Telford, Birthplace Of Industry?

© Frank Verity 2005


So after an examination of the facts surrounding the development of the region are we now in a position to answer the question of the areas' role in the industrial revolution? Are we in fact certain that a 'revolution' indeed did occur? If we examine the second question initially this may help to yield an answer. Many historians have written extensively of the 'take off' or 'rapid development' of industry at some point in the 18th century. There is little doubt in any historiographers mind that there were great changes in the 18th century. The exodus from the countryside and into the rapidly expanding conurbations of the industrialising North of England is tangible evidence of such change. The development of these industries did indeed accelerate at a hitherto unparalleled pace. The demand for manufactured goods it is proved reached a level that had never before been experienced. Something had altered, but did this something equate to revolution? T.S. Ashton proffers an opinion linking this event with changes that: "were not merely 'industrial', but also social and intellectual", claiming that the outstanding feature of the social history of the period was the increase in population. He provides figures equating to a forty per cent rise in the second half of the 18th century, giving a population of some six and a half millions in 1750, which had risen again to eleven millions by 1801.89 Paul Mantoux however argues that it was the development of the factory system originating: "In England in the last third of the eighteenth century", that gave rise to: "such important results that it has been aptly compared to a revolution".90 There are countless arguments that divide historians and spawn innumerable debates on the evolution/ revolution thesis, as Allan Thompson opines: "Historians can find an industrial revolution under almost every stone".91 A safe stance would perhaps be the middle ground, and with this a consensus, yes, there was an 'industrial revolution' in the broadest sense of that concept, but one with its roots firmly entrenched in the preceding centuries. Now we must define our region's role in this 'revolution'. We have examined evidence in the first chapter and concluded that the industry of the Severn Gorge was an extremely important link in the chain of progress. The technological innovations and advances in casting methods did indeed revolutionise the iron industry. The geographical location of the area was perhaps the major factor in the establishment of the industries vital to this development. This gave an advantage over other industrialising areas. The river provided as we have proven a ready-made trade route that facilitated the export of manufactured goods and materials and also the importation of consumer goods to a rapidly expanding community. Innovation was also an important factor in the transport system as we have discussed the first inclined plane in Britain was built at Ketley and its success was apparent throughout the country as other regions utilised the technology and applied it to their systems. The forerunner of the railway system, the wooden railed-way was first used in the region. The final link in this chain must be the assembling of a workforce that possessed the necessary skills and attitude that worked in conjunction with the innovativeness of the forward-looking iron-masters and industrialists, this completes the model. When comparing the region with the likes of Manchester it is difficult to see a connection. The textile industry and in particular 'King Cotton' was the undisputed driving force behind this rapid take off. However we must pose the question, where would Manchester have been without the technology necessary to build the great mills? This technology was developed in Coalbrookdale92 and first utilised to construct a flax mill in nearby Shrewsbury. Similarly the steam power that made these great buildings function was again made necessary by Shropshire technology in partnership with James Watt et al. In fact if we look at Coalbrookdale in comparison with other great pioneering districts, Wedgewood's Etruria, Arkwright's Cromford and Boulton and Watt's Soho, these were at the cutting edge of innovation and technology and were in Ashton's parlance: "a model for many other undertakings".93 Coalbrookdale and the regions industries certainly fit this pattern. The Coalbrookdale Company was the centre for a vast diversity of products and the willingness of the management to experiment with these products enhanced its qualities.94 Whether as discussed earlier the origins and indeed existence of an 'Industrial Revolution' remains shrouded in ambiguity, we do know that during the period discussed there was fundamental change. There is little doubt that the area now known as Telford was an essential part of this change, whether or not it was the actual birthplace of industry remains a moot point. But we can safely assume that the district was present at the conception.

Contents | Previous
Top of this page
Exploring Telford