History KS3 & KS4/GCSE: The importance of coal in the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution changed Britain and the world fundamentally. It began in Britain, and in this short film Professor Jeremy Black asks why this happened.

Coal was a key factor.

Britain was well supplied with coal and this wonder fuel was powerful and much cheaper than wood.

Demand for coal led to expansion of mining, but as they mined deeper they encountered the problem of flooding.

The profit motive led to furious activity to solve this problem.

Thomas Newcomen helped to resolve this. He invented a pump which harnessed steam power to pump water out of mines.

Further developments included James Watt’s engine which improved on Newcomen’s pump.

A key factor, along with the profit motive, in all this change was the intellectual climate of the time in which scientists were examining the world around them and trying to explain what they saw and harness it for business purposes.

This short film is from the BBC series, Why the Industrial Revolution Happened Here.

Teacher Notes

Ask students to draw a Venn diagram with circles labelled: coal; steam power; profit motive.

In pairs or small groups ask them to draw the diagram so that the size of each circle represents the importance of each factor and also to use overlaps between the circles to show how different factors (e.g. coal and steam) were interlinked.

These overlapping areas can be labelled with notes explaining how the factors were connected.

Curriculum Notes

This short film is suitable for teaching history at Key Stage 3 and GCSE, Third Level and National 4 & 5, in particular units on the Victorians and the Industrial Revolution.

More from Why the Industrial Revolution Happened Here:

Josiah Wedgwood: Genius of the Industrial Revolution
The brains behind the Industrial Revolution
The growth of industry and factory towns in Britain
The transport revolution: Britain's canal network
Why did Britain need a better road network?