The increasing production of all kinds of goods needed cheap and reliable transport. Industrialists soon realised that heavy items could be carried on the water more easily. Moreover, the main advantage of transport by water was that it was cheap. The first canal was built in 1761, and in the next fifty yaers over 6 000 kilometres of new canals were dug. They formed a network which linked the main industrial towns of England and Wales with London and the sean ports.
Then several inventions came together to create the age of Britain. In 1814 George Stephenson built his first locomotive. The railways affected people’s lives considerably: fresh milk, fruit and vegetables from the countryside were brought into towns; fish could be trasnported rapidly and be sold while it was still fresh. People travelled more frequently and went on seaside holidays.
With the growth of Britain’s empire overseas trade expanded and by the end of the 18th century Britain became the most powerful trading nation in the world. Britain exported textile, coal, manufactured goods and silver, and imported raw cotton silk and spices from India, silk from China, and furs and fish from Canada.
The social effects of the industrial revolution were enormous. It increased the gap between rich and poor; the new class of factory owners made large fortunes, and some of the skilled workers also became better off, but other workers easily lost their jobs, because when buisness became slack they were laid off. Moreover, newly invented machines often took jobs from workers, who reacted by smashing up the new machinery.
The trade union movement began in spite of numerous difficulties, because employers were suspicious of unions. Parliament passed two Acts which forbade workers to meet and form trade unions.
Another important consequence of the Industrial Revolution was the shift of population from rural areas to towns, so that the old boroughs were left with very few people but could still send the same number of MPs as before. These consituencies were called “Rotten Boroughs”. On the other hand, the new industrial towns with growing populations were not adequently represented in Parliament. It was the Reform Bill of 1832 that put an end to this unjust situation.
Britain’s leadership in the Industrial Revolution saw its climax with the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was a magnificient display of British Scientific and technological progress.
The important changes in technology, the economy, and social organisation trasformed society and became the main indicator of the modern way of life.