In this term paper we will discuss about the social development of England during 1850-1868.
H. T. Buckle, in his History of Civilization in England, published in 1859, wrote: ‘The whole scope and tendency of modern legislation is, to restore things to that natural channel from which the ignorance of preceding legislation has driven them.’ In the face of the achievements just surveyed and of those of the previous period, this claim seems preposterous.
Buckle could make it, however, because public attention was concentrated on certain types of reform other than social legislation: those that increased the opportunities of Nonconformists and the middle classes and reduced the privileges of Anglicans and the aristocracy, destroyed anomalies, or freed trade and the Press.
It no doubt helped that the cost of the changes, small in any case, was borne largely by local government agencies, and that the central administration withdrew from overt control of their work. Central government expenditure in this period rose, but almost wholly because of war and defence costs.
Anyhow, even though false, it was a common belief in the mid-nineteenth century that laissez-faire had triumphed in social as well as economic matters. This view was important for the future, in discouraging new breaches in the principle. That it was widely held at this time is symptomatic of the overall weakening of the reforming drive of the 1830s and 1840s.
Other writers, while appreciating that not all recent legislation had tended to give the individual greater freedom, thought that it should have done. In 1851 Herbert Spencer published his Social Statics, exalting the rights of the individual against governmental interference of all kinds, claiming by way of supporting evidence that the whole tendency of the biological development of the human species is towards greater individuation.
In 1859 J. S. Mill’s On Liberty, though much readier to accept State action, mounted another criticism of Benthamite attitudes: urging that the individual ought not to be reckoned as just one of millions of persons with similar attributes and aims, whose ‘greatest happiness’ can be secured by legislation based on numerical calculations of the sum of pain and pleasure; rather, that exceptional individuals must be protected and cherished by the State against legal and social pressures to conformity; and that law is not of universal efficacy.
The cult of the individual is especially characteristic of this period, but the ideas of Mill and Spencer exerted great influence from this time until at least the First World War.
These intellectual reactions were reinforced by a broad change of mood. Basic to the explanation of this change, and of the consequent slackening in the pace of reform, is the improvement, however modest, in the prosperity and security of the mass of the population.
The heart of the change is this: the likelihood, and with it the fear, of revolution dwindled. No doubt they had been often exaggerated previously, but they had been a serious factor in political calculation since tine 1790s. Now, there suddenly seemed little reason for alarm.
Broadly, the middle classes had been won to the ‘Establishment’ or at least to faith in gradualism, by the reforms of the 1830s and 1840s. The solidarity of the special constables against the Chartist petitioners of 1848 was accepted as proof of the fact.
In 1859, when an invasion panic led to the foundation of the ‘Volunteer Movement’, it was considered safe to allow all patriotic persons who could afford it to provide themselves with rifles.
Working-class radicalism had been much influenced by the Repeal of the Corn Law as well as by economic betterment. Plans for Grand National Unions, with generalized programmes, now gave way to steady pressure, by small unions of skilled workmen, for specific improvements in working conditions. Schemes for land nationalization developed into building societies.
William Lovett turned from Chartist agitation to advocacy of popular education and self-improvement among the working classes. Reformers lamented in the ‘fifties and early ‘sixties that they could no longer arouse public enthusiasm.
Here is Cobden in 1863:
Bright’s powers of eloquence. . . [Have] been most unsparingly used since the repeal of the Corn Laws—now going on for nearly twenty years—in advocating financial economy and parliamentary reform, and in every possible way for the abatement of privilege and the elevation of the masses. If he could talk till doomsday he would never surpass the strains of eloquence with which he has expounded the right and demolished the wrong cause. Yet see with what absolute lack of success!
This change had been brought about partly by deliberate efforts on the part of the Church and the aristocracy, broadening their conception of social duty and submitting to measures contrary to their own immediate interest for the sake of social peace. Just as ‘deference’ is exceptionally conspicuous among the lower orders in these years, so is ‘condescension’ at the top of the social scale.
The Queen for the first time visited industrial towns, Manchester in 1851 and Birmingham in 1858, finding the inhabitants gratifyingly loyal. Her domestic and private life, said an avowed democrat in 1860, was ‘worthy of all praise’. From this time dates the monarchy’s recovery of respect, as it abandoned power.
Dukes expressed themselves honoured to become mayors of industrial towns. This is the highpoint of public aristocratic piety. Archbishops preached in the open air. ‘Deference’ to the aristocracy continued to be enforced as well as earned, by the use of ‘influence’ more or less ‘legitimate’: by careful selection of tenants in ‘closed’ villages, by lavish expenditure with tradesmen, and by entertainment of employees.
The law of Master and Servant still gave large powers to employers to discipline their workmen. But there was a genuine rapprochement between classes in this period, based on acceptance of the established order of society, with the understanding that old privilege would not bar the way to all change, that the poor man in theory had an opportunity to become rich and great, and that a peer as well as a workman had to prove his title to public respect.
Capitalists and labourers found common ground in the principle of ‘self-help’, extolled by Samuel Smiles in another of the famous books of 1859. The fact was glossed over that the aristocracy retained enormous social and political power and showed little disposition to share it, and that unskilled or unlucky workmen remained at the mercy of the Poor Law.
Both rulers and ruled, then, saw their problems as less desperate than before. The drastic proposals of Radicals commanded less sympathy. Minor rather than major reforms were passed. Palmerston could even say ‘We cannot go on adding to the Statute Book ad infinitum.’ Events abroad, intrinsically more interesting in this period, stole the stage from domestic politics: Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état and imperialism; the Crimean War; the China War; the Mutiny; war and revolution in Italy; and the American Civil War.
This generalized picture needs elaborating. First, in various ways the ‘Establishment’, while reforming itself and adjusting itself to change, was acquiring new strength. The history of education best illustrates the point. Under ‘the voluntary system’, the pet of Nonconformity, the Established Church in fact extended its influence. Reform had made it more effective.
The number and quality of its clergy continued to increase. In the third quarter of the nineteenth century it made the largest absolute contribution in church building, though other denominations made greater relative contributions. In educational provision it easily outstripped its rivals.
Around 1860 the Church of England claimed about nine-tenths of the elementary schools in the country and three- quarters of the children, and of course the revival of interest in theology had ensured that Church schools taught both more specific and more varied doctrines by this time than they would have done earlier in the century.
The ancient Universities, reformed, though with clergy still virtually monopolizing teaching posts, deployed their prestige and endowments more effectively. Their chief courses of study remained classics and mathematics, but these were better taught than before, and now offered, it was held with some reason, the best education available in the country. The Civil Service Commission examined candidates in their University subjects.
It was the special emphasis of Gladstone’s arguments in favour of the recommendations of the Northcote-Trevelyan report that competitive examination would open the Civil Service to the best products of the old public schools and Universities, humanely educated under Anglican guidance.
Thus, the gentlemanly, amateur tradition of British administration was perpetuated into a bureaucratic age, with these modifications, that future Civil Servants had to be better at classics than their predecessors, and that brilliant middle-class boys were allowed to qualify as gentlemen by competitive examination.
Similar tendencies are to be observed in the history of the public schools. In the early nineteenth century something corresponding to secondary education, preparing for the University, could be had either in one of a handful of schools properly called ‘public’, such as Eton, Harrow and Westminster, or in a large number of old grammar schools, or in new, often Dissenting, academies.
The public schools, brutal, ill-organized, dominated by classical studies, were as anomalous as other parts of the Anglican, aristocratic ‘Establishment’, yet they were gaining in social prestige and drew boys from all over the country. The grammar schools, also Anglican, served their localities, had very variable standards and resources, and as a group were losing reputation. The academies, more modern in outlook, supplied some of the deficiencies of the traditional schools.
Classical teaching in the ancient public schools, as in the ancient Universities, was being improved from around 1800. Arnold, as Headmaster of Rugby from 1828 to 1842, provided a model for a more fundamental transformation of these schools. He improved both discipline and teaching, using the senior boys as prefects and treating them as mature students in the Sixth Form.
He also placed the Chapel at the centre of the life of the school, claiming that it was with the formation of a manly and godly Christian character rather than with academic success that he was primarily concerned.
This example and ideal inspired the foundation of many new schools, and the remodelling of many existing schools, which annexed the title ‘public’: Liverpool College in 1840, Cheltenham 1841, Eltham 1842, Marlborough 1843, Rossall 1844, Radley 1847, Lancing 1848, Bradfield 1850, Wellington College and Epsom 1853, Clifton and Haileybury 1862, and so on. The case of Liverpool College is interesting as being early and urban.
The occasion of the movement to found the school was an attempt by the new Corporation elected under the Municipal Reform Act to support undenominational education. A demand arose for the establishment of a school which would not expose ‘the children of the middle classes. . . to the risk of imbibing latitudinarian, if not infidel opinions’.
‘Sound religion’ must be associated with ‘useful learning.’ Mere ‘instruction’, especially in science, must not be accepted as true ‘education’. The same arguments appear in almost all instances.
In these schools as in the old Universities, religion, and particularly Anglicanism, triumphed over secularism and classics over science. The production of gentlemen, not of scholars or of entrepreneurs, remained the aim. The Oxford movement, successful only to a limited extent within the Church, won a great victory in education.
Most schools, it is true, were not Anglo-Catholic, but they were Anglican, more specifically so than Arnold wanted. By the end of this period Dissenting academies scarcely existed, and wealthy Nonconformists were sending their children to Anglican public schools.
There had been some attempt made to found Nonconformist public schools, for example Taunton in 1847 and Bishop’s Stortford in 1868, an endeavour which illustrates the pervasiveness of an ideal of primarily Anglican inspiration.
The public school movement had important effects on social relationships. It was the extension of an aristocratic system to the upper middle classes, but only after that system had been purified. As by the Reform Act and Civil Service Reform, the elite was extended and the old ‘Establishment’ made some concessions, winning wider approval in the process.
Further, in all these instances the chances of the less prosperous would seem to have been reduced. A growing proportion of the upper classes declined to educate their sons locally. Without their support the cheap local grammar schools withered away like the Dissenting academies.
In the classic case of a re-foundation, the Headmaster of Uppingham, Edward Thring, finally removed his school from the town, although it had been nothing more than the local grammar school when he first took the post, because the sanitation was inadequate.
The inhabitants improved the drainage. In return they received back the opportunities for trade and employment which the school’s, the masters’ and the boys’ money provided. But Uppingham School no longer educated the children of the town.
Most public schools were boarding schools. Soon after their foundation, often in spite of their founders, organized games came to overshadow for many of the boys and for some of the teachers the academic side of their education, and also to receive undue recognition as character-building agencies on a level with the Chapel and religion.
This development emerged strongly in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays, published in 1858. As Professor Briggs says, ‘Although Hughes exaggerated in reading back a cult of games into his days at Rugby, he did not exaggerate the trend in many of the new and some of the old public schools.’
The codification in 1846 of the rules of football as played at Rugby was an earlier landmark. Traditional disorder and violence were tamed, to be replaced by organized competition, elevated into a cult.
This was a phenomenon not confined to the public schools. Such violent or traditional sports as remained legal were moderated into respectability. Lord George Bentinck cleaned up racing scandals in the late ‘forties. The Queensberry, rules for boxing date from 1867, seven years after the last, legendary, illegal prize-fight.
Other games acquired codes and networks of clubs and national controlling bodies. The first All-England Cricket XI dates from 1846, the first M.C.C. overseas cricket tour from 1858, though so little had the Empire grown that the destination was the United States and Canada.
The traditional association of the game with betting was frowned on. The status of the amateur, that is, the gentleman, was glorified. Batsmen came to be admired for the beauty of their style rather than the strength of their arms. The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, first rowed in 1829, became an annual event from 1856.
The first association football clubs for adults date from 1858; athletics appeared at Oxford in 1850; the Open Golf Championship was first played in 1861; croquet was introduced in the early ‘fifties, and the All-England Club was established in 1868.
A telling illustration of the change of attitude to sport is the following comparison. Here is the inscription on a tombstone in the churchyard at Cranbrook, for a man called Clark, who died in 1836: ‘He was one of the few enterprising travellers who have succeeded in ascending to the summit of Mont Blanc.’
Here is an account of Huxley and Tyndall, climbing with the Alpine Club in 1857, the year of its foundation:
We were about to try our strength under unknown conditions, and as the various possibilities of the enterprise crowded upon the imagination, a sense of responsibility for the moment oppressed me. But as I looked aloft, my heart lightened, and I remarked cheerily to Hirst that Nature seemed to smile upon our work. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘and, God willing, we shall accomplish it.’
Sport has become earnest, not to say religious and spiritual. Spontaneity and heedlessness have gone. So, Victorian Britain disciplined herself.
In many particular ways society was becoming more complex, more technical and so in a sense more civilized. Trams first appeared in 1860 in Birkenhead, the underground railway in London in 1863. Modern hotel life began with the great railway hotels. In the 1850s the Singer sewing-machine company pioneered hire purchase and (with W. H. Smith’s railway bookstalls) multiple shops.
Department stores in Britain stem from the foundation of the middle-class cooperative enterprises, the Civil Service Stores in 1864, the Army and Navy in 1871. Not only Civil Service examinations, but many other kinds of examination were started.
The College of Preceptors, a body awarding certificates on the results of examinations, was founded in the 1840s; Oxford established Local Examinations for schoolboys in 1857, Cambridge in 1858.
The most important landmark in the development of the professions over those years was the creation by statute in 1858 of the General Medical Council and the register of qualified practitioners.
This period so far as one of ordered development, consensus, moderation, even conservatism, a time of increasing social discipline when the ‘Establishment’ grew in strength.
Certainly, the area as well as the violence of dispute seems diminished by comparison with the ‘forties. But there were fundamental critics and opponents of the status quo, who asserted themselves during the ‘sixties, especially after the death of Palmerston in 1865.
To set against Buckle, Spencer and the individualists, there were more upper-class sympathizers with socialism than before. A group of Anglican clergy, led by F.D. Maurice, calling themselves Christian Socialists, began in 1848 to make a serious effort to associate the Church with the aspirations of working men for social reforms.
They worked for causes such as sanitary reform and ‘co-operation’, that is, in its less idealistic form, profit-sharing between consumers and producers. Dickens’ Hard Times (1854), among other things, is an attack on the crude doctrine of laissez-faire.
John Ruskin, with The Political Economy of Art (1857) and Unto This Last (1860), developed the tradition of Pugin, linking admiration for medieval architecture and society with condemnation of Victorian technology and materialism. Mill himself, with all his concern for the individual’s intellectual and moral freedom, believed, as has been seen, that the distribution of goods should be made more equal by the State.
Working-class activity was much less violent, political and Utopian than in the days of the Chartists. It was therefore the better calculated to impress many members of the ‘Establishment’. In some industries skilled workers succeeded in creating Trade Unions of a new character, embracing members from all over the country, run by a national organization based in London and boasting considerable funds; not so wide and visionary as the ephemeral Grand National Union of the 1830s, but larger and better-managed than any previous Unions which had achieved a measure of permanence.
The chief exemplar of this type of Unionism was the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, founded in 1851. This and similar bodies concerned themselves to some extent with general politics, especially in this period with foreign affairs, particularly the American Civil War.
But they campaigned also for improved working conditions and the relaxation of the law of Master and Servant. In 1866-67 they were prominent in the agitation for Parliamentary Reform, in alliance with the more radical Liberals. They are the principal illustration of the growing strength and power of the ‘labour aristocracy’, which increased much more rapidly in these years than the population as a whole.
Between 1851 and 1871 the number of ‘engine makers’ in the census returns more than doubled, the number of ‘shipwrights’ almost doubled, while the ‘puddlers, forgers and moulders’ engaged in the iron industries rose from 80,000 to 180,000. The 29,000 ‘railway servants’, exclusive of labourers, became 84,000 in an industry which offered comparatively secure and regular employment.
In these years. . . . the title ‘artisan’ and ‘workingman’ took on the specific meaning of ‘skilled, respectable workingman’ to differentiate its holder from the more casually employed, unskilled ‘labourer’.
The number of respectable tradesmen was also swelled by the increase in those occupations which ministered to a prosperous consumer society: ‘plumbers, painters and glaziers’ increased from 62,805 to 103,382, while ‘cabinet makers and upholsterers’ and ‘printers’ both nearly doubled.
In 1867 the development of these unions was threatened by a decision of the courts. In Hornby v. Close it was declared, contrary to what had been supposed, that Union funds were not protected by law against the default of officials, the judge asserting that Unions were still illegal. During the next period they had to renew efforts to achieve recognition.
Nonconformity seemed to have been tamed during the ‘fifties, and Methodism was divided and in decline. No doubt the Low Church policy of the Government had helped to calm Dissent. But during the ‘sixties widespread revival movements were associated with a return to militancy.
This kind of movement is in its nature difficult to describe adequately. Here it is possible only to mention certain landmarks in the story and to give a general appraisal. The Liberation Society intensified its agitation in the middle ‘fifties. It now had the unequivocal support of Congregationalists, who positively refused all State aid and became the core of Voluntaryism.
In 1853 the United Kingdom Alliance was formed as a national temperance organization. The campaign against drunkenness was a vital aspect of evangelism in the nineteenth century. The Primitive Methodists, the largest of the dissident Methodist groups, were especially strict on this question.
The Alliance and the Liberation Society demanded pledges from candidates at Parliamentary elections, with growing success in the ‘sixties. In the late ‘fifties C. H. Spurgeon, whose chief ties were with the Baptists, began to draw thousands to hear his sermons at the Surrey Gardens and Exeter Hall in London.
The beginning of the great revivals, affecting most denominations, is dated to 1859. Their most striking results were achieved in Wales, where resentment against the dominance of an alien aristocracy and an alien church was enhanced and exploited by missionary activity, by a growing Welsh-language Press and by the Liberation Society.
From 1864 a National Association in Ireland agitated for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church there. The National Education League was founded in Birmingham in 1868 to bring together those, including some Nonconformists, who had begun to work for free, un-sectarian, universal primary education.
Altogether, these new organizations and this increased revivalist activity represented a large extension of Dissent and its aims. Much of the work was based in the provinces. In so far as it was associated with a political party, it was with the Liberals.
These developments were related to the growth of the Press, especially in the provinces. By 1868 fourteen provincial towns in England possessed daily newspapers, most of them Liberal in tendency. The authority of The Times was reduced as other and cheaper London dailies, principally the Daily Telegraph and the Standard, won wider if less distinguished circulations. The repeal of the ‘taxes on knowledge’ made this change possible.
Another fundamentally critical movement which had its origins in this period deserves notice here, although as yet it was of very limited scope. In 1848 Queen’s College, London, was established, the first specific effort to remedy the deficiencies of educational provision for women. F.D. Maurice was the Principal.
In 1853 the example was followed at Cheltenham Ladies’ College. Five years later the foundation of The Englishwoman’s Journal inaugurated the organized feminist movement, concerned with women’s rights. In 1865 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, having become thoroughly qualified medically as far as examinations were concerned, induced the Society of Apothecaries to enable her to practice as a doctor, the first woman to do so in Britain on a professional basis.