History of England 1800s

A HISTORY OF BRITAIN IN THE 19th CENTURY

Introduction

During the 19th century Britain was transformed by the industrial revolution. In 1801, at the time of the first census, only about 20% of the population lived in towns. By 1851 the figure had risen to over 50%. By 1881 about two thirds of the population lived in towns.

Furthermore in 1801 the majority of the population still worked in agriculture or related industries. Most goods were made by hand and very many craftsmen worked on their own with perhaps a laborer and an apprentice. By the late 19th century factories were common and most goods were made by machine.

Unrest in the Early 19th Century

The early 19th century was an era of political and social unrest in Britain. In the early 19th century a group of Evangelical Christians called the Clapham Sect were active in politics. They campaigned for an end to slavery and cruel sports. They gained their name because so many of them lived in

Then on 11 May 1812 a man named John Bellingham shot Tory prime minister Spencer Perceval. He was the only British prime minister ever to be assassinated.

Bellingham was a lone madman but in 1820 there was a plot to kill the whole cabinet. Arthur Thistlewood led the Cato Street Conspiracy but the conspirators were arrested on 23 February 1820. Thistlewood and 4 of his companions were hanged.

Meanwhile in 1811-1816 textile workers in the Midlands and the north of England broke machines, fearing they would cause unemployment. The wreckers were called Luddites and if caught they were likely to be hanged.

In March 1817 textile workers from Manchester tried to march to London to petition the Prince Regent. They were called blanketeers because many of them carried blankets. However even though the march was peaceful the blanketeers were stopped by soldiers at Stockport.

Then on 16 August 1819 a crowd of about 60, 000 people gathered at St Peter's Field in Manchester to hear a man named Henry Hunt. Even though the crowd were unarmed and the peaceful the authorities sent in soldiers. As a result 11 people were killed and hundreds were wounded. Afterwards people called the event 'The Peterloo Massacre' in a grim mockery of Waterloo.

In 1830 farm laborers in Kent and Sussex broke agricultural machinery fearing it would cause unemployment. The riots were called the Swing Riots because a man named Captain Swing supposedly, led them. As a result of the riots 4 men were hanged and 52 were transported to Australia.

In 1834 6 farm labourers in Tolpuddle, Dorset tried to form a trade union. However they were prosecuted for making illegal oaths. (Not for forming a union, which was legal). They were sentenced to transportation to Australia. The case caused an outcry and they returned to Britain in 1838.

Political Reform

In 1822 a Tory government was formed which introduced some reforms. At that time you could be hanged for over 200 offences. (Although the sentence was often commuted to transportation). In 1825-1828 the death penalty was abolished for more than 180 crimes.

Peel also formed the first modern police force in London in 1829. The police were called 'bobbies' or 'peelers' after him.

From 1828 to 1830 the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was prime minister. He introduced the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829). Since the Reformation Catholics had been unable to become MPs or to hold public office. The Act restored those rights to them. However Wellington was strongly opposed to any change to the electoral system.

At that time there were two types of constituency, country areas and towns or boroughs. In the countryside only the landowners could vote. In boroughs the franchise varied but was usually limited. However the constituencies had not been changed for centuries and they no longer reflected the distribution of the population. Industrial towns like Birmingham and Manchester did not have MPs of their own. On the other hand some settlements had died out but they were still represented in parliament! In 'rotten' or 'pocket' boroughs there might be only one or two voters!

In the early 19th century there were increasing demands for reforms. Most people wanted constituencies distributed more fairly and they also wanted the franchise extended but Wellington's party, the Tories, resisted.

However in 1830 the Whigs formed a government and they tried to introduced reform. The House of Commons eventually voted for a reform bill but the House of Lords rejected it. The King, William IV, warned that he would create more peers, who favored the bill unless the Lords agreed to accept it. Eventually the House of Lords backed down and passed the Great Reform Bill. It received the royal assent on 7 June 1832.

The franchise was only extended slightly but much more importantly the new industrial towns were now represented in parliament. Before 1832 Britain was ruled by an oligarchy of landowners. After 1832 the urban middle class had an increasing say.

However the working class were excluded from the reforms. From 1838 a working class protest movement called the Chartists was formed. (They were named after their People's Charter). The Chartists had several demands. They wanted all men to have the vote. Furthermore at that time you had to own a certain amount of property to become an MP. Chartists wanted the property qualification abolished. They also wanted MPs to be paid. Chartists also wanted all constituencies to be equal in size and they wanted voting to be by secret ballot.

The first Chartist rally was held in Manchester in 1838. In 1839 the Chartists delivered a petition to parliament, which was rejected out of hand. Another petition delivered in 1842 was also rejected. Finally in 1848 another great petition was sent to parliament but it turned into a farce. Some of the signatures were obvious fakes.

Chartism then fizzled out. For one thing it lacked middle class support and had no support among MPs. For another in the late 1840s conditions for the working class in Britain were improving and discontent was declining.

However further reform did eventually follow. In 1867 more men were given the vote and in 1872 the Ballot Act introduced voting by secret ballot. In 1884 still more men were given the vote. However not all men in Britain could vote until 1918.

Meanwhile in 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act reformed town governments. A uniform system of town government was formed.


Interesting facts:

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Built in 1868, The Folsom Manor was originally created as a weekend retreat house for Massachusetts politicians during the late 1800s. Historical photographs, now...

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