The industrial revolution of the eighteen century was a time of great change across the western world. The effects of these changes were felt by the economies, environments, and industries of each of the nations of the western world. Most affected of all by the changes brought by the industrial revolution were the people of the eighteenth century. The greatest change was the economic status of the commoners. Those not born of noble blood, or the commoners, noticed the largest shift of wealth due to the combination of the new technologies and industries that rose during the industrial revolution. The commoners included the capitalists, bourgeoisies, and the average workers. Of these three groups, the workers did not nearly see the increase in wealth that both the capitalists and the bourgeoisie felt. While these classes noticed an increase, the aristocracy noticed a decrease in wealth. This decrease in the wealth of the aristocracy can be primarily attributed to the increase in land owned by the capitalists. Even with, or perhaps due to, the changes across the classes, there was a great deal of social mobility that prior to the industrial revolution, had not been seen. In order to preserve their thoughts, workers would typically keep journals, logs, or letters that they had accrued over time. While the workers took the time to record for themselves, the wealthier members of society were able to commission paintings from contemporary artists. While the workers were able to describe life from their humble means directly, the wealthy had paintings that romanticized and understated the problems of the poorer workers. Together, the juxtaposition of the both the actually recount of the workers lives, as well as the disconnected view of the workers from the capitalists formed a look into the industrial revolution.

The first source used to look into the industrial revolution is and excerpt of Peter Gaskell’s The Manufacturing Population of England, which was found in Hard Times; Human Documents of the Industrial Revolution. Gaskell himself was the son of a cotton dyer, and at 15 was a laborer (Hall and Homer 1985). Due to this firsthand knowledge of being a worker of the industrial revolution, he had the experience necessary to provide and accurate account of the lives of the workers of the industrial revolution. The source itself seems to have been preserved by the British Library, with the original in their archives (British Library 2015). For this reason, the source does seem to have been mostly cataloged on the internet, due to its presence in one of the largest libraries in the world, as well as being contained in compilations such as Hard Times, found in the Simpson Library.

This source was first published in 1833, and the excerpt details several things about the workers, their lives, and their living conditions. For example, Gaskell describes the average worker as having a “complexion [that] is sallow and pallid – with a peculiar flatness of feature, … Their stature low – the average height of four hundred men, measured at different times, and at different places, being five feet six inches. Their limbs slender, and playing badly and ungracefully. A very general bowing of the legs. … Nearly all have flat feet, accompanied with a down-tread, differing very wildly from the elasticity of action in the foot and ancle, attendant upon formation, Hair thin and straight, … A spiritless and dejected air, a sprawling and wide action of the legs, and an appearance, taken as a whole, giving the world but ‘little assurance of a man’, or if so, ‘most sadly cheated of his fair proportions’.” (Pike 1966). Overall, the description of the English workers describes the workers, the class from which Gaskell himself grew up among, as being almost neanderthalic. The bowed legs, “ungraceful” movements, and most of all the “spiritless air” gives an image of a bumbling thug as the quintessential worker, not the perceived image of a strong, cooperative individuals.

An Iron Forge 1772 by Joseph Wright of Derby 1734-1797The second source is the painting An Iron Forge, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby. The painting’s method of preservation seems to not be completely clear, however, is currently seems to have been purchased in 1992 with “assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery in 1992 (Tate 2015).

Wright was a painter of portraits and subject-pictures who spent most of his life in his birthplace, Derby (Tate 2015). From the mid-1760s, Wright began to paint scenes of contemporary scientific and industrial life (Tate 2015). An Iron Forge was painted in 1772, and depicts and small blacksmith’s workshop, and several individuals.

The most prominently placed is the iron-founder, the overseer of the work that takes place in the workshop. The iron-founder’s role as overseer and his relaxed attitude – even his faintly dandyish striped waistcoat – suggest that the introduction of new machinery in his forge has brought about a lightening of his workload (Tate 2015). This seems to romanticize the new technologies brought about by the innovations of the industrial revolution. However, “the technology that Wright depicts was not especially advanced. Rather, the modernity of the painting lies in its heroic treatment of a theme from common life,” leading to the panting to be a romanticization of the worker, rather than the technology (Tate 2015).

The iron-founder is standing next to his wife and children. This aspect can be seen as a representation of the strong familial ties among the workers. This also shows that the families of the industrial revolution primarily relied on the husband’s ability to provide for the family. I addition to his wife and children at his side, there is an older man seated to the left of the iron-founder. While “most forges were still family operations and the inclusion of the extended family is not necessarily out of place. However, the presence of the iron-founder’s wife and children, one of whom has run to the elderly man seated on the left, suggests that Wright may have deliberately introduced the theme of the ‘Ages of Man’, showing three generations of the family. The old man appears to be his father, perhaps himself once the smith and a link to the methods of the past.” (Tate 2015). The ages of man is a symbol in art that dates back to the 14th century.

In addition to the iron founder and his family is a workman, “with his back to the viewer, holds the glowing metal over the anvil with a pair of tongs, ready to be hammered” (Tate 2015). The worker represents the past in which trades were learned through an apprenticeship system. The iron-founder represents the master of the trade, and the workman represents the apprentice. As the industrial revolution progressed, the apprenticeship system began to fall out of favor, leading to the rise of factory jobs. This point could also be made of the blacksmithing trade itself, which had remain relatively unchanged for centuries, and the changes brought about by the industrial revolution led to a change in the way in which metal was worked (Tate 2015). It went from an extremely time consuming and tedious process to something that became quite efficient considering the technology of the time.

The industrial revolution was a time of great shift amongst the working class, and the wealthy members of society. Though the conditions of the workers were truly terrible, and the wealth divide widened, the people of the industrial revolution overcame the changes. In addition, the changes in technology brought about changes that affected more than just the tasks they were meant to improve on, they even made some professions less desired.



Hall, David, and R Homer. 1985. PETER GASKELL (1824-1896). Ebook. 1st ed.…..7.pdf.

Pike, E. Royston. 1966. “Hard TimesHuman Documents of the Industrial Revolution. New York: Praeger.

Tate,. 2015. ‘Joseph Wright Of Derby, ‘An Iron Forge’ 1772′..

The British Library,. 2015. ‘The Manufacturing Population Of England’.



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