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Family life

In the eighteenth century families began to express affection more openly than before. In addition it seems that for the first time children were no longer thought of as small adults, but as a distinct group of people with special needs. A century after the Quaker, Penn, there was a growing voice advising gentleness with children. One popular eighteenth-century handbook on the upbringing of children, itself a significant development, warned: "Severe and frequent whipping is, I think, a very bad practice." In 1798 another handbook told mothers that "The first object in the education of a child should be to acquire its affection, and the second to obtain its confidence. The most likely thing to expand a youthful mind is ... praise."

Girls, however, continued to be victims of the parents' desire to make them match the popular idea of feminine beauty of slim bodies, tight waists and a pale appearance. To achieve this aim, and so improve the chances of a good marriage, parents forced their daughters into tightly waisted clothes, and gave them only little food to avoid an unfashionably healthy appearance. Undoubtedly this behaviour explains the idea and reality of frail feminine health which continued into the nineteenth century.

Parents still often decided on a suitable marriage for their children, but they increasingly sought their children's opinion. However, sons and daughters often had to marry against their wishes. One man, forced to give up the only woman he ever loved, wrote, "I sighed as a lover, but I obeyed as a son." But love and companionship were slowly becoming accepted reasons for marriage. As one husband wrote to his wife after fifteen years of marriage, "I have only time to say that I love you dearly, - best of women, best of wives, and best of friends." If such feelings described a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century marriage they were less openly stated, and perhaps less openly expected.

The increase in affection was partly because people could now expect a reasonably long life. This resulted mainly from improved diet and the greater cleanliness of cotton rather than woollen underclothing. However, it was also the result of a growing idea of kindness. For perhaps the first time people started to believe that cruelty either to humans or animals was wrong. It did not prevent bad factory conditions, but it did help those trying to end slavery. At the root of this dislike of cruelty was the idea that every human was an individual.

This growing individualism showed itself in a desire for privacy. In the seventeenth century middle-class and wealthier families were served by servants, who listened to their conversation as they ate. They lived in rooms that led one to another, usually through wide double doors. Not even the bedrooms were private. But in the eighteenth century families began to eat alone, preferring to serve themselves than to have servants listening to everything they had to say. They also rebuilt the insides of their homes, putting in corridors, so that every person in the family had their own private bedroom.

Britain was ahead of the rest of Europe in this individualism. Almost certainly this was the result of the political as well as economic strength of the middle class, and the way in which the middle class mixed so easily with the gentry and aristocracy. Individualism was important to trade and industrial success.

The most successful in trade and industry were often Nonconformists, who were especially hardworking. They could be hard on their families, as Puritan fathers had been a century earlier. But they were also ambitious for their sons, sending them away to boarding school at a young age. Removed from family affection, this kind of education increased individualism. Starved of emotional life, many of these boys grew up to put all their energy into power, either helping to build the empire, or helping to build trade and industry.

Such individualism could not exist for the poorer classes. Where women and children could find work making cloth, a worker family might double its income, and do quite well. But a poor family in which only the father could find work lived on the edge of starvation.

The Speenhamland Act was not practised everywhere. An increasing number of families had no choice but to go to the parish workhouse. Some babies were even killed or left to die by desperate mothers. A poor woman expecting a baby was often sent out of the parish, so that feeding the mother and child became the responsibility of another parish workhouse.

The use of child labour in the workhouse and in the new factories increased towards the end of the century. This was hardly surprising. A rapidly growing population made a world of children. Children of the poor had always worked as soon as they could walk. Workhouse children were expected to learn a simple task from the age of three, and almost all would be working by the age of six or seven. They were particularly useful to factory owners because they were easy to discipline unlike adults, and they were cheap.

Then, quite suddenly at the end of the century, child labour began to be seen as shameful. This resulted partly from the growing dislike of cruelty, and also from the fact that hard child labour became more visible and more systematic now that so many people worked in factories rather than in fields and cottages. A first blow had been struck some years earlier. Horrified by the suffering of children forced to sweep chimneys, two men campaigned for almost thirty years to persuade Parliament to pass a Regulating Act in 1788 to reduce the cruelty involved. In the nineteenth century the condition of poor children was to become a main area of social reform. This was a response not only to the fact that children were suffering more, but also that their sufferings were more public.



Lecture Eighteen. The years of revolution.


Industrial revolution. Society and religion. Revolution in France and the Napoleonic Wars


Industrial revolution

Several influences came together at the same time to revolutionise Britain's industry: money, labour, a greater demand for goods, new power, and better transport.

By the end of the eighteenth century, some families had made huge private fortunes. Growing merchant ranks helped put this money to use.

Increased food production made it possible to feed large populations in the new towns. These populations were made up of the people who had lost their land through enclosures and were looking for work. They now needed to buy things they had never needed before. In the old days people in the villages had grown their own food, made many of their own clothes and generally managed without having to buy very much. As landless workers these people had to buy food, clothing and everything else they needed. This created an opportunity to make and sell more goods than ever before. The same landless people who needed these things also became the workers who made them.

By the early eighteenth century simple machines had already been invented for basic jobs. They could make large quantities of simple goods quickly and cheaply so that "mass production" became possible for the first time. Each machine carried out one simple process, which introduced the idea of “division of labour" among workers. This was to become an important part of the industrial revolution.

By the 1740s the main problem holding back industrial growth was fuel. There was less wood, and in any case wood could not produce the heat necessary to make iron and steel either in large quantities or of high quality. But at this time the use of coal for changing iron ore into good quality iron or steel was perfected, and this made Britain the leading iron producer in Europe. This happened only just in time for the many wars in which Britain was to fight, mainly against France, for the rest of the century. The demand for coal grew very quickly. In 1800 Britain was producing four times as much coal as it had done in 1700, and eight times as much iron.

Increased iron production made it possible to manufacture new machinery for other industries. No one saw this more clearly than John Wilkinson, a man with a total belief in iron. He built the largest ironworks in the country. He built the world's first iron bridge, over the River Severn, in 1779. He saw the first iron boats made. He built an iron chapel for the new Methodist religious sect, and was himself buried in an iron coffin. Wilkinson was also quick to see the value of new inventions. When James Watt made a greatly improved steam engine in 1769, Wilkinson improved it further by making parts of the engine more accurately with his special skills in ironworking. In this way the skills of one craft helped the skills of another. Until then steam engines had only been used for pumping, usually in coal mines. But in 1781 Watt produced an engine with a turning motion, made of iron and steel. It was a vital development because people were now no longer dependent on natural power.

One invention led to another, and increased production in one area led to increased production in others. Other basic materials of the industrial revolution were cotton and woollen cloth, which were popular abroad. In the middle of the century other countries were buying British uniforms, equipment and weapons for their armies. To meet this increased demand, better methods of production had to be found, and new machinery was invented which replaced handwork. The production of cotton goods had been limited by the spinning process, which could not provide enough cotton thread for the weavers. In 1764 a spinning machine was invented which could do the work of several hand spinners, and other improved machines were made shortly after. With the far greater production of cotton thread, the slowest part of the cotton clothmaking industry became weaving. In 1785 a power machine for weaving revolutionised clothmaking. It allowed Britain to make cloth more cheaply than elsewhere, and Lancashire cotton cloths were sold in every continent. But this machinery put many people out of work. It also changed what had been a "cottage industry" done at home into a factory industry, where workers had to keep work hours and rules set down by factory owners.

In the Midlands, factories using locally found clay began to develop very quickly, and produced fine quality plates, cups and other china goods. These soon replaced the old metal plates and drinking cups that had been used. Soon large quantities of china were being exported. The most famous factory was one started by Josiah Wedgwood. His high quality bone china became very popular, as it still is.

The cost of such goods was made cheaper than ever by improved transport during the eighteenth century. New waterways were dug between towns, and transport by these canals was cheaper than transport by land. Roads, still used mainly by people rather than by goods, were also improved during the century. York, Manchester and Exeter were three days' travel from London in the 1720s, but by the 1780s they could be reached in little over twenty-four hours. Along these main roads, the coaches stopped for fresh horses in order to keep up their speed. They became known as "stage" coaches, a name that became famous in the "Wild West" of America. It was rapid road travel and cheap transport by canal that made possible the economic success of the industrial revolution.

Soon Britain was not only exporting cloth to Europe. It was also importing raw cotton from its colonies and exporting finished cotton cloth to sell to those same colonies.

The social effects of the industrial revolution were enormous. Workers tried to join together to protect themselves against powerful employers. They wanted fair wages and reasonable conditions in which to work. But the government quickly banned these "combinations", as the workers' societies were known. Riots occurred, led by the unemployed who had been replaced in factories by machines. In 1799 some of these rioters, known as Luddites, started to break up the machinery which had put them out of work. The government supported the factory owners, and made the breaking of machinery punishable by death. The government was afraid of a revolution like the one in France.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 766

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