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Industrialisation and the Rise of the Modern City in England

Industrialisation led to the development of urban cities. The early industrial cities of Britain such as Leeds and Manchester attracted large numbers of migrants to the textile mills from rural areas. London was a powerful magnet for migrant populations, despite not having large factories. It mainly consisted of skilled artisans, a growing number of semi-skilled and sweated-out workers, soldiers and servants, casual labourers, and street beggars.

Factories employed large numbers of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Women lost their jobs because of technology. A large number of women used their home to increase family income by taking in lodgers, tailoring, washing or matchbox making. During the twentieth century, women got employment in wartime industries and offices and they withdrew from domestic service.

A large number of children were employed at low salary. It was only after the passage of the Compulsory Elementary Education Act in 1870 and the Factory Acts beginning from 1902 that children were kept out of industrial work.

During the Industrial Revolution, people began migrating to the cities. They were very poor and lived in one room houses. The houses were overcrowded, badly-ventilated and lacked sanitation. There were worries for fire hazards and widespread social disorders.

Various steps were taken to clean up London. Large blocks of apartments were built; rent control was introduced in Britain during the First World War to ease the impact of severe housing shortage. Demands were made for new ‘lungs’ for the city, and some attempts were made to bridge the difference between city and countryside through ideas as the Green Belt around London.

Between the two World Wars, the British state built single family cottages. The city extended beyond the range where people could walk to work, and the development of suburbs made new form of mass transport necessary.


The first section of the underground railway was laid in 1863 between Paddington and Farrington Street in London. The underground railway became a huge success with better planned suburbs. Also, a good railway network enabled a large number of people to live outside central London and travel to work. Large metropolises such as New York, Tokyo and Chicago also used this kind of well-functioning transit systems.

Many felt that the ‘iron monsters’ (underground railways) added to the mess and unhealthiness of the city. The London tube railway led to a massive displacement of the London poor, especially between the two World Wars.

Social Changes

The basic unit of the society, the family, underwent a complete transformation due to industrialisation.Ties between members of households loosened, and among the working class, the institution of marriage tended to break down.

Women in the upper and middle classes in Britain led an isolated life. Women who worked for wages had some control over their lives, particularly the lower social classes. Many social reformers felt that the family as an institution had broken down, and needed to be saved by pushing women back into their home.

Inspite of individualism among men and women, there was an unequal access to the new urban space. Women started to lose their industrial jobs and conservative people railed against their presence in public spaces, thus forcing the women to withdraw into their homes.

Women gradually participated in political movements for suffrage and demanded the right to vote and property in 1870s. By the twentieth century, the urban family again transformed. The family now consisted of much smaller units. The family became the heart of a new market of goods services, and of ideas. The new industrial city provided opportunities for work as well raised the problem of mass leisure on Sundays.

Leisure and Consumption

The wealthy Britishers spent their time in annual ‘London Season’. Several cultural events such as the opera, the theatre and classical music performances were organised for the elite group in the late eighteenth century. Meanwhile, the working classes met in pubs to have a drink, exchange news and sometimes also to organise political action.

Libraries, art galleries and museums were established to provide recreation as well awaken the history of British. Music halls were popular among the lower classes and by the early twentieth century, cinema became the great mass entertainment for mixed audiences. The workers were also encouraged to spend their holidays by the sea.

Politics in the City

The London poor demanded relief from the terrible conditions of poverty in 1886. They broke out in riots. The police dispersed the riots. In late 1887, another riot took place which was brutally suppressed by the police. It is known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ of November 1887. The dockworkers went on a strike for 12 days to gain recognition for the dockworkers union in 1889. The mass struggle became an advantage for the political activities in the cities. State authorities went great lengths to reduce the possibility of rebellion and enhance urban aesthetics.

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