The British Textile Industry in the Industrial Revolution

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bailey Cavender

Bailey teaches High School English, has taught history, and has a master's degree in Anthropology/Historical Archaeology.

The Industrial Revolution led to innovations in many aspects, including within the textile industry. Discover how new textile inventions changed the British textile industry in the Industrial Revolution, including the resulting benefits and disadvantages. Updated: 01/13/2022

Industrial Revolution

During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a shift in the economies of several countries, including Great Britain and the United States, called the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolutionbegan in Great Britain in the late 18th century and signified a shift from rural to urban economies, as seen in the rise of factories and mass production. The iron industry, textile industry, and steam engine all played critical roles in the Industrial Revolution.

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  • 0:03 Industrial Revolution
  • 0:32 Benefits & Changes
  • 1:20 Disadvantages
  • 2:24 Textile Inventions
  • 4:30 Britain's Textile Industry
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Benefits & Changes

The English historian Arnold Toynbee places the Industrial Revolution in England between the years 1760 and 1840. The Industrial Revolution affected three things: technology, socioeconomics, and culture, all of which changed the way England worked. For example, the technological boom changed the way that people earned money, which in turn changed the socioeconomic and cultural fabric of Great Britain.

The Industrial Revolution used the new technologies to mass produce products and, in many cases, improve lives. People had access to a larger range of products and lower prices than ever before. The Industrial Revolution also led to the creation of two new classes, the working class and the middle class, which was made up of the businessmen who ran the factories.


The Industrial Revolution had a dark side, however: the result of people moving to urban areas to work in the factories. With so many people living in close quarters, cities became overcrowded and were often not clean or healthy. This led to a rise in disease. It also meant that people who worked in the factories were easy to replace. Factory work could be dangerous, especially for the many children employed by them. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, there were few, if any, rules that protected the workers. Authors like Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell wrote about the conditions faced by workers. Their books would help influence some important changes in factory conditions.

During the 18th century, Great Britain had become an impressive empire, and despite losing her mainland American colonies after the American Revolution, remained a world power. This enabled her to have access to raw materials from all over the world, including cotton. Historians have argued that the most important part of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain was the textile industry.

Textile Inventions

For generations, people made cloth in their homes, but this gradually changed. With new innovations, cloth started to be made in factories and not by independent craftspeople. Meanwhile, Eli Whitney and his cotton gin made cotton cheaper and easier to process. Although wool was still made in the way it always had been, the British Empire had access to other materials, particularly cotton, and several inventions played a role in the increased use of cotton in Great Britain.

In 1746, Thomas Highs invented a machine called the spinning jenny, although others have given credit to James Hargreaves' invention in 1764. The spinning jenny had multiple spindles and could spin cotton more quickly. Other inventors would later add more spindles, one spinning at least 20 spindles at a time. Although the spinning jenny was unpopular because it could do the job of several people, it did speed up the production of cotton. Another important innovation was the water frame, invented by Richard Arkwright in 1764. Powered by a water wheel, this device stretched out the cotton before it was twisted - a process that gives the fibers strength.

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