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Early 18th century British industries were generally small scale and relatively unsophisticated. Most textile production, for example, was centred on small workshops or in the homes of spinners, weavers and dyers: a literal ‘cottage industry’ that involved thousands of individual manufacturers. Such small-scale production was also a feature of most other industries, with different regions specialising in different products: metal production in the Midlands, for example, and coal mining in the North-East.

Two illustrations of 18th century textile

New techniques and technologies in agriculture paved the wave for change. Increasing amounts of food were produced over the century, ensuring that enough was available to meet the needs of the ever-growing population. A surplus of cheap agricultural labour led to severe unemployment and rising poverty in many rural areas. As a result, many people left the countryside to find work in towns and cities. So the scene was set for a large-scale, labour intensive factory system.

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