Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The experience of industrialisation

The world's first factory.
Cromford mill, 1771
 Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons  

The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ was coined in 1884 by Sir Arnold Toynbee to describe the move from domestic to factory production, a process made possible by the application of water- and steam-power. 

Not all historians agree with this term. Those who prefer to think in terms of evolution point out that in the middle of the nineteenth century most people still worked on the land, or worked in unmodernised industries.

However, industrialisation should be seen as one of the great changes of history along with the prehistoric neolithic revolution. The census of 1851 revealed that the majority of British people were no longer living in rural areas but in towns and cities. This had never happened before in human history. 

The Industrial Revolution took place against the background of the eighteenth-century consumer revolution. The demand for more goods stimulated innovation, which then produced more goods at lower prices and provided a further stimulus to consumerism.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Crime in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

"Tyburn tree" by Unknown
Retrieved from National Archives website.
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons

Why study crime?

Crime is well-documented for this period, and digital material such as the wonderful Old Bailey Online is now making a vast mass of material widely available. A study of property crime shows us the range of consumer goods in a society. Changing attitudes to crime provide an insight into wider social attitudes. 


There have been anxieties about crime in most periods of history. Sometimes the anxieties were exaggerated but this is not always the case. In the eighteenth century there was anxiety about crime caused by the prevalence of cheap gin. In London in the 1850s and 1860s there was a panic about garrotting. In the 1890s the word 'hooligan' came into use.

The growth of crime was the obverse of the consumer revolution, fuelled by the increase in the volume and range of goods in circulation. To eighteenth-century social commentators like the novelist, Henry Fielding, the key cause of crime was not poverty but ‘luxury’ - a word which symbolised the dangerous aspirations of those who sought material possessions and ‘diversions’ above their station. For example, the gin epidemic, made famous by Hogarth's print, 'Gin Lane' (1751) was seen as a cause not a consequence of poverty. 

'GinLane by William Hogarth
Licensed under Public domain 
via Wikimedia Commons 

One eighteenth-century strategy against crime, especially highway robbery, was the bill of exchange. But watches, silk handkerchiefs or even wigs could be stolen from individuals with relative ease from the swelling number of shops. The word shoplifting was first recorded in 1680. But property crime could not be prevented. It was the obverse of the consumer revolution.

The administration of the law

Since the Glorious Revolution, English law was regarded as superior to all other systems. Torture was not allowed, legal proceedings were public, trial by jury was common, habeas corpus acted as a safeguard for liberties, and the judges were not subject to political intimidation. 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Education in Norfolk in the eighteenth century

I've just come across a very good blog post about education in eighteenth-century Norfolk, which throws more light on the varieties of educational provision in the period. It reinforces the growing view that more people might have been literate than was previously thought.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Religion in the eighteenth century

John Wesley

Secularism: the debate

Historians debate how far eighteenth-century England was moving towards secularisationCompared with previous centuries, there was a greater range of leisure activities and reading materials, and this made people less reliant on religion that in the past. On the other hand, the eighteenth century saw important religious movements and religion continued to play a major role.

Varieties of religion

In his Letters on the English, the French sceptical writer, Voltaire saw religious liberty as characteristic of England. 
‘Everyone is permitted to serve God in whatever way he thinks proper.’ 

He was struck by the variety of religious practice he had observed during his stay in England from 1726 to 1728. 

Since the reign of Elizabeth I the Church of England had been the established religion of the country. Everyone was obliged by law to attend their parish church on Sundays and religious dissent was not tolerated. But during the Civil the machinery for enforcing uniform religious observance broke down. The Anglican monopoly was challenged, first by Presbyterians and Independents, and then by Baptists and Quakers.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Philanthropy in the eighteenth century

"St Lukes Hospital for Lunatics, London" by Unknown -
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 
Although the 18th century has a reputation for lax morals, it was also an age of profound moral earnestness and of burgeoning philanthropy. One of the key moral values was ‘benevolence’. Both the aristocracy and the middling sort founded and contributed to numerous and varied charities, which acted as a sort of proto-welfare state. See this site for more information about the range of charities to be found in London.

Besides ‘benevolence’ there were other motives for charity. One was ‘social control’ – fears of a moral collapse among the ‘common people’ and the desire for trustworthy servants. Another was the  fear that the population was declining and the consequent need to save lives – especially young lives.

The most modern forms of charity were subscription charities, which appeared in the 1690s alongside other forms of subscription association such as the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. Certain features marked the new charities out:

  1. They were not linked by any formal ties to the apparatus of local government and they drew no revenue from any form of taxation.
  2. They devoted considerable care and energy to wooing subscribers, often publishing annual reports and subscribers’ names.
  3. They commonly gave subscribers a voice, even outright control over management.

Sunday schools

This post is based on:
T. W. Laquer, Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working-Class Culture, 1780-1850 (Yale University Press, 1976)
Anne Stott, Hannah More: The First Victorian (Oxford University Press, 2004)

The rise of Sunday schools

Robert Raikes by W. J. Townsend,
H. B. Workman and George Eayrs
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons
By the 1780s Sunday schools were the latest fashion in philanthropy. They were not invented by the Gloucester printer, Robert Raikes, but it was Raikes who turned Sunday schools into a national movement.  Many of the schools were set up by women. Of these the most famous was the school set up by Mrs Sarah Trimmer at Brentford to the west of London, which was patronised by Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III.

The rise of Sunday schools was part of the intensification of religion following the Methodist revival, and part as well of the new climate of moral earnestness that followed Britain’s defeat in America. In 1785 the inter-denominational Sunday School Society was founded. 

Thomas Coram and the Foundling Hospital

Thomas Coram, by William Hogarth -
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Captain Thomas Coram (c. 1668-1751) retired to Rotherhithe in 1719 after achieving success in the New World, establishing a shipwright's business in Boston, and later in Taunton, Massachusetts. 

On his frequent walks through the City on winter mornings, Coram was appalled at the sight of dead and dying babies abandoned on the streets. This inspired him to take action. In 1722, inspired by the foundling hospitals on the Continent, he advocated one for London. His idea was to petition the king (George I) for a charter to create a non-profit-making organization supported by subscriptions, but at first this met with no success. He found it impossible to gain the support of anyone influential enough to approach the king and there continued to be great opposition to the idea of a Foundling Hospital established, partly because it was considered to encourage wantonness and prostitution.

The turning point in Coram’s campaign was the ‘ladies petition’ of 1729 signed by 21 peeresses, and the patronage of Queen Caroline (the wife of George II).  His petitions came before the king in council in July 1737. Subscriptions poured in and on 17 October 1739 the King signed a Royal Charter for a hospital for the 

‘education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’. 
The Governors and Guardians of this new enterprise met to receive the Charter on 20th November 1739 at Somerset House. The group included many of the important figures of the day: dukes and earls, magnates and merchant bankers. Supporters of standing included the physician, Dr Richard Mead, and the artist William Hogarth.