Industrial revolution in Britain
Industrial revolution in Britain (Pc.- Wikipedia.org)

Definition of Industrial Revolution

The term the Industrial revolution refers to the changes brought about by the replacement of handtools by machine tools in the production process.

Beginning in the 1760s, the mechanized production commenced in Britain. This process continued to gain momentum with the passage of time and Britain became the first country in the world to witness the Industrial revolution.

Why did IR commence in Britain before other countries?

Britain was the first country in the world to witness the Industrial revolution. For almost half a century, the process of industrialization remained limited to Britain only. The factors responsible for the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in Britain lay in the uniqueness of British economic life, politico-administrative institutions, and practices as well as the religious ideas predominant in Britain.

British economic life and the Industrial revolution

  • By the middle of the 18th century, the agricultural revolution had taken place in Britain. As a result of this success of the Enclosure movement and the adoption of new agricultural techniques by British farmers. The enclosure movement was initiated by laws enacted by the British Parliament. These laws made land as a salable commodity. The peasants were allowed to fence their land holdings to keep wild animals, hunting parties out. Peasants were encouraged to expand agriculture by bringing the public land lying fallow under cultivation.
  • The British farmers started using new agriculture implements and better varieties of the iron plowshare. These implements helped to plow even hard soils. To improve the fertility of the soil, the British farmers started cultivating clovers and other legumes during the lean season.
  • All these initiatives resulted in the agriculture revolution, which prepared a solid material background for the commencement of the industrial revolution. The raw material was easily available at home. A significant percentage of the population had freed from agricultural activities. Now, these people could be employed as industrial workers. The availability of agricultural surplus increased the demand for industrial goods.
  • A commercial revolution had also taken place during the 16th and 17th centuries. The British traders were dominating European trade. They were also trading with America and Asia. This commercial revolution was an indication of the success of British mercantilism. It resulted in the accumulation of huge capital in Britain and this capital in turn facilitated the commencement of mechanized production. Because of the commercial revolution, British products were in great demand in the continental market. The traditional handicraft industries of Britain were not meeting this demand. Under these conditions, British manufacturers had to start using machines in the production process.
  • The means of communication were much more advanced in Britain when compared with other European countries.

Role of Geography

  • Being an island nation, the British routes of external trade were always open. Because of this British trade and commerce could grow rapidly and far more than others.
  • The iron and coal mines were located in close proximity to Britain. As a result of this, weight losing iron and steel industries could grow rapidly in Britain.
  • Being geographically isolated from other parts of the world, Britain remained safe from wartime damages and destruction witnessed during wars. No British city was destructed until world war II.

British politico-administrative life and the Industrial revolution

  • The liberal and progressive character of British polity played an important role in the commencement of the Industrial revolution of Britain.
  • The Glorious revolution of 1688 had resulted in the emergence of constitutional monarchy in Britain. British monarchs supported the growth of the new economy by creating a conducive political environment. The British parliament enacted laws in accordance with the needs and aspirations of people. The citizens enjoyed a high degree of freedom in Britain. They could take up economic activities as per their choice.
  • British had an extensive colonial empire. These colonies provided cheap material and a monopolized market to British industries.

Socio-cultural factors

  • The typical socio-cultural life of the British was also a big factor in the commencement of the Industrial revolution. British population grew rapidly in the 18th century. As a result of this, the demand for manufacturing goods was increasing continuously. The handicraft based British industry wasn’t in a position to meet this growing demand and Brtish manufacturers had to use machines for more productions.
  • There was a class of entrepreneurs in Britain. These people invested their money in the new economy at a huge risk.
  • The British researchers were of the practical bent of mind. They invested their time and energy in those technologies and machines which had immediate applications. Eg. Flying shuttle (John Kay), Spinning jenny (James Hargraves), Steam engine (James Watt), etc.
  • The use of these machines in the production process had resulted in the Industrial revolution.
  • There was a degree of socio-cultural stability in Britain. The social upheavals taking place in continental Europe were not witnessed in Britain. Social stability facilitated continuous economic growth.
  • The British socio-cultural life was characterized by free-thinking. This environment encouraged to research and innovations.

Role of religious factors

  • Britain was predominantly a protestant nation and the ethics of Protestantism played a very important role in the success of industrial capitalism in Britain. Protestantism believes that a person is borne with a fixed destiny that can’t be changed. But the success of an individual in this world reveals, where the person is blessed or cursed. Because of this, every protestant work hard to prove to others that he is a blessed one.
  • Protestantism encourages education as a protestant is required to read his Bible by himself. Protestantism emphasizes on simplicity of life. It opposes conspicuous consumption. This in turn encourages savings and capital accumulation.
  • Protestantism encourages hard work. There are only two holidays in the Protestant calendar. These protestant ideas were highly supportive of the growth of the new economy and facilitated commencement as well as the success of the Industrial revolution.

Consequences/ Impact of the industrial revolution

Economic Changes

  • The handicraft based production gave way to factory-based mechanized production.  This resulted in the emergence of factories and industrial complexes.
  • Mass Production Commenced.
  • The industrial products were much cheaper and better in quality than the traditional handicraft based industries.
  • Industrial Capitalism emerged as a result of  IR.
  • Trade and commerce got a boost as a result of the availability of new products.
  • The production efficiency increased enormously because the use of machines multiplied the productivity of workers. The British textile industry expanded rapidly. Its production increased by 50 times, in 1780 and 1840.
  • The industrial revolution resulted in the emergence of industrial towns and cities. The process of urbanization got a boost.

Socio-cultural changes 

  • The IR resulted in the emergence of new social classes in the form of workers and capitalists.
  • It resulted in the migration of a large number of people from villages to industrial centers. This migration adversely affected the character and functioning of social institutions like the family. The traditional joint family system got transformed into a nuclear family. Since most of the migrants were male, it became difficult to remain functional in many case stress and strain developed in the functioning of the family.
  • Individualism and maternalism gained popularity with the growth of industrialization.
  • The problem of the slum was another important outcome of the industrial revolution because the factory owner didn’t take the responsibility of providing accommodation and other amenities to workers.
  • The exploitation of the working-class was another important outcome. The workers and were made to work in unsafe conditions at very low wages for long hours. Women and children suffered most because they were the most vulnerable. This exploitation of working-class was deeply hurt the conscience of many intellectuals of age such as St. Simon and Louis Blanc. These intellectuals put forward new ideas that resulted in the emergence of socialism. When socialism failed to achieve much success, Karl max put forward its radical, scientific interpretation known as Maxims/communism.

Politico- administrative changes

  • Industrial Revolution resulted in the growth of political awakening among the people. This paved the way for the democratization of political-administrative life.
  • The British parliament enacted  Reform Act,1832 which paved the way for the entry of the middle class (capitalist class) in the political system. Gradually the franchise was extended to working-class as well. The monopoly of nobles a political life had got shattered forever.
  • The process of colonization got a boost as a result of the Industrial Revolution because the industrialized countries required more raw material and the market for their goods. The race for the colonies got intensified. This colonial rivalry resulted in a number of wars and battles as well.

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