The Excursion Day song sheet
(Elton Collection: Ironbridge Gorge
Human Benefit of Industrialisation
Although there were new hardships to face, for all but the poorest industrialisation brought cheaper goods, including washable cotton cloth and soap that helped to improve hygiene. The cities’ water and sewage systems were gradually improved following public protest, and street cleaning and lighting were introduced.
During this period, farms had become bigger (mainly through mergers and the dispossession of defaulting tenants) and had entered into specialist mass production, producing more food than the local market could support. With the development of the rail system, food could now be transported faster, further and more efficiently, taking up this surplus. Improved farming methods and an increase in food imports led to the possibility of having a more varied diet. Mass produced canned goods were available from the 1860s and refrigeration from the 1870s.
There were more labour-saving devices and appliances, opening up the possibility of freeing women from the confines of the home or, at least, easing some of the toil of domestic servants. The role of housewives as the managers of the home meant that they had consumer power and thus determined which products succeeded and which failed. However, the growing expectation of having permanently immaculate houses brought new pressures.
The expansion of the railway made the seaside – already popular with the upper classes – more accessible and, increasingly, people could go on day-trip excursions, taking advantage of Sunday closing brought in by the 1850 Factory Act, special fares and the introduction of the Wakes week holiday. Many trips were paid for by employers who could see the economic benefits of improving their workers’ health through exposure to clean sea air. Concerned about the social mixing and liberated hedonism of popular seaside destinations, wealthier individuals began looking at the prospect of holidays abroad, many enjoying the packages offered by Thomas Cook, a teetotaller of good moral standing.
Philanthropic businessmen, who had profited from the industrial growth, had an increasing sense of civic pride and duty, working with local authorities to establish public parks, museums, libraries and galleries for entertainment and education. Many believed that aiding mental improvement in their workers would create a stabilised society, a society that would be better for all to live in. Robert Owen from New Lanark, for example, provided musical instruction for all employees to enhance their mental capacity. Team games, such as football, were encouraged, that would develop the principles of obedience as well as promote healthy living and national identity.
Easier access to published written material – including local newspapers – encouraged the development of literacy and an interest in learning.
First shilling day at Great Exhibition: Dickinson Brothers lithograph
(Elton Collection: Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust)