Gleams and shadows of Industrial Revolution in 19th century Britain

Bachelor Thesis, 2018

34 Pages










2.2 WOOL







Niniejsza praca przedstawia wielkość Wielkiej Brytanii พ 19 wieku, wskazując na czynniki, które to doprowadziły do jej wyjątkowej pozycji. Zbyt szybki rozwój Wielkiej Brytanii, poszerzanie terenów oraz dobra sytuacja ekonomiczna pozwoliły królestwu wejść na wyższy etap technologiczny พ porównaniu do krajów Europejskich takich jak Niemcy czy Francja. Czy tak szybki postęp wpłynął jednak na dobro obywateli kraju ? Wielu skorzystało z całej gamy patentów i wynalazków dostępnych na rynku, zwiększając swój komfort życia, z drugiej strony zbyt szybka industrializacja i budowa fabryk zwiększyła poziom zanieczyszczenia, pojawiły się problemy ze zdrowiem i utrzymaniem czystości. Rozdział pierwszy opisuje tło historyczne które przyczyniło się do rozwoju Wielkiej Brytanii. Rozdział drugi przedstawia rewolucję przemysłową oraz postęp, który najbardziej cechował czasy wiktoriańskie. พ rozdziale trzecim opisane zostały negatywne skutki industrializacji oraz życie łudzi poddanych nagłym procesom rozwoju. Praca zawiera również wiele ciekawostek, opisy wynalazków oraz ilustracje.

Słowa kluczowe: Czasy wiktoriańskie, dziewiętnastowieczna Wielka

Brytania, rewolucja industrialna


The paper presents the grandeur of Great Britain in the 19 th century. It analyses and shows Great Britain in the period of development together the factors that could be the reason for such a change. The rapid progress together with expansion policy and good economic situation allowed the kingdom to enter a higher technological stage. However, did such rapid progress affect the well-being of the country ’S citizens? Marry benefited from a multitude of patents and inventions available on the market and increased their comfort of living. Too fast industrialization and a constant corrstnictiorr of factories increased the level of pollution, health problems and cleanliness. The first chapter describes the historical background which presents certain conditions thanks to which England could develop. The second chapter describes the industrial revolution and the progress that characterized the Victorian times. The third chapter describes some negative effects of industrialization and people ’S lives subjected to an abrupt development processes. Further, the work contains many interesting facts, descriptions of inventions and illustrations.

Key words: Victorian Britain, Inventions, Industrial Revolution


Justification of the choice of the topic

The 19th century seems to have been the most turbulent time for Britain as it saw an unmatched development throughout its history course. It outdid many other European countries by developing its domestic market and pursuing overseas expansion. This work aims at an analysis of this particularly significant time as many perceive it in terms of grandeur and prosperity. The era of inventions and new technologies made Britain known all over the globe, not least for its progress. Even though the speed of industrial processes and the overall growth was admired, it also created much controversy over such aspects as living conditions or workers' safety.

Accordingly, the topic of 19th century Britain and particularly inventions, growth and prosperity that were visible at that time really awoke my interest. I started asking myself why Britain was so potent in terms of prosperity and development and where that confidence and pride came from. It seems that Victorian times were a particular motor of converting Britain into a powerful and innovative nation. I endeavoured to understand what efforts had to be put in so as to achieve such a rapid progress and what consequences it brought along. Victorian studies with its numerous investigations seemed to be the best source where answers could be found to those questions. Further, I also investigated whether the progress was achieved without any major losses on the part of some social groups or classes.

Structure of the diploma project

The following work was written with the aim to analyse the Victorian Times in terms of their main characteristics and show the reasons why they came to be known as an important period in British history. The first chapter describes the historical background which presents certain conditions thanks to which England could develop. The second chapter shows the industrial revolution and the progress that characterized the Victorian times. The third chapter outlines some negative effects of industrialization and people’s lives subjected to an abrupt development processes. Further, the work contains many interesting facts, descriptions of inventions and illustrations.

The paper is a typical review type and takes advantage of numerous facts relating to the grandeur of the age which was seen as the age of progress. It is of qualitative character and, side by side description of different aspects, some evaluation is also presented. Thus, the Diploma Project reflects on the main sources of such progress and the means by which it could be achieved.

Aims of the Diploma Project

1. To present the historical background which allowed Britain to develop in the 19th century;
2. To show how the Victorian society entered the era of prosperity due to certain economic and industrial factors;
3. To scrutinise different aspects which could be the main source of development such as inventions and legal acts;
4. To contrast the progress with some negative impact on ordinary people who started suffering.

Chapter One: Victorian Era and its characteristics

1.1 Defining the era

There are several terms that characterise the 19th-century Britain, i.e. Victorian era, Victorian period or Victorian times. All of them seem to have reference to the time of Queen Victoria’s reign lasting from 1837 to 1901, although different aspects of the period are raised ( When Was the Victorian Era?, 2018).

The era is seen as the most significant one in the entire British history due to some spectacular developments that brought about prosperity. Besides, the general internal stability and peace at that time, a great number of changes were introduced. These included not only political and economic but also social, industrial and imperial ones. All of them gave rise to different notions in the context of prosperity such as ‘Britain’s Golden Years’ or as McDowall (1989:159) puts it, ‘The World Power’. Another view on that period is also presented by McDowall (1989:159) in his particularly apt definition as ‘British Self-Confidence Years’. All these seem to indicate that there is a general positive overtone of the Victorian era, seen in the frame of prosperity and achievements.

Further, the overall background of the time points to the general prosperity of all those employed during that particular period. Due to a low level of taxation and government interference in expanding businesses, there was a noticeable freedom of choice, which resulted in many entrepreneurs setting up their first companies. The so-called prosperity was also the reason for a rapid industrialisation that Britain enjoyed. The country started producing many industrial amenities that boosted the trade, and it is also worth mentioning that it was perceived as a world-scale leader in terms of technology and industrial innovations. Hence, Britain was renowned for its shipping industry as a core means of transport which contributed significantly to the trading efficiency.

The massive marine assets were not the only factors that made the significant boost in terms of economy and trade expansion during the 19th-century. There was also a railway system which was constantly being improved and which was the main source of profit. It did not only carry commodities that were to be sold but also people. Thus, it seems to be an undeniable fact that the steam engine’s years changed the whole Britain and laid out new foundations which took a big turn for the better. The country grew in size in terms of its industrialisation, cities became bigger and population rose. The era could be also called a particular time of technological advancement as, owing to access to numerous materials and discoveries borne from well-developed industrialisation processes, inventions started to be the basic pursuit of everyday life. Therefore, many Victorians started thinking of improving their life in many ways, one of these were patents and new appliances or different acts and laws that also meant the same. All of these factors may testify that there existed a constant need to make Britain more powerful and dynamic than ever before (When Was the Victorian Era?, 2018).

1.2 Britain and its internal and external conflicts

The favourable image of Victorian Britain presented above was possible due to several factors. One of them was its good internal and external situation. After Britain stabilised the situation in the Atlantic ocean and let the Americans be in charge of their own country, people started to feel more secure than ever before. Native Americans did not evoke any protests such as ‘Boston Tea Party’ that took place earlier. France was also defeated at Waterloo in June 1815. Thus, it might be inferred that Britain had far fewer chances to get into external conflicts of any kind due to its overbearing Royal Navy. That situation could explain why so many historians used to refer to the era as ‘The time of peace and prosperity” (When Was the Victorian Era?, 2018).

Not having been engaged in any internal wars let Britain preside on the international scale. As McDowall (1989:145) mentions, Britain had been involved only in two significant external conflicts. One of them was the Crimean War, where it allied with France in order to stop the most precarious Russian power from destroying Ottoman Empire. The other one was the Boer war, which took place at the end of the period. Accordingly, there was a very important international balance of power, which was meant to generate an overall consensus among the most powerful nations. The time was referred to as the Pax Britannica which was understood as ‘ ’the time of the peace imposed by Great Britain upon hostile nations” (When Was the Victorian Era?, 2018). The ill-intentioned and unpredictable actions by Russia towards the Ottoman Empire could become a serious breach of this international law. Thus, Britain decided to interfere and supported Turks in 1854. Both countries succeeded and prevented Russia from further expansion towards the southern areas, which was most feared by the British as they were of great value. These were the main sea and land links to India which played a major role in Britain’s trade. In that case it might be inferred that Britain feared that Russia could become too powerful and constitute some global danger, i.e. causing unfavourable balance of power in Europe. It is hence inferable that most of the military actions performed by the British state brought about peace and stability (McDowall, 1989:145).

Another factor that spurred British confidence was the Congress of Vienna that might have had an effect on the overall peace in Europe. The meetings of European States Ambassadors, also called ‘peacemakers’, took place in the years of 1814-15. The main agenda was to discuss matters connected with a plan that would cause long-term peace in Europe and stop outbreaks of wars that had brought about terrible risks and losses. The most important among other safety issues that were discussed were the ones connected with the effects of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (Chapman, 1998:1-2).

As Morgan (2001: 489) and Briggs (1959:296) underline, Britain was seen as a hegemonic power that had a great influence on the general peace all over the world. It might then be assumed that Britain followed the example of the policy regarding safety and mutual respect that the Congress of Vienna possibly brought out. As a result, in spite of its aggrandisement in terms of military and general growth, Britain did not overtly attack any country and kept itself in an emergency in case of any conflicts or intervention.

As for the internal situation, there was one internal conflict called the Chartists Movement. This was the workers’ revolt against bad treatment resulting from low wages and working conditions in particular. The government was afraid of the conflict escalation and its possible evolution to what France experienced a few decades earlier. Thus, it undertook proper politic strategies to eradicate the problem. Soon the strike was easily dealt with and could not be considered a serious national problem (McDowall, 1989:134-136).

All in all, both the external and internal conditions of the 19th century Europe let Britain grow fast, which consequently resulted in its unprecedented position.

1.3 Time for development

1.3.1 British Empire

One among many factors of the so-called superiority in 19th century Britain was by all means the British Empire. As Levine (2007:13) puts it, this was a particular time of the ubiquitous British navy which moved from place to place in order to protect, provide transport and give people new opportunities to trade. As Levine (2007:13) further presents, the definition of the Empire significantly changed over time as more and more terrains were incorporated under Britain’s rule. It started to be called simply British-held territories rather than its posts overseas.

It seems that Britain had always been admired in terms of its territorial expansion and, as Levine (2007:43) suggests, Victorian era was perceived as a successful time for Britain which mainly had its roots in the Great Empire. Even though the aftermath of American Revolution caused the loss of many Atlantic territories and possibly a lack of prospective ideas, it actually made the country much stronger. Britain started to pursue the long-haul voyages in order to search for gold or other valuable raw materials. Thus, the scope of marine journeys reached as far as the Far East, where Britain annexed new territories such as Australia or New Zealand.

Furthermore, the Far East territories were not the only ones that were colonised, look at the map in (appendix 1). During the 19th century, British colonial assets encompassed around 10 million square miles and 400 million people (Levine, 2009:82). It was said to be one of the largest European empires stretching around the globe. Even though the annexation of new territories went fast, it allowed new enterprises and entrepreneurs to try their hand at new endeavours.

As it might be inferred, India and some parts of Africa contributed to the huge scale of the British possessions. Furthermore, the case of prestige might not come only from the sole scope of terrains, as there were interests between different entities. According to Levine (2007:81), agricultural India availed to the British trade and was the main centre of goods. It had also major railway ports which sped up the overall process of export. Not only did India provide Britain with goods but it was by all means a reciprocal trade partner. All the colonies helped each other creating the common market.

Besides, the annexed or controlled territories helped Britain to take advantage of the resources such as ivory, gold, diamonds and even palm oil from Africa to the British market. The imperial possessions started to be more involved in terms of exporting and importing of goods which lay strong foundations of the British economy. As Levine (2007:97) states, among many countries that could be named as valuable assets in terms of the trade were Australia, New Zealand, India, Southern Africa, Singapore and even Hong Kong. The Empire provided Britain with exported commodities such as sugar, cotton, tea and many other that contributed to an overall economy growth.

Thus, the 19th century might be considered as the era of global expansion with the small British island controlling a number of terrains and gaining profits from the common trading policy. That may also explain why it is further considered as the largest and most outstanding among the other European empires of that time (Levine, 2007:93,99-100).

1.3.2 Growth of the economy

Another aspect which influenced Britain in Victorian age which would be equally important as peaceful times and empire seems to be its good economic situation. This according to some specialists, for example Black and MacRaild (2002:15), contributed to the good social, political and economic pillars of Britain particularly noticeable during that period. Among the most important ones seem to be a stable political system, contracting rights and legal conventions which allowed free utilisation of capital. Thus, it might be inferred that due to well-developed systems many investors were encouraged to take up business initiatives. It is also worth mentioning that one of the factors that made Britain flourish was low taxation put on manufacturing industries and transport.

To illustrate the British growth better, it is worth pointing to the other countries and compare their achievements. As Black and MacRaild (2002:22) mention, Britain was an exception in Europe with very good results due to its industrialisation. For example, countries like Germany, France, Belgium and Russia altogether produced 2 million metric tons of coal and lignite in the years of 1820-4, while Britain achieved 18 million metric tons at that time. The same discrepancy is seen in the years of 1855-9, when the coal and lignite production reached 68 million in Britain and only 32 in those previously mentioned ones. By all means, Britain became the industrial leader regarding the coal and lignite production in the 19th century. It seems to be particularly vital in terms of the creation of different industrial processes as coal and lignite provided the main power. In case of pig-iron, it reached the rate of 0.4 million per annum in 1820, which was the same as in the rest of Europe (Black and MacRaild, 2002:22).

All in all, according to Morgan (2001:528-9), in comparison to the other countries, Britain was the leader when it comes to its economic growth. All that was achieved mainly through the possessions of basic raw industrial resources that were sold off to other continental states. Besides, Britain produced a great number of ready products such as ships, steam engines or even clothes that were also put on sale abroad. It might be also inferred that the surplus of resources such as coal and lignite was utilised in Britain and stored in for industrial use. All these factors boosted the British economic situation and, as Morgan (2001:528-9) puts it, Victorianized the world.

1.3.3 The Industrial Revolution

The most crucial impact on the whole Victorian society seems to have had the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for the nineteenth century dynamism. It might also be claimed that such a phenomenon could constitute a source of further innovative ideas and resulting inventions.

As Rochford (2014:1) indicates, the Industrial Revolution caused the expansion of the modern world in terms of pursuing individual well-being through hard labour, good education and constantly developing technology. Further, it is not possible to assess all great Victorian Inventions without taking into account the colossal role that the Industrial Revolution played. Hence, the process should include the production of raw materials and props needed for contrivance and further research.


Excerpt out of 34 pages


Gleams and shadows of Industrial Revolution in 19th century Britain
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
History, Welfare State, Poverty, Working Classes, Victorian Literature, Nineteenth Century British, Social Economy, Air Pollution and Health Effects, British Empire, English Poor Law, The Industrial Revolution, Coal Mining, Inventions, Railways and trains, Workhouses, Victorian Britain, Great Britain, Steam Turbine and Steam Engine, Great Exhibition, Economic Prosperity
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Adam Kiela (Author), 2018, Gleams and shadows of Industrial Revolution in 19th century Britain, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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