Living conditions in 19th Century Britain.

Written by Victoria Scott | 14 September 2012

          During the 19th century Britain became the world’s first industrial society, and because of the large population boom during the time, it also became the first urban society; by 1851 more than half of the population lived in towns. In 100 years the population increased but a staggering 32 million, from 9 million in 1801 to 41 million in 1901.

      As developments in technical and mechanical fields expanded out into farming regions, it meant there was a reduced need for people to work on farms, so many people decided to move into the cities to get a better job and look for suitable accommodation. The cities that they flocked to were not prepared for such an influx of people in such a short period, so these cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and London needed cheap housing and quick.

            How the citizens lived in in the newly industrialised society, the well off would have lived in very comfortable houses, that were well furnished, and for the first time furniture was mass-produced. There houses would have been overcrowded with furniture and ornaments as well as pointless knick-knacks as they were easier to buy now days; but there was only a small minority of people who could actually afford this lifestyle. While the working classes would live in squalor, in Britain the housing for the poor was often horrific, they usually lived in ‘back-to-back’ housing, the back of one house would be joined onto the back of another and there windows were only situated on one side of the house. The house would only have 3 or two rooms. The worst type of homes would be the cellar dwellings, these were one room cellars and they were damp and poorly ventilated. The poorest of the working class would sleep on piles of straw as they could not afford beds.

      People who couldn’t afford to look after themselves, such as children, the elderly and the ill would be sent to the workhouse. Life in a workhouse was intended to be harsh for its inhabitants. However in the workhouse there was free medical care and education for children, neither of which was not available for the working class/ poor citizens of England, so until the early 2oth century workhouse inmates were advantaged over the general public as they were given much more help.

          However during the indusrialisastion of Britain parliament decided they needed to become less laissez faire and act now.  So within time conditions gradually improved, during the 1840′s local councils passed laws banning cellar dwellings, they also banned any new back-to-backs from being built, the old ones were gradually demolished over time and replaced. As the 19th century progressed many more working class people could afford to have a more luxurious lifestyle; they would live in ‘through houses’, ones that were not joined by another house at the back. They would usually have two rooms downstairs and two up. After 1875 most towns finally passed building regulations which stated, among other things, that new houses must be a certain distance apart, rooms must be a certain size and have windows of a certain size. By the end of the 19th century some houses for skilled workers were built with what was the latest luxury, an indoor toilet.

3 Pieces of Extra Learning

Joe Turner

says: Posted 9 May 2013 at 8:50 am

It wasnt all about building houses also it was disease that spread quickly through crowded towns and cities.


says: Posted 14 November 2013 at 10:34 am

The social conditions depends on the area they were in. during the industrial revolution people moved from the country to the city for work but unfortunately capitalist and business men could’nt careless about investing in housing for the change in living and working environment so the cities became common with slums in the early 19th century and most of the 18th. Country life was a lot better and middle class and aristocrats never had to worried about their living standards. in fact most moved from the city to built big houses to get away from the working class in the slums. this doesn’t apply to London!!

tip if you really want to know about working class life, don’t bother with museums they were funded by the aristocrats and the wealthy so they isn’t a lot of information there. you’re better of visiting area’s such as peterloo where there was a massacre of people who want the right to vote. not to mention the online national archives as information and social issues housing and poverty. don’t ever read work that has been submitted online that has no references or bibliography as it could be just opinions with no evidence and no better than wikipaedia where a lot of information is false!!!!

steveygtfdah fdhdfgyyuopxyz

says: Posted 14 December 2013 at 7:09 pm

Well `back to back` houses were also known as `Ti-Tudan` Houses or a `Dubhouse`

Extra Learning

Please help to extend the learning in this article by adding your own views, tips and resources which you thing are useful for future readers.