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What The Industrial Revolution Did For Us - Programme 3 - On the Move

Updated Thursday 1st December 2005

Find out more about the On the Move programme, part of the BBC/OU's 'What the Industrial Revolution Did for Us' TV series.

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Steam train Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

By the end of the 18th century the Industrial Revolution had sparked off a chain of developments that would broaden the horizons of every man and woman in Britain, forever. As industrialisation swept the country, the massive growth in production, supply and demand started a revolution in the transportation of the country’s goods and its people.

Beginning with roads, through to canals and the mighty steam engine, we will look at the amazing characters and developments that shaped the transport network of the country. The first civil engineers emerged to transform the waterlogged, muddy and jagged roads into hardwearing, smooth and water-resistant surfaces. From the unusual methods of Blind Jack to the industrial innovations of Thomas Telford and John Loudon Macadam, we will travel from the A6 to the first pavements in London, and on to the first ever iron suspension bridge over the Menai Straits. We will look at why the improving roads spelt death for the highwayman and growth for the coaching and inn industries.

The Grand Tour inspired the first steps in the mighty canal network, the birth of a safe, cheap and efficient method of transporting such goods as Josiah Wedgwood’s precious cargo. Here we meet James Brindley, who became known as the man who could make water run uphill and who retired to bed for days at a time in order to give us our most stunning aqueducts and intricate waterways. The culmination of the efforts of such men as Brindley, Francis Egerton (the Canal Duke) and his land agent, John Gilbert gave rise to Canal Mania, which left in its wake the casualties of those who made their living from the roads. But the final victory was to be won by something else entirely, already in embryo form on the coalfields whilst the canal system was being perfected.

When Richard Trevithick unleashed his ‘Puffing Devil’ steam locomotive on the country, he began the inevitable race towards the railway’s complete dominance of British transport. We will look at the major locomotive innovators and how they overcame the problems of speed and weight, keeping the machine literally on track and stopping it from falling apart! Dan will race through the Rainhill Trials with Stephenson’s Rocket and examine the railway’s legacy: William Huskisson the first railway fatality, stations, pollution, first class travel, George Bradshaw and the creation of time as we know it, Thomas Edmondson and railway ticketing and the creation of the railway police.

These developments formed the backbone of Britain’s transport system, but other developments would one day make it easier for people to travel to foreign shores. Priestley’s experiments on air would inspire the Montgolfier brothers to take to the skies in the first ever hot-air balloon. In 1804, George Cayley, the Father of Flight, would send the fixed wing glider into the air, and eventually, steam and the propellor would revolutionise the propulsion of ships. All of these developments would also introduce new danger to our lengthening lifespans - the chance that they might go wrong, with catastrophic consequences. Our industrial innovators also gave us such saving devices as the parachute and the rocket propelled rope, used to rescue people from stricken ships and now a vital piece of equipment on every RNLI lifeboat.

Dan will travel through the longest tunnels, over the highest bridges and in the first ever steam trains, to explore the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the way we get from A to B.


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