Document-Based Question: Industrial Revolution


There were many problems that came with the growth of industry in England. Cities were expanded, but they became even more overcrowded and dirty. The factories employed workers, who were doomed to work in terrifying conditions for little pay until their death. The reactions to these conditions once they were exposed varied from horror to blind optimism.


Cities had always been crowded and filthy. The Industrial Revolution only made conditions worse. The map of Manchester in 1750 is shown in W.H. Thomson’s History of Manchester to 1852. Manchester during this period is relatively small for a city, with one main road and several smaller branches leading to a few development areas and housing districts. Ashley Baynton-Williams’s Town and City Maps of the British Isles shows the dramatic contrast between Manchester in 1750 and 1850. In 1850, the city size as quadrupled. There are several main roads, with hundreds of smaller roads. In addition, there are three canals and two railroads running through it, something the city has never had before. Toward the outer edges of the city, many developing areas for factories and housing can be seen. However, the city is so compacted and the buildings so densely placed that there is no doubt that there is overcrowding. The English Romantic poet Robert Southey describes the conditions in his work Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. Southey describes the city as having narrow streets crowded with the multitudes, while smoke fills the air and blackens the houses and buildings. Southey found it inconceivable to think of a place more destitute than Manchester, even though it has the second highest size and population in the kingdom. Singly, Southey’s opinion may be considered unreliable, as he was a Romantic and was biased toward factories. However, he has support, which comes from The Graphic, a weekly magazine dealing with social issues. The magazine contains an engraving of a view of the city from a bridge. The sky is darkened with smoke. The rivers are dirtied by pollutants and wastes from factories. The buildings that once were made with red brick are now black.


The effects industrialization had on the people living in its reach were horrifying. Edwin Chadwick, the public health reformer describes the conditions in his Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Population of Great Britain. He reported that diseases caused or aggravated by atmospheric impurities produced by decomposing animal and vegetable substances, by damp and filth, and overcrowded dwellings prevailed among the laboring classes. Chadwick believed that these circumstances tended to produce an adult population that was short-lived, reckless, and intemperate. Flora Tristan, a French socialist, described her horror at the lives of the laboring class in her journal. Her journal described how most workers lack clothing, bed, furniture, fuel, and wholesome food. In addition, they must work for twelve to fourteen hours each day shut up in low-ceilinged rooms where the air is saturated with the fibers of cotton, wool or flax, or particles of copper, lead or iron. All of the laborers became sickly and emaciated from these conditions, their bodies thing and frail, their limbs feeble, and their complexions pale. The smoke and filth of cities not only affected the laboring class. The Lancet, a British medical journal, recorded the average age at death in both rural and industrial districts in 1843. In rural districts, the gentry lived twice as long as the laborer and about 50% longer than the farmer. In industrial districts, the life span of all the people is shortened by twenty years. Once again, the laborer lives only half as long as the gentry, making the average age at death of a laborer eighteen.


Fortunately, conditions slowly improved for the workers over time, and with it, the opinions of the people of industrialization. The 1830s were perhaps the worst years of all. Thomas Macaulay wrote in his essay the poverty of the people. He has an angry, sarcastic tone throughout his piece. Frances Anne Kemble wrote an account of his inaugural journey to Manchester. He recorded that there was a riot, where a vast crowd of Manchester artisans and mechanics showed their discontent with the government and the Corn Laws by