The Industrial Revolution: Scotland

Figure 1.--

The Industrial Revolution began in England during the mid-18th century. Most of the early developments centered in the textile industry, primarily cotton textiles. The developments gradually spread to other countries, the first was Scotland. This was of coursr Scotland and England were joined in the United Kingdom. The common language and the fact that the English midlands where the Industrial Revolution began were relatively close to Scotland. The early Industrial Revolution centering on the textile industry centered on the Clyde Valley.

The Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution began in England during the mid-18th century. Most of the early developments centered in the textile industry, primarily cotton textiles. No development in modern history has affected individuals more than the Industrial Revolution and the manufacture of textiles played a key role. Historians debate just where and when the Industrail Revolution began. We would set it at about the mid-18th century in the English Midlands. Some authors might take issue with this, but this would be the most widely accepted view. The first industry affected was the textile or clothing industry--one reason that the study of the clothing indusytry is so important. It was at this time that workers instead of weaving piece work at home, began to work in factories. Here cotton manufacture became especially important. Several inventions at this time were responsible, including the spinning jenny, flying shuttle, and a water-powered loom. This was soon followed by the key invention of our time which served as a catalyst for industrial expansion--the steam engine. John Newcomen and James Watt developed the steam engine. Watt between 1769-84 developed an efficient engine. The abundant supplies of coal in Britian combined with the technological advances by British inventors in part explain why Britain led the way in European industrial expansion. The significance was that the steam engine was an efficent source of energy that could be put to work in virtually every industry and because inexpensive energy was available, helped develop new industies. The railroad was essenially a steam engine on wheels. The railroad in turn revolutionalized the world economy. Many bulk goods like grain could not be sold at any significant distance from where it was grown or produced. The railroad allowed bulk goods to be transportd at great distance for limited costs, including ports where goods could be conducted aound the world. At at those ports awaited steam-powered boats, floating steam engines, to effiently move cargos at low cost around the world.

Spread to Scotland

The developments gradually spread to other countries, the first was Scotland. This was of coursr Scotland and England were joined in the United Kingdom. The common language and the fact that the English midlands where the Industrial Revolution began were relatively close to Scotland. Scotland also had well developed universities where researchers added to the technological innovations that advanced the Undustrial Revolution.

Scottish Education

One of the teenants of the Protestant Revolution in its many forms was that a Christian should read and study the Bible. This was something that the Roman Catholic Church did not approve of. Scholars who translated vulgate (modern language) versions of the Bible were persecuted and tried as heritics. Some were burned at the stake. The importance of reading the Bible meant that public education develooped first and was most advanced in the Protestabnt states of northern Europe. Scotland was one of these states. Advances in education carried over to higher education and thus Scotland despite its small sizes had respected universities.

Scottish Linen Industry

Linnen is produced from flax and as flax is grown locally, Scotland developed a linen industry long before cotton textiles were produced there. The Industrial revolution in England centered on cotton textiles. Developments were not limited, however, to cotton. Scotland also had a linnen industry. It was a traditional industry similar to that in many areas of Europe. Linen was woven on hand looms, mostly bt men working in their homes. Joseph Black (1728-99) was the son of a Bordeaux wine merchants. Given the chemistry involved in wine, it is natural that the young Black would become interested in chemistry. Black became a chemistry professor, lecturing at both the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh. Black worked on gases. At the time air was poorly understood. Black discovered carbon dioxide which he called "fixed air" (1756). He noted its ability to put out candles. This led to other scientists isolating the various gasses which made up air (Oxygen and Nitrogen) as well as other gases found in smaller quantities (hydrogen and clorine). Improving understanding of chemistry soon led to prctical dicoveries of commercial importance. Black and a colleague William Cullen used clorine to produce an alkali which was usefuil in bleaching linnen--making the process much more efficent. Thus the Scottish linnen industry grew and became an important part of the local economy. The industry incorporated inovations developed in England for manufacturing cotton textiles. Scittish linnens became well regarded in other countries and are still highly regarded today.

The Clyde Valley

The early Industrial Revolution in Scotland centering on the textile industry centered on the Clyde Valley. The Clyde Valley offered several advantages. The Valley had abundant water which was important because before the development of steam power, water power was the primary power source. There was also an abundant labor force because of the existing linnen industry in Scotland. The climate was also siutable. The temperatures were mild, even at the northern Scottish lattitudes because of the impact of the Gulf Stream. Abundant rainfall combined with the termperature meant relatively humid conditions. This helped keep the cotton pliable so that the fivers did not breaking during the manufacturing process.

Impact on Scottish Society

The coming of the Industrial Revolution to Scotland meant the introduction of the factory system. This had a major impact on people's lives. The major manufacturing operations (spinning and weaving) was a kind of handicraft done in people's homes. With the Industrial Revolution, factories were built to take advantage of powered equipment like the spinning jenny. Handicraft workers spinning and weaving in their homes could not compete with the new gfactories. The mill owners profited gretly from the new factories. Fortunes were made. The new factory workers, however, did not share even proprtionally in the profits being made. Working conditions were much worse than when the work was dome in the home. The wages paid were very low and working hours were quite long. Workers had to come to the city so they could live near the mills. Here authors vary somewhat. Some argue that forced into cities, living conditions also deteriorated. Others maintain that rural living conditions were also very poor. This subject needs to be developed. One would think that if the conditions in the cities were so bad that workers would not come to the city. Of course the decession was often not voluntary. The factories were destroyong the livlihoods of spinners and weavers. At the same time property owners were attempting to force tennants off the land. The Higland clearances were aimed at opening more land for highly profitable sheep ranching. As a result, the Industrial Revolution along with the Clearances reduced many Scotts to paupers.


The economic developments were all factors in the substantial emigration, primarily to the American colonies, especially immigration to America. Also involved at this time was the suppression of thee Scottish Higlanders after the the Rising of '45 and the English victory over Bonny Prince Charlie at Culloden (1746). Many of these Scotts and Irish families would play important roles in the American Revolution (1776-83).

Child Labor

There was no legislation protecting the rights of laborors, even children at the time that the Industrial revolution began. Gradually concern about women and children developed. In some cases mill owners preferred women and children. They were easier to control and would work for lower wages than men. There small sizes and delicate hands made than more suitable foir some jobs than men. The long woirking hours were devistating for the children. Not only did they have less endurance than adults, it meant that they could not go to school and as a result had bleak future prospects. HBC has done some work on child labor, although we have few specifuc details on Scotland.

New Lanark

Observing the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the factory system on people there were several different reform movements which developed. Some of these reforms took a political approach. Another was the creatian of utopian societies. One of the utopian communities develooed in Scotland. New Lanark was created when two Glasgow financiers (David Dale and Richard Arkwright) purchased land on the River Clyde. It was at this location that they founded their mill and a new village--New Lanark (1785). Dale as was not unsual at the time, relied heavily on children, especially orphan children who were very inexpensive to obtain. An estimated 800 of his 1,100 employees were children. Unlike many such employers, he provided 2 hours of education. (This was before free public education existed, but it was beginning to develop in Scotland.) He also built reasobable housing for his employees. A Welshman Robert Owen married Dale's daughter Caroline (1799). Owen and Quaker partnersthus took control of New Lanark. Owen was an idealist inspired by the Enlightenment. He was particularly taken with the idea of individual self-improvement and education. Owns believed that the education of individuals would bebefit the larger soiciety. Owen decided to administer New Lanark as a social experiment. Owen sought to show the social benefits that resulted when employees were treated fairly and he sought to demostrate that employers could still make profirs. Own sut back on working hours and upgraded worker housing. He established a creche (day care) for working mothers. He also provided workers free medical care as well as sick pay--virtually unheard of at the time. He used mill profits to build a village school. He even saw recreation as important and organized dances and socials. He offered self improvement through adult education evening classes. Owen founded the Institute for the Formation of Character (1816). Owen sold his share of New Lanark to Quaker partners (1824). Owen is especially well known to Americans. He brought his family to America and founded a utopian community there--New Harmony, Indiana. Owen eventually returned to Britain, but his son Robert Dale Owen stayed behind at New Harmony. He was a teacher and an important spokesman for the abolition of slavery. His father persued the campaign for industrial and social reform after his return to Britain until he died (1858). Owen's experiment at Lanark had an important but difficult to quantify impact on social policy in Britain and the British labour movement. It also influenced the co-operative movement. Social legislation, the trade union movement , garden cities, as well as education were also impacted. [Taylor]


Taylor, Helen. "New Lanark - A model industrial community," Scottish Textile Heritage Online, site accessed June 20, 2004.


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Created: 8:57 PM 6/20/2004
Last updated: 6:52 AM 6/21/2004