Need a Document?

Sign up to view our downloads library containing our latest brochures and technical documents.

A Brief History Of UK Manufacturing

September 14, 2022

It’s safe to say that the UK has come a long way in terms of innovation even in the last few decades, not least the last few centuries. All of which is part of the journey of UK manufacturing industries in particular, which has gradually shaped our country into the hive of activity and production that it has become today.

But when we cast our minds back, there was once a time long before workstation jibs and gantries, when Britain had a much smaller population. Even basic tools we rely on today were unheard of or, at best, in their infancy. As we gradually discovered new materials and inventions, our manufacturing industries began to take shape, although it wasn’t always plain sailing!

While it’s impossible to condense the entirety of the UK’s manufacturing history into a single post, here is a flavour to help you understand our current position in the world of manufacturing.

ANSI/ASSP Z359.14-2021 Fall Protection Standards Updated – An Easy To Understand Guide

British Agricultural Revolution – 1650 to 1760

Back in the 1600s, the population of Britain was around 5.6 million – this is compared to around 67 million in modern times. While the Industrial Revolution is thought of as the turning point for Britain’s manufacturing era, it simply wouldn’t have been possible without stark population growth, in addition to a greater proportion of the population moving to towns and cities so that they could work in factories, instead of the countryside where most people resided at the time.

It was the period known as the British Agricultural Revolution which paved the way for what was to come with the Industrial Revolution. In short, the Industrial Revolution required a revolution in agriculture, hence the term British Agricultural Revolution.

During this time, from the mid-1600s to the mid to late 1700s, Britain’s farming became far more productive by doubling its amount of arable (crop producing) land due to the introduction of the four crop rotation system. 

However, aside from land management and improved farming techniques, technology also played a part. Agricultural innovation through the invention of seed drills, and threshing machines alongside tools such as the sickle, which replaced the scythe, made field work much more efficient to complete.

Although the Agricultural Revolution didn’t transform Britain as dramatically as the latter revolutions, it did enable more people than ever before to live in cities, work in factories and help build the modern world we live in today. 

Industrial Revolution – 1760 to 1840

The Industrial Revolution was underpinned by The Agricultural Revolution, which now meant there was a greater production of food to support a growing population, and the improvements in farm tools and machinery meant that fewer farm workers were needed, encouraging even more people to move to towns and cities. 

The introduction of better metals and fuel sources also contributed to industrialisation, most notably by creating the steam engine, which was capable of powering factories, locomotives and ships. Steam engines used coal and iron, which increased the demand for these resources and as a result, roads, railways and canals changed Britain dramatically.

The Industrial Revolution also saw mechanisation in factories within the textile industry. Alongside the textile industries, other industries which thrived during the Industrial Revolution in Britain included iron, steam, machine tools, chemicals, cement, gas lighting, glass, paper, agriculture, mining and transportation. 

Second Industrial Revolution – 1850 to 1914

The Second Industrial Revolution is also referred to as the Technological Revolution and can best be summed up in that it was really about refining many of the inventions and discoveries of the Industrial Revolution.

For instance, where the Industrial Revolution saw methods of production move from hand to machine, in this second phase, the emphasis was on increased automation. All of which culminated in less human effort required to produce power and goods. In particular, steel became mass produced due to the Bessemer process, named after ​​British inventor Sir Henry Bessemer.

New power sources, including petroleum and electricity, also came to the forefront during this time. As did new engine types including the internal combustion engine. Inventions which then followed included the likes of cars, telephones and radios. 

Third Industrial Revolution (The Digital Revolution) – 1947 to Present

After the end of the Second World War, Britain along with the rest of the western world, entered a seismic shift from a reliance on mechanical technology to digital electronics. 

This period encompasses all of the developments and inventions up to the present day. The speed at which these developments have taken place make it seem as if each decade is an Industrial Revolution in itself, especially comparing the technological advances with the 1950s with the 1990s and even the early 2000s with the 2020s. 

Some of the key inventions during this time have included the world wide web and renewable energy. However, in terms of how the Third Industrial Revolution has impacted manufacturing specifically, this period has seen the introduction of the unified assembly line, lean manufacturing and robotics. 

As for what the future of manufacturing holds, the trends suggest a leaning towards automotive processes to further streamline the speed and efficiency at which goods can be produced. By the same token, new technology has also led to improvements in safety, especially when it comes to the lifting of heavy goods or movement of goods within the distribution industries, as just two common examples. 


Metreel- Material Handling Equipment, Safety & Powerfeed Systems UK 

Some of the modern day manufacturing or material handling tools and accessories that Metreel can supply include workstation cranes, workstation jibs, track systems, hoists, balances, winches, gantries, monorails, fall arrest systems, fall protection systems, fall restraint systems, abseil equipment, reeling drums, festoon cables and conductor systems. 

So if you’re interested in learning how to supercharge your present day manufacturing efforts, then Metreel is here to help. Whether you know exactly what equipment or tools you need for your business, or if you’d like to have a consultation with us to learn more about our products and services, please do get in touch.

Based in Derbyshire, we operate not just across the East Midlands but on a global scale. So, if you are in search of any new manufacturing or safety tools for your business or if you have any questions about manufacturing in general, you’re in the right place.

You can also download our free brochure to discover more about our product specifications by visiting our product brochure page. If you’re ready to place an order or have any questions, please give us a call on 0115 647 0422 or email us at [email protected].