The worsted industry in Britain started when Flemish weavers settled in the town of Worstead in Norfolk. But during the second half of the 18th century the skills, vision and hard work of Yorkshire wool merchants meant that Bradford began to take over as the centre for the trade. Several towns built Piece Halls: buildings with lots of small rooms from which local handloom weavers could sell their 'pieces' of cloth. Bradford's Piece Hall was demolished but a beautiful example still exists in Halifax, dating from 1779. (I don't have any photos of it in my collection...so there's an expedition I must make when the weather perks up a bit.) [Mission accomplished! See April 1 2010]
The Industrial Revolution in the first half of the 19th century transformed the local cottage worsted industry into big business, with the development of huge factories driven by steam. People flocked from rural villages to the towns and cities to find work. Between 1800 and 1850 Bradford's population grew from 13,000 to more than 100,000. This inevitably led to problems of overcrowding, slums and disease. In the mid-19th century, these terrible conditions prompted the wealthy mill-owner Titus Salt to relocate his entire business to the green field site of Saltaire, where he built the huge Salts Mill and the surrounding township for his workers.