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British history

Life in 19th-century Britain

A cityscape in 1850A cityscape in 1850 During the Victorian era (1837–1901), many British towns and cities became centres of industry. The invention of steam engines meant that goods could now be manufactured on a large scale. It also gave rise to the railways: steam trains transported people and goods from town to town. Factories and workhouses took the place of craft workshops. Gas lighting and underground sewers made the streets safer and cleaner.

Lower, middle and upper classes

Rich and poor on the city streetsRich and poor on the city streetsPeople flocked to the cities to work in the new industries. By the late 19th century, all kinds of people lived in the cities. Labourers and servants were the most numerous. Although some became better-off, many were still poor. They lived in cramped, decaying houses, known as slums. Shop- and office-workers formed a lower middle class, while lawyers, doctors and factory-owners made up an upper middle class. People lived in different areas of the city according to their wealth. Rich people had several servants, kept a carriage and wore fine clothes. They lived as far away as possible from factories and poor areas.

As living conditions and healthcare improved during the 19th century, England’s population nearly quadrupled—from around 8 million in 1800 to 30 million in 1900.

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