Power for all the world

By the mid 1800s, building steam engines had become an industry in its own right. Britain built engines for the whole world, and steam power was fast becoming the heart of a massive factory system.

The spread of steam power depended on the spread of engineering knowledge. Henry Maudslay pioneered the construction of all-metal machines to the very highest standards of precision and accuracy, and trained many engineers in his London workshops. His ideas spread throughout the country, and helped Britain to become the 'workshop of the world'.

Steam engines became Britain's main power source, driving everything from cotton mills to lawn mowers. Towns expanded around the new steam-driven industries. They were packed with houses, shops and services for the factory workers. People suffered hard work, overcrowding and ill health. There was nothing new in this, but it now happened on a scale never seen before.