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The industrial revolution in great britain - 1750 - 1850

Population and lifestyle The Industrial Revolution was one of the most dramatic changes in English society. These changes affected lifestyle, working conditions and government. As a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, Britain became one of the most important trading nations in the world and developed from a rather rural nation into a powerful, modernized and comparatively wealthy country.

At the beginning of the 18th century, about 6 million people lived in Britain and Wales. There were just three cities (urban areas), which were important in those days due to their size: London (about 500 000 inhabitants), Bristol and Norwich (slightly more than 20 000). Most people earned a living by working in agriculture, using long established farming methods, or by manufacturing goods at their homes in small quantities. (so-called domestic system). Typical goods that were produced in the domestic system were cloth and clothes by spinning and weaving. Most people lived in small villages and bought goods at the local market.

As a result of the rapidly increasing population of Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century, this established system could no longer be maintained. In 100 years, the population of Britain and Wales virtually tripled from 6 million people in 1750 to more than 18 million in 1850. This change in population was due to two reasons: an increasing birth rate and a simultaneous decrease in the number of deaths for a variety of reasons: plagues had been eliminated by improvements on the medical sector, the use of vaccinations against several diseases such as smallpox, as well as better personal cleanliness. New clothes made of cotton, which could easily be washed and were therefore more hygienic, replaced more and more the traditional woollen clothes. The diet of ordinary people improved, as food became cheaper after the agricultural revolution.

More young people survived as a consequence of the fallen death rate and improved living conditions to have children themselves. Couples married at a younger age and had more children than before. This led to an increase in new born children. Children also had a better nutrition, as diet generally improved. The latter was a reason for the decline in the child mortality rate.

As the population increased fast, middle-class people were frightened by this development. Thomas Malthus proclaimed in his book Essay on the Principle of Population, written in 1798, that if population continued to increase at that speed (doubling itself every 25 years), there will be a shortage of food and other natural resources and famine would follow. Families of the lower social level were asked to practise moral restraint in order not to have bigger families.

Today, we can see that Malthus's prediction never came true. Britain's population actually became wealthier and improved their standard of living, although it continued to increase. The reforms on the agricultural sector, as well as more food being imported from abroad, prevented the British from a famine; industrial changes in the course of the Industrial Revolution prevented general poverty of a whole nation.

In 1851, more than 500 000 people lived in urban areas. As the towns grew rapidly as a consequence of urbanization (people needed to live close to their working place), this development resulted in slums and bad living conditions for the people.

Although cleanliness improved a lot when people became aware that there is a connection between personal cleanliness and health, living conditions in industrial towns were poor for a lack of proper sewage systems and fresh water supplies.

The new towns were nearly unplanned, as the main goal of the authorities was to build as many homes as possible in a short period of time. The majority of the houses was cheaply built and offered little comfort to the inhabitants. Some industrialists and factory owners even built their own blocks, in which they accommodated their workers.

Yet, until the beginning of the 19th century, government refused to intervene and do projects to improve living conditions in those new industrial towns. This governmental inactivity was called the "laissez-faire" (fr. "Let them do") policy.

Conditions such as these were degrading to the people and soon criminality and social discontent arose. Diseases and infections spread at an unknown speed due to the fact that many people lived in the same area and because of the little regard for hygiene among the people.

Later in the mid-1800s, government began to take some measures to improve living conditions in industrial towns. One of the leading powers was Edwin Chadwick, who published the Report into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population in 1835. As more and more people and politicians became aware of the poor living conditions in industrial towns, they formed the Central Board of Health, a governmental organization, which tried to observe and improve living conditions of the poor people. However, people of the upper class, who financed this project with their taxes, were concerned that this reform would be too expensive.

Another important factor in improving living conditions in these towns came in 1835, when town councils were established, which gave local authorities the chance to change something. A government in remote areas could not do so, regarding the big number of newly built industrial towns that had to be observed.

The growing population of Britain and Wales was one major cause of industrialization, as it provided workers for industry as well as consumers buying the bigger quantity of manufactured goods. Especially people who were better off (e.g. factory owners) earned a lot of money, which they could now spend on manufactured goods.

Changes that caused industrialisation

Britain was the first nation in the world to become industrialized. This fact established Britain as a world power. An enormous advantage for Britain was that Britain is an island and that it was rarely disturbed by invaders. Britain was also a rich country in the eighteen century. This capital was invested t built up new industries or roads and canals. The opening of the USA guaranteed plentiful cotton as a new and cheap material. The various inventions like the spinning jenny, the steam engine or the water powered wheels were very important for the industrial revolution. Technological inventions made it easier to start a mass production of iron or cotton cloth. These components led Britain to the Industrial revolution.

The steam engine

Crucial to the development of industry and the factory system was the invention of the steam engine. It gave the industry two new key advantages. First, it provided reliable and consistent power to operate mass production in factories. This also meant that factories had no longer to be located at a fast moving river.

In 1712 Thomas Newcomen built a steam- engine to pump water out of coal mines. In 1775 James Watt improved on Newcomen's design and in 1781 he adapted the steam- engine to rotary power. This improvement used a series of cogs and wheels so that the engine could turn a wheel. Watt's invention was a dramatic breakthrough. Soon important industrialists had installed this new rotary steam engine the pioneers were Richard Arkwright, John Wilkinson and Josiah Wedgwood. Many factories continued to use wind- and water power because of the high costs for installing steam- engines. A steam machine cost in the eighteenth century about 60,000 pounds a great deal of money for this times.

The textile industry

Even long before the Industrial Revolution took place, Britain had a long established textile industry. In many parts of the country woollen cloth had been manufactured for centuries in the domestic system. The family worked together spinning and weaving to produce cloth. During the eighteenth century there were enormous changes in the textile industry. Along the woollen industry a new industry grew up, making cotton cloth. The raw cotton from the colonies in India and North America were cheap an in plentiful supply. This new industrial branch had advantages over the woollen one. The cotton was easier to wash and therefore more hygienic and even more comfortable to wear and it was lighter. In the eighteen century, there were a number of helpful inventions that made it possible to produce cotton cloth more quickly than the woollen one.

Here a number of these helpful inventions who led to a huge increase in the cotton production.

James Hargreaves invented a spinning jenny in 1764. This machine was able to spin up to 120 threads at the same time.
In 1769 Richard Arkwright invented a water- frame spinning machine. This machine was driven by water power, because of that it could be only used in factories. In 1775 Arkwright in vented a carding machine which combed out the fibres of the cotton.
Samuel Compton\'s spinning mule, invented in 1779 could produce finer stronger threads.
In 1785 Edward Cartwright invented a power loom it was similar to Richard Arkwright's water frame spinning machine but it could be also powered by a steam engine or a water wheel.

With these inventions it was easier and more economical to produce but cloth was not more produced in people's homes but in large factories. This fact signed the end of the domestic system of producing cloth people now worked in the factories. The fonder of the factory system was Richard Arkwright. The first water- powered cotton mill was built in 1771 at Cromford, Derbyshire. Encouraged by this a cotton industry at Lancashire was built. Because of the closeness to the port of Liverpool it was easy to ship the goods.

The coal industry

Coal was the essential source of power for the Industrial Revolution. Coal was needed to heat the steam- engines, steamships, railways and also the increasing number of homes. There had to be serious technical problems to be handled although there were large deposits of coal. Flooding became a major problem as the coal mines got deeper. This problem was solved by using a steam- powered pumping- engine. Mines were also prone to build- ups of poisonous and explosive gases. To solve that problem ventilation shafts were dug. With the invention of the safety lamp in 1815 the problem of the methane gas and the workers who had to work there by candle light was solved. A steam powered winding gear solved the problem of transport from the deep to surface. The conditions in the mines were grim and also dangerous. It is estimated that in the 1840 five out of thousand workers were killed accidentally.

The new iron industry

For centuries iron had been smelted by using charcoal. Charcoal is a kind of burnt wood. Because of the growing wood shortage it was even more difficult to get charcoal. In 1709 Abraham Darby tried to melt iron by using coke, which was produced from coal. This new invention was a break through and very important for the industrial revolution. It became clear, that is was more useful to produce factory- machines out of iron instead of wood. Henry Cort devised the puddling process which made it possible to manufacture purer iron in 1784. The new trend was to produce cheap iron. A new dramatic breakthrough was the fist iron bridge across the River Seven constructed by Abraham Darby III in 1779. For that Coalbrookdale pots and pans became world famous.

Factory conditions

The introduction of the factory system led to enormous changes in people's lives. The numbers of children workers were extremely high. By the year 1839 there were 192,887 under eighteen workers. Children and adults had to work under extremely harsh and unfriendly conditions often for long hours normally for about 14 hours per day because there were no laws which regulate the working times and conditions at this time. There was a brutal factory discipline. The factory owners enforced strict rules and for those people who did not follow them they levied fines. Workers could hardly improve their working conditions because trade unions were weak or illegal.

The hygienic conditions in the factories were very poor a sanitation consistent usually of a bucket in the corner. The ventilation was poor and especially the cotton mills were often damp. During the Industrial Revolution the factory wages were better than those in agriculture. Out of these factors a new social class developed, the industrial working class.

Roads and canals

The transport for raw materials and finished goods was a serious problem for the industrialists. They had some improvements in the conditions of the roads James Brindley's successful construction of a canal from the coal mines of Worsley to Manchester was a successful breakthrough. There was created a 'Grand Cross' scheme which linked the four great ports of The UK named Liverpool, London, Bristol and Hull. This "Grand Cross" was finally completed in 1793. They also tried to make more rivers navigable and constructed a quite good canal network.

These canals were ideal to transport bulky goods. The pottery industry flourished with the use of canals to transport there fragile products.

The canal era was short it lasted only from 1760 to 1830, but it was very important to the industrial growth. But Canals had also some disadvantages because they might freeze over in winter and they might dry up in summer.

The railway age

The first steam locomotive was named "Catch - Me- Who- Can" and was presented at London in 1808.

The potential of the steam - locomotive was realized in 1825. Robert and George Stephenson built a railway between Liverpool and Manchester. This railway opened in 1830. This success encouraged Robert Stephenson to invest in railway construction. The bulk of the network was finished by the 1860s. With this enormous invention it was a lot easier to travel or to transport goods. In 1848 W.H. Smith started to send London newspapers to Scotland. The Railway Act signed in 1844 guaranteed a priced travel for the working class. The railways created a social revolution. The middle class began to move out of the town centres into new suburbs. In summer they were able to visit new holiday resorts. Also fresh food could be transported easily.

Agricultural revolution

As farming became more profitable in the eighteen century farmers began to invest in new equipment. The wars with France boosted profits and investment in agriculture.

New machines such as the seeding drill invented in 1701 came on the market. The four year crop rotation was invented. This crop rotation said that on two fields turnips and clover were cultivated, which could be fed to the animals. Robert Bakewell began to improve the weight of the animals by selective breeding. This system allowed only the fittest and biggest animals to mate with each other. The price of meat fell so that more people could afford it. These changes in faring are often revered as the agricultural revolution. However this change in farming was vital for the industrial changes.

Social effects of industrialization

Economy growth, a sudden increase in wealth and a capitalistic system led to a bigger gap between rich and poor after the Industrial Revolution. On the one hand there were rich factory owners in urban areas, farmers and landowners in the countryside who took advantage of the new system, while others worked hard and earned little. The latter group included farmers who lost their own land and now worked on larger farms for a rich landowner and factory workers, who worked under poor conditions and earned just enough to be able to afford what they needed to survive. The rich stated that this system was "God's will" and mankind should not question that.

Until the beginning 1830s, only people of the upper class could gain political power and had the right to vote. However, things changed in 1834 with the Parliament Reform Act, which gave many middle-class men the right to vote and to intervene in political decisions. Still, the lower-class wanted more political rights and higher wages. Many better-off people were concerned that this discontent among the poor would lead to envy and violence against them. Benjamin Disreal, who shall later become prime minister of England, published a novel titled Sybil, in which he described the big gap between the upper and lower class in his home country. He did so with the help of a short story, in which he stated that the Queen of England actually reigned over two countries; the poor and the rich, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, but just ignorance and hatred. His thesis was vehemently debated among the people and the question arose, whether the rich should have a responsibility for the wellbeing of the poor.

Critical minds also arose among the lower class people. Many revolutionists even published articles, scripts and books in which they spread their social discontent. "The workman is the source of all wealth (...) yet, the labourer remains poor (...), while those who do not work are rich (...)!" Two very prominent examples of those radicalists were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels from Germany, who worked in England and became aware of the social unfairness. They both were the founders of communism, which arose as a consequence of their observation of British society. The main idea of communism, which was the ideal way of ruling a country for many working-class people in those times, was that in all industrialized countries the working class would re-order the social structure by overthrowing the upper-class and thereby gain more importance, more rights, and have a say in political affairs.

At those times, women did not have the same rights as men had. If a woman had her own income, the money automatically belonged to her husband. Women, who demanded greater equality, were criticized by the society.

However, the position of women in society and the kind of work they did changed in the time of the Industrial Revolution, although they still did not receive the same rights as men had. Factory owners realized that certain jobs could be done by women (or even children) instead of men and that they could be paid less in comparison to male employees. Some even stated that women are more easily induced to undergo physical fatigue than men.

So women started to work in factories and not just in domestic manufacturing in their homes. At times of high unemployment and bad economy, women were not seldom the sole wage earners.

Industrialization meant that for the first time in history a large number of women earned their own money and could even afford a living on their own. So this revolution was the basis for equality and more social and economical independence of women. At that time, women did not work hard for they wanted to become independent, but out of the simple reason that their family needed the additional income to survive.

Those, who were unable to work and thereby earn their living, such as the sick, the old and the unemployed, had to seek assistance from the local parish. Poor people were given assistances according to the price of bread and the size of their family by the Speenhamland system. Unfortunately, this system was quite expensive and people argued that it would induce the poor not to work but rely on assistances. However, in reality factory owners started reducing the wages of their workers, relying on the fact that they will gain assistances to uphold their lifestyle.

In 1834, the English parliament passed the Poor Law Amendment Act to reform the social system. With this law, no longer the local parishes, but the central government was in charge of supporting the poor.

The Poor Law was strongly influenced by Edwin Chadwick, who wanted it to be as inexpensive for the English society as possible. One principle of the new social system was the introduction of workhouses. (in northern regions also called Bastilles) In order to receive any assistance, poor people had to leave their homes to enter a workhouse. There they were forced to work for up to 12 hours a day under bad conditions, virtually having no freedom at all. Working conditions in a workhouse should be that bad that people would rather want to work in a factory among the poorest labourers outside.

Lower-class people were angered by this new law. Their discontent led to the formation of early trade unions and several protest movements, such as the Chartists.

The middle- and upper-class believed that poor people were responsible for their fate themselves. Poor people should rather search for the roots of their poverty than ask the government for help. For those people, being poor was even seen as a disgrace.

As mentioned before, industrialization lead to a so-called "split society". Some (only a small group of people though) got very rich, the majority yet experienced poverty. This was caused by machines replacing people in factories, which made work easier and more efficient. As a consequence, fewer workers were needed to produce the same amount of goods, which led to a constantly rising unemployment rate.

The working-class was discontent about their situation. The first outbreak of revolutionary turmoil was in the course of the Napoleonic Wars, when harvest was poor and unemployment at a high level. Unemployed skilled workers, who had lost their jobs started to form groups, broke into factories (most of them broke into textile factories) and destroyed the new machines, as they were the cause of their misery. One of these groups was called Luddites, named after the founder Ned Ludd. After several attacks in a short period of time, the government then finally arrested 17 Luddites when they were just attacking a mill. Some of them were hanged later, others sent to Australia.

In 1819, a peaceful demonstration of working-class men at St. Peter's Field in Manchester was broken up by the English cavalry. This action caused eleven casualties and hundreds of injured people. This event was called the Peterloo Massacre. The government though supported the brutal actions of the military, as they feared that a rising of the working class would end in open rebellion.

After this incident, the English government introduced a new set of laws called the Six Acts. Major aspects of these acts were the governmental and military controlling of every public meeting, the banning of radical newspapers and a speeding up of the legal system (no trial needed to hold suspects).

With the Great Reform Act, the British political system was updated and made more equitable. In 1831, only about 2% of the total population had the right to vote. Government acted friendly towards the needs and the solicitations of landowning people. Middle-class men, who wanted to become a member of parliament, had to invest their money, which they had earned from their industries, in land. The number of representatives in parliament was still old fashioned in those days. Big industrial towns, like Sheffield and Manchester had no representatives, as the majority of MPs represented the South of the land, where as a consequence of the Industrial revolution nearly nobody lived (urbanization).

In the late 1830s, there was an enormous pressure on the government by the British population, especially by those, who lived in one of the industrial towns. There were even some demonstrations (the biggest was a riot in Bristol), causing more than 20 deaths altogether, until things finally changed.

The Great Reform Act was passed one year after the riot in Bristol, namely in 1832. With this act, representation in parliament was only given to big towns, no longer to small boroughs. Still, most of the people, except for the middle class which got the right to vote with this act, were excluded from this right. That was the reason why the Great Reform Act was not a big success. Working-class people had the feeling of unfair treatment and these emotions contributed to the popularity of the Chartist movement a few years later.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, government had banned trade unions (by the Combination Acts), which are organizations that protect and maintain the rights of the working-class. Those unions also defend workers against unfair treatment by their employers and often demand for better wages, what a single person could never do without taking the risk of being fired. Trade unions could do so, as employers feared that if they did not react to the demands of trade unions, great strikes would be the consequence.

In 1824 however, the mentioned law was abolished by the government and soon after this action, several smaller trade unions were formed. At the beginning they hardly ever took successful strike-actions, until the first bigger trade union, the Grand National Consolidated Tades Union was formed by the mill owner Robert Owen in 1834. Only a few weeks after it was founded, more than half a million people had joined. Regarding this impressive number and the short period of time, the GNCTU was too big and too powerful to be defeated by employers or the government.

Although it was legal to form trade unions, government feared the newly found GNCTU. They looked for a way to crush this union and in the end they prosecuted members of trade unions for it was illegal to take "unlawful oaths" (which every trade unionist had to in order to join this association).

As a consequence of several trails and sentences against trade union members of the GNCTU, this alliance started to break up during the following years. Internal disagreements and a lack of money for further projects also caused the rather quick decline of trade unions at the end of the 1830s. People realized that they had to find another way out of their misery instead of just forming trade unions.

Chartism was one reaction of working-class people, who were highly disappointed by the Reform Act and the brutal Poor Law, in order to improve their situation. After the failure of the GNCTU, people joined the Chartist group, which was the first working-class men association to demand for political power and the right for working-class people to represent their society in parliament. The Chartist program contained the following major issues:

Everybody, older than 21 should have the right to vote and voting should be secret
MPs should earn money for fulfilling their duty
MPs should come from all social levels and no social class should have a higher percentage of MPs in government. The House of Common should really represent the poor people's demands.
One should be able to become an MP, even if the person does not have any property (land)

The Chartists presented two huge petitions to parliament in 1839 and in 1842, which both were rejected. Following their slogan "Peacefully if we may, forcibly if we must", some Chartists reacted with violence after the first parliamentary rejection. The massive turmoil that followed in Newport and South Wales caused far more than 20 deaths.

Chartism is considered to be one big step towards democracy in the 19th century. But like trade unions, this movement lost its momentum after some years.

It was in April 1848 when the Chartists wanted to hold their biggest demonstration, which actually turned out to be very unsuccessful in the end. Instead of the estimated 500 000 people, just 20 000 Chartists took part and only 2 instead of 6 million signatures for the third petition, which they wanted to present to parliament, had been collected. After this failure, the Chartist group continually broke apart until it was finally dissolved.

However, all those movements had an effect on the working conditions of people. During the 19th century, no laws were passed to regulate working hours, as this would interfere with the liberty of employers and workers to negotiate about working hours and wages. Still, people felt that women and children should be protected by law. Three major acts were passed in 1833, 1844 and 1847. The fist two regulated that no children under the age of nine should be allowed to work and that children younger than 13 must not work more than 6.5 hours per day, while women were not allowed to work more than 12 hours. The third act, called the Ten-Hours-Act finally limited the working hours of women and young people to 10 hours per day. With this act, it became also illegal to employ children and women for working in mines. To be able to check the age of children and young people, registration of births was made compulsory in 1836.

Not everybody appreciated these new restrictions. Women lost income, factory owners claimed that this would make then unable to compete with foreign factories.



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