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Innovations from the North that changed the world! 

Innovations from the North that changed the world! 

The North of England has a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship, with countless innovations that have helped shape the world we live in today. From the Industrial Revolution to the development of the computer, the North has been at the forefront of technological – and many other – advancements throughout history. Full steam ahead! 

The Industrial Revolution  

The North was home to many important inventors and entrepreneurs during the Industrial Revolution, including Scotsman James Watt, inventor of the steam engine (and namesake of the ‘watt’ unit of power) as well as Lancashire entrepreneur Richard Arkwright, who invented the spinning frame, an apparatus powered by water. Both innovations helped revolutionize the textile industry, making way for mass production and the foundations for modern manufacturing. 

John Walker, a British pharmacist from County Durham, accidentally discovered that a mixture of chemicals could be ignited by striking it against a rough surface, which led to the invention of the first friction match in 1826. 


Frustration is often a great propellant for innovation. In 1889, Emily Williamson (Lancashire born and bred) had one aim – fight the growing popularity for feather fashion and the plumage trade that was driving the extinction of little birds, like her favourite Great Crested Grebe. She created the all-women movement, Society for the Protection of Birds, after it became clear the male-only British Ornithologist Union wasn’t going to take action.  

Lifeboats and lifesavers 

Development of purpose-built lifeboats (and thus the beginnings of the modern lifeboat service we know today) began in 1789, after locals helplessly watched sailors drown after their ship Adventure ran aground in the mouth of the River Tyne during a storm. 

A globally recognised exercise regime 

Joseph Pilates, a German boxer and circus entertainer created the Pilates training Method during World War 1 whilst serving as a prisoner of war in Jersey, Lancaster, and finally the Isle of Man. After observing the movements of the Island’s cats, Pilates devised a regime based around muscle-stretching exercises.  

Computing and technology 

The North was also a major player in the development of the computer. In the 1940s and 50s, Manchester University became home to one of the first stored-program computers, the Manchester Mark 1. Developed by Frederic Williams and Tom Kilburn, it was one of the earliest computers that could store and execute programs electronically – paving the way for the development of modern computing. 

Jonathan Ive, who studied at Northumbria University in Newcastle in the 1980s began his career as a product designer, working for several companies before joining Apple in 1992. Ive was responsible for the design of many of Apple’s most iconic products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. His work was instrumental in helping Apple become one of the most valuable and influential technology companies in the world. 

Nuclear power 

In 1956, The Calder Hall (located in Cumbria) was the world’s first commercial nuclear power station. A joint project between the UK Atomic Energy Authority and the electricity supply industry, it propelled the use of nuclear power worldwide. 

Renewable energy 

Today the North is well-known as a centre of innovation for renewable energy. It’s home to many of the UK’s largest wind farms, and companies like Siemens are developing new techniques for offshore wind power. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult based in Blyth, Northumberland, is a world-leading research and development centre for offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy.  

Other clever stuff 

Graphene is a revolutionary material that was first discovered by scientists at the University of Manchester in 2004. It is an incredibly strong, lightweight and conductive material, with a wide range of potential applications, from high-performance sports equipment to medical devices. Alongside that, it has the potential to revolutionize industries such as electronics, energy, and even space travel. 

What’s next? 

It’s amazing to think that so much of the tech we use today has come from humble roots in the North… Whilst people are still quick to talk of our kindness, honesty and hard work, we’re carving a new face for the region – one that’s founded on creativity, innovation, collaboration and of course, a gold old dose of Northern grit. 

Innovation isn’t an easy undertaking, but we’re standing on the shoulders of an impressive set of inventors and entrepreneurs, who serve as good inspiration for what is possible. 

To find out more about how we can help you embed innovation in your business, in Lancashire, the North, and beyond, get in touch.

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