It is a common misconception that London played a marginal role in the
Industrial Revolution and that across Britain steam substituted animal
muscle power. But innovation-centric accounts are undermined by the fact
that London’s dependence on horses exploded in the Georgian period. Unable
to exploit steam before 1784 and largely denied energy from wind or water,
metropolitan manufacturers had to find an alternative source of power. And
what London amassed in astonishing abundance in this period was muscle,
equine and human. Perhaps more than in any other part of Britain, London’s
Industrial Revolution relied on the collaborative labour of men and horses,
and the linchpin of this partnership was an ancient technology: the mill.
The mill horse helped to transform industrial production in the capital long
before the introduction of Boulton and Watt’s ground-breaking Sun and Planet
type steam engine, and remained an effective prime mover well into the
nineteenth century, in major trades such as brewing, tanning, paint
production and water supply.