Did the Industrial Revolution ultimately cause Britain’s north-south divide?

The Industrial Revolution, which first developed in the United Kingdom between approximately 1760 and 1840, brought improved manufacturing processes, material prosperity and the consolidation of the capitalist method of production to millions of people. However, it also caused major environmental damage and ill-health, and furthermore utilised child labour to attain these final results. To what extent these consequences were justified by improved material wealth is a question open to debate.


To improve efficiency in production, the Industrial Revolution oversaw a radical change in the use of natural resources in manufacturing. The intensive use of fuels such as coal and oil, combined with large scale production in urban areas, led to widespread pollution throughout the country. Certain areas, such as London and Manchester, experienced heavy soot and smoke, whilst urban sewers spread infectious diseases amongst the densely populated cities. According to an article on the BBC website from June 2012, the effects of the Industrial Revolution are still felt throughout the country, with polluted drinking water, poisoned rivers and acid rain. Scientists have even studied the effects of the Industrial Revolution on biodiversity in the United Kingdom, such as the evolution of the Peppered moth due to the soot produced by the industrial factories.

Despite the environmental failings of the Industrial Revolution, the improvements in the efficiency of production of goods revolutionised British society. Economists such as Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations in 1776, explained the unprecedented acceleration of economic development due to specialisation and increases in efficiency in production. Most aspects of daily life were simplified by newly developed machinery and production techniques, which by consequence allowed the expansion of literature, arts, education, theatre and sport, amongst others, to take a more prominent place in British society.

In the United Kingdom, the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity and employment to many in the north of the country due to the presence of coal and iron ore. However, this also led to an overreliance on heavy industry for economic success. As Britain moved towards an economy based upon services rather than industry, the process of deindustrialisation left many in the north of the country without work. The privatisation and closing of many coal mines during the Thatcher government (1979-1990) led to protest and the polarisation of politics in the UK during the 1970s and the 1980s. Ultimately, it can be argued that whilst the Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to the north of the United Kingdom, it eventually led to a north-south divide which to this day remains of much political, economic and social significance.


By Robert Cottey 


11 thoughts on “Did the Industrial Revolution ultimately cause Britain’s north-south divide?

  1. When the pollution goes to the point where the contaminattion of water and air starts to treathen the existence of species and the human its imperative to stop and consider where is this road taking us to ?

  2. I find it quite interesting the point where you mention the privatisation of the coal mines and how it divided the north and south. I find it interesting because it may be one possible thing that could happen here in Mexico regarding the privatisation of PEMEX, as it may help economically the country maybe many people will be left without his or her job because private companies may as well replace them with new personnel and so the confrontation of ideas will start. Your essay is an example that we can learn from the past to foresee the future.

  3. Rob, I really liked your article. I did not know that industrial revolution had a greater impact in the North than in the South of England. I thought it had spread homogeneously. And also it is very interesting that even though it has passed more than a century its effects are still visible in your country. Something more or less the same happens here in Mexico. The concentration of industries in the center of the country leaves the other states almost marginalized economically and socially speaking.

  4. I found the article pretty interesting. If humans could think more carefully about the consequences that certain act would bring, then a lot of problems that the world has could be eradicated. And as the article said, many positive things happened with the industrial revolution, but some others had important and negative repercussions in political, social and economical issues.

  5. I consider that the creation of job is imperative for all of the states that want to develop but yet I consider that the end does not justify the means.

  6. Robert, I found your article amazing I didn’t know many of the things you wrote, your perspective of the industrialization is great, you gave facts to sustain your arguments, as you mentioned repercussions of the Industrial Revolution are still affecting like the acid rain and the toxic water and as your country is one of the most developed my question would be, from your perspective what solution would be viable to help the impact of the industrial revolution in México?

  7. I deeply enjoyed reading the article, and I believe that the case presented here is what often happens with industrialisation all over the world. It should be noted that even though United Kingdom was the first country to become heavily industrialised, they continue to struggle with unequal distribution and it is something that should be addressed globally.

  8. I enjoy the way you support your ideas and also how you make us interest in the part of United Kingdom, you wrote many things that were interesting and i had no idea. I like the way you point the separation between north and south. Great article.

  9. I really liked how you aboarded the subject from a social point of view between who a economic phenomena had its impact on northern an south england,

  10. I specially liked that you wrote about adam smith since he is one of my favorite autors, and i find quiet interesting that althought the north in first suceeded it later on was overwhelmed by the south

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