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How Would You Define the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain? When and why did it come in to being?

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Introduction

Sonia Vig How Would You Define the Working Class in Nineteenth Century Britain? When and why did it come in to being? Many historians have debated the definition of the term 'working class'. It is argued that the term distinguishes social groups in society according to their lifestyles in which their beliefs, values and experiences are different to that of the higher classes. 'The emergence of a mass society, in which classes stood out by their clothing, diet, modes of transport, living conditions, and leisure pursuits, was one important feature'1. However many historians agree that the emergence of the 'working-class' was different to that of the 'traditional' working class as their economic and social situations differed. Income to a large extent was believed to determine an individual's lifestyle, this could become more important than class position in shaping attitudes. 'One could therefore argue that the working class existed only at its most basic level of wage labour, which had little consequence for social relations, attitudes and conduct'2. This 'emergence' of a new class is also greatly debated as each historian has their own opinion to when this 'class' was created. However the time period for the creation of the lower classes remains between the eighteent and nineteenth century. The concept of class also explains the social behaviour of the Victorian society, aristocratics and politicians used the term alongside 'class consciousness' to help explain the new attitudes and culture of the lower classes. ...read more.

Middle

The formation of the working class developed as a result of industrial cities being defined as working class spaces. In the 1830's Britain became more urban, this helped attract more of the lower classes to work in domestic industry, as the workers were guaranteed a weekly wage. Working men's wages in factories could vary from a low of 3 shillings to 6 shillings a week for agricultural workers or to a high of 50 shillings a week if they were highly skilled labourers. The working class spent the majority of their wages on the essentials, these included food, shelter and clothing. The 'factory system' in the nineteenth century developed gradually with the upper classes taking control of the production lines in industry and taking advantage of water and steam power running the new machines. The development of the industrial economy in Britain had many different effects on the labouring classes of the Victorian society. There was an increase in the concentration of working class men working in the city; this is demonstrated through the number if inhabitants. In 1911 there were thirty-six cities of over 100,000 people compared to only 10,000 in 1851. The increase in the working classes can also be shown through the rise in railwaymen from less than 100,000 in 1871 to 400,000 in 1911. The widening of the franchise and national economy helped develop the working class lifestyles and values. ...read more.

Conclusion

The songs sung in the music hall emphasised themes relating to aristocracy, imperialism and the monarchy, these presented the new attitudes of the labouring classes. However music halls were also subject to constant disapproval from the higher classes as they were accused of being another form of public houses in which heavy drinking was common, as well as the halls being used by prostitutes to pick up clients. The working class can be defined as a class which gradually established itself in the mid nineteenth century. This 'class' created a new culture in society, in which their way of life was enormously accentuated. Many historians have argued that this culture however did not become visible until the second half of the century and only became dominant in the 1890s. The lower classes in the Victorian society were subjected to residential segregation, this helped form class consciousness in the social classes as the different groups each had their own style of life and leisure. The development of the British economy throughout the nineteenth century helped the working class become more involved in institutions derived for the lower classes, these included the co-op, the friendly societies and the local Trade Unions. These pressure groups helped the new culture to emerge as the working classes accepted their position in society and eventually began to defend their class ideals. However it is also argued that the new class was a result of 'long suppressed yearnings, which had been latent in the old society'13 as most of the working classes had been looking for jobs not involved with agriculture. ...read more.

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