The Industrial Revolution was another of those extraordinary jumps forward in the story of civilization

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Monique Souma

HIP TASK 2- Draft Essay
The Industrial Revolution was another of those extraordinary jumps forward in the story of civilization”(Stephan Gardiner)
Assess the extent to which this view reflects the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the British working class to 1900.
General Argument:

  • This view doesn’t completely reflect the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the working class

  • Although there is debate as to how the Industrial Revolution affected the working class, the view doesn’t incorporate the negative aspects of the Industrial revolution.


It is true to a certain extent that Stephan Gardiner’s view of the Industrial Revolution as progressive reflects the impact of Industrialisation on the British working class to 1900. Although this view focuses on the long-term benefits of the Industrial Revolution in developing civilization, it disregards the disfigurement of the working class as a result of the Industrial revolution. Despite the extensive debate amongst modern historians about the overall social effect of Industrialisation on the British working class, it is evident that the workers did endure both positive and negative consequences. In support of Stephan Gardener’s view, some scholars suggest that, although the Industrial Revolution, in its initial phases, did not provide the working class with a sustainable quality of life, it did gradually improve the living conditions of the working class throughout the 19th century. Also, it is suggested that the Industrial revolution was a source of empowerment for the working class. On the contrary, other historians and scholars argue that the Industrial Revolution was a purely a problematic period where capitalist growth subjected the working class to harsh working conditions and poor health and further increased the social division between the rich and poor. Hence, it is evident that the Industrial Revolution cannot be merely labeled as progressive, as before 1900, the working class suffered poor living and working conditions, an aspect that should not be disregarded.

Paragraph 1

Main Idea: Poor conditions – factories + harsh living conditions = shows that Stephan Gardiners view ignores this and generalises the impact by labelling it as “extraordinary jump forward”

Topic Sentence: Prior to 1900, the British working classes’ subjection to low standards of living and strict regimes in factories, limits the extent to which the Industrial Revolution can be seen as advantageous.


  • There is a substantial amount of primary & secondary evidence that suggests the working class suffered poor/ harsh conditions + long working hours + child labour was prevalent

  • Figures such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Jerrold Blanchard and Gustave Dore argue against the ‘tyranny’ of capitalist growth and highlight the poor health the working class were subject to

  • Social reformer Edwin Chadwick reports on sanitary conditions from 1842 & suggests the conditions were the worst in the dwellings of the lower classes -The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842)

  • Long working hours/ child labour: "We went to the mill at five in the morning. We worked until dinner time and then to nine or ten at night” ~ Man interviewed in 1849 who had worked in a mill as a child.

  • Karl Marx highlights how the working class experienced “crushing poverty and the soullessness of factory life” (Kenny Charles- 2014)

  • Some observers who in 1840 stated that the hand loom weavers “are decayed in their bodies; the who race of them rapidly descending to the size of Lilliputians”

Paragraph 2

Main Idea: Although the workers were subject to harsh conditions when Industrialisation rapidly emerged, the standard of living gradually improved towards the latter part of the 19th century + the quality of life improved when compared to pre-industrial Britain.

Topic Sentence: Although the working class did experience a lack of rights and freedoms in the initial stages of Industrial development, the Industrial revolution can also be seen as progressive as the standard of living gradually improved.


  • Some Historians, such as G.R Porter, highlights how technological progress was in fact beneficial for the working class. This benefit is evident in Industrial developments such as the invention of the printing press, which circulated books, and articles, and was made available to the working class. This further saw an increase in literacy rates of the working class towards the latter part of the 19th Century.

  • Scholars Denis Richards and J. W. Hunt support porter in suggesting that:

  • The terraces of old little brick houses that sprang up in towns were badly built/ not appealing but they were more healthy & comfortable than any of the rural cottages

  • Work in the factories, although long and arduous, was better paid than working in the fields

  • Children were beaten in factories, but children were beaten long before factories came into existence

  • Also, professor James Tanner, a leading expert in human biology, suggests that the average values of children’s weights and heights accurately reflect the average nutritional status of citizens of the same class. This is because both work effort and the disease environment are likely to be reflected in height.

  • In the article “Some Dimensions of the ‘Quality of Life’ during the British Industrial Revolution”, the scholar N. F. R. Crafts, suggests that the standards of living increased from 1760 to 1850. Thus, the Industrial Revolution improved the quality of life of the working class when compared to pre-industrial Britain.

  • This view is reinforced through statistics from “Heights, health and history” (Floud et al, pg. 142-7), which uses the height of army recruits (aged 20-3) in a particular year to compare the standard of living. I have inserted the statistics below:













  • Also, I think it is important to acknowledge in this paragraph that the conditions of the working class were still not great but were gradually improving when compared to conditions of the past British society.

Paragraph 3

Main Idea: Increase in social division/ power differences between employer and employee = exploitation of the working class + negative impact

Topic Sentence: In addition, the extent to which the Industrial Revolution can be regarded as progressive is limited by the unequal distribution of power amongst the British population, which subjected the working class to a poorer quality of life.


  • The Industrial Revolution gave birth to the working class, thus the working class were ‘products’ of the Industrial Revolution + they were under the control of the employer

  • The middle and upper classes were often awarded with many privileges + the greater volume and variety of factory goods raised the standard of living for the middle/ upper class). But at what cost?

  • The poor and working classes faced many challenges and were unable to access the same standard of living as those who were wealthier.

  • This is supported by the scholar Roderick Floud (1983) as he suggests that the middle and upper class noticed physical indifferences between themselves and the rest of the working class. And as: “Nutrition and the environment affect stature, which can be taken as the summation of all influences on economic welfare” (Daunton, Progressand poverty, pg. 440) it is evident that the working class were subdued to harsher conditions than the middle/upper classes.

  • Also in Wages of Labour (1844), Karl Marx claims: “Political Economy regards the proletarian ... like a horse, he must receive enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him, during the time when he is not working, as a human being.” This suggests the working class were regarded as ‘animals’ and thus were deprived of higher standards of living due to the political economy/ capitalist ideology

Paragraph 4

Main Idea: The negative conditions placed on working class people as a result of the Industrial Revolution brought the question of the rights of man/ social justice into the public sphere/ public consciousness. Although the working class suffered poor quality of life/ exploitation, the Industrial Revolution also impacted their lives as it lead to the questioning human/civil rights + fair treatment + equality. This empowered the working class as they gradually became more knowledgeable of what equality was and how it could be achieved. * I will also acknowledge that although the Rights of Man were established in 1791, as they came out of the radical discourse of the 18th century (e.g. French Revolution), the negative conditions of the working class enabled the public to recognise the injustices/ inequality in the society

Topic Sentence: Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution can be labelled as an “extraordinary jump forward” as the negative conditions endured by the working class people as a result of Industrialisation encouraged the civic investigation into the notion of human rights and freedoms.


  • Friedrich Engels in “Condition of the Working Class in England” (1845) states: “The workers must strive to escape from this brutalising condition, to secure for themselves a better, more human position; and this they cannot do without attacking the interest of the bourgeoisie which consists in exploiting them.”  this highlights how the negative conditions the working class were experiencing encouraged the investigation into how an individual’s rights and freedoms are being abused. In particular, the workers were able to recognise how the bourgeoisie (social class who owns the means of production) were exploiting them.

  • In the 1840’s Hetherington and Ernest Jones began writing about the oppressive relationship of Labour and capital.  This accentuates the idea that as the working class were experiencing injustice they developed a greater understanding of justice and how it can/should be attained

  • The chartist movement also provides evidence for the increased awareness of injustice. The scholar R.G. Morris (1983) highlights how the working class, experienced suffering in order to be aware of the inequality they encounter and thus become empowered to gain greater rights and freedom. This is suggested through the Chartist movement, as it was a working-class movement for political reform.

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