Conditions in the Black Country during the Industrial Revolution.
what was it like in our ancestors' day?)
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A Picture of England
The Eighteenth Century
Eighteenth century England saw revolutions in agriculture,
religion and industry. There were rebellions in 1715, 1745 and
1800. The Americas were lost, but gains included Canada, India,
New Zealand and Australia. There were four great wars during the
century - Austrian Succession, Seven Years War, American War of
Independence and the war against Napoleon. The threat of revolution
in England was on many peoples minds, not least those in power.
The England of the "common" Englishman
was not an attractive place. Life in the military included the
cat o' ninetails and the press-gang, which kept the army and navy
in check and fully recruited. Life was cheap, especially for the
poor and those unfortunate to be in prison or the workhouse, this
situation was rarely commented on.
During the century Parliament passed 23 acts regulating
the slave trade, for example, the Treaty of Utrecht in 1715 committed
England to supply 5000 slaves to South America for 30 years; in
1748 the contract was renewed. The church of the day seemed indifferent
to the human market, with a Bishop declaring "Christianity
and the embracing of the Gospel does not make the least alteration
in civil property, even when that property consists of human flesh
A magistrate once described the poor a "a very
great burden and even a nuisance in the kingdom
with hunger, cold, nakedness and filth and disease."
Crime and Disorder
Robbers infested the highways, the mob ruled the
streets, smuggling and ship-wrecking was rife on the coast. Justice
was savage, attempting to crush crime by imposing the death sentence
for hundreds of relatively minor crimes. This was no true justice
mind; the administrators of "justice" had often brought
their judicial privileges.
The people of England hardly contributed to their
own position, at all levels. The aristocracy were, for the most
part, consumed by alcohol, crude, full of feuds and lovers of
cruel sport. Public entertainment was coarse, representatives
of different classes hated and despised each other, religious
strife between clashing factions was common.
Justice was harsh, relatively minor offences often
led to a sentence of death. Criminals were often granted reprieves
and in many cases condemned prisoners requested they be transported
rather than hang. Until 1776 many prisoners were transported to
America, it is estmiated that about 40000 had been so transported.
The American War of Independence put paid to this
form of transportation. This soon led to overcrowding in British
gaols and led to the use of prison 'hulks' in various ports around
Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour - Daniel Turner
These too soon became overcrowded and Parliament
had to consider alternatives. Transportation was again considered,
Africa was suggested, but found to be unsuitable. Eventually in
1787 a penal colony was founded in New South Wales, Australia.
(Criminal Ancestors - David T Hawkings)
Between 1750 and 1900 there was an increase in theft
and assault, a gradual increase until 1800, then becoming steeper
in the decade following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815.
Small-scale theft seems to have been the most common offence.
Three quarters of offenders were male, with a strong
concentration of males in their teens and early twenties (sound
familiar!). The number of female offenders coming before the principal
courts declined steadily. The increase in crime may be accounted
for by the increase in population. Other factors may include an
increase in personal possessions, urbanisation and capitalisation
(Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 - Clive
The population increased during the century from
5.5 to over 9 million, though it was difficult to find reliable
figures before 1801, alongside high rates of mortality. In 1801
the population in England and Scotland was 9187000 (of those over
8 million were in England). The rate of growth increased rapidly
between 1760 and 1800 (2 million being added in 40 years). The
reason for this jump is probably due to a drop in the death rate
because of slightly better diet and improving medical services.
The appearance of towns had to change to accommodate
the increase, over-crowding was rife, tenement blocks and courts
housed many more people than was healthy, sanitary conditions
were all but non-existent.
|The size of towns in the 1770s is difficult to pin down.
The following are approximate sizes:
Oldham was a village of about 500.
In the same decade as the above figures London's
population was put at a massive 800000, with Bristol the second
city at 75000 and Norwich 60000. The Black Country was soon to
benefit from the effects of the Industrial Revolution, which changed
the statistics greatly, during the century towns such as Birmingham
and Sheffield would see 7-fold increases, and Liverpool 10-fold.
The increase in population necessitated advances
in farming to feed the growing population. Prior to 1760 England
exported corn, but by 1800 could not satisfy her own needs. 10000
square miles of land was reclaimed for general cultivation.
Large families were the order of the day; the expectation
was for wives to produce a succession of off-spring. Boys and
girls married young, infant mortality was high, even Royalty suffered.
Queen Anne had 17 or 19 children, but it is only certain that
one of those children reached double figures; even that child
died aged 11 years!
Socially there were major problems, yet great contrasts.
Dickens "Tale of Two Cities" highlighted the violence,
both in England and on the continent. By the end of the century
Thomas Paine and William Cobbett shouted long and loud for an
"Age of Reason" and the "rights of man". Both
attacked politics, privilege (place and position), nepotism, corruption
and so on.
Medicine also developed throughout the century,
there were many quacks and charlatans, but the work of others
saw the use of vaccination and the spread of infirmaries. Personal
and public hygiene was very poor, knowledge of drugs was very
meagre, with advances reliant on testing on animals and prisoners.
The Industrial Revolution was probably the most
important factor, and one which saw the greatest contrasts. Industry
moved from cottage to factory, following the invention of machines
that were both dangerous to the people that used them, forcing
people to work long hours, and leading to the increased use of
child labour to help feed the ever-growing demand.
People did not move very far from home to shop.
They bought shoes and ironmongery from 'cheap-jack' travelling
vans, and food and clothing from 'Tommy Shops' kept by large employers
(Pits and Furnaces - Mrs Alfred Payne )
Much of the information contained in the section
will have come from the archives of "The Blackcountryman"
magazine. Details of articles used will be available in the bibliography
at the foot of each article. If you would like to purchase either
the magazine concerned, or a scan or photocopy of the article
(many early magazines are out of stock) then please contact the
author by clicking on his name (Mick
If you have useful information or an article you
would like to contribute to the section, please contact me, again
via email, or write to the Society at the PO Box address on the
of a local miner - Benjamin Haynes
Ordeal - 1869
of Baggeridge Colliery
is fossil fuel not fossil fuel
Netherton I Remember (the reminiscences of Tom Mondon)
West Bromwich Inns (describes 3 inns - long-since gone)
email the web master Mick Pearson: