Other books deal with the men under the spotlight of fame – the ‘lead singers’ of the Industrial Revolution. What this book tries to do is to focus on the ‘other boys in the band’ – the less famous inventors, artists, engineers and industrialists who played their part in the enormous changes that occurred in the eighteenth century.
You will not find James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood or Richard Arkwright – they have hogged the limelight long enough. Instead, you will meet the men who made their mark and then faded into obscurity – the man who came up with Sheffield Plate (Boulsover) and helped bring silver decorative ware into the reach of the general public; the man who heralded the development of costume jewellery by using an alloy resembling gold (Pinchbeck); the men who used papier-mache strong enough to make chairs, and versatile enough to make lacquer-ware as fine as anything found in China (Baskerville and Clay).
It is a book about scientists and engineers operating in areas which were completely new – Smeaton in civil engineering, Maudslay in machine tool manufacture, Repton in landscape gardening and Bakewell in the selective breeding of animals. It is also about entertainers like Astley, who introduced variety acts into circus performances – the forerunner of modern mass entertainment. It features J.J. Merlin, a clockmaker who inspired the young Babbage to develop an interest in the field of computing. These artists, scientists, inventors and industrialists all feature because, by some quirk of fate, they have never received the acclaim which they deserve.