This is a good economic history article about the Industrial Revolution, and why it happened in Britain. The short version is that energy (coal) was really really cheap in Britain, while labor was expensive, so it paid to develop technologies that used energy to replace labor. For example:
"The French government sponsored the construction of an English style iron works (including four coke blast furnaces) in Burgundy in the 1780s. The raw materials were adequate, the enterprise was well capitalised, and they hired outstanding and experienced English engineers to oversee the project. Yet it was a commercial flop because coal was too expensive in France."