From around 1750 to 1900 Britain went through major changes or transformation in industry, agriculture and transportation that affected everybody’s lives. For some it generally improved their lives, however not all were so lucky. The industrial revolution brought with it many changes good for some and bad for others. Between 1760 and 1880 there was a huge growth in the size of cities and a population shift as people started to move into the more industrialised areas in search of work.
This was because of the transformation of agriculture. Landowners had now decided to ‘enclose’ their lands so as they realised they could make a profit from selling food as the population of Britain was increasing. Enclosure improved the ways of farming but also got rid of the ordinary workers who had farmed the land before. As the main source of work was in agriculture at this time many people moved to the cities to find work. Being cheap labour the factory owners hired the people. With the growth of people in cities, urbanization took place to accommodate these people and tend to their needs, ( e.g. hospitals parks, shops etc).
The shift of population created two new classes, the capitalist and the working classes. The capitalists were the owners of the industries, the managers of mills and of workshops, who collected great wealth, due to the high demand of a growing population and to the higher prices that could be charged. The working class however were paid a fraction of the amount they should have been compared to that of which the factory owners made.
They were just a tool in the factories to carry out the profits. As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor kept on growing. England grew very wealthy on the financial credits of industrialization. With the increase of the factories and general industrialisation of the country, Britain saw an increase in the number of middle-class. They were educated people who either worked for themselves or because of their knowledge and education could get a better paid job with conditions that were comfortable and safe, (e.g. factory owner).
Unlike upper class they did not necessarily inherit their money but earned it off their own hard work. They could afford their own town house and servants to run the household. Over time these class of people grew more influential and eventually gained the right to vote in 1832. They were below the aristocracy but above the workers. However the industrial revolution was not all good. The working class had no other option but to turn up at the factories for work. The factory system resulted in over-crowding and unhygienic conditions and also the development of slum areas.
Many factory owners who needed cheap, unskilled labour, profited greatly by using children and women to run the machines and because they were small and could fit in tunnels as well not only that they were more suited for factory life because they could adopt more quickly and easily than men.
By the age of 6, many children were already working twelve hours a day in factories. These children had no free time to do anything plus they earned low wages. Hardly any of the children went to school they had to work in factories to earn money. Quite a lot of the people who worked at factories got sick and died because of the toxic fumes in the factories.
While others were severely injured because the machines didn’t have safety guards so many children got killed by machinery when they fell asleep and got caught up in the machines. Many of the children who were orphans, hired by the employers would get beaten if they did not work quickly enough. The life of the working classes grew miserable and burdensome. Many factories or mills had no sanitation facilities.
There were no supplies for those who got injured and sick. The conditions of the workers’ life would soon lead to the growth of labour movements in the form of trade unions. As workers moved into towns, the factory owners built houses for them to live in.
There were no planning regulations for the factory owners to follow ,so they could build whatever kinds of houses they wanted. Obviously the owners wanted their workers to live in reasonable housing, but they did not want to spend more than they had to. Buying land cost money so it was important to build as many houses on one piece of land as possible. This meant the houses were built back to back in long rows. There were no gardens and very few windows. Rooms were small and since families were usually large, conditions were cramped.
Very few workers had running water, so people had to fetch water from a pipe at the end of the street. There were also no toilets. It was not uncommon for whole streets to share one toilet. This toilet would not be a flushing toilet. Instead it would be wooden seat over a hole called a ‘cess pit’. Men would be employed to empty the cess pit. At this time there was also an improvement to the transportation around Britain.
Britain went from canals to railways and trains. The very first railways were on the coalfields were horses pulled coal wagons along wooden rails. Coal mines had steam engines too but these were used to pump water out of the mine workings.
Sometimes fixed engines were used to winch wagons along the rails. It was Richard Trevithick, a Cornish mining engineer, who hit upon the idea of combining a fixed iron rail, with a moving steam engine. In 1804 his steam engine pulled five wagons, a coach and seventy passengers from the Pen- y – Daren ironworks in South Wales to Glamorganshire canal. However, Richard did not have the money to develop his steam engine, nor could he find wealthy people to back him. In 1825 a steam engine Locomotion pulled a train from Stockton to Darlington. Fiver years later the prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, opened a railway between Liverpool and Manchester.
He travelled in the train, pulled by the engine called the rocket. People then rushed to put money into railways and many new lines were built. During this time some people lost thousands of pounds putting the money into crazy schemes. However, by 1855 more than 8000 miles of track linked all the major cities in Britain and the railways were carrying more goods than the canals. Railways allowed raw materials to be transported to factories quickly and efficiently as they could travel faster and carry more than any other form of transport.
Trains also allowed commuters to get to work from outside the city meaning wealthy people could live in the countryside again. British literature also changed at this time. Authors such as Charles Dickens portrayed the life of Victorian Britain its ups and downs. It helps us to see life as it really was and give us and idea of the normal person’s life. This source may be a bit biased on the author’s views or over exaggeration however. In 1750 Britain was a major trading nation. Its goods were traded across the world by companies such as the East India and Hudson’s bay trading company. But at this time Britain did not actually own large areas of land abroad except America.
By 1900 things had changed. Britain had a huge empire which covered a quarter of the worlds land mass. Queen Victoria was recognised as ruler by people as far afield as Canada. As Britain began to expand its empire more than 450 million people came under its control. There was also a ‘race for Africa’ especially the southern part as its was rich in rare raw materials and valuable metals such as gold.
These raw materials could be used in the industry of Britain. With so many countries and people the riches and materials from around the world could be used for our benefit. Goods would be imported and used by the people and then could be sold on to other countries, like France at a higher price. By trading with other countries Britain made allies and kept war out of the picture. A s long as one country depended on each other for something it would keep peace for a while at least.
Due to the industrial revolution Britain became a leading country, in the field of industry, trade, commerce and finance. The working class, which included the men, women, and children labouring in the textile mills, pottery works, and mines, played a major role in improving Britain. If it wasn’t for the Industrial revolution Britain would not be the thriving nation that it is today.