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The 19th Century


The 19th century saw many changes to life in Britain. The Industrial Revolution saw more than half the population moving from villages to live in towns.

The early 19th century saw a period of unrest as the political Clapham Sect campaigned for an end to slavery and cruel sports.

As the Industrial Revolution marched on with machinery doing what was once the work of several men, a protest against unemployment led to many machines being destroyed by the Luddites between 1811 and 1816. There were several other marches and protests including the "Peterloo Massacre" in Manchester when several protesters were killed.

Some of the key events during the 19th century were:

1820 George IV was crowned king
1825 First passenger railway was opened
1830 William IV succeeded to the throne
1837 Queen Victoria came to the throne and started her 62 year reign


Changes were also taking place politically. Robert Peel formed the first police force in London in 1829 and his men were nicknamed "bobbies" after him. He became Prime Minister in 1834-35 and again in 1841-46. He abolished many of the unpopular tariffs which had been introduced on imports.

In 1830 William IV ascended to the throne. The Whigs formed a government and tried to introduce reforms which eventually were passed as the Great Reform Bill in 1832.

The mills continued to keep the workforce busy, albeit in harsh dangerous conditions and by 1852 there were 7, 000 miles of railway across Britain. The world’s first underground railway, the Tube, was opened in London in 1862. Railway enthusiasts can enjoy a visit to the National Railway Museum at York, Didcot Railway Centre and the Foxfield Steam Railway in Staffordshire.

The changing times can be seen at several museums. Queen Street Mill and Textile Museum is the last steam-powered mill in Lancashire which offers an interesting and informative day out. The Silk Mill at Derby and Armley Mills in Leeds both recapture the impressive industrial past.

The development of cast iron was an important part of industry and Summerlee Ironworks is an important part of the Industrial Museum Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. Ironbridge near Coalbrookdale is another interesting relic of 19th century progress.

More laws were passed, known as the Factory Acts, to restrict the hours worked by children under 18 to less than 69 hours per week! The New Model Unions gradually obtained some rights for employees.

Although living standards were poor compared to today, the Industrial Revolution did eventually lead to goods being much more affordable for the masses.

By the mid 19th century, Britain was the richest and most powerful nation in the world. Under Queen Victoria it was a time of relative peace and Britain built up a huge Empire overseas. In 1857-58 they crushed the Indian Mutiny and Queen Victoria became the Empress of India. This was the jewel in the crown of the British Empire.

Queen Victoria and her consort Albert created many attractions in London to promote history and the arts including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Opera House.

Many of the terraced houses in towns throughout Britain were built at this time. Museums of Life in Victorian England such as Gladstone Court Victorian Street Museum have reconstructed a complete Victorian Street with reproduction Victorian Houses and Blists Hill near Telford is a complete working Victorian town which shows typical life 150 years ago.

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