The Industrial Revolution and the Victorian Age

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This is another of my potted histories, albeit shorter than most. My various pieces have impressed upon me the importance of changes that were made to many aspects of life in Britain during the 19th century. And so, I have penned this piece. Although its main focus is on the Victorian Age, it covers the lead up to that period, by outlining trade, transport and society factors in the preceding couple of centuries, and by briefly summarising the all-important first Industrial Revolution.

A range of links is provided for those readers who might wish to delve further into any given area.

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Contents

Introduction

Leading up to the First Industrial Revolution
Discovery of the New World
Slave Trade
The Royal Navy
Road Transport
Improvements to River Navigability

Period around the First Industrial Revolution
The Canal System
The Move from an Agrarian Society
The First Industrial Revolution
Rail Transport
The 19th Century Economy
The Growth of Empire

Social and Health
The Rise of the Middle Class
Religion
Rural Working Class
Allotments
Immigration
Poor Law Unions
Hospitals
Public Baths and Wash-Houses
Housing for the Urban Poor
Sewerage and Water Supply
Law and Order
Omnibus and Trams
Education

Culture and Leisure
Museums and Art Galleries
Libraries
Theatres and Music Halls
Parks and Gardens
Organised Sport

Later Victorian Age
The Second Industrial Revolution
Food Industry

Odds and Sods
Famous Engineers
The Royal Mail

Bibliography & Further Reading
Images
Version History

Introduction

If there is one thing that stands out for me, as I have researched the various potted histories that I have penned, it is the significant changes that came about during the Victorian age. It matters not what the subject may be: trade, economics, the various aspects of urban development, engineering, culture, social welfare, health, politics, sport et cetera, it is during the 19th century that the most rapid strides were made.

However, the miracle that was the Victorian age did not get going from a standing start. There had to be a foundation in place, on which it could build. Work on producing this base arguably commenced in the 17th century.

The discovery of the New World led to increases in trade from the 17th century, although the presence of a strong British Navy was often necessary to allow it to flourish. At home, the growth of the British economy required a better transport infrastructure to move goods in the 18th century, both by road and by water. And, the developing economy began the gradual move from an almost totally agrarian society to a significantly urban one.

These various aspects will be covered before moving onto the first Industrial Revolution, and all that flowed from it in the life of Victorian Britain.

Leading up to the First Industrial Revolution    

Discovery of the New World

The Ottoman Turks, after they took Constantinople in 1453, made it difficult for European nations to trade on the eastern and south eastern sides of the Mediterranean. This forced them to look to the west, with Spain and Portugal leading the way. On behalf of Spain, Columbus started in the Caribbean in 1492, and he was eventually followed by Cortes and Pizarro who conquered the Aztecs (Mexico), the Incas (Peru) and other indigenous peoples in the Americas. Meanwhile, Cabral discovered Brazil for the Portuguese, although they mainly travelled down the west coast of Africa, before Vasco da Gama went all the way around the Cape of Good Hope to India. The two countries ultimately enjoyed a lead of around 100 years over other European powers.

By the early 17th century, the British, French and Dutch were beginning to seek out their own overseas dominions, particularly in North America. The British set up a colony at Jamestown, Virginia; the Dutch had a trading post in New York; while the French took Quebec. Britain was gradually to acquire what became known as the Thirteen Colonies in North America during the 18th century.

Meanwhile, these three nations were also nibbling away at Spanish possessions in the Caribbean: the British taking Jamaica and Barbados, the French Haiti and the Dutch Guyana. British trade with its Caribbean holdings included sugar and cotton, the former having been introduced to the Caribbean by the Dutch who brought it in from South America.

The British and the Dutch were particularly successful in trade because of their laissez-faire attitude, i.e. the governments tended not to intervene, preferring just to profit from commercial endeavours. On the contrary, Spain and Portugal were more interested in the concept of empire, and so in their case the state tended to be in control, to the detriment of business.

British companies that were set up to promote trade included: the Muscovy Company (1555) in Russia; the British East India Company (1600); the Royal African Company (1660) in West Africa; and the Hudson’s Bay Company in North America (1670). The British East India Company was by far the most successful. It eventually had a presence in many countries, including India, China, South East Asia and Japan. It is estimated that at the height of its powers it was responsible for 50% of world trade.

Subsequent British acquisitions included: France’s North American possessions, including Eastern Canada, which were ceded to Britain after the Seven Years War (1756-63); Eastern Australia after the penal colony had been set up in Botany Bay in 1788; and the area around the Cape in South Africa in the early 19th century.

Britain’s rules of trade were that its colonies could only trade with Britain. The general idea was that Britain would import their raw materials and export finished goods back to them.

Slave Trade

This shameful business was arguably started by the Dutch who imported Africans to work as slaves on their sugar plantations in the Caribbean. This approach was copied by the British, who along with the Portuguese, became the most adept at exploiting this “opportunity”.

The trade ran from the middle of the 17th century up to the early 19th century when it was eventually abolished in Britain. It was triangular in nature: goods were exported to West Africa; slaves were transported from West Africa to the Americas; and raw materials were imported from the Americas to Britain. London and Bristol were the first ports to benefit from this trade, but it was Liverpool that eventually came to dominate it. The East India Company also participated, although they mainly transported slaves from East Africa to India.

The Royal Navy

Successful maritime trade depended, to a degree, on the protection that the Royal Navy could offer. Before the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) it had vied, reasonably successfully, with other naval powers for supremacy, most notably with the French, Dutch and Spanish. The degree of protection should not be overstated. Privateers were prone to attack merchant ships in the 18th century and help themselves to their cargo. However, all the major powers, including Britain, were actively involved in privateering. So, what might be lost with one hand could be gained with the other.

Although the Royal Navy came to have the world’s largest naval fleet it was never easy to control the seas, especially whenever rival powers joined forces. It was the victory at Trafalgar in 1805 that eventually consolidated its position of naval superiority, which it was to hold throughout the 19th century.   

Road Transport

The poor state of roads in England in the 17th century, particularly the main roads out from London to other towns and cities, began to affect the transportation of goods in the country’s growing economy, not least because cargo-related traffic exacerbated the condition of those roads. This ultimately led to the erection of turnpikes, stretches of maintained road which you had to pay to use. The first turnpike was between Wadesmill and Stilton on the Great North Road in 1656.

Turnpikes across England in 1740, 1750 and 1770
Source – E. Pawson, Transport and Economy. Diagrams – M.J. Daunton, Progress and Poverty

However, it was around the beginning of the 18th century before turnpikes really began to become established. The resultant road system was not centrally planned. It was based on local enterprise. Bodies of local trustees, regulated by Acts of Parliament, were given powers to levy tolls on users of a turnpike, a stretch of road which was usually 15 to 20 miles in length. The income was used to maintain and improve the road.  Although the original intention was that these trusts would only be in existence for 21 years, in fact they remained responsible for the majority of England’s trunk roads right through to the 1870s. It was in 1888 that the newly formed County Councils were made responsible for them.

Improvements to River Navigability

The growth of the economy also necessitated an economical and reliable way to transport goods in large quantities, leading to developments in water transport. From the beginning of the 18th century the pragmatic focus was on making improvements to river navigability. Examples included:

  • The Aire and Calder Navigation (1704) which made the Aire navigable to Leeds and the Calder to Wakefield
  • the deepening of the River Mersey and River Irwell (1734) which allowed barges to go to Manchester
  • the River Weaver was deepened as far as Nantwich to facilitate the salt trade (1732)
  • the River Douglas was made navigable from Wigan to the River Ribble in 1740, from where goods could be transported to Liverpool.

In addition, several wetland areas, such as the Fens, the Somerset Levels and Romney Marsh saw moderate improvements.

Period around the First Industrial Revolution

The Canal System

By the start of the Industrial Revolution, such relatively modest improvement projects had more or less been exhausted. This led to the more expensive construction of canals which were typically funded by joint-stock companies.  There were ultimately 4,000 miles of canal, including:

  • the Sankey Canal (1757) which connected St. Helens to the River Mersey at Warrington
  • the Bridgewater Canal (1761-1776) which connected Runcorn to Manchester and Leigh
  • the Trent and Mersey Canal (1766-1777) which ran from the East Midlands, through the West Midlands and up to the River Mersey via the Bridgewater Canal
  • the Oxford Canal (1770-1790) which ran from Bedworth (between Coventry and Nuneaton) and connected with the River Thames at Oxford
  • the Leeds to Liverpool Canal (1770-1816)
  • the Grand Junction Canal (1793-1805) which connected Brentford in West London to Braunston in Northamptonshire.
Canal System (1830-1840)

The Move from an Agrarian Society

Back in the time of the Normans, England, with a population of 1.5-2 million, operated on feudal principles where peasants were allocated strips of land around the local manor to grow crops. This modus operandi was ultimately unsustainable, primarily due to the lack of land which would be required to accommodate an ever-increasing population.

The position was exacerbated by improvements in farming production which led to the landed gentry and farmers lobbying for land to be privatised. Land Enclosure Acts, as they were known, saw approximately 5 million acres of common land being privatised between 1700 and 1860. By 1800 the number of people who worked the land had been reduced to around one-third of the population.

It was therefore inevitable that these disenfranchised people would seek alternative employment, which was to be found in the growing industry sector. Work was typically located in expanding towns, although not necessarily always in those places. Towns included:

  • Birmingham which was particularly noted for metalwork. Its population increased from 12k in 1720 to 73k by 1800
  • Manchester which majored in textiles, notably cotton. Its population rose from 10k in the early 18th century to 70k by 1800
  • Leeds whose primary product was wool, although a range of other industries were present. Its population rose from 16k in 1750 to 30k by 1800
  • Bristol, an early adopter of the slave trade along with London, had thriving glass and shipbuilding industries. Its population rose from 25k in 1701 to 68k by 1800
  • Newcastle which majored in coal exports and shipbuilding. Its population rose at a slower rate, going from 20k at 1750 to 28k in 1800.
  • Liverpool, an expanding port which prospered from the slave trade, was one of the fastest growing towns, moving from a population of only 5k in 1700 to 77k in 1801
  • and Glasgow which grew at a similar rate to LIverpool, going from a population of 12k in 1700 to 81k by 1800. As a port it benefited from American tobacco imports, followed by the successful cotton trade.

Naturally, London dwarfed all towns. Its population grew from around 600k in 1700 to just under 1m by 1800. It was the largest manufacturing centre, the country’s largest port, and the centre of governance, the professions, trade and finance.

The First Industrial Revolution

The first Industrial Revolution saw the transition from manual to machine processing. There is a debate among historians over the precise dates. Let us assume 1760 to 1840 for the sake of argument. It started in Britain where many of the technological advances first appeared.

The power which was required to drive machines came from water and steam. The textile industry was the first to benefit, using water power initially. The water frame was a spinning frame which was powered by a water wheel. Richard Arkwright designed a model in 1765 which allowed 96 cotton threads to be spun at once. Improvements in cotton production were of the order of 500-fold for spinning and 40-fold for looming. The wool and linen trades also saw improvements in production, but not on the same scale as cotton.

With respect to steam power, Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine had been invented in 1712, principally being used to pump water out of mines. There were no real improvements in the technology until James Watt’s design in 1769 which roughly doubled the fuel efficiency. Thereafter, there were continual improvements over the next century, although it was to be around 1800 before steam power came into more general use. The presence in Britain of abundant supplies of coal to feed steam engines was a major advantage to the country.

Apart from textiles, other industries benefited from the revolution, including:

  • In the field of iron production, the use of coke, rather than charcoal, lowered costs while steam engines allowed larger blast furnaces to be used.
  • machine tools were an invention of the Industrial Revolution, making the production of precision metal parts economical.
  • The large-scale manufacturing of chemicals was another outcome, including sulphuric acid (1746), sodium carbonate (1791), bleaching powder (around 1800), and Portland cement (1824). 
  • Agricultural devices were introduced, including the seed drill, the Dutch Plough and the threshing machine
  • The cylinder process, a new method of glass-making, was used by the Chance brothers to produce sheet glass
  • Coal mining. Steam engines which pumped out water allowed deeper mines, and therefore access to further seams. The Cornish Engine improved on Watt’s design.

Finally, town gas appeared around this time. It had been established during the 17th and 18th centuries that heating coal strongly in the absence of air gave off a gas which burned with a bright light. William Murdoch, a Scottish engineer, put it to practical use when he lit his house with it in 1792. The period from 1806 to 1814 saw the building of small gas works to light individual factories, and this was followed by the appearance of public gas works in many towns and cities to provide street lighting by 1830. Small gas holders, aka gasometers, which were used to store the gas, were first developed in the early 1800s. A working example of the telescopic gas holder, with which we are probably familiar, was built in Leeds in the 1820s. However, the most celebrated versions are arguably the holders at the Oval Cricket Ground which were constructed in 1853 (and are now Grade II listed).

Rail Transport

One of the most important developments in the wake of the Industrial Revolution was the introduction of the railway.

Wooden rails, originally a German idea, had been used in Britain from the late 16th century, mainly for the conveyance of coal from the mines. Carts were drawn along these rails, frequently called wagonways, by horses.

Cast iron rails began to replace the timber versions in the late 18th century. However, they were brittle, and prone to break. They were in turn replaced by rolling wrought iron rails in 1820.

One of the first steam railway locomotives, designed by Richard Trevithick, was demonstrated in 1804 when it carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men for just under 10 miles at a speed of approximately 5 mph. It was followed by various other locomotives, including Salamanca on the Middleton Railway (1812), Puffing Billy (1813) and Locomotion-1 on the Stockton-Darlington Railway from 1825. While these various engines were used to transport coal and other materials, the Stockton-Darlington Railway was also empowered to carry passengers.

Depiction of the opening of the Liverpool – Manchester railway – painting by A.B Clayton

However, pride of place in the history of railways is usually accorded to George Stephenson’s Rocket. It triumphed in a competition which was held at Rainhill in 1829 to find a steam engine which would operate on the proposed Liverpool to Manchester Railway, the first inter-city service for passengers that would operate to a published timetable. The line opened in 1830.

A modest number of railway lines were constructed in the 1830s. The peak expansion of the network occurred in the 1840s, although growth continued in succeeding decades. The majority of the lines were built by relatively small companies who gradually merged over time until just a modest number of major players were left.

The 19th Century Economy

Britain became the world’s first industrial power, and it was able to use that power to dominate the global economy until the late 19th century. It was further assisted by free-trade arrangements which came about in the wake of the Repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s.

Around 1850, Britain was producing 65% of the world’s coal, 50% of its cotton cloth and 50% of its iron. While its growing empire undoubtedly contributed towards this dominance, it is important to note that around 70% of UK output was still going to other parts of the world.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was organised by Sir Henry Cole and Prince Albert. the Queen’s Consort. Although it was open to exhibitors from all countries, the primary purpose was to demonstrate British superiority in manufacturing.

By 1870, GDP per capita in Britain was one third greater than in the USA and 70% greater than in France and Germany.

The Growth of Empire

The British government’s laissez-faire attitude ultimately led to some companies taking on governmental powers.

The British East India Company had started to acquire territory around the 1760s, and by 1818 it effectively ruled the Indian Subcontinent. The British government became unhappy with the corruption among its officials, and it eventually abolished the Company in 1858 after the Indian uprising of the previous year. The British government took over, becoming what was known as the British Raj.

The Hudson’s Bay Company had similarly acquired land in the 18th and early 19th century as it pushed westwards in North Anerica into new territories, and was acting as the de facto government in these places. In 1867 the various British colonies in North America united to form the Canadian Federation via the Constitution Act of 1867. Under this Act, Canada became a constitutional monarchy, the monarch being Queen Victoria at the time. In 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company sold its territories, known as Rupert’s Land, to Canada as part of the Deed of Surrender.

Australia and New Zealand joined Canada as self-governing dominions

The empire also expanded into large parts of Africa: colonies in the West in part being a legacy from the days of the slave trade; North and East Africa; and Southern Africa, including Rhodesia.

Social and Health

The Rise of the Middle Class

The nobility and the landed gentry had generally been masters of the country’s wealth and its power. However, this monopoly began to change with the advent of the Industrial Revolution,

The Rise of the Middle Class is a frequently used term in connection with this change. The obvious question is – who exactly were the middle classes? We have a range of individuals from business owners, celebrated engineers, medical men, technicians, all the way down to administration clerks. Perhaps the phrase is limited to those in the upper echelons?

Certainly, the greater distribution of wealth that resulted from the Industrial Revolution brought pressure on a system that had been almost totally biased in favour of the aristocracy and landed gentry.

This pressure was a contributing factor to the Great Reform Act of 1832 which primarily sought to get rid of the “Rotten Boroughs”. They were parliamentary seats with small electorates which were controlled by local noblemen or members of the landed gentry, often by means of bribery, so that their nominated candidates would be elected as the local Members of Parliament.

The Act was brought in under the premiership of Earl Grey of the Whig Party. It abolished 143 borough seats and created 130 new ones. The Act also increased the number of men who were able to vote. One estimate says that 400,000 individuals were entitled to vote before the Act, and that the figure rose to 650,000 after it was passed. For example, a man with a property that was worth at least £10 per year was now able to vote.

This cleaning up of the system was extended to borough councils when the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 was introduced, more formally known as the Municipal Corporations Act. 178 boroughs were affected. The main effects of this Act were that a borough must: be run by a town council which was elected by ratepayers; publish its financial accounts which were liable to be audited; and appoint a town clerk and a treasurer who were not members of the council.

Religion

At the beginning of the 19th century, members of the Church of England were heavily favoured by legislation. Only they could become Members of Parliament; only they could take degrees at Oxford and Cambridge; and only they were eligible to hold a range of public offices.

However, the Church struggled to establish a presence in the growing towns, in part because until 1843 it required an Act of Parliament to set up a new parish. On the financial side, the government provided some assistance by making £1m available in 1815 and a further £0.5m in 1825 to build new churches.

Legislation in the 1820s, most notably the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, began to lift some of the barriers that hindered members of other faiths.

The 1851 census, which demonstrated that only about 26% of the population attended Church of England services while a roughly similar number went to other Christian places of worship, brought pressure for further legislation. For example, the Universities Tests Act of 1871 abolished all religious requirements for attending or teaching at universities.

In general, these various changes brought about much competition between faiths to attract worshipers, resulting in the building / renovation of several thousand churches.

Rural Working Class

Life was getting progressively harder for the rural poor. Wages were being reduced, the reasons including a surplus of labour with the return of soldiers after the Napoleonic Wars and automation in the form of the threshing machine.

These factors, coupled with bad harvests in 1829 and 1830, led to the Swing Riots of 1830 and 1831. Captain Swing (some say an entirely mythical figure) led the initial riots in East Kent that quickly spread across Southern England, resulting in the burning of hayricks and the destruction of threshing machines, coupled with acts of robbery and burglary. The rioters were harshly dealt with: 19 people were executed, and over 1,000 were either jailed or transported to Australia.

The threat of social unrest was not just confined to the rural poor. With vivid memories of the French Revolution, there were a range of movements and events which worried the Establishment right through to the middle of the 19th century, including the Peterloo Massacre, the Chartists and the Luddites.

Allotments

Image from The Allotment Chronicles by Steve Poole

The privatisation of land through Land Enclosure Acts between 1700 and 1860 had led to the creation of allotments in rural areas, albeit slowly, from around the 1760s. They were typically between a half and one acre in size, and they were retrospectively called field allotments. They were made available by a limited number of landowners. Probably because demand exceeded supply, they were more expensive than the equivalent amount of farmland.

The shortage of plots in the countryside continued right through to the 1870s when the rural young began to lose interest in them. However, the demand then switched to towns and cities, particularly among people who had moved in from the countryside. Urban plots were called allotment gardens. They were much smaller than field allotments. By the end of the 19th century the standard size was 10 poles (250 square metres).

Immigration

The Irish Famine, initially caused by potato blight, led to mass emigration in the 1840s. For example, 300,000 arrived in Liverpool in the 12 month period from July 1847 alone. Many travelled on to the United States, but one estimate indicates that circa. 600,000 were resident in Britain in 1861, many living in Liverpool and Glasgow.

The growth of English towns attracted people from other parts of the UK, including a significant number of Welsh and a reasonable number of Scots.

In addition, a steady stream of immigrants arrived from various corners of the globe, including Germans, Russian Jews, Africans and Chinese sailors who initially settled in London and Liverpool.

Poor Law Unions

The first Poor Law dates back to 1601 when each parish was made responsible for providing relief to its own poor. Workhouses were subsequently introduced in 1723 via the Workhouse Test Act of that year.

By the early 19th century, the increasing numbers of poor, particularly in towns, saw a nationwide move towards a smaller number of larger workhouses. This was achieved by the creation of Poor Law Unions which were run by Boards of Governors. This is mentioned in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, along with the concept of workhouse infirmaries for the aged and infirm.

The unions continued to operate until the Local Government Act of 1929 when the responsibility for the destitute passed to County and Borough Councils. Many workhouse infirmaries became general hospitals at that point.

Hospitals

Voluntary hospitals were charitable institutions which relied on philanthropy and other private sources of funding, and also on the goodwill of unpaid surgeons and doctors. St. Bartholomew’s and St. Thomas’s, both in London, are examples which date back to the 12th century. In the early 18th century, Guy’s in London, Addenbrookes in Cambridge and the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh were among those that were formed. The first maternity hospitals, called lying-in hospitals, also came into existence around this time, including Sir Richard Manningham’s establishment in Jermyn Street, London.

The early stages of the first Industrial Revolution saw further voluntary hospitals appear, as towns grew, e.g. Manchester Royal Infirmary, Birmingham General and Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

By the Victorian age, specialist hospitals were also being set up, including Moorfields Eye Hospital and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, while the Cottage Hospital movement which looked to provide small establishments in rural areas got underway during the second half of the century.

With respect to teaching medicine, the University of Edinburgh Medical School had been the first formally established faculty in the UK in 1726. Similar university schools followed in London at University College Hospital (1834) and King’s College Hospital (1839), while other medical schools were founded in various towns and cities across the UK in the 1820s and 1830s.  And it was around this time, 1832 in fact, that the British Medical Association (BMA) was founded.

Improvements in nursing care were also forthcoming. Florence Nightingale, who came to prominence when managing nurses during the Crimean War, is credited with laying the foundation for professional nursing with the establishment of a nursing school at St. Thomas’s in 1860. She also advised William Rathbone who was primarily responsible for setting up the country’s first district nursing unit in Liverpool in 1859.

Public Baths and Wash-houses

A number of major cholera outbreaks occurred in Britain in the 19th century, including one in Liverpool in the summer of 1832 which claimed 1,523 lives, and resulted in a number of riots in the town. Kitty Wilkinson became renowned for letting other women use her boiler for one penny per week; boiling killed the cholera bacteria. She also showed them how to use chloride of lime to get the clothes clean.

Her work came to the Corporation’s attention due to the lobbying of various people, including William Rathbone and his wife, and a combined public baths and wash-house was opened in Upper Frederick Street in 1842 where Kitty was subsequently made superintendent in 1846. London followed when its first public baths and wash-house appeared at Glasshouse Yard, near London Docks, in 1844.

In the same year the Committee for Promoting the Establishment of Baths and Wash-Houses for the Labouring Classes was formed, lobbying for regulation in this area. Subsequently, the 1846 Public Baths and Wash-houses Act was passed into law, allowing local authorities to fund these buildings. Public baths and wash-houses began to appear across the country from the 1850s onward.

Housing for the Urban Poor

The 1851 census indicated that for the first time the greater part of the population now lived in towns and cities.

The general standard of housing for the vast majority of the urban population was appalling. A study in 1795 said that 1,728 dwellings in Liverpool had cellars which were inhabited by 6,780 people.

There were no housing regulations at the time, and properties were badly constructed, Heavily overcrowded courts and back-to-back houses, which were shared by multiple families, were commonplace. Sanitation was far from adequate with a couple of standpipes and outside toilets being shared by an entire court, coupled with open sewers.

Sewerage and Water Supply

While some people considered that miasma (bad smells) was the cause of cholera and typhus outbreaks, there were a number of enlightened individuals around the country who were convinced that there was a clear link between cleanliness and disease. Waste from privies and waste water were both likely to seep into unpaved streets and even into water pipes.

In Liverpool, Henry Duncan (the Medical Officer of Health – the first person to be appointed to such a position in the UK) and Thomas Newlands (the Borough Engineer) lobbied for the construction of sewers. Work eventually got underway in 1848, and a total of 144 miles of sewer had been laid by the time that the project was brought to an end in 1869.

In London, it was the Great Stink of 1858 that forced Parliament to address the problem. Joseph Bazalgette was given responsibility for building the capital’s sewerage network. It had six main interceptor sewers, some of which included stretches of London’s lost rivers, such as the Fleet. One of the main sewers ran under the Thames Embankment which was constructed as part of the project.

Meanwhile, work started in Edinburgh after the Act of Parliament was passed in 1864 to build a main interceptor sewer which connected to earlier systems.

Water for towns typically came from local springs and rivers. For example, London extracted water from the River Lea and from the Thames, upstream from the Teddington Weir.

However, some towns and cities were eventually forced to go further afield in the late 19th century to find sufficient supplies: Elan and Claerwen in mid-Wales for Birmingham; Lake Vrnywy in North Wales for Liverpool; and the Lake District, via the Thirlmere Aquaduct, for Manchester.

Law and Order

There had been no organised system of policing in Britain. In rural areas, each parish had its own constable, sometimes called a petty constable,  an unpaid and part-time post. The provision of policing in boroughs varied from place to place. Paid watchmen might be employed to patrol the streets at night, while the army and the local yeomanry might be called upon, when necessary.

London’s Bow Street Runners had been set up by Henry Fielding in 1749, and are considered to be Britain’s first professional police force. However, they were far too small a group to cope with the capital’s rapidly growing population, and so Robert Peel set up a committee to investigate the whole subject of law and order in London. It was concluded that a professional, paid police force was required, leading to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829.

Of course, the ad hoc nature of policing was not just a problem in London, it was an issue in all towns. Another feature of the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 was that it required boroughs to set up their own full-time police forces. The requirement for counties to do likewise eventually followed in 1856.

Assize courts, where serious crimes were tried, were usually to be found in the county towns. However, this system had also started to creak under the strain of the growing number of large towns. And so, it was gradually extended to reflect changes in population, with Liverpool (1835), Manchester (1858), Leeds (1864) and Birmingham (1884) all becoming Assize towns.

Meanwhile, British prisons had been small and unhealthy places. The lack of prison space in the 18th century had led to the use of transportation to help ease the problem, with America being the initial destination. However, after the American War of Independence, Australia came into use for this purpose.

Millbank in Westminster became the first state prison. Opened in 1816, it could accommodate just under 1,000 prisoners. The widespread building of modern prisons followed from the 1840s onward with roughly one per year coming on-stream. Pentonville, which was opened in 1842, was one of the first.

Omnibuses and Trams

Horse-drawn omnibuses were first seen in Paris in 1828 where they were an instant success. London followed at a slower pace, with the first service operating in 1829, and other towns and cities had followed by the middle of the century.

The next phase saw the introduction of horse-drawn trams. London was once again first in 1860, while other large towns and cities followed in the 1860s and 1870s.

Finally, electric-powered trams were brought into service around the end of the century: Leeds in 1891, Liverpool in 1898, Birmingham and Manchester in 1901.

Education

There had historically been no education for the poor. There were endowed schools for those who could afford to pay, although there might be a modest number of scholarships to be had in some establishments.

Sunday Schools began to appear in the 1780s. Their purpose was to teach children to read and write, although adults could also attend. It is claimed that 1.25 million were attending by 1831. Initially, they were cross-denominational, but individual faiths gradually began to establish their own schools. For example, the Church of England had national schools which ultimately formed the basis for the education of all 5 to 12 year olds when the 1870 Education Act was passed.

Universities were slow to expand in the 19th century, being limited to Durham (1832), University of London (1836), Victoria (from 1880) and the University of Wales (1893). Victoria and Wales were both in fact federal universities: Victoria comprised Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool, all of which went on to become universities in their own right in the early 20th century; while Wales consisted of Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth.

Other education for adults, primarily in technical subjects, was initially available in what were known as Mechanics Institutes. They included: London (later known as Birkbeck) in 1823, Liverpool in 1825 and Wolverhampton in 1835. In addition, the Working Men’s College (London) appeared in 1854 with a wider curriculum.

Towards the end of the century when there was apprehension that Britain’s supreme position in world trade might be under threat, the Technical Instruction Act (1889) allowed local authorities to levy one penny tax to fund technical education. In the following year, the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act 1890 diverted ‘whisky money’ from publicans to local authorities for assisting technical education or relieving rates, boosting investment in technical instruction.

Culture and Leisure

Museums and Art Galleries

At a national level, the British Museum had been established in 1753 by Royal Assent, initially to house the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish physician and naturalist, who bequeathed them to the country. It was followed by the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, whose patron and donor was George III, and the National Gallery in 1824.

Outside Central London, the Museums Act of 1845 empowered boroughs with a population of 10,000 or more to levy a halfpenny on the rates to go towards the establishment of museums. This only went part way to covering the costs, and so boroughs had to rely heavily on local benefactors, usually successful businessmen, to make large donations. In Liverpool, the Central Library and Museum (1860) was built on land which was owned by Sir William Brown, MP and merchant, who also contributed to much of the building cost, while Sir Andrew Walker, former mayor and brewer, was the benefactor of the art gallery (1877) which bears his name. Manchester’s museum dates from 1888, although there had previously been several smaller buildings from the 1820s onward, and the city’s Whitworth Art Gallery was founded in 1889 with a donation from Sir Joseph Whitworth, the inventor and entrepeneur. Meanwhile, Birmingham Museum’s first public exhibition room was opened in 1864, while its art gallery dates from 1885.

Libraries

The British Museum Library, initially an amalgamation of the collections of Sir Hans Sloane, Sir Robert Cotton and Robert and Edward Harley, was founded in 1751. Its celebrated Round Reading Room was opened in 1857, although access to it was strictly limited.

Otherwise, the 18th and early 19th centuries were generally limited to subscription and circulating libraries, or alternatively to gentlemen’s clubs. In all cases, a membership fee had to be paid to gain access. Examples included the Lyceum Newsroom & Library and the Athenaeum club, both in Liverpool, Leeds Library, the Literary and Philosophic Society of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and Bromley House Library in Nottingham.

Up to the middle of the 19th century the only public library had been Chetham’s in Manchester which was formed back in 1653. However, in the early Victorian period, various groups, including the Free Library Movement, had been lobbying for the improvement of the general public through education. This led to the Public Libraries Act of 1850 which allowed boroughs with a population of 10,000 or more to open libraries under the following conditions: a local referendum should indicate that at least two thirds of the ratepayers were in favour; no more than a halfpenny could be added to the rates to pay for the service, and it could not be used to purchase books. It can be seen from these criteria that many politicians were not altogether wild about the general idea of public libraries.

Although the maximum levy on the rates was raised to one penny in 1855, it was not easy to fund public libraries. Fortunately, financial help became available from a number of philanthropists, most notably Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel magnate, who eventually funded over 600 libraries across the UK. John Passmore Edwards, a journalist and newspaper owner, was another renowned benefactor, making bequests to various building projects, including hospitals and libraries.

Theatres and Music Halls

General entertainment, which had previously been found in outdoor venues such as Vauxhall Gardens in London, began to appear in a modest number of indoor establishments in the 18th century, becoming much more commonplace from the 1830s, particularly in taverns.

The first official music hall is acknowledged to be Canterbury Hall in Lambeth which opened in 1852. It was followed in the provinces by the likes of the Alexandra Music Hall in Manchester (1865) and Thornton’s New Music Hall (aka Leeds City Varieties) in the same year.

The staging of drama was somewhat problematic before 1843 because the Lord Chamberlain had complete control over what could be staged, and where it could be staged. The Theatre Act of 1843 reduced his powers, making drama marginally easier to see. The 1870s onward saw the expansion of the West End theatre district in London, including the Vaudeville (1870), the Criterion (1874), the Savoy (1881) and the Comedy Theatre (1881). Meanwhile, theatres also began to appear in the provinces, including St. James Theatre in Manchester (1884) and the Theatre Royal in Newcastle Upon Tyne (1837). It was to be the early 20th century before repertory theatre companies came into existence.

Parks and Gardens

The parks in Central London are part of the Royal Parks which had been used by the monarch, sometimes as enclosed deer forests. Although they are still owned by the Crown, the public have gradually been granted access to them. For example, Hyde Park was opened to the general public in 1637.

Victorian towns and cities were dirty, unhealthy places with little or no green spaces. Eventually, there was a general clamour across the country for publicly-funded parks. Birkenhead Park, opened in 1847, is generally recognised as the first-ever publicly-funded civic park. Across the River Mersey in Liverpool, the Corporation set aside £670k in 1868, despite significant opposition it has to be said, to create Sefton, Newsham and Stanley Parks. Other parks in the late Victorian period included: Alexandra Park (Manchester) in 1870; Endcliffe Park (Sheffield) in the 1880s; and Handsworth Park (Birmingham) in 1890.

Organised Sport

Before the Victorian age, organised sport was mainly limited to horse racing and cricket, the Jockey Club being founded in 1750, while the first codification of the laws of cricket had been drawn up in 1744.

It was around the middle of the 19th century that other sports began to become organised, mainly in the sense that they were played to an agreed set of rules, which were set up by the upper and middle classes for the upper and middle classes. The sports included football, rugby, athletics, lawn tennis and rowing.

The working man was unlikely to be able to participate in these organised games because he had neither the time to play nor the money to pay the membership fees. This is not to say that the working classes did not play games of various sorts. However, the rules of their sports were strictly local, probably varying from village to village, and even from street to street in towns.

Illustration from 1872 Scotland v. England match by William Ralston

Soccer is a prime example of the organisation of a sport. The Football Association (FA) was founded in 1863, principally using rules which had been conceived at Cambridge University in the 1840s. It was a gentleman’s game. Matches were friendlies, apart from the FA Cup which came into being in 1872. This was the age of the gentleman amateur.

It was the 1880s when professionalism began to rear its head in the North of England. This eventually led to the Football League which was founded in 1888, although amateurism continued to dominate in the South of England until the early 20th century.

The working man had started to get Saturday afternoons off, although it was a slow process – dockers were not to enjoy this benefit until 1920. This allowed him to attend matches, and even to play. A myriad of amateur leagues gradually came into existence from the end of the century onward, helping to turn soccer into the game of the working man, not the gentleman amateur.

Later Victorian Age

The Second Industrial Revolution

It is also known as the Technological Revolution. Once again, precise dates are debated, but let us use the period from 1870 to 1914, a time of rapid global industrialisation. The major players this time were Britain, USA and Germany, closely followed by France, Italy, the Low Countries and Japan.

It had an impact on many areas, including:

Iron and steel production, Various techniques were invented which allowed the production of pig iron and steel at affordable costs. Iron – using the Hot blast furnace and the Cowper Stove; Steel – using the Bessemer, Gilchrist-Thomas and the Siemens-Martin Processes.

Petroleum. The industry began in Scotland in 1848 when the chemist James Young began refining crude oil, producing paraffin among other things. He set up the first commercial operation in Bathgate in 1860. Meanwhile, Edwin Drake is acknowledged to have drilled the first modern oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859, producing kerosene (aka paraffin). This set off a wave of drilling in the USA and at Baku in Azerbaijan. 

Telecommunications. The first commercial telegraph system dated back to 1837, running the relatively short distance from Euston Station to Camden Town. The first underwater cable was laid between France and England by the Brett brothers in 1850, and the first trans-Atlantic cable followed in 1866. The telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, initially being used in business. And finally, Marconi began work towards the end of the century on radio transmission. He is seen as the father of radio technology.

Electrification. The groundwork for establishing the ability to harness electric power had been laid by Michael Faraday. The first large scale central distribution plant was opened in Holborn Viaduct in 1882.

Automobile. Karl Benz, the German inventor, patented the first automobile in 1886. It had a four stroke engine and evaporative cooling rather than a radiator.

A more comprehensive treatment of the Second Industrial Revolution can be found in Wikipedia.

Food Industry

This industry began to grow rapidly, mainly from the second half of the 19th century.

Canning was an important invention. Nicolas Appert, a Frenchman, had come up with the idea in 1805 of preserving food by putting it in a glass bottle that he sealed with a cork and held in place by wire, and then heating the bottle in boiling water. One early experiment involving broth demonstrated that it was perfectly edible three months later. In Britain, Donkin, Hall and Gamble, a company formed in Bermondsey, London in 1813, subsequently adapted this technique by using tin cans instead of glass bottles. It was quickly in demand to supply canned food to the British Army and Navy. Early examples of tinned food for home use included: Crosse and Blackwell salmon, canned in Cork, from 1849; canned meat was imported from various countries from the 1870s, including Fray Bentos corned beef from Argentina; and tinned fruit which became generally available from the 1880s, although principally in middle-class homes initially.

Methods of transporting perishable foods assumed greater importance as towns grew. The railway and improved roads obviously helped to move products, such as milk, from the countryside into towns and cities in good time. Meanwhile, the concept of moving perishable food products between continents by using refrigeration techniques had first been established in 1877. It was in 1882 that a clipper sailing ship, the Dunedin, brought a large quantity of meat from New Zealand to Britain. Refrigerators for home use were not invented until 1913.

On the bakery front, the Aerated Bread Company was founded in 1862 by John Dauglish who had developed a technique for aerating bread without the use of yeast, resulting in a product that was both quicker and cheaper to make. The company was very successful, although it was perversely better known for a chain of tea shops that it opened from 1864 onward. It was eventually acquired by Allied Bakeries in 1955.

Two of the major biscuit companies hailed from Edinburgh. McVities started life in Rose Street in 1830, expanding with two works in Leith Walk by 1870, before building a large factory in the Gorgie district in 1888. Meanwhile, Crawford’s, who had begun its existence by making ship biscuits, also established  a factory in Leith in 1879, to be followed by a second in Liverpool in 1897.

Odds and Sods

Famous Engineers

Here is a short list of some of the most celebrated engineers of the 18th and 19th centuries:

  • Charles Babbage invented a Difference Engine and designed an Analytical Engine. He is considered by some to be the father of computing.
  • Joseph Bazalgette was responsible for London’s Victorian sewer network.
  • Henry Bessemer invented the steel-making process that bears his name.
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was arguably the most famous Victorian engineer. His projects included the building of dockyards, railway, steamship,  ship-building, bridges and tunnels.
  • James Newcomen built the first steam engine.
  • George Stephenson is most noted for building the Rocket which won the Rainhill trials that were run to decide on the type of locomotive which would be used on the initial Liverpool to Manchester line. He also came up with what would become the standard gauge.
  • Thomas Telford was a renowned builder of roads, bridges and canals.
  • Richard Trevithick is most noted for the development of the first high pressure steam engine which was used for pumping water out of mines.
  • James Watt improved on James Newcomen’s steam engine.

See this page on the Victorian Web for a more comprehensive list, or this page on Wikipedia.

The Royal Mail

The Royal Mail dates back to 1516 when Henry VIII set up the position of the Master of the Posts, subsequently known as the Postmaster General. However, it was 1635 in the reign of Charles I before a public postal service was made available, and 1660 when the General Post Office (GPO) was established by Charles II. In these early days postage was paid by the recipient, not the sender.

Mail coaches came into existence in 1784. They had a box at the rear for the mail with an armed guard. There was space for four passengers inside the coach, more outside, including the driver. They had the free right to use turnpikes, whose toll gates had to be open when they arrived – on pain of a fine. The driver sounded a horn to warn of their imminent arrival. Mail coaches were gradually phased out in the 1840s and 1850s, as they were replaced by trains, the first one running in 1830 on the Liverpool to Manchester line.

The Postage Act of 1839 regulated prices. A uniform penny post was introduced, with the Penny Black, the first adhesive stamp, being used from May 6th, 1840. One penny covered letters weighing up to half an ounce (15 grams) for delivery anywhere in Britain. One penny in 1840 is thought to have been the equivalent of £1 in 2013.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Daunton, M.J., Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain 1700-1850, Oxford University Press, 1995

In addition to the links below, you can find further links in some of my other potted histories. In particular, the potted history of Liverpool, the Emergence of Organised Sports and the potted history of Association Football in England.

1660 – the year that changed everything
BBC – Trade Empire
East India Company
Hudsons Bay Company
Royal Navy
Navigable Waterways and the Economy of England and Wales – 1600-1835
History of the British Canal System
Canal Museum
The Thirteen Colonies
The Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective
The Emergence of Western Technology (1500-1750)
Slave Trade

Industrial_Revolution (Wikipedia)
The Industrial Revolution (British Library)
Oxford Reference – Timeline 1750-1900
Inventors and Inventions of the Industrial Revolution
The Growth of Transport – 1720-1850
Local Histories – London
Local Histories – Birmingham
Local Histories – Index
Local Histories – Manchester
Local Histories – Newcastle
Local Histories – Bristol
Local Histories – Edinburgh
Water and Steam Power – Industrial Revolution
History of Rail Transport up to 1830

Irish Migration to Great Britain
Welsh Emigration
History of the Workhouse
Economic History of the United Kingdom
British Empire – Trade

Subscription Library
History of the British Library
Public Libraries in the UK – History and Values
Voluntary Hospitals in History
Public Baths and Wash-Houses
Victorian Religion
London Sewerage System
A Brief History of the British Police
History of Law Enforcement in the UK
Law Courts and Courtrooms
Prison History
HorseBus 1662-1932
History of Trams
Music Hall and Variety Theatre
Music Hall – Wikipedia
Provincial Theatres Index – Arthur Lloyd
Introduction to the Victorians

The Second Industrial Revolution

Images

The images that have been used in this article come from various sources. As far as I am aware, the majority are in the public domain. Many of the captions include a link to information on the source / attribution. Anybody who suspects that I have infringed any copyright should contact me. Please note that this is not a commercial site and its contents are simply for the enjoyment and, hopefully, the education of others.

Version History

Version 0.1 – March 16th, 2020 – very drafty
Version 0.2 – March 26th, 2020 – minor changes.