Fuel and power for industry
Warmth was as vital to man’s needs as food, particularly in the British climate. Fire was first used for heating and cooking, but its ability to transform clay into pottery and ore into metals was soon discovered. Fuel, whether wood, furze, peat or later coal, became an essential element in the economy of developing societies. Likewise, man’s ingenuity led him to supplement his own muscle power by making use of other sources of natural power, firstly animal, then water and wind. These met his needs until the great upsurge in the economy in the eighteenth century, when the familiar coal was used to produce a new source of power in the steam engine. The benefit of this invention was nowhere more felt than in the coal industry itself, since the vast expansion of manufacturing industry and the needs of the burgeoning population created massive demand. In the course of the nineteenth century, coal was transformed into a more convenient form—gas —and was used for heating, lighting and to fuel the internal combustion engine. The latter could also be driven by an entirely new form of fuel, mineral oil, the supply of which was limited in Britain until recent times.
Wood, charcoal and peat
Wood was the most obvious source of domestic fuel, but became increasingly scarce as more land was taken into cultivation in the later Middle Ages. Alternative sources were sought, such as furze on the sandy commons of southern England. The enclosure of these during the eighteenth century was a devastating blow to the poor in this densely populated area, far from the coalfields of midland and northern England. In other areas, peat was widely used for fuel and rights of turbary were jealously guarded.