Urbanization Of 18th Century Essay

In Urban Society At the end of the 18th century a revolution in energy and
industry began in England and spread rapidly all around Europe later in the 19th
century, bringing about dramatic and radical change. A significant impact of the
Industrial Revolution was that on urban society. The population of towns grew
vastly because economic advantage entailed that the new factories and offices be
situated in the cities. The outlook of the city and urban life in general were
profoundly modified and altered. Modern industry created factory owners and
capitalists who strengthened the wealth and size of the middle class. Beside the
expansion of the bourgeoisie, the age of industrialization saw the emergence of
a new urban proletariat – the working class. The life of this new group and its
relations with the middle class are controversial issues to modern history. Some
believe that the Industrial Revolution “inevitably caused much human
misery” and affliction. Other historians profess that Industrialization
brought economic improvement for the laboring classes. Both conclusions should
be qualified to a certain extent. Economic growth does not mean more happiness.

Given the contemporary stories by people at that time, life in the early urban
society seems to have been more somber than historians are usually prow to
describe it. No generalities about natural law or inevitable development can
blind us to the fact, that the progress in which we believe has been won at the
expense of much injustice and wrong, which was not inevitable. Still, I believe
that industry was a salvation from a rapid population growth and immense
poverty. Furthermore, by the end of the 19th century the appearance of European
cities and life in them had evolved and change for the better. Industrialization
was preceded and accompanied by rapid population growth, which began in Europe
after 1720. People had serious difficulty providing their subsistence by simply
growing their food. There was widespread poverty and underemployment. Moreover,
the need for workers in the city was huge. More and more factories were opening
their doors. The result of this was a vast migration from the countryside to the
city where peasants were already being employed. “The number of people
living in the cities of 20000 or more in England and Wales jumped from 1.5
million in 1801 to 6.3 million by 1891″ (Mckay, 762). With this mass exodus
from the countryside, life in urban areas changed drastically. Overcrowding
exacerbated by lack of sanitation and medical knowledge made life in the city
quite hard and miserable. A description of Manchester in 1844, given by one of
the most passionate critics of the Industrial Revolution, Friederich Engels,
conveys in great detail the deplorable outlook of the city. “…the
confusion has only recently reached its height when every scrap of space left by
the old way of building has been filled up or patched over until not a foot of
land is left to be further occpupied” (Engels 2). Lack of sanitation caused
people to live in such filth and scum that is hard to imagine. “In dry
weather, a long string of the most disgusting, blackish-green, slime pools are
left standing on this bank, from depths of which bubbles of miasmatic gas
constantly arise and give forth a stench unendurable even on the bridge forty or
fifty feet above the surface of the stream” (Engels 2). The appalling
living conditions in the city during the early stages of the Industrial
Revolution brought about two important changes. By developing his famous germ
theory of disease, Louis Pasteur brought about the so-called Bacterial
revolution and lead the road to taming the ferocity of the death in urban areas
caused by unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions. The theory that disease
was inflicted by microorganisms completely revolutionized modern medicine and
brought about the important health movement in the city. After 1870 sanitation
was a priority on the agenda lists of city administration in most industrialized
European countries. Urban planning and transportation after 1870 transformed
European cities into beautiful and enchanting places. Water supply systems and
waste disposals construction were accompanied by the building of boulevards,
townhalls, theaters, museums. The greatest innovation in this area at the time
-the electric streetcar- immensely facilitated the expansion of the city and
helped alleviate the problem of overcrowding. A good example of urban planning
and transportation was the rebuilding of Paris, which laid the foundations of
modern urbanism all around Europe. The appearance of the city and the quality of
life in it greatly improved by the end of the 19th century. But, living
conditions in the city during the Industrial Revolution were pretty bad, a
factor that greatly contributed to the bad plight of the working class at that
time. As urban civilization was starting to prevail over rural life, changes in
the structure of the society and in family life became inevitable. Urban society
became more diversified while the classes lost a great part of their unity.

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Economic specialization produced many new social groups. It created a vast range
of jobs, skills and earnings, which intermingled with one another creating new
subclasses. Thus the very rich and the very poor were separated by the vast
space occupied by these new strata. Urban society resembled the society from the
age of agriculture and aristocracy by one thing. The economic gap between rich
and poor remained enormous and income distribution stayed highly unequal with
one fifth of society receiving more than the remaining four fifths. With the
emergence of the factory owners and industrial capitalists, he relations between
the middle and the working class changed. But did the new industrial middle
class ruthlessly exploit the workers? I believe that at the begging this was
certainly the case. People were coming to the city as “family units”
and as such worked in the factories. “In the early years some very young
kids were employed solely to keep the family together” (Mckay 718). The
conditions of work were appalling. An excerpt from Parliamentary Papers in
England named “Evidence Before the Sadler Committee”, mirrors the
quite dark side of life in the factories. In this testimony several people who
worked at factories in different industries and towns in England draw a vivid
picture of the factory reality. Both children and grownups were made to work
fourteen to sixteen hours a day with only an hour brake and a salary that was
hardly intended to compensate the tremendous load of work. Children were
“strapped” “severely” if they lagged and deteriorated their
work. The sight of the workers reflected their sad plight. “Any man …must
acknowledge, that an uglier set of men and women, of boys and girls, taking them
in the mass it would be impossible to imagine…Their complexion is sallow…

Their sature low…Their limbs slender and playing badly and ungracefully…

Great numbers of girls and women walking lamely or awkwardly, with raised chests
and spinal flexures” (Gaskell, 1). Miserable life and poverty allowed
people few recreational outlets and money to spend. For this reason a process of
corruption and degradation of morals spread among working class people. An
illustration of this is the proliferation of prostitution at the time. The
continuing distance between rich and poor made for every kind of debauchery and
sexual exploitation. Important factor in the degradation of morals that spread
through urban society and the working classes in particular was the diminishing
role that religion played in daily live. Urban society became more secular and
more and more people started to regard the church as conservative institution
that defended social order and custom. As a result of this illegitimacy and
sexual experimentation before marriage triumphed during the 19th century.

Women’s actively entering the labor force was a new development spurred by the
Industrial Revolution. In the preindustrial world women did leave home at an
early age in search for work but their opportunities were limited. The service
in another family’s household was by far the most common. The employment of
girls and women in factories had an important effect on their stereotypic role
of household carers. It weaned them away from home and the domestic tasks.

“Shut up from morning till night, except when they are sent home for their
meals, these girls are ignorant of and unhandy at every domestic
employment” (“Observations on the Loss of Woolen Spinning,
1794″). However, the plight of the urban working class changed as the
growth of modern cities approached the end of the 19th century. The average real
income raised substantially. The practice of employing children from an early
age was abandoned. Less and less women were working in sweated industries.

Instead men were the primary wage earners while women stayed at home taking care
of the household and the children. The early practice of hiring entire families
in the factory disappeared. Family life became more stable, as mercenary
marriages were substituted by romantic love. Sex roles in urban society became
highly distinct. The most distressing changes brought to urban society
-overcrowding, lack of urban planning, unsanitary conditions, unemployment and
poverty -were eventually offset by the compensation and remedy of economic
growth. Urban society not only change for the better. This change was a
remarkable step for humanity. For one thing, the city promoted diversity and
creativity. It was the uncontested home of new ideologies, ideas, movements,
crucial scientific discoveries, customs, fashions, developments in art and

Gaskell, P. “The Physical Deterioration of the textile Workers.” 27
Sept. 1997. 23 April. 2000. www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html Engels,
Friederich. “Industrial Manchester,1844.” 27 Sept. 1997. 23 April.

2000. www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html “Observations on the Loss
of Woolen Spinning,1794.” 27 Sept. 1997. 23 April. 2000. www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html
“Evidence Given Before the Sadler Committee.” 27 Sept. 1997. 23 April.

2000. www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.html McKay P., Buckler, Hill.

“History of Western Society.” 3th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1987. 630-631


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