Skip to main content

School Library Association (SLA), Wanborough, 01/2005

Review by Ian Herne, Southbank International School, London-Westminster

The Industrial Revolution 1750 – 1850.

Anne Roerkohl has prepared and directed these eight films about the impact of the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom during the period 1750-1850. It is a pleasantly presented DVD package lasting about 74 minutes. It incorporates one main film of 23 minutes and 7 smaller films explaining the breadth of industrial expansion in terms of inventions and industrialisation. The films can be viewed in English and German. Lesson plans are included in the package with web links and website addresses.

The films are easily accessed using the menu and up-down key on the remote control. Documentary material in the form of prints and drawings of the period sit alongside a commentary and inserts provided by experts drawn from the locations in the various films. What is remarkable is that the mills that are talked about, from Robert Owen’s New Lanark experiment on the banks of the river Clyde to Quarrybank, Cheshire and Arkwright’s mill in Derwent Valley, Derbyshire still exist today. They now function as working museums. The names of the inventors and entrepeneurs crop up with remarkable regularity. Sadly, there is a shortage of information on factory reformers and the legislation that changed the situation from a workforce that comprised up to 50 per cent children. There is no mention of Luddites, Conversely, much work has gone into explaining several key figures of the Industrial Revolution. Robert Owen was a transforming presence on his employees. Samuel Gregg had the same zeal, and had to convince people from the countryside about the necessity for machines. Abraham Darby “revolutionised the iron industry”. James Watt was indefetigable in getting his inventions right. He ran out of funds and appears to have to compete against considerable odds, as did George Stephenson who had to compete against serious rivals to establish his working locomotive. Richard Arkwright emerges as the real giant. He established the world’s first factory at Cromford Mill in 1771. He was an inventor, self-made millionaire and someone of great vision.

Roerkohl explains the shift from agrarian practices to the industrial triumphs very well. The narration of the film is never too fussy. The reference to a World Fair in 1851 is curious; this event has always been referred to as The Great Exhibition though it is true that it was a kind of World Fair showing off the best of British inventions. There is much repetition of imagery. Several shots of the same machine are characteristic of the films. There are great diagrams and biographical material juxtaposted with the demonstrations of how these fledging machines worked. It offers for the KS3 and KS4 students a convincing chronological account of the key inventions and importance of the time. Yes there was “trouble at the mill”. But there had to be to push through the critical developments in technology in the 1800s. The developments in road, rail , canal and the spinning and weaving industry are carefully considered. These films will provide good background and foreground information for those embarking on the GCSE examination in History. An interactive CD-ROM is apparently in preparation on the same topic from this company – worth looking out for.