The Victorians: topic summary

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By John Davis

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This period of time is named after Queen Victoria who ruled Britain for over sixty years (1837-1901). Victoria is Britain’s second longest reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth II is the longest). Victoria was married to Prince Albert and had nine children, many of whom married into the royal families of other European countries. During her reign, Britain went through what has become known as the Industrial Revolution, when many goods, particularly iron, steel and textiles, were produced and new devices invented. Many of these goods were show-cased in the Great Exhibition which was held in London in 1851 and attracted thousands of visitors. Britain also controlled a huge empire abroad including Canada, India, Australia and countries in Africa.

While the wealthy grew rich on their factories and properties, life for most of the population was extremely difficult – especially those living in large cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester where they faced the problems of crowded housing, polluted rivers and smokey air. Many families moved from the countryside to find work in these cities. Life for children was particularly tough and many were forced to carry out difficult, dirty and dangerous jobs in order to raise enough money to keep families in food and shelter. Children, some of them under ten years old, worked in factories, down mines and were even sent up chimneys to keep them clear of soot. Children were cheap labour and were able to work in very cramped conditions because of their small size. In the countryside they picked up stones, fed livestock and helped with the harvest. Families who could not look after themselves ended up in the workhouse-places run by local charities. Many of the things that children experienced are featured in stories by the famous Victorian writer Charles Dickens, for example, the stories Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

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