The ‘factory system’ has been an important element in the accelerating processes of industrialization known as the industrial revolution. As British industrial enterprises expanded in the 18th cent., it became important to develop a more tightly organized form of production than the traditional method of employing workers in small workshops or their own homes—as in the ‘*domestic system’. The solution was the construction of large manufacturing establishments, in which the work‐force could be closely controlled and strict conditions of time‐keeping maintained. In this way employers were able to minimize the loss of raw materials by theft, and to install powerful prime movers (water wheels or steam‐engines) to drive their machines.
From the employers' point of view, this factory system had such manifest advantages that it was widely adopted, especially in the textile industries, where the Lombe silk factory in Derby was a marvel of the age. Indeed, the factory system became the dominant form of industrial organization throughout the 19th cent., and remained important in the 20th cent. However, the introduction of electricity and road haulage has made possible a significant dispersal of industry, and the ‘information revolution’ of modern electronics has enabled an increasing number of people to work at home.
Architecturally, the factory system developed through several phases. Early factories were solidly built to accommodate the necessary machines and sources of power. Many factories became well‐built structures with decorative flourishes such as ornate chimneys. Idealistic entrepreneurs, such as Robert Owen or Titus Salt, provided good housing and public amenities for their workers. Modern ‘industrial estates’ are typically composed of a series of temporary boxes of little architectural distinction.