the number of factories multiplied rapidly when cotton spinning was mechanised.




Few children received an education and most were expected to work. Employers could pay a child less than an adult, even though their productivity was comparable, as there was no need for strength to operate an industrial machine. This made child labour attractive to factory owners and in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills in England and Wales were children. Children as young as four were employed, with beatings and long hours common.  Some children in mines worked from 4am until 5pm. Conditions were dangerous there, with some children killed when they dozed off and fell into the path of the carts, while others died from gas explosions. Many children developed lung cancer and other diseases and died before the age of 25. Workhouses would sell orphans and abandoned children as "pauper apprentices", working without wages for board and lodging. Those who ran away would be whipped and returned to their masters, with some masters shackling them to prevent escape.





Some children employed by cotton mills would have to crawl under machinery to pick up cotton, working 14 hours a day, six days a week. Some lost hands or limbs, others were crushed under the machines and some were decapitated. Young girls working at match factories developed “phossy jaw”, caused by phosphorus fumes. Children employed at glassworks were regularly burned or blinded and those working at potteries were frequently poisoned by poisonous clay dust. In 1833 and 1844, the Factory Acts were passed and children younger than 9 were not allowed to work. Children were not permitted to work at night and the working day of those under 18 was limited to 12 hours. About 10 years later, the employment of children and women in mines was forbidden.




The introduction of machinery was not universally popular since it cost many craft workers their jobs. Disaffection started among lace and hosiery workers near Nottingham and spread to other areas of the textile industry. Many weavers found themselves suddenly unemployed since they could no longer compete with machines which only required unskilled labour to produce more cloth than a single weaver. A lot of unemployed workers took out their anger on the machines that had taken their jobs and began destroying factories and machinery. They became known as Luddites, supposedly followers of Ned Ludd who was a folklore figure. The first attacks of the Luddite movement began in 1811 and rapidly spread. The British government took drastic measures and used the militia and army to protect industry. Those rioters who were caught were tried and hanged, or transported for life. In the 1830s, large parts of southern Britain were affected by the Captain Swing disturbances, caused by unemployed agricultural workers. Threshing machines were a popular target for destruction and many haystacks were burned.




The Industrial Revolution concentrated workers in mills, factories and mines. This made it easier for them to pursue their interests in a trade union. The power of a union could demand better terms by withdrawing all labour and causing a cessation of production. Employers had to decide between giving in to the union demands or suffering the cost of the lost production. Skilled workers were hard to replace and these were the first groups to successfully advance their conditions through this kind of bargaining. The main method the unions used to effect change was strike action. The Combination Act 1799 forbade workers to form any kind of trade union until it was repealed in 1824. Even after this, unions were still severely restricted.


In 1832, the Reform Act extended the vote in Britain but not to everyone. In 1834, 6 men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers to protest against the gradual lowering of wages. They refused to work for less than 10 shillings a week, as wages had been reduced to seven shillings a week and were due to be further reduced to six shillings. James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Minister to complain about the union and invoked an obscure law from 1797 prohibiting people from swearing oaths to each other, which the members of the Friendly Society had done. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless, Thomas Standfield and John Standfield were arrested, found guilty and transported to Australia. They became known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs and there was a huge public response demanding their release, which happened in 1836.


 In the 1830s and 1840s the Chartist movement was the first working class political movement which campaigned for political equality and social justice. Its charter of reforms received over three million signatures but was rejected by Parliament without consideration. Working people formed friendly societies and co-operative societies as mutual support groups against times of economic hardship. Unions slowly overcame the legal restrictions on the right to strike and in 1842 a General Strike was called by the Chartist movement. This involved cotton workers and colliers, stopping production across Great Britain.