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Outline the conditions of Britain's working classes c.1840

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Outline the conditions of Britain's working classes c.1840 For many centuries, Britain's economy was centred on agriculture, which became mechanised in the early 18th century. In the 1840s, however, the working state of Britain was very different - Britain was industrialising; capitalism resulted in massive dislocation. The number of jobs becoming available in the cities due to the building of factories and workshops meant that people were both internally migrating and immigrating. The majority of immigration was from Ireland; Irish workers named 'navvis' were entering Britain to work on the canals. However, even though so many jobs were being created, the massive influx of people into the cities put great pressure on precious resources and resulted in population explosion due to the ever-increasing urbanisation and industrialisation, which exacerbated public health issues which had been ever-present over centuries. The intensity was almost unprecedented, resulting in early deaths - an average age of around 16 or 17. The rapidly expanding population was causing environmental problems, mainly ill health, early death (the majority due to the effects of the poor housing), water supply and sewerage and drainage issues. The most extensive problem, which invariably reflected the medical state of the working class, was housing. Thousands of people were in need of not only cheap housing, but also housing that were close to their work, because transport was expensive up until the horse-drawn trams and workmen's trains came into operation in the late 1800s. ...read more.


Although the houses fulfilled their purpose, problems arose from over-crowding and lack of services. Fresh running water was available only to the wealthier classes, so most people relied on a well, a water butt or more commonly a standpipe. Sewage was discharged into rivers, overflowing cesspits or into the streets and smoke from houses and factories filled the air. Where sewers did exist, they were incapable of dealing with the vast quantity of effluent, and frequently became blocked. Frederick Engels wrote of the conditions of the working class in England in 1845: 'the streets are generally unpaved, rough, dirty, filled with vegetable and animal refuse, without sewers or gutters, but supplied with foul, stagnant pools instead'. This demonstrates that poor living conditions were not just confined to one place, but were present throughout Britain. Another type of housing, found in all large towns, was 'common lodging houses', the design of which was temporary, simply to house new arrivals or transient workers, although it did end up being a more permanent solution. They became centres of disease, crime, prostitution and immorality. Although public health was an important issue, people paid more attention to the morality of the situation because it posed massive moral questions for the Victorians, who were a nation of devout Christians. Dr.Kay commented about Manchester lodging houses: 'the establishments thus designated are fertile sources of disease and demoralisation... ...read more.


The working peoples' quarters were 'sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle class'. The middle class had the advantage that they could live in the suburbs and commute by train and as they were the class empowered with the vote, they did not see why it was their prerogative to help the working class when they did not live amongst them. What they failed to see was that the working class were powerless to help themselves. They often referred to them as 'miserable creatures' and were afraid that if the government did actually do anything to help them, that they would become idle and depend to much upon the government. Overall, the conditions in which the working class were living were terrible but they could not do anything to help themselves because they were powerless. The government had its policy of laissez-faire, which it rigidly stuck to, and it wasn't until the late 1800s, during a period of Utilitarian reform, in which state intervention was a response to an 'intensification of social ills', that the policy, which had been sacrosanct to Britain for so long, was defeated. This was largely due to a report published by Edwin Chadwick, 'A Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain' in 1842. The working class would be once more treated as humans. Lindsey Wilson 12PH 1 ...read more.

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