The Literature of England's Industrial Revolution


England’s Industrial Revolution began in the mid-18th century and had a profound impact on history, and especially on literature. From all the suffering caused by the rise of the factories, one good thing did emerge – a new form of literature, based on the common man and imagination.


Before the Industrial Revolution, England was a land of small farms and cottage industries. Most of the country folk lived on a few acres and grew vegetables, grains, and a few head of livestock. Their cattle and sheep usually grazed in communal pastures owned by the state. The cottage industries were small family-run businesses that produced goods like candles, lace, clothing apparel, pottery, wheels, wagons, leather items, and other articles used on an everyday basis by the general population. On weekends and market days, the cottage industry owners took their wares to town to sell.


Of course, none of the owners of these cottage industries became wealthy from their small businesses, but they were able to survive. They grew much of their own food, and when they needed something they couldn’t grow or make themselves, they either sold something to earn the money to buy what they needed, or they used the barter system.


Once the factories began mass producing such items, the cottage industries were put out of business. Factories could produce the goods faster and cheaper, so the home business owners were put out of work and left with no income. They had little choice but to move to the big industrialized cities like London or Liverpool to find employment in the very factories that put them out of business.


The Industrial Revolution also had a profound impact on small farmers. The communal grazing lands that had provided much of the food for their cattle and sheep were taken over by the state and turned into private hunting lands for the aristocracy. Since the poor farmers now had no way to feed their livestock, they were put out of business, too – just like the cottage industries. And like the home business owners, the farmers had little choice but to move to the cities to work in the factories.


For those who refused to leave their homes, or for those who couldn’t find factory work, their only other choice was to go on public welfare, referred to as “the dole.”


Conditions in the factories and in the cities that supported them were deplorable. Employees had to work long hours, six days a week, in dangerous conditions. The government turned a blind eye to all this, and a policy of laissez-faire was followed. “Laissez-faire” is French for “let them do as they please.” In other words, there was no government intervention in the running of the factories. It seems as long as the factories were adequately producing, the state cared nothing about the workers. Safety laws and child labor laws were nonexistent.


The living conditions of most of the factory workers were crowded and filthy. Several families might share the same flat, and more than a hundred individuals often had to share a toilet. When the Window Tax was imposed, the workers couldn’t even afford fresh air or sunlight. Windows were nailed shut and painted over to avoid paying the tax. Most factory workers lived and worked in utter misery, seeing no escape from their drudgery.


Poets like William Blake detested the Industrial Revolution, and many of his poems echoed this sentiment. Other poets followed his lead. In 1798, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge emerged on the scene when they published a book of poems entitled Lyrical Ballads. The two young writers broke with the writing traditions of the past by focusing on the common people and on the imaginative powers of the human mind. They spoke to and for the factory workers and others who felt helpless and powerless. They also drew attention to the plight of the downtrodden and abused, which gradually led to improved working and living conditions.





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Comments 27 comments

RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

gorgeous article Habee!! love to you!!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Love to you, too!

WryLilt profile image

WryLilt 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

Window tax? I'd never heard of that. Sounds ridiculous and unhealthy!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

It was VERY unhealthy!

Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 6 years ago from California

lol @ window tax. Nice world to live in, eh? (Seriously nice and very tidy work for the 30 minute challenge to0... you are a writing machine!)

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Shady. I taught this stuff for years! lol

Cagsil profile image

Cagsil 6 years ago from USA or America

Very nicely written Habee. Awesome work in 30 minutes. :) The windows tax is funny too. I had to laugh. Thank you for sharing. :)

lorlie6 profile image

lorlie6 6 years ago from Bishop, Ca

Window tax? Sounds like something modern day politicos would come up with!

Great job, Holle!

Betty Reid profile image

Betty Reid 6 years ago from Texas

Wow, you wrote this in 30 minutes! You must really know your stuff. Very impressive!

Mikeydoes profile image

Mikeydoes 6 years ago from Fl,IL,IND

Very great hub! Puts my 30 minute one to shame!

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

Beautiful write. I'm for more cottage industries!

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Excellent Hub, Habee. Nicely researched.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I think that period right up to Second World War was the biggest exploitation mankind ever saw. Especially in England. They had an Empire and look how they treated the people. The slums were absolutely unbelievable. I don't know how ever anybody could have survived there for one day.

tlpoague profile image

tlpoague 6 years ago from USA

Great hub! This reminds me of the Norman Rockwell paintings. He painted about a life he wished he could live.

GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 6 years ago from Northern California

Very nice Hub. Love UK history.

Karanda profile image

Karanda 6 years ago from Australia

Amazing that you could write this in 30 minutes, even if you did spend years teaching the material.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Ray. The window tax was terrible!

Laurel, don't give our congresscritters any ideas! lol

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Betty, I taught it so long that I have it memorized!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Mikey, yours was good, too!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Mick, so am I. I also love the barter system!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Rob. All this was from memory - I taught this stuff for years.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

right, HH. From the Industrial Revolution through that period you refer to was terrible for many Brits!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

tlpoague, thanks for reading!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Garnet, I love Brit history!

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Karanda, many thanks. When you teach the same thing several times a day for years, it's hard to forget!

alexia 4 years ago

ia une istory very nice and importante for the people and une good exemplo for the usa.

jenni 4 years ago

ummmm i think is very ogly haa

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