STEAM had been applied to water transport as early as 1802, in the form of the paddle-wheel steamer, later supplanted by the screw. Accurate measurements, better steel (later the Bessemer process) and standardised parts all contributed to improve manufacturing processes in the textile and hardware and heavy engineering industries. The mines, potteries, mills, and foundries of the industrial North, Midlands, Scottish Midlands and South Wales continued to grow in numbers and size. Their products were sold to all parts of the earth;
English engineers and mechanics were employed in mining, making railways, and erecting factories in Europe, South America and newer countries; English capital was invested all over the world, while English vessels did a very large amount of the world's carrying trade. By the end of the century foreign countries were competing successfully in many industries-Germany in glass, hardware, and chemicals, France in the finer cloths, Belgium in light engineering-but, all in all, England retained the lead.
Her banking system, developed stage by stage since Charles II.'s days, reached maturity after the Napoleonic War, when the cheque, the gold reserve, control by the Bank of England, and most of its other characteristics were established very much as they remained until 1914. The system was superior, probably, to that of most continental countries and the United States.
Industrial development was paid tor by smoky skies, polluted rivers, a grimy countryside, and towns full of stunted people. The shocking conditions under which men and women and children originally worked were gradually improved, but industrial life at the best has its sordid and monotonous side. Facts disproved the theory of those who argued that the race would die out after three generations of town life unless vitalised by rural blood, but it is obvious that in the slums, where children live in overcrowded, verminous houses, the human race cannot breed healthily.
During the first half of the century England gave up her system of trade regulation and protection. After 1815 new Corn Laws were imposed to keep up the price of corn to something nearer its old wartime level. There was a long struggle, principally during the thirties and forties; the Corn Laws were opposed by the masters and men of the industrial areas- by some of the former in the hope that cheaper bread would mean lower wages, by some out of dislike for the landowning class. The leader of the landowning Conservatives, Peel, finally abolished (1846) what remained of the Corn Laws, without producing any very marked effects one way or the other for some time. Free trade in almost all commodities was adopted at that time-steps towards it had begun in the 1820's-and even continental nations and the United States temporarily relaxed their protective systems. Free trade certainly suited an England at the height of her industrial supremacy.