Considered one of the most significant revolutions in recorded history, the Industrial Revolution was so influential in Britain that it was able to change society on multiple levels. Britain changed from a predominantly agriculture based country to an industrial giant and tripled the country’s population, but also was responsible for the lowering of standards of living due to large scale urbanization, shortened life expectancy, the commonplace of child labour, and the creation of mass production resulting in a new social class structure.
The development of the factory system and mass production was ne of the main and most important results of the Industrial Revolution, creating a new economic system, new social classes, many inventions vital to the functioning of today’s society, etc. The factory system was developed in response to the dexterity of the steam engine that had been recently developed. In response to the steam engine, water frames, spinning Jennies, the mule, and eventually power looms were developed to increase the production rate of their companies while increasing their profits due to the lack of need of manual slow labour from workers.
The increasing number of machines in the textile industry put artisans out of work as they took over their jobs, the most common example of this are the weavers, who after a brief ‘golden age’, suffered in poverty for generations until their craft disappeared in 1850. In Britain, textile production was the main and quickest continuously advancing factory system that was created during the revolution. A modern historian, E. J. Hobsbawm, states “Whoever says Industrial Revolution says cotton.
The Factory system affected the whole economic system by increasing production outputs due to less manual abour required overall and a higher skill level to tend to machines which resulted in the lowering of good process because as the amounts of goods available to the public increases, the lower prices encourage more business. This new economic system resulted in the creation of the theory of division of labour which proved that more products would be made if each man worked repeatedly at a specific task then if each man made the product completely by themselves.
During the Industrial Revolution a well-known sociologist by the name of Charles Booth concluded that London, along with other large rban areas, could be separated into eight previously unseen social classes. With over thirty percent of the urban population living on the poverty line or below it, the lowest level of citizens consisted of eleven-thousand occasional labourers and semi- criminals whose food was of the ‘coarsest description’ and whose only luxury item was alcohol.
Their life was described as the “life of savages, with vicissitudes of extreme hardship and occasional distress. ” The next class in the hierarchy contained approximately one hundred thousand citizens whom were very oor, living on casual earnings from two or three days’ work a week. The third class had seventy-five thousand people who lived with sporadic earnings from seasonal jobs such as Dockers, coal heavers and waterside porters. The fourth class contained approximately three hundred seventy-seven thousand people with regular standard earnings of 22s to 30s a week.
One hundred twenty-one thousand citizens were considered to be the best paid of the artisans, and a very small number of upper and lower middle class citizens were at the top of the social hierarchy. This social class system was very different compared o the previous hierarchy of the Gentry, the middle class, and the lower class. When large scale urbanization occurred between 1780 and 1850, standards of living for the average person dropped dramatically due to several factors.
As the need for coal and iron in the mines increased, this increased the number of jobs needing to be filled and everyone, including women and children, were eager to fill them to provide an income for their family. The majority of women working in the coal mines would become drawers, pulling heavy carts full of stone via. Chains and rope attached to their waists. Betty Harris was a woman who was a mine drawer and lived during the Industrial Revolution and described her experience as painful and dreary. I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet.. The pit is wet where I work, and the water comes over our clog tops always, and I have seen it up to my thighs… My clothes are wet through almost all day long… I have drawn until I have had the skin off me; the belt and chain is worse when we are in the family way. ” -Betty Harris Housing in the cities during the revolution was lso very precarious; the average factory worker’s home was often described as a hovel.
The population was cramped, unhealthy, and demoralizing. The houses were lined tightly along cramped urine saturated streets with very the houses rarely having more than one room and backyards very uncommon. George Eliot, a writer during the revolution described the citizens as “.. powerful men walking queerly with knees bent outward from squatting in the mine, going home to throw themselves down in their blackened flannel and sleep throughout the daylight. The low standards of living and poor anitation standards also contributed to a lower life expectancy with the middle class expected to live 43 years, tradesman expected to live 30 years, and the common labourers expected to live only 22 years. Due to the sudden increased need of labour for the mass production system, society looked to children as a source of cheap and expendable labour, most often in textile factories.
As no Acts were originally in place to control how the companies treated their young workers, it was a common sight before 1833 to see small children as young as six years old, working twelve o nineteen hour days. 4 The repeatedly long and strenuous hours that the children worked caused them to frequently doze off or slow their pace of labour. In response, the overseers of the ground floors frequently beat and injured the children in any ways they wished as long as the children were able to work at a rapid rate afterwards.
One man reported to parliament his findings as a large factory with children labourers. “In 1843, R. H. Horne reported to Parliament that in a Wolverhampton nail and tip factory boys and girls worked in crowded, terribly noisy onditions ‘with their fingers in constant danger of being pinched off once in every second, while… they have their heads between the whirling wheels a few inches distant from each ear. “They seldom lose a hand. ” Said one of the proprietors… “It only takes off a finger at the first or second joint. Sheer carelessness – look about them – sheer carelessness!
This treatment of children who were barely out of infancy was tolerated due to the need for even the smallest amount of additional income for the family, which could be the difference of the family starving o death or lasting through the winter. Eventually this deed was no longer tolerated due to the development and progress of Labour unions. The development of Labour Unions was very important in the improvement of the standards of living later in the Industrial Revolution due to the previously dangerous and strenuous work hours and conditions.
Several acts were passed to make work fairer and more reasonable including the three most influential to today’s labour laws; The Factory Act of 1833, The Mines Act of 1842, and The Ten-Hour Law of 1847. The Factory Act of 1833 imited children under the age of 13 years old to an eight hour work week, six days a week. This law would have allowed for children to work more reasonable hours and therefore sleep more, causing less fatal or marring accidents due to lack of concentration from little to no sleep.
The Mines Act of 1842 prohibited women and children less than 10 years of age from working in mines which would stop women from being drawers and children from being overworked in dangerous conditions. The Ten-Hour Law of 1847 stated that the working hours would be reduced to ten hours per day , which would ensure that the opulation as a whole would be better protected against unfair corporate owners and would enable them to be more productive members during both work and leisure time.
During the Industrial Revolution England was able to turn from a predominantly agricultural country to an industrial focused society that changed in countless ways, both positive and negative. This significant event changed the way that people thought, worked, and treated others. Many ideas and inventions during this time period are essential to the innovations and social norms that are a commonplace in today’s society.