The Yorkshire region’s many scenic canals and viaducts, functional steam railways and former factories converted into nightclubs, museums and more, are testament to the area’s industrial past. The cities of Sheffield and Bradford in particular were of much importance to the Industrial Revolution. This era cemented Britain’s place as a global power and helped lead to the growth of the empire across the world. Whatever the consequences of that expansion, there is no denying that the Yorkshire area had a prominent role to play in this period that revolutionised industry across the world.
Powering the Country
One of the biggest drivers of the industrial revolution, was the British control of cheap and accessible sources of coal. Entire towns and villages popped up around prominent coal pits, as demand soared after the invention of the steam train in the early 1800s. Passenger lines opened across the country by 1925 and they all needed lots of coal. Yorkshire towns such as Elsecar, near Barnsley, who had been iron-working since at least the 1750s, profited greatly from this and opened many coal pits.
Iron & Steel
Speaking of iron, this metal was another important industrial product of Yorkshire. Since at least the 1500s, the Yorkshire Moors had been an important source of Iron. The village of Rosedale saw its 500-strong population grow six times in size over just 10 years in the 1850s, when a high-quality iron ore supply was found nearby.
In the 1900s, Harry Brearley of Sheffield played an important role in the propagation of stainless steel across the land. He invented a new industrialisation process that would allow quality steel to be produced much faster. Working in tandem with similar efforts by Ellwood Haynes, across the Atlantic in Indiana, Brearley’s investment and belief in the incredibly useful metal helped it spread throughout the rapidly industrialising world. Today there is a monument to his legacy at the Brown Firth research laboratory in the Yorkshire city he called home.
Sheffield had also played a part in the rise of trade unions, when the United Kingdom Alliance of Organised Trades was founded there in 1866.
Textiles and Threads
Yorkshire also played an important role in the textile industry, with several giant textile mills that are now World Heritage sites. The two most famous of these Salts Mill, near Bradford, and Dean Clough near Halifax in West Yorkshire. Both were record breaking buildings at the time – Dean Clough holding the title of biggest carpet factory in the world, and Salts Mill being the largest industrial building by floorspace.
Both of these sites now welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors a year in modern times and have repurposed their imposing buildings as cultural and artistic centres. Visitors can learn about the Industrial history of Yorkshire while browsing paintings by David Hockney and Derrick Hyatt amongst others. Bill Brandt’s iconic industrial revolution photo, Catchpoint, was also taken here and sold recently (in 2018) for $6,000.