The 1800s: The Social Context
Technology and industrialisation
The Victorian Age was also called “the age of Machinery” because the technological improvements accelerated the industrialization.
Textile industries continued to expanded but iron and steel became the principal industries.
The cutting of new canals and the building of new roads and railways that made transport easier.
The most important ports were Liverpool, Bristol and London.
The industrialization caused a migration of people from the countryside to the industrial areas in search of jobs. The most industrialised areas (North and Midlands) were created in this period and in few years the population of London and others industrial cities doubled.
Britain became a champion of free trade. The Great Exhibition of 1851 at Crystal Palace in London illustrated her pre-eminence among European nations. Britain was looked as a world centre for industry, commerce and banking.
The effects of industrialisation were very negative for the poorer classes.
Men, women and children worked in factories, sometime 14 or 16 hours a day and were pay very low.
Women worked in brickyards, in potteries and match factories where lead and sulphur poisoning damged their health. Children worked in textile mills and mines.
The conditions of work, high food prices and economic depression caused discontent among the labourers and they began to organise into working-class movements.
Their discontent was voice in 1838 by the Chartist, a group of workers who presented to Parliament “the Peolple’s Charter” supporting a reform. It was rejected.
The Chartist Movement continued to expand and in 1848 the document was again presented and rejected.
Conditions get better after the Corn Laws in 1846 with a decrease in the price of bread. This bring a better production and prosperity to farmers.
The two Reform Bills of 1884 and 1888 extended the vote to agricultural workers and miners.
In the 19th century there was a revolution in the class system. When Queen Victoria became queen, the nation was divided into three classes:
- The aristocracy: landowners who had power in Parliament;
- The middle class: bakers, financiers, merchants, manufactures…
- The working class: factory workers and rural labourers.
The abyss between rich and poor was deep and the Prime Minister wrote in 1845 “the two nations”.
The working class
Urbanisation had terrible consequence:
- Terrible conditions: houses hadn’t lavatories, sewers, piped water;
- Workers couldn’t pay low rents and lived in damp and airless cellars;
- Typhus and cholera were very popular;
- The spread of delinquency and prostitution;
The middle class
Industrialisation and technological progress advanced the position of middle classes.
Class distinction became more based on wealth than on hereditary title. The respectable position was also reflected in the houses they lived in. There was a lot of decorations in buildings and ornaments inside the Victorian house.