This detailed map of England and Wales, created by engineer W Smith in 1820, provides an insight into the country’s rapid industrialisation in the early 19th century. It indicates the coal-mining districts – coal being the essential fuel to power England’s steam engines and therefore its factories and transport. Also listed are the railways and canals that enabled the transportation of England’s materials and products. Materials listed here include coal, iron, clay and stone. The country appears as a densely organised and efficient network.
As the map illustrates, coal-mining was concentrated in the north of England. Regions once rural soon became heavily industrialised.
What the map doesn’t show is industrialisation’s drastic social impact. Industrialisation demanded increasing numbers of people to propel its progress and expansion, which in turn affected working conditions, health, education and wages – negatively and positively. Throughout the 19th century journalists, politicians and industrialists – as well as the workers – debated both sides to these socioeconomic issues. A number of authors, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Elizabeth Gaskell, used their fiction writing to voice criticisms.