Scotlands History

Growth of industry and towns

Between 1800 and 1900 Scotland changed from a mainly agricultural society to a country of huge towns, massive factories and heavy industry.

Vast numbers of Scots still worked in agriculture and fishing but the textile, coal and ship building industries attracted more and more people to urban centres.

It has been estimated that the Scottish cotton industry employed about 25,000 handloom weavers in 1780. That number had more than doubled by 1800 and grown to 78,000 by the 1820s.

James Watt’s steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution. The power-looms of Scotland’s cotton mills changed the textile industries forever. Huge factories like Stanley Mills and New Lanark employed thousands of men, women and children. Dundee was the European centre of the Jute industry. The Borders boasted a thriving tweed and textile industry.

Many people died in accidents in Scotland’s coal mines, foundries, mills and railways. Workers faced long hours and poor conditions. Jute workers toiled for 50 to 60 hours a week and children were beaten to make them work faster.

The heavy industries - coal mining, iron, shipbuilding and steel - made the central belt of Scotland one of the most industrialised places on Earth. Scotland built half of the tonnage of ships in Britain and a quarter of all the world’s train locomotives.

Between 1750 and 1821 the population of Glasgow rocketed from a little under 32,000 to over 147,000. Nineteenth-century Scotland faced massive housing and health problems. Heavy industry polluted the air and the rivers.

  • Old photograph of Jamaica Street in Glasgow.

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