The Industrial Revolution did not take place in a vacuum. The world went on around it, and it is essential and instructive to know what was happening elsewhere at the same time.
The French Revolution, for instance, began in the year that the first steam engine was installed in a Manchester cotton mill, and Fletcher Christian was leading the Mutiny on the Bounty. As Nelson fought and died at the Battle of Trafalgar, the Rochdale Canal was completed and the first Salford factory was lit by gas.
We may be horrified as we read of early factory conditions, and squirm at the thought of what happened to children caught up in the machinery of the Industrial Revolution.
But it is only by seeing these things in the wider context of world events that we can hope to gain a fuller understanding of how and why they happened. Click on the time period you wish to study.
1732: Jethro Tull publishes details of innovations such as the seed drill and the horse-hoe.
1733: John Kay of Bury (1704-1779) patents the Flying Shuttle. Until this point, weaving has been a slow, laborious process and the width of a piece of cloth has been limited to the stretch of a man’s arms. Now, cloth can be made wider and faster. Suddenly, there is a shortage of thread to keep the weavers busy, and this leads to a search for better ways of spinning.
1738: Lewis Paul and John Wyatt take out a patent for their drafting rollers and the flyer-and-bobbin system, enabling the production of finer, more even yarns.
1742: Wyatt and Paul open a mill in Birmingham utilising their new rollers. But it is not a success.
1743: Wyatt and Paul open a spinning factory in Northampton with five machines of 50 spindles. It runs until 1764.
1745: Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion. Scottish Jacobite army marches South led by the Young Pretender, collecting supporters in Manchester and reaching Derby before retreating North again.
1746: Battle of Culloden. The Pretender’s army is beaten and he flees to the Isle of Skye.
1748: Lewis Paul and Daniel Bourn each take out a patent for a carding engine.
1751: Construction of the Sankey-St Helens Canal begins. This cut pre-dates the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal by five years.
1754: Kay invents a carding machine – another step in the process of mechanising the cotton industry.
1756: Start of Britain’s Seven Years’ War with France.
1759: Britain wins Battle of Quebec. Duke of Bridgewater begins construction of Bridgewater Canal from his coalmines at Worsley to Manchester. Coal will be brought from underground by boat, with the canal crossing the Irwell-Mersey Navigation on an aqueduct at Barton and finishing at Castlefield. The canal will also link Manchester with the tidal Mersey at Runcorn. John Harrison builds the first successful marine chronometer.
1760: George III crowned King of England. Kay’s eldest son, Robert, invents the drop box, allowing the use of three shuttles on one loom, each containing weft of a different colour.
1761: Bridgewater Canal reaches Manchester. Price of coal in the city is halved.
1762: Matthew Boulton opens his Soho engineering works in Birmingham.
1763: France cedes Canada to England. End of Seven Years’ War.
1765: Blackburn’s James Hargreaves invents the Spinning Jenny. Until this time, spinning has been a cottage industry, but now, one man can operate 16 spindles. The Jenny is still small enough and cheap enough to be operated in a farmhouse, but it is the first real step towards mechanisation.
1769: Richard Arkwright (1732-92) patents the water frame, imitating Paul’s rollers. The water frame requires concentration of labour in a mill – it is too big and expensive to be used in a cottage. Arkwright’s roving frame and draw frame follow by 1775, making possible a continuous cotton-spinning process powered by water, and thus leading the way to the factory system.
1770: Completion of Grand Trunk Canal, linking the Trent and Mersey. Birth of Beethoven.
1770 (circa): Nicolas Cugnot, a French military engineer, builds a steam tractor designed to pull artillery pieces. The idea is not taken up.
1771: Arkwright, Needs and Strutt open first water-powered spinning mill on the River Derwent at Cromford, Derbyshire, employing 300 operatives.
1773: Boston Tea Party – beginning of the end of British rule in America. Population of Manchester reaches 22,500.
1774: A Government Act permits “the use and wear of any new manufactured stuffs wholly made of cotton,” ending years of prohibitive restrictions and duties. Matthew Boulton and James Watt open their steam-engine factory in Soho, Birmingham. Robert and Thomas Barber, of Bilborough in Nottinghamshire, take out a patent for a power loom.
1775: Start of American War of Independence.
1778: Joseph Bramah invents the water closet.
1779: Samuel Crompton builds his spinning mule, combining Arkwright’s drafting rollers with the spindle drafting of the Jenny. One operative can now look after more spindles and produce finer yarns. It soon becomes the machinery of choice in many cotton-spinning mills. Navigator Captain James Cook murdered in Hawaii.
1780: Population of England and Wales estimated at 7.5 million.
1783: William Pitt the Younger is Prime Minister of Britain. American War of Independence ends with Treaty of Paris.
1784: Quarry Bank Mill at Styal founded by Samuel Greg.
1785: James Watt’s steam engine first used to power a cotton mill. Clergyman Edmund Cartwright patents the power loom. French chemist C.L. Bertholet introduces chemical bleaching of cotton, using chlorine. Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries cross English Channel by balloon.
1787: First fleet leaves England carrying convicts to Australia. At home, Cartwright produces a better power loom and opens a weaving shed in Doncaster – powered by a bull! Two years later, a steam engine is installed. Eighteen of the 20 looms weave cotton, but the venture fails and the shed closes in 1793.
1788: A total of 159,000 men, 90,000 women and just 101 children estimated to be employed in cotton manufacture in Manchester. First British convict fleet arrives in Australia and penal colony established at Sydney.
1789: Start of French Revolution. National Assembly formed. Bastille stormed – Paris under mob rule. In Manchester, a Mr Drinkwater installs a steam engine in his spinning mill – the first in the city. Fletcher Christian leads the Mutiny on the Bounty.
1791: Legislative Assembly supercedes Estates General and Constituent Assembly in France. Witchhunt against Unitarians in England – scientist Joseph Priestley’s Birmingham home burned down.
1792: Extremists torch Grimshaw’s power weaving sheds at Knott Mill, Manchester. “Church and King” protesters attack property of radicals in Manchester – Thomas Walker, leader of town’s Constitutional Society, charged with and acquitted of armed conspiracy after defending his property. War of the first Coalition against France – start of French Revolutionary wars. In France, National Convention takes over from Legislative Assembly. Country abandons monarchy – French Republic declared.
1793: Execution of Louis XVI (Jan 21). Reign of Terror begins under Robespierre. French government declares war on Britain (Feb 1). In America, Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, a device for separating cotton from the seed, making possible a huge rise in cotton imports from the US. Effigy of radical writer Tom Paine burned in Manchester.
1794: British troops pull out of the Netherlands, which fall to France. Naval operations in the West Indies cost 40,000 British lives, mainly from disease, over the next two years. Fall of Robespierre. Napoleon Bonaparte’s “whiff of grapeshot” is prelude to dissolution of the Convention.
1795: New government of France is called the Directory. Bonaparte marries Josephine de Beauharnais. Bread riots in Paris – and in Rochdale, where vicar and magistrate Thomas Drake calls in the militia. Two rioters killed.
1796: Napoleon’s defeat of Austria in Italy leaves Britain isolated.
1797: Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore. Spithead sailors win better pay and a royal pardon but the Nore Mutiny, influenced by radical political ideas, is supressed and the leaders hanged. Nelson defeats France and Spain at Cape St Vincent. Henry Maudslay designs a screw-cutting lathe.
1798: Riots in Manchester following failure of corn crop. Police offer premium to suppliers bringing largest quantity of wheat or oatmeal to town’s market. French occupy Rome and capture the Pope, Pius VI. Bonaparte launches Egyptian Expedition. Nelson destroys French fleet at Battle of the Nile.
1799: Nelson destroys Danish fleet at Copenhagen. Napoleon overthrows the Directory and the Consulate is declared, with Napoleon First Consul for 10 years. In England, William Pitt the Younger introduces Income Tax. Soup kitchens opened for Manchester’s poor.
1799-1800: Government pass the Combination Acts, outlawing trade unionism. Hopes that Government will introduce a minimum wage for weavers are dashed. These are known as the Barley Days in Lancashire – people are so poor they cannot afford to eat meat. Manchester’s population now 75,000, compared with 25,000 in 1772.
1800: Combination Acts of 1799 slightly amended. Workers forbidden from joining trades unions, on pain of up to three months’ hard labour. Alessandro Volta demonstrates his Voltaic cell – the first electric battery.
1801: Ireland added to Great Britain creating United Kingdom. Population of England and Wales estimated at nine million. Manchester home to 84,000 – nearly four-fold increase in 28 years. Raw cotton consumption now 54 million pounds – 10 times the figure of 20 years earlier. Manchester’s Whit Walks inaugurated.
1802: Treaty of Amiens between England and France brings temporary halt to Napoleonic War. Richard Trevithick builds his first high-pressure steam engine.
1803: Cotton overtakes wool as Britain’s biggest export. Napoleonic War resumes after Britain refuses to cede Malta to France. French army encamped at Boulogne, threatening invasion of England.
1804: Napoleon declared Emperor of France (May 20th). Runcorn-Latchford Canal opened to by-pass Mersey mudflats and improve access to the Mersey and Irwell Navigation.
1805: Battle of Trafalgar (Oct 21st). Nelson’s decisive victory over French and Spanish fleet, breaking French naval power and establishing Britain as queen of the seas throughout the 19th century, is marred by his death during the battle. On land, Napoleon’s huge victories over Austria, Prussia and Russia leave Britain alone again. At home, the first Salford factory is lit by gas. Rochdale Canal completed.
1806: Prime Minister William Pitt dies. British take Cape of Good Hope. Manchester’s Portico Library opens. Ten Warrington men executed for sodomy.
1807: Distress throughout Lancashire caused by Napoleon’s ‘Continental System’ and Britain’s Orders in Council. Slavery abolished in Britain. Lancastrian inventor William Cockerill opens factory in Liege to produce spinning machines. In December, US market is closed to both Britain and France. British take, and lose, Buenos Aires.
1808: Riots throughout Lancashire over call for minimum wage. Rochdale jail burned down and prisoners released. Volunteer force deployed against Stockport weavers. Petition to Parliament calling for peace with France.
1809: Peninsular War begins. May – weavers’ minimum wage bill rejected by Commons. Up to 6,000 weavers assemble on St George’s Fields, Manchester, to renew their demands. Dragoons and police clear the field. Lt Col Joseph Hanson of Strangeways – known as the “Weavers’ Friend” – is jailed and fined for aiding and abetting the weavers in a conspiracy to raise their wages.
1811: Raw cotton consumption now 90 million pounds (about 45,000 tons) a year, having almost doubled in 10 years. First steam railway opens at Middleton Colliery, Leeds. John Blenkinsop’s locomotive Salamanca is equipped with rack-and-pinion wheels.
1812: English capture Badajoz. Napoleon launches his disastrous Moscow campaign. Luddite Riots break out – steam-driven weaving sheds are attacked. Westhoughton cotton mill burned down, for which four people – one a boy of 12 – are executed.
1813: 4th European coalition formed, and allies defeat Napoleon at Leipzig. Passing of Highways Act to improve British roads.
1814: Fall of Paris. Napoleon abdicates and is incarcerated on Elba. Samuel Clegg, of the Chartered Gas Co, successfully lights an entire district of London with coal gas.
1815: Napoleon escapes and is restored to power but is finally defeated at Waterloo ending the Napoleonic Wars. Sir Humphry Davy invents the miner’s safety lamp. John Macadam builds his first road of crushed stone. US defeat British at Battle of New Orleans.
1816: June – Leeds-Liverpool Canal completed. Government bring in Coercion Acts after violence at reform meeting in Spa Fields, London.
1817: March 10: Blanketeers March. Handloom weavers plan to march on London from Manchester, carrying blankets to sleep on. About 200 are arrested soon after march begins and the rest are dispersed. As a direct result, in June Manchester Yeomanry Cavalry is raised.
1818: March 9th: Reform meeting in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester. September 9th: Turnout of cotton workers and miners for more pay. Mr Gray’s factory attacked. One man killed.
1819: Jan 18th: Radicals meet in St Peter’s Fields. Jan 23rd: Riot at Theatre Royal, Manchester, between Henry “Orator” Hunt and followers, and Earl of Uxbridge and officers of 7th Light Dragoons. Aug 16th: Peterloo Massacre troops attack peaceful reform meeting in St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, killing 11 and wounding many. Stephenson begins construction of railway between Hetton and River Wear at Sunderland.
1820: Cato Street Conspiracy. Plot to overthrow the Government and proclaim a republic – spies expose the plan and conspirators are arrested. Some are executed. George IV crowned King of England.
1821: Manchester deputy constable Joseph Nadin retires. Manchester’s population now 187,031. Manchester Express stagecoach begins operating from London.
1822: American William Church patents the first typesetting machine.
1824: Government repeals Combination Acts, first breach in battle to legalise trade unions. Mule spinners are tempted to flex their muscles and the masters respond by commissioning Manchester engineer Richard Roberts to design a self-acting mule – a machine that could be operated by women or children, removing the need for skilled but militant men. Liverpool-Manchester railway company formed, with George Stephenson engineer.
1825: Manchester now has 104 cotton-spinning mills. There are 110 steam engines in the town. Bill introduced for construction of a ship canal from Manchester to the mouth of the River Dee at estimated cost of �illion in �0 shares. Defeated.
1826: April – increasing use of power looms provokes riots by starving workless. Looms wrecked all over the county. At Chatterton, near Ramsbottom, troops shoot six rioters. Liverpool-Manchester railway bill passed. Work begins on draining Chat Moss for the line.
1827: Benoit Fourneyron develops the water turbine. Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule, dies at the age of 74. Beethoven dies at the age of 57.
1828: Aug 1 – opening of the eight-mile Bolton and Leigh Railway – soon to connect to the Liverpol-Manchester line – built by George Stephenson, for which he constructed the steam locomotive Lancashire Witch.
1829: May – rioting in Manchester, Blackburn, Rochdale and other Northern towns by loom breakers. Ten people killed as troops open fire on a mob outside the New Bailey prison in Salford. In London, Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel’s first police force is deployed.
1830: Sept 15 – George Stephenson’s Rocket opens Liverpool-Manchester Railway, the world’s first passenger line, giving Manchester exporters a fast and direct route to a seaport. William IV crowned King of England. Cotton industry now employs 800,000. In America, industrialist Peter Cooper designs and builds first U.S. locomotive, Tom Thumb, in Baltimore. In Manchester, Roberts finally perfects the winding quadrant, making possible the “self-acting” mule – a triumph of mechanics which would make many highly-skilled spinners redundant. Sales of cotton and cotton goods now account for half of Britain’s exports. National Association for the Protection of Labour formed in Manchester.
1831: November – boards of health set up in Manchester and district as cholera advances. Riots in Bristol follow rejection of 1st Reform Bill by the Lords – town hall and Bishop’s Palace burned down. Slavery abolished. Electric induction motor invented. Population of England and Wales estimated at 14 million.
1832: First case of cholera in Manchester recorded on May 17th. Hippolyte Pixii generates electricity mechanically for the first time.
1833: Government sets up inspectorate to ensure the Factory Acts are being adhered to.
1834: Poor Law Amendment Act, masterminded by Edwin Chadwick. Houses of Parliament destroyed by fire. Slavery abolished throughout the British Empire.
1836: In Texas, Battle of the Alamo.
1837: Victoria crowned Queen of England. Death of English landscape painter John Constable.
1838: Grace Darling, daughter of Farne Islands lighthouse keeeper, rescues survivors of the ship Forfarshire.
1839: Newport rising. Formation of Anti-Corn Law League. Opening of the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal. George Bradshaw publishes his first railway guide.
1840: Roland Hill launches the Penny Post system in United Kingdom. Samuel Cunard’s first trans-Atlantic liner, the Britannia, makes inaugural crossing in 14 days 8 hours.
1841: Sir Robert Peel becomes Prime Minister. Cooke Taylor publishes Notes on a Tour of the Manufacturing Districts of Lancashire. Thomas Cook organises first railway tour, from Leicester to Loughborough.
1842: The Plug Plot. Striking cotton workers march from town to town, removing the plugs from steam boilers and calling out fellow workers.
1843: Government lifts restrictions on the export of textile machinery. Ten years later, India has her own mills, with Brazil and Japan following suit.
1844: Receipts on Liverpool-Manchester railway reach �8,000 a year – profits more than �6,000. Rochdale Pioneers open their first shop in Toad Lane – beginning of modern co-operative movement. First telegraph service set up, between Paddington (London) and Slough.
1845: Start of the Irish Potato Famine. William McNaught invents the compound steam engine.
1846: Repeal of the Corn Laws.
1847: Government pass the Ten-Hour Act. The 70-hour week becomes 55.5 hours and workers have much more leisure – football and cricket become popular pastimes.
1848: Chartists hold Kennington Common meeting, masterminded by Feargus O’Connor. Public Health Act passed. Pedal cycle invented.
1851: Crampton lays first successful submarine telegraph cable between Dover and Calais. Manchester’s population now 455,000.
1853: Sir George Cayley constructs the world’s first man-carrying glider. He also invented the caterpillar tractor.
1854: Crimean War (to 1856).
1855: Henry Bessemer invents process for making cheap steel from pig iron, in response to call for guns for Crimean War.
1857: Indian Mutiny.
1858: Laying of first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.HMS Agamemnon HMS Agamemnon (pictured) and USNS Niagara succeeded by starting from a point in mid-ocean and sailing in opposite directions.
1859: Battle of Solferino, Italy. Edwin Drake drills first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania – start of commercial exploitation of petroleum.
1860: Road Locomotives Act restricts speed of road vehicles to 5mph. HMS Warrior, first ironclad battleship, launched. Start of construction of London Underground.
1861: Start of the American Civil War, cutting off raw cotton imports from the Southern states of the US and bringing three years of short time and hunger for Lancashire cotton workers.
1863: Football Association formed. Within a few years, clubs were springing up all over the country and soccer-fever gripped Britain.
1865: Abraham Lincoln assassinated.
1866: House of Commons pass the new Reform Bill. Amateur Athletic Club founded.
1867: The Reform Act. Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) opens his first East End mission for destitute children in Stepney.
1868: Trades Union Congress formed.
1869: Suez Canal completed. Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads met to complete first American trans-continental line.
1870: Franco-Prussian War (to 1871). Zenobe T. Gramme perfects the ring armature – the first practical electrical dynamo.
1871: Formation of the Rugby Football Union.
1876: Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) patents the telephone. Nicholas August Otto’s gas engine becomes prototype for the modern internal combustion engine.
1877: Jesse Boot opens chemist’s shop in Nottingham, using mass-selling techniques to found the first chain stores.
1878: Salvation Army formed from William Booth’s East End Christian Mission. Edison patents the phonograph, using cylinders coated in tinfoil.
1879: Tay Bridge disaster – 70 die as bridge collapses while train is crossing.
1880: Invention of electric lightbulb.
1882: Committee formed to survey route for a ship canal between Manchester and the Mersey estuary. Thomas Edison installs power-producing dynamoes at Holborn Viaduct Station, in London.
1884: Charles Parsons patents the steam turbine.
1885: Parliamentary approval given for construction of Manchester Ship Canal. Karl Benz produces his first petrol-powered motor car. Welsbach invents the incandescent gas mantle.
1887: Work begins on Manchester Ship Canal.
1888: Nikola Tesla invents the alternating-current electric motor. George Eastman designs the hand-held Kodak camera. John B. Dunlop invents the pneumatic tyre.
1892: Rudolf Diesel patents his heavy-oil engine.
1894: Manchester Ship Canal opened for sea-going vessels on January 1st.
1896: Henry Ford manufactures his first motor car.
1897: Marconi builds wireless telegraph station at Alum Bay, Isle of Wight. Frederick Creed perfects the Creed Teleprinter for use in newspaper offices.
1900: Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin builds his first rigid airship.