The Victorian era saw the Industrial Revolution in full force across Britain, with the economy and society moving forward at a quicker rate than ever before. Although the industrial revolution had already begun in the 18th Century, it was the Victorians who really started advancing in all areas.
From Fields to the City
In the early part of the 1800’s Britain was changing at a slower pace. The British people were working hard in fields and the countryside with agriculture one of the main sources of income and living. Families had lived in Villages for generations and spend their life making money and living from the land. The transport back then was horse and cart so traveling to different areas and nearby cities was much harder than it is today. For many they had not travelled out of the area they lived in and many cities and towns seemed foreign.
80% of the population lived in the countryside with most being farmers or making cloth by spinning wool and cotton. The invention of the steam engine was about to change this in a major way, as these machines were capable of doing these jobs not only better, but in a fraction of the time. This left many Victorians out of jobs, so they had no choice but to move out of the country and move to the larger towns and cities such as London. By the middle of the 19th century over 50% of the British population were now living in the towns and cities, compared to around 20% previously.
Rise of Steam Power
The steam engine was first invented in 1769 by James Watt, but because of the monopoly he had over this new invention prices were kept high and development of this new form of power was limited. In the 1800s this started to change when Victorian engineers looked at ways to develop faster, bigger machines that were capable of running whole factories and taking on the jobs that many people would normally have to carry out. By 1870 there were over 100,000 steam engines carrying out work in Britain. Steam powered traction engines could also plough fields around twenty times faster than previously.
With this came the need to power the steam engines, which required coal, doubling the number of coalfields between the 1850’s and 1880. At around the same time in 1856, Henry Bessemer had invented a way of transforming iron into Steel very quickly, which helped rapidly build ships, bridges and buildings throughout Victorian Britain. Every aspect of Victorian Industry and life was now taking off in a big way!
Life in the City and Housing
Despite the growing economy and new found wealth rewarded by the new trade and industry, the people who were working hard to drive this revolution were living and working in poor conditions. Many of the people who moved to the city from the country were working all hours in factories under harsh conditions which often meant that many of the citizens died working.
There was a massive increase of people moving to the cities from the countryside. Towns and cities were ill prepared for such an influx of workers looking for places and homes to live in near to the factories and buildings they were now working in. There was a major shortage of properties to live in so often people had to share rooms in homes with each other. Families were forced to live with other families in cramped conditions often with ten or more people sharing the same individual room.
To try and counter this issue the factory owners started to build homes quickly alongside each other in rows which were often not at much expense. They were typically two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs, very basic in layout and made to cater for basic needs. Although they were not big enough for the majority of families, they were better than nothing and many people had no option but to rent these buildings from the business owners. These homes did not have running water and toilers, the homes shared an outdoor pump and an outside toilet between them!
With this came dirty streets and cramped living which led to disease and illnesses among the workers. Over 30,000 people died of an outbreak of cholera in 1832 and many others were killed from smallpox, dysentery and typhus. In 1875 a public health act was passed which banned open sewers, rubbish collection was introduced and health inspectors were required from the local councils to keep an eye on the health of people and that the areas were good enough to live in.
The 1840’s saw railways taking off in a big way, it was soon becoming possible to travel from Bristol to London in hours compared to days. By 1951 6,800 miles of railway track had been laid. Steam locomotives were more commonplace and many of the areas of Britain were being linked by train, allowing people to move more easily from place to place. Transport times and costs were dramatically reduced and trade around the country was connected in a way that allowed rapid transportation. Trains were now travelling at speeds of 60mph+.
Railways helped to spread communications in a major way, with standardisation of postal charges now seeing sending letters far more commonplace, trains were used to quickly transport messages and letters up and down the country.
For the Victorians the Telegraph was very much like how we saw the invention of the internet! The railways helped link the country together, but the telegraph allowed the country to now fully communicate with each other rapidly. This was carried out using a telegram which was a written message transmitted by using an electric device over a huge circuit of wires, an old fashioned version of the email! This first started taking place in the 1840s and within around 10 years it was part of everyday life effecting society and industry in a hugely positive way. Within 20 years we were now exchanging telegrams with New York and another 10 years later we were connecting to Bombay in just a few minutes!
We were now connected to the world through communications which allowed us to truly take on global markets and find out news quicker than ever before. It accelerated the way we carried out life and the way we did business. Mass communications through the telegraph, newspapers and eventually the phone in 1876, helped drive this even further. We were now leaders in communication and industry making Victorian Britain the fastest growing and most powerful economies in the world.