- See also: European history
In the 18th century, the United Kingdom was the core of the British Empire, and saw the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, which came to change the face of the planet, and the way of life of most people on Earth, more than any historical period before.
Though many British mines, industries and railways were closed down in the late 20th century, many of the structures and artefacts remain to bear witness of these glorious years.
Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke,
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak. – Rule, Britannia! by James Thomson
The Industrial Revolution was not a single event, but a lengthy process across centuries. Though technology and economy had developed since ancient times, some innovations and reforms of the 18th and 19th centuries caused rapid changes; such as mechanized textile-making, steam power, large-scale metalworking, and deregulation of commerce.
England contained many industrial clusters; while London became a world-leading commercial centre, the West Midlands was a centre of the textile industry, and Northwest England pioneered rail transport and shipbuilding.
Wales was the main coal mining and metalworking district, and the cradle of the British labour movement. Welsh nationalism rose in the 1920s, and today, Wales defines itself as a country on its own.
Scotland provided raw materials such as wood and wool. A strong tradition of education led to the Scottish Enlightment in the 18th and 19th centuries, which produced talents such as James Watt (who did not invent the steam engine, but improved it to be widely useful), economist Adam Smith who promoted free markets, and John McAdam, who named a new method for road building. Today, North Sea oil dominates the Scottish economy.
Ireland, which was part of the United Kingdom until the 1910s, was struck by mass famine during the 1840s. Though Ireland itself remained a farmland with less industries and infrastructure than Great Britain, Irish migrant workers have contributed to the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom, as well as in the United States and Australia. Many of them became navvies, who built the British canals and railways. The "Irish question", namely what to do with Ireland and whether to grant it "home-rule" and to which degree was at the forefront of British domestic politics in one way or another for most of the 19th century. Many events during this era have left a deep mark on the national psyche of Ireland and have been enshrined in song, murals or other forms of collective memory.
Northern Ireland contained the shipyards of Belfast. Shipbuilding used to be an important industry for Britain, with the British navy and merchant fleet ruling the seas from the 16th century until World War II.
Queen Victoria I ruled the British Empire from 1837 to 1901. Though her role was mostly ceremonial, her reign is today known as the Victorian era, and many places around the world bear her name, as diverse as Africa's largest lake, a state in Australia, and the capital of Hong Kong.
British industries were mobilized for World War II, and contributed to the Allied victory. During the Cold War, many traditional industries such as textile and metalworking were replaced by new sectors, such as North Sea oil, and financial services. The biggest changes occurred during the government of Conservative Margaret Thatcher, who governed Britain from 1979 to 1990 and cut subsidies for most of the heavy industries, while focusing on establishing London as a major financial centre. Her legacy is controversial to this day, and her policies are downright loathed in areas of Northern England that used to be mining country, as well as in oil-rich Scotland, so tread with caution when mentioning her name. However, other parts of English society - particularly conservatives in the South of the country - idolize her and deem her policies to have been long overdue reforms that ensured the economic viability of the UK.
- Ironbridge. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this bridge was built in 1781, as the first of its kind.
- Science Museum (South Kensington, London).
- Jaguar Castle Bromwich Assembly, Chester Road, Castle Vale, ☎ +44 24 7620-5716, e-mail: email@example.com. The north of Birmingham hosts Jaguar's Castle Bromwich Assembly plant, which makes most Jaguar's models, and especially the high-end ones. Factory visits are available, and have to be pre-booked by specifically contacting the Visitors Centre by phone or email.
- MG Birmingham (Longbridge Assembly) (There is not much in the way of public transportation options, and the area is not quite walkable. Arriving by car is recommended.), ☎ +44 121 251-6533, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours start 1.00pm every Thursday and last 2 hours. The MG company, whose name derives from "Morris Garages", now owned by the Chinese SAIC concern, is the heir to the rich heritage of British Leyland and BMC. The factory had produced a number of storied Austin and Morris vehicles before becoming the hub for the Rover brand production, as it replaced the former two. In the next chapter of its history, the MG brand in turn was revived and replaced Rover as the fate of the company changed. As MG is not present in most Western countries, many visitors may be unaware that the company is still trading and assembling a new generation of vehicles at the Longbridge plant.
The site tours include not only the factory, but also the MG Museum, a preserved office of Lord Austin, the Technical Centre where new MGs are developed and the Sales Centre, where one can get acquainted with the current MG lineup and even have a test drive (should be pre-arranged when booking the tour). £5 per person.
- Cadbury World, Linden Rd, Bournville B30 2LU (train to Bournville), ☎ +44 845 450 3599. Opening times vary enormously but tend to be daily 10AM-4PM in the spring, summer and autumn. Huge chocolate factory south of the city centre. Tour includes the history of chocolate and the Cadbury company, plus a brief look at some of the factory floor. Some free chocolate, plus relatively cheap mis-shapes in the shop. £13.90 (concessions £10.50, children £10.10. Combined train and entry tickets available).
- Cromford. The first water-powered cotton spinning mill developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771
- Beamish Open Air Museum, DH9 0RG (About 15 minutes from Washington), ☎ +44 191 3704000, e-mail: email@example.com. Set in the countryside, this museum recreates life in the local area during the 1800s and 1900's. £17.50, allows several visits within one year.
- National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, YO26 4XJ (York), ☎ +44 870 421 4001, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 10AM-6PM. The largest railway museum in the world, responsible for the conservation and interpretation of the British national collection of historically significant railway vehicles and other artefacts. Contains an unrivalled collection of locomotives, rolling stock, railway equipment, documents and records. Free.
- Big pit (Blaenavon).
- Saltaire. A mill town.
- Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. Bristol was one of England's main industrial cities. Besides the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS Great Britain, the museums feature many collections from the industrial age.
- Pier Head Waterfront (Liverpool). A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Bluebell Railway (East Grinstead). England's premier restored steam railway.
- Severn Valley Railway (Kidderminster, Worcestershire). The Severn Valley Railway runs for 16 miles through Worcestershire and Shropshire in western England.
- Titanic Belfast. Belfast takes a bizarre pride in that the ill-fated Titanic was built here, not caring to promote the many hundreds of other ships that were built here which did not sink and you can now take a boat tour around the area that the ship was built. The former boat yards of Belfast have been redeveloped into a residential and commercial neighbourhood. Check sailing times on their website. See RMS Titanic for other destinations related to the same ship.
- Forth Railway Bridge (South Queensferry). Built between 1882-89 across the Firth of Forth, this iconic cantilever rail bridge was the first major steel construction in Britain. In 2015 the bridge was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
- West Somerset Railway, the country's longest heritage railway
- Around the World in Eighty Days, a fictional voyage beginning and ending in 19th century London
- Rail travel in the United Kingdom#Heritage and steam railways
- Industrialization of the United States
- American Industry Tour through the northeastern United States
- Route der Industriekultur in Germany
- Industrial tourism
- Science tourism