The Industrial Revolution brought about sweeping changes to England, and these changes impacted the lives of people in the 19th century dramatically. Were the consequences of this period positive or negative for the Victorians. And what about for us today?
Before you begin, make sure you have the worksheet! You can download one below.
If you cannot access the worksheet, please complete the tasks as you go along on a piece of paper.
Wealth = the total amount of money and possessions somebody owns. If someone has a large house and a lot of money they would be considered to be very wealthy.
Inequality = In terms of money,
Wealth gap = the difference in wealth between the wealthiest and the least wealthy. This is how we measure inequality.
Enclosure = When large parts of the countryside were turned into private farms.
After looking in depth into society in the Victorian period over the past five weeks, it’s now time to weigh everything up and decide if the Industrial Revolution brought about more of a positive or negative consequence to England.
Here is a debate between two History students who disagree with each other on the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and their impact on society.
Tom believes the Industrial Revolution was catastrophic for the Victorians and for us today. He does not believe the period saw much positive change at all. His argument is in blue.
Rachel disagrees and argues instead that society was in a much better place as a result of the Industrial Revolution. She states that England needed to go through this period to allow society to progress. Her argument is in green.
As you look at the arguments below, complete your own evaluation using the arguments you read and the knowledge that you have gained. Write a short paragraph outlining your argument for each question:
1) Was there an improvement on jobs and wealth?
2) Was there an improvement on the rights that people got?
3) Did people enjoy a better standard of living as a result of the Industrial Revolution?
Was there an improvement on jobs and wealth?
Argument 1: The Industrial Revolution made workers poorer and forced them into working in dangerous jobs.
This is an easy one. It’s clear to see that work was dreadful for the Victorians. Before the Industrial Revolution occurred, people were working at their own pace at home or in small villages. People would make things by hand or would farm and buy or sell crops or animals locally. People had enough to get by, and could forage off of the land if they didn’t. There was little pressure on people before the Victorian period.
As huge farms shut off the countryside due to enclosure, people were forced into working in factories or coal mines in the cities where they would work in terrible conditions. There was no pressure on employers to make conditions better because there were too many people who were desperate to work! The wealth gap grew because factory owners could make lots of money and keep their workers on very low wages.
We’ve seen that children were mutilated by the machines in factories or became mud larks if they couldn’t find a job. Government commissioners even found that a coal mine in Wales recorded temperatures of 54 degrees centigrade! So clearly this event had a negative effect on people’s working lives in the Victorian period.
Argument 2: The Industrial Revolution increased the wealth of everybody that it affected.
Alright, it might be the case that jobs were dangerous for a while, but the Industrial Revolution has actually increased everybody’s wealth over time, whether they were rich or poor.
Producing lots of things actually allowed England to dominate world trade, bringing more money into the country. This helped produce more jobs that led to higher wages. Although the middle classes did earn the most money and there may have been a high wealth gap, the Industrial Revolution allowed everyone to benefit over time. This is called a trickle-down economy.
Was there an improvement in the rights people got?
Argument 1: Workers and women would not have gained their rights if it wasn’t for the Industrial Revolution.
It’s clear so see that one of the biggest consequences of the Industrial Revolution on the Victorians was that they gained more rights over time. The Industrial Revolution marked a dramatic change for women as many of them entered the work force for the first time. Women had to compete with men for jobs.
Although female factory workers often made only one-third as much as men, women began leading reforms to change this. As women became more involved in politics, some began to demand suffrage, the right to vote. By 1918, Great Britian granted women over 30 the right to vote.
Furthermore this was one of the first times we see the working classes demanding more rights and representation! Working class people started to form trade unions together. These were really significant as they put pressure on their employers and the government to give them better pay, better working conditions and time off! And it worked – in 1833 the British government passed the Factory Act which banned children from working in factories. They did the same thing to coal mines in the 1840s!
Argument 2: The rights people gained were minimal and did not go far enough.
It’s certainly true that the Industrial Revolution encouraged a push for rights, but these were not significant changes – they did not go far enough in actually bringing about equality.
Workers only gained minimal changes to their working lives. Although children began to be removed from the workplace and placed into schools through the Education Act in 1870, men, women and children over the age of 12 were still working in conditions that had not improved.
Although women were also working in jobs that men were also doing, there was still a divide – women were not allowed to work in the steel industry for example. And it wasn’t really the Industrial Revolution that caused this change, it was women’s involvement in factories during WWI that encouraged the government to give them the vote.
It’s a stretch to say that the Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on the rights of Victorians at the time.
Do we enjoy a better standard of living as a result of the Industrial Revolution?
Argument 1: The Industrial Revolution sped up technological advancement.
Without allowing people to make things at a faster pace with more freedom to create what they please, we would not see the technology produced that changed our lives for the better.
We saw a revolution in transportation, with railways being developed, leading to revolutionary modes of transport like the London Underground opening in 1863.
Britain also developed the first public flushing toilet in 1852 and continued to develop a sewage system across the whole country. Could you imagine a world without this?!
Inventions in this period were countless; we haven’t even mentioned Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone or Thomas Edison’s lightbulb – truly groundbreaking achievements. Without the Industrial Revolution, people’s live would have been bleak.
Argument 2: The Industrial Revolution drove people into poor housing in crime-ridden areas.
But most people didn’t get to enjoy these new technologies! Okay, maybe the middle classes could take a nice holiday with Thomas Cook on their rail lines from 1841 onwards, but the working class certainly didn’t.
Most people in this period were poor, and they were driven into poor areas living in slums or lodging houses, and in some of them the poorest people had to sleep dangling over a piece of rope. The poorest people had to survive in the workhouse, smashing stones with pickaxes all day just for some bread and a bed.
Crime was everywhere due to this desperation. The slums would have bred thievery and other petty crimes. In addition to this, the police were useless at protecting people: just look at how Jack the Ripper was able to get away with five murders on desperate women! There’s no way this period brought better living conditions to people.
Argument 3: Mass production allowed people to afford items they could only dream about previously.
Well it’s certainly true that a lot of people didn’t have it easy, but mass production in factories actually helped drive costs of items down for the average person. As the factories were producing so much of one item so quickly, people could begin to afford things they previously could not due to the cost of these items dropping.
By the end of the 19th century, more people had access to foods like beer, butter, bread, milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, fish and more. The working classes were also now able to buy books, clocks, furniture and bedding. These were all luxuries that they could never dream of at the beginning of the century, and certainly improved their standard of living.
Argument 4: Pollution has been an undeniable consequence of the Industrial Revolution.
But there was a huge price for the Victorians to pay for this method of mass production! Pollution was devastating for the people that were responsible for producing these goods. The large numbers of factories all very close together produced smog (fog caused by smoke) and polluted crucial rivers and lakes that people depended on. London’s smog was so bad that it was called pea-soup fog because it was actually a greenish-yellow thanks to all the chemicals in the air!
This led to the government trying to pass Acts in Parliament like the Smoke Nuisance Acts of 1853 that tried to limit the activity of factories. These were not very effective, and pollution still continues to be the World’s top issue – and it’s all a direct consequence of industrialisation.
Create a poster that argues one of the following two points:
1) The Industrial Revolution brought about more progress for people in the Victorian period.
2) The Industrial Revolution brought about more problems for people in the Victorian period.
Your poster should include images and information that helps you argue your case.
Include detailed evidence to back up your points. Use information that you have learnt in this lesson and information that you can remember from previous lessons.