www.whyville.net Dec 15, 2013 Weekly Issue

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Victorian Britain - The Industrial Age

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At school, I have to say that History is one of my favorite subjects. Delving into the past for me is exciting. I think history is a very important subject to study. It helps us identify our mistakes, so that we can prevent them from happening again. It can also give us clues about our future. Experts can study areas of history (like advances in technology, health and science) to help them determine how much progress we are capable of making in the future. Using historic knowledge and science combined, we can study the events of Mount Vesuvius, in Pompeii, or Mount St Helen's, in Washington, USA to help us prepare for future eruptions and save lives. History may even help us find a cure for cancer, if such a thing is possible.

In England, we are famous for our many kings and queens. We are unique in the way that we are still ruled by monarchs; we are one of a few countries reigned by a king or queen. In the late 1800s, to early 1900s, we were called Great Britain. We were the first country to introduce big buildings accommodating many people and various machines. These buildings were called factories. At this time, we were the first in terms of wealth. We were truly great; we were also very clever. But these advances in technology came at a great price; our industrial towns and cities were polluted with the smoke from the chimney stacks of the factories and many, many houses. The pollution was detrimental to the people?s health. Before factories were introduced, 80% of the population lived in the countryside. They worked as farmers and lived in small villages. Although living conditions were pretty bad, they only got worse. The crowded slums and streets of London were breeding grounds for diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. The people of Britain had no idea about hygiene and rarely washed. Human refuse was left to rot in the streets and was only cleared twice a year.

Industrial England. A change for better or worse?

The question is, why did people move from the countryside if the living conditions were so bad? In 1850, if you were a farmer, you would be made redundant during the winter and feeding your family would become very difficult, whereas work in the factories would be constant and people were paid a little more. Also, people who were farmers had to work in all conditions and if the harvest was bad, then you would starve. If you worked in a factory, there would be shelter from the elements, but working in the factories also meant that you would have a very small house. Actually, it wasn't even a whole house! Sometimes, two or three families rented a room and it wasn't uncommon for a house to be shared by ten or more families. Families in the Victorian age were larger than most today, say six or seven people in one family. You do the maths. That's a lot of people.

Although pay was a small percentage higher, work hours were long and hard. To pay the rent, children were forced to work from as young as five, the time when many children all over the world start school. Young children could be sent to work in cotton mills, where there would be food, accommodation and school for these children to attend. Most children worked a day averaging eight or nine hours, with an extra hour for school work and another for lunch. Piecers and scavengers were the jobs given to children. They were small, with quick reactions and could slide under the machine to do these jobs. A piecer's job was to dart under the cloth weaving machine (a mule) and tie the ends of the loose threads together while the machine was paused for twenty seconds. Scavengers collected cotton fibers from under the machines. These jobs were dangerous and children were often injured. Children and adults alike were whipped for incompetency and punishments were harsh. For all this, a child could expect to earn but a few pennies for working in the mills sixty hours a week

There is not much evidence to suggest that factories were happy place. On the contrary, it is much more likely that England suffered more than benefited from the factories. Although, much like wars, they did lead to major advances in technology and machinery, this progress was brought about on the backs on England's poor. The rich made a lot of money from the fruits of the populace and England's economy flourished. One hundred or so years ago, most things have 'made in Great Britain' on them. Now, China is the country which produces more than any other, though the USA comes first for GDP. Not-so-great-now Britain is in a huge amount of debt. Will our economy recover?

Author's Note: Sources: http://www.weasteheritagetrail.co.uk/Resources/Children-in-the-cotton-industry/index.htm

For further reading: Mill Girl (My Story), Cat's Cradle (Julia Golding)


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