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 labourer 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 Clapham. 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 labourers 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'...
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