The Human Aspect

The Human Aspect

The Human Aspect

In the l8th century, the population grew at a faster rate than ever before. There are four primary reasons which may be cited for this growth: a decline in the death rate, an increase in the birth rate, the virtual elimination of the dreaded plagues and an increase in the availability of food. The latter is probably the most significant of these reasons, for English people were consuming a much healthier diet.
One can find a myriad of reasons for the growth of the population, in addition to those above. Industry provided higher wages to individuals than was being offered in the villages. This allowed young people to marry earlier in life, and to produce children earlier. The old system of apprenticeship did not allow an apprentice to marry. City life provided young people with a greater choice of prospective partners, in contrast to the limited choices in some isolated village. Finally, industry provided people with improved clothing and housing, though it took a long time for housing conditions to improve.
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With the adoption of the factory system, we find a shift in population. Settlements grew around the factories. In some cases, housing was provided to workers by their employers, thus giving the factory owners greater control over the lives of his workers. In some cases, factories started in existing towns, which was desirable because a labour pool was readily available.
The prime consideration for locating a factory was the availability of power. The early form of power was derived directly from moving water. Thus, we find factories cropping up in the hills near streams and rivers. Later, when steam power was developed, factories could be located near any source of water. Other factories, such as those involved in the manufacture of iron, had considerations of a different kind involving their location.
Due to the great difficulty in moving bulk materials, such as iron ore, these mills had to be located close to the mineral source. In such situations, large communities grew directly above the seams of ore in the earth. The development of the steam engine to drive machinery freed the mill owners from being locked into a site that was close to swiftly moving water. The steam powered mill still had to be located near a source of water, though the field of choice was much wider. Also, factories could be located closer to existing population centers or seaports, fulfilling the need for labour and transportation of materials. The towns that grew in the North were crowded, dirty and unregulated. They grew so rapidly that no one took the time to consider the consequence of such conditions. In the areas of public sanitation and public health, ignorance reigned. No one understood the effects of these unsanitary conditions upon humans. Conditions in these densely populated areas worsened to the point of the reappearance of outbreaks of disease. In the mid-1800s there were several outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. Some attention to these conditions was accorded by Parliament in the form of Public Health Acts. These acts did improve conditions, though they were largely ineffective, for they did not grant local Boards of Health the powers to compel improvements.
E. Royston Pike’s Hard Times is literally a treasure chest brimming with short stories that document living and working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. These stories may be utilized in the classroom in a variety of ways, and they should be quite effective in conveying the reality of life during this period. Pages 43-57 of Pike’s book provide an excellent overview of typical living conditions.