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The Industrial Revolution Index
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TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLTIONARY CHANGE
The Second Industrial Revolution
Social Development in the Industrial Revolution
We have already seen that the Industrial Revolution had an enormous effect on the lives of the people of Europe. It is also true to say that, although some people's lives were altered for the better, many people were worse off and, in many cases, workers were exploited. As the period progressed more and more people became victims of oppression.
Whilst writers, such as Charles Dickens in Britain and Emile Zola in France, wrote about the appalling living and working conditions, social reformers, such as Robert Owen, showed by practical experiment, that alternatives to long hours, child-labour and maltreatment were available. Others, such as Edwin Chadwick and Seebolm Roundtree, conducted inquiries into the miserable conditions of the poor. In their own way each of them highlighted the awful conditions that prevailed and suggested ways of righting them.
In some ways it was the needs of the Industrial Revolution itself which, in the end, came to the aid of the working classes. As the Industrial Revolution progressed there was an increasing need for educated workers. In the old days it was not a problem if a farm hand was illiterate. However, in the new industrial society, mechanics, civil engineers, architects and builders all needed literate workers who were able to read instructions, take measurements and interpret drawings and plans.
Most European countries had tried to control education with the 'ruling class' preventing access to higher education to people from the 'lower orders' (the middle and working classes). It was inevitable that once the 'lower orders' gained access to education they would become aware of two fundamental flaws in their lives; first, that they were being outrageously exploited and second, that, whilst they were creating the wealth of the country, they were gaining little benefit for themselves and they had no political power.
In most European countries members of the middle class began to emerge as an increasingly wealthy part of the society. Often their wealth, newly founded on industrial investment, was considerably more than that of the old upper, or ruling, class. However, in the majority of Europe the upper class still dominated the newly rich Bourgeoisie (the Nouveau Riche), and kept political power out of its hands.
An increasing frustration within the working class often led to bloody conflict. In Britain, from the early 1800's, this manifested itself as social unrest. As early as 1832, during the Merthyr Riots in Wales, the Red Flag of revolution was raised. (In this case it was a white shirt dipped in the blood of a fallen hero of the riots. The Red Flag soon became the symbol of revolution). Each time workers caused violent unrest they were dealt with with equal violence. Many people throughout Europe died at the hands of the militias.
The people wanted several concessions from their governments; greater social equality, an end to the old, rigid class system, fairer wages, better living conditions and, above all, a voice in the government of the country. In most European countries voting was restricted to a small number of the ruling elite. By the middle of the 19th century social and industrial unrest was widespread. The year of 1848 is known as the Year of Revolution because violent social unrest was happening in most European countries
The Development of the Chartist Movement in Britain
During the 19th century British political reform was very slow and a movement grew up which demanded a series of political and electoral changes. These changes were contained in a Charter and the movement became known as Chartism. It became a very popular social movement with large numbers of people marching in support of the proposed changes, often leading to violent confrontations. Leaders of the Chartist movement urged for more equality and social reform They even demonstrated one way in which people's lives could be improved by creating "model villages".
One such Chartist village was at Snig's End. It was a planned village of small cottages and farms, each standing on between six to eight hectares of land. The aim was to show that working class people could lead better and healthier lives as market gardeners, working small plots of land which would sustain them and provide a small profit. The lucky owners of the cottages in the village were the winners of a Chartist competition advertised in a newspaper. Although Snig's End did show that social reform was possible, it did not provide any real solutions since not all workers wanted to become farmers. Most workers just wanted better and fairer conditions.
The Chartist movement culminated in a series of mass rallies across Britain in the early 1830's and 1840's. In South Wales, where the marchers were armed and the local militia, who had been informed, were lying in wait, a riot broke out and many workers were killed or injured. The leaders of the march were rounded up and put on trial. They were sentenced to transportation to Australia where they were to remain for a period of fourteen years. One of the leaders, John Frost, having served his sentence, later returned from Australia and went on to become an important Lord Mayor of Bristol.
The Bristol Riots
By the middle of the 19th century Chartism as a political force had failed. Social reform did not progress until the end of the century with the rise of Socialism and the Trade Union Movement. Between them social reformers and trade unions had been able to make some progress and working conditions had improved. However, very little progress was made with either electoral change or social equality. Few working class people had the vote or had been able to break free from their social class.
The situation only changed with the onset of the Great War in 1914. For the first time men of all social classes mixed together, enduring the most dreadful conditions. By the end of the war, in 1918, the old social order was fast breaking up. The old world of rigid class structure was to be replaced by much greater and increasing social equality which has gradually made today's society much more equal.
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