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What The Industrial Revolution Did For Us - Programme 6 - City Living

Updated Thursday 1st December 2005

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

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Dan Cruickshank and Georgian Lady Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the day-to-day lives of ordinary Britons had remained unchanged for centuries. Homes were largely rural and functional, and the idea of decorative and comfortable surroundings, along with home ‘entertainment’, was the reserve of a handful of the privileged nobility. Yet the Industrial Revolution ushered in an entirely new member of society - the urban middle-class - and our home lives became irrevocably changed.

We take for granted our ability to function after sun-down - be it reading a book, watching TV or cooking our meals - but before William Murdoch’s experiments with gas lighting in a cave by his home in rural Scotland, many of us were eating our meals by the light of an oily bird! Although electricity is largely associated with the 20th century, it was as early as 1802 that a couple of twitching frog’s legs inspired Alessandro Volta to create the world’s first electric battery. Thankfully, the Industrial Revolution also made us a much cleaner and sweeter smelling nation. Bathroom aromas became considerably less offensive after Alexander Cumming created the s-bend toilet; hot baths ceased to be frowned upon; and the world’s first shower patent was created in 1776.

Interior design, materialism and the fashion-conscious consumer are all alive and well in our 21st century homes thanks in large part to one man, Josiah Wedgwood, who - with his ingenious designs and marketing nous - created the first designer label and turned the country into a lucrative pool of consumers. And when we lounge in our comfy, bright sofas we should think of an enthusiastic man called Samuel Pratt - he wanted to create a cure for sea-sickness and in so doing came up with the spiral spring; and William Perkins, who gave us all a multitude of new colours when he accidentally discovered the dye, mauvine.

Dishwashers, washing-machines, weekends away, Saturday afternoon football, the Sunday paper, and even the exercise bicycle - through a series of ambitious builds and historical anecdotes Dan shows us how domestic life as we know it today was born.


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