This book is designed to make the Industrial Revolution more comprehensible to students and non-economic historians. I hope that it will enable those who read it to understand the economic reasoning behind different explanations even if their knowledge of economics is limited.
After a brief introduction which sets out the scale of industrialisation in Britain between 1750 and 1850, Chapter 1 starts with a section on land, labour, capital and productivity which can be skipped by anyone with more than basic economics. Next, it outlines models - simplified representations of economic processes - of the Industrial Revolution. The succeeding chapters review these in more depth and compare their explanations of industrialisation with the fruits of historical research. This approach was influenced by Peter Gatrell’s The Tsarist Economy. I read this a few years ago and was struck by the way its treatment illuminated the economic past, which often seems a mass of unrelated facts and theories.
The book is focused entirely on industrialisation - its causes and immediate economic impacts. It is not a complete economic history of the period, a number of which are listed in the bibliography to the Introduction, and so there are several omissions. Agriculture is not treated in detail. It was very important, and Chapters 7 and 8 make it clear why; but a detailed account of agricultural change does not in itself explain industrialisation. There is uneven coverage of the period of the book, with more attention paid to the earlier part because that was when rapid industrial growth began. Its continuation is important but this book’s main concern is why it started, so canals and roads are discussed in more detail than railways, and so on. But the effects of industrialisation on living standards were long-term and so for this subject a discussion of the whole period up to 1850 is pertinent. There is another reason for the choice of 1750-1850: by setting wide limits to the period of the Industrial Revolution, it avoids assigning specific dates which then require justification. Economic phenomena were rarely confined within particular dates, even though statistical measurement demands definite beginnings and ends, and it seems best to avoid long-winded argument about dating when precision is not possible. Finally, Ireland is omitted as it experienced only limited industrialisation; its economic development was in most respects completely different to Great Britain’s. So far as statistics are available which distinguish Great Britain from the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it was from 1801, I have used them.