This can be defined as the sum total of radical or fundamental changes in various sectors of the economy especially industry, transport, banking and technology. During this period new machines for mass production were invented; large scale industries replaced cottage industries.

Why Britain was the first country to industrialize in Europe?

The industrial revolution begun in Britain on a large scale for the first time, later spread to other countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Belgium. During this period Britain was referred to as the “workshop of the world”.

The causes of the industrial revolution are classified into internal and external factors;

Internal Factors

a Growth of the internal market.

This was caused by the rapid growth in population during the 18 th century. There was about 10.5M people in 1801 and 20 M people in 1851. This growth of population was due to better health care and sanitation. The increase in population provided ready markets for industrial products thus contributing to the industrial revolution.

b Improvement of the transport systems.

There was improvement in the transport system through the construction of roads, railways and canals. The good transport system supported the industrial revolution by providing cheap and reliable transport.

c Non governmental interference.

The British government pursued the laissez faire policy (no government intervention) whereby the government allowed the economy to operate fairly and freely with few controls. The absence of government interference encouraged investors to increase production thus contributing to the industrial revolution.

d Peace and stability.

The monarchy which controlled Britain provided a stable and predictable government. This monarchy has maintained peace and stability which are conducive for industrial activities.

e Free trade system.

Britain had the largest free trade unity in Europe completely unhampered by the local tariffs system. Almost each part of Britain produced something and traded with others. The absence of internal tariffs encouraged industrial activities thus leading to industrial revolution.


f Geographical advantage.

Britain had an added advantage in natural resources which stimulated industrial revolution. There was existence of coal and iron in plenty, coal mining was important in coastal shipping and provision of cheap fuel and later rail road construction. The existence of these two natural resources generated more technological innovations that enabled Britain to undergo the industrial revolution.

g Technological advantages

Britain was the first country to undergo technological advancement in various aspects. There were various discoveries that took place in Britain which facilitated the industrial revolution. In 1776, James Watt discovered the steam engine and in 1775 Miller Cromb discovered the water frame. These discoveries contributed to the scientific revolution and finally the industrial revolution.

External Factors

a International links

The paramount cause of the industrial revolution was the Trans Atlantic slave trade. British companies traded with all countries in Europe but most important was trade with Asia and North America. The most profitable business acquired huge profits which were used to build many industries.

b Existence of many colonies.

Britain had so many colonies in Africa, America and Asia. These colonies provided raw materials and ready markets for industrial products, therefore contributing to the industrial revolution.

The industrial revolution led to drastic economic and social changes in the lives of the British people. It replaced agriculture as the main source of wealth and was responsible for the scramble for the control of the rest of the world.

Effects of industrial revolution in Europe

a Development of industrial towns.

The industrial revolution contributed to the development of industrial towns such as Lancashire, Birmingham and derby shire in Britain. Development of these towns was due to the industries which were established near the markets and source of raw materials that attracted a number of people to settle in those areas thus leading to the development of towns.

b Environmental degradation

The industrial revolution contributed to environmental pollution in Europe. It led to chemical contamination in water bodies and air pollution. The destruction of the environment also contributed to the eruption of diseases which led to loss of lives.

c Development of free trade policy.

The industrial revolution contributed to the development of free trade in Europe. Free trade is an economic policy that allows free transfer of goods without economic barriers or tariffs. This policy was influenced by the production of large quantities of industrial goods that required overseas markets.


d Rise of proletariat/ working classes

The industrial revolution contributed to the development of working class in Europe. Members of the working class did not posses anything except their labor. They sold their labor to the owners of the industries who in turn paid those low wages and were forced to work under poor conditions. Their exploitation led to the formation of various movements such as Luddism and Chartism.

e Introduction of democracy

It contributed to the collapse of absolute monarchies that had existed in Europe during the feudal period. In France there was the bourbon monarchy where all French kings right from Louis XIV were despotic. The monarchy in Britain was also despotic, the kings believed in the “divine right of the king” whereby the king was not answering to any man except God. The industrial revolution replaced absolute monarchies with parliamentary system.

f Economic hardship

It was characterized with so many economic hardships. The workers were paid very low wages which were not enough to satisfy ordinary human beings. To supplement their meager pay; many fathers were forced to send their children into factories at the age of five. The workers were forced to work for 14 hours a day.

g Development of slums

The industrial revolution contributed to the development of slums in Europe with the growth of population in the 18 th C. The older towns became more and more over crowded. More and more big families crowded into each house. Slums were very common in towns such as absence of proper sanitation and increased crime.

Why Britain was referred to as the workshop of the world?

Between 1750s and 1870s Britain was referred to as the workshop of the world by other European countries because all the commodities of the world were being produced in Britain, during the period of Victoria, the entire world depended on high quality products from Britain.

There are various reasons to why Britain was called the workshop of the world, these included the following;

First to undergo the industrial revolution.

See also  Factors that contributed the rise of factory system (industrial capitalism)

Britain was the first country to undergo the industrial revolution in 1750 AD and then it spread to other countries such as German and France. The British people regarded themselves as the source of world civilization and their country was a model to other countries.

Source of technology and innovation.

Britain was the source of technology in the world. Most of the inventions in technology took place in Britain e.g. the steam engine that was discovered in 1776 by James Watt and the maritime technology that started in Britain. It was Britain that set the pace for the industrialization of other countries.

Largest colonial empire.

Britain had the largest colonial empire in the world. It controlled at least a quarter of the world’s population. It had colonies in Asia, America and Africa. These colonies provided a ready market for British manufactured goods and raw materials that contributed to the industrial revolution.

Huge economy

Britain had the largest economy between 1750 AD and 1870 AD; its economy was worth 540 million pounds the largest in Europe and it was followed by France which had 250 million pounds. The possession of the largest economy explains why it was called the workshop of the world.

Leading exporter of industrial goods.

Britain was the leading exporter of the industrial products by that time and she monopolized the export of high quality industrial goods, this enabled her to control the world market and obtain higher profits this situation made Britain to be referred to as the workshop of the world.

Stable government

The monarchy in Britain provided a stable and predictable government in the country. Peace and security provided a conducive atmosphere for massive investment thus enabling Britain to have the largest economy in the whole world.

Geographical advantage.

Britain had an added advantage in natural resources


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