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British government since the 1800s

Autor /Dacjan Dodano /10.11.2011

Since the end of 18th century in 50 years Britain became the greatest industrial power of Europe. The country had enough coal, iron and steel to build the industry and even to export them to Europe. Heavy industrial machines were made, and also daily goods as cotton and woollen cloth was produced and sold; British cloth was one of the cheapest and best, so it was exported to all the colonies and throughout the Middle East, where it caused great misery by destroying the local industry. Britain made and owned more than a half of the world's total shipping, and the wealth was supported by a strong banking system.

Britain had a very strong railway system. When the Queen opened the Great Exhibition in 1851, lots of people came to London; most of them had never seen this town before. Even if industrialists intended the railways to transport goods and not people, it was impossible to stop the political and social reform once everyone could escape localism. Soon special passenger trains were provided, and it even became possible to transport fresh food from Scotland to London in one night.

Development of the railways caused the middle classes to move back from London to suburbs, which were copies of small villages with all advantages of a town. People lived there, and traveled to work every day by train. Lower classes moved with them - men went to work and women became servants for the middle classes. Between 1850 and 1880 most of London's area was built to provide houses, and 16% of the population were 'in service'.

Before the industrial revolution, British middle class was composed of small merchants and farmers. In the 18th century it had increased with the rise of industrialists and factory owners, but the real 'middle class boom' had started in the 19th century, composing the new middle class of people of many professions: men of Church and law, navy, armymen, civil and diplomatic service, clerks and tradespeople...

Children of rich self-made industrialists, who believed in hard work, gave themselves to banking and commercialism trying to achieve wealth by strength of mind. As their parents were Nonconformists and Liberals, young people turned to Anglicans and Tories. The successful were rewarded by knighthoods and joined the upper class.

Public pay schools, to which 'upper middle class' sent their children, trained the young people in discipline and leadership. They gave many of the officers and diplomats to the country.

In the 18th century towns were still unhealthy and overcrowded. That's the reason why the middle class backed to the suburbs. Because of lack of hygiene, in 1832 an epidemic of cholera wiped out 31 000 people. Then the city councils started to appoint health officers and build proper drains and water supplies. Some councils provided such luxuries as parks and libraries in the newly built areas. Even as the health officers tried to make new housings less crowded, workers lived in slums - lots of small shacks and houses very close together.

New towns usually grew very fast. People didn't own their houses, they rented them. Workers lived in houses consisting of four small rooms and a small backyard, which was a great improvement after the slums. Middle class tended to live in houses with small front yard and a larger backyard, where the children could play.

Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, when she died. She tried to avoid the loss of power when the Parliament gained significance, but she couldn't do anything. She married a German prince, whom she loved deeply, and after his death in 1861 she grieved so much she refused to be seen in public. This was dangerous, as she was criticized by the public. Some even said the monarchy is bound to die with the coming of democracy. Fortunately, when advised, she took more interest in life of the kingdom and soon became extraordinarily popular.

One of Queen's wise steps was publishing in 1868 a diary of her life with Prince Albert in Scotland. People loved to read about the real aristocracy and monarchs' life, which before it was secret. They were delighted to see the royal family in their daily troubles, called by their first names. The Queen even referred to servants as if they were members of her family!

The Brits shared the moral and religious values given to them, but were also deeply touched by the revealing of the monarchy's connection with the past even in this industrialized country. The monarchy was no longer endangered by the democracy.

British empire was built on trade and on the need to defend it against other Europeans. The idea of creating new colonies was very unpopular after the loss of American states, but after 1830 it became again a topic of importance. Fear that Russia would advance southwards to India resulted in a war in Afghanistan, which was lost. After this war Britain engaged itself in two more wars: in India and Pakistan.

The newspapers were able to report truthfully on only one war: in alliance with Turkey against Russia. When news came about the courage of the soldiers and poor quality of the officers, the army intervened and stopped the information flow.

Unwise treatment of Indian soldiers in British army resulted in a revolt, which soon became a national movement against Britain. The revolt was strangled and the rebels punished cruelly. The friendship between India and Britain is still strained, and as India became independent, it trusted less the British.

By the end of the 19th century, European countries agreed to divide Africa into areas of interest. Britain took most of the land and started to christianize it. Its curiosity of Africa was big, because of David Livingstone, who traveled from coast to coast and sent back reports about the places he'd seen. Unfortunately, Britain's African colonies were at war with the others. Boers fought against them in two wars, and British soldiers were defeated once by Zulu warriors. In Egypt, too, problems arose and Sudan was taken over.

Main reason for Britain's interest in colonies was rapidly increasing number of people. To solve the problem, colonies were founded in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Former inhabitants of the countries were wither pushed back or neutralized. These 'white colonies' were soon allowed to govern themselves and not depend on Britain. They still accepted the British monarch as the supreme ruler. Self-government had started as Lord Durham reported the danger of Canada's possible following the States in independence. Soon every colony had its own government and it prepared the way to "Commonwealth of Nations" from the old empire.

British people thought they have right to an empire; they even sang songs about it. But in the 20th century it became a burden rather than help. And so the colonies regained their freedom.

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