The Industrial Revolution, which brought so many chimney stacks and soot-ridden workers' housing settlements to Europe, began on the fields of British farmers. In the 18th century landowners were able to increase agrarian production to such an extent that they could meet the nutritional requirements of the country on a long term basis and still had enough capital left over for new investments.

Mechanical mass production gradually grew up on this economic basis. In 1756 the water-driven Spinning Jenny was able to turn a total of just 8 spindles. Around the same time the world's first cotton mill was built in Cromford near Nottingham. Just 20 years later a steam-driven engine was installed in the same mill and soon tens of thousands of spindles were bobbing und and down on the looms. Around 20 years or more had to pass before the workers were able to process the ensuing thread mechanically. In 1806 the first large mechanical weaving mill was set up in Manchester and the county of Lancashire was on the way to becoming a booming textile region. The manufacturers imported their raw material, mostly Indian cotton, via newly-built canals linked to the nearby port of Liverpool. This was a dynamic shipbuilding centre, especially from the time it became possible to process iron on the wharfs.

The mass production of iron was made possible by the discovery of coke in 1709 - the second trigger for the Industrial Revolution. Almost inexhaustible amounts of the new fuel were available to the ironworks as soon as it became possible to purify coal of its polluting by-products by turning it into coke. More and more ironworks sprung up in the Midlands but the real breakthrough only occurred with a new form of iron which replaced the brittle pig iron. The puddle furnace oven was invented in 1874. By stirring the molten smelt it now became possible to produce wrought iron en masse. This was the material from which pipes, ploughs, weapons, machines and the like could be made. The Iron Bridge in the Shropshire coalfields was the first iron bridge in the world, and the first iron ships began to be constructed in Liverpool.

But like the textile factories the huge ironworks would never have come into existence without the steam engine, the third great trigger of the age. The first working steam engines pumped pit water from the mines of Cornwall in 1776. And when people discovered how to turn the up-and-down movement of the pistons into a rotational movement the steam engine began to be adopted as a universal driving unit. It was used to set looms and spinning machines in motion, it blasted hot air into furnaces and produced the power to drive saw mills, corn mills and many other types of factory.

And finally, as the sum total so to speak of steam, iron and coal, came the railways. The first section of line was opened in 1825 to link the Durham coalfields in north England with the sea. The huge advantages of goods transportation unleashed a railway mania which in turn stimulated iron manufacturing, which for its part gave a boost to coal mining. The flywheel of industrial production turned ever more quickly and swept away the traditional ways of life for ever.