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Changes in British Culture in the Last Quarter of 19th Century Term Paper

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2019

Gives a brief summary of the different changes that took place in Britain during the period and on the key points in the paper.


Britain was among the few countries in the early 19th century that experienced a major shift in industry and infrastructure. There were a great number of inventors during this time that greatly influenced the succession of the cultural trend that was evident in the latter parts of the 19th century, with most of the changes happening in the last quarter of the century.

Inventions such as the telephone, the steam engine, the motor, the radio, the telegraph and the light bulb all culminated in the industrial revolution. This saw Britain involved in mass production of steel, textile manufacturing, advanced transport and telecommunication, use of mechanical tools among others.

By the end of the 19th century, Britain had shaped itself into one of the greatest empires of the time, with most of the rural towns being transformed into urban centers complete with railways and electricity.


The 19th century saw an intricate transformation in British architecture and largely responsible for this was the contradictory approach in design perpetuated by gothic and classic architects. The early 19th century saw the escalation of the gothic design from the Georgian style in buildings, which was further augmented by the 1818 parliamentary vote that pledged a million pounds for the building of new Anglican churches.

Consequently, most of the churches that were constructed during that period (1818-1825) were of the gothic design like is St Luke’s and Chelsea in London. In 1834, the parliamentary houses were set up for rebuilding and competition between the gothic and classic styles of architecture was intensified.

Though the houses of parliament were given a gothic design to complement Westminster hall, the classic movement gained widespread acclaim and this led to the change of the gothic style intended to design a new Indian foreign office in 1855-1872, into the Italian Renaissance form by George Gilbert. By the end of the 19th century, the classic design was largely accepted and the gothic design being reserved for churches only (Gardiner 1997, 49).

The gothic design of architecture was greatly inspired by the Romantic Movement in art and literature that was most popular in the early to mid 19th century. However, the need for familiar architecture together with the restoration of Jacobean and Queen Anne architecture brought about fierce debates in parliament that led to the adoption of the classic style of architecture.


Early 19th century houses were modest and the poor lived in two or three roomed homes. One room acted as the living space and kitchen while the other rooms were bedrooms where they slept on straw beds. Skilled workers lived in a one-story home where the two rooms upstairs were used as sleeping space and the two down stairs were the living area and kitchen where the occupants spend most of their time.

Most of these homes were in rural vicinities but the industrial revolution brought about the expansion of urban centers and a better standard of living. This led to the introduction of more comfortable homes in the late 19th century that were affordable and less congested after town councils passed specific regulations concerning the construction of houses.

By the late 1880s, most houses were built with an indoor bathroom, toilet and water heaters. Gas cookers became more common, Furniture was also in mass production, and many homes were able to afford it. Affluent Victorians had their homes decorated in Art Nouveau, which was a form of design composed of flowing lines etched onto the walls and styled hedges, flower gardens and lawns (Brunskill 2000, 27).


The early 19th century saw the emergence of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was the leading art contributor of that period. The movement mainly focused on religious, fictional and narrowed subjects that were colorfully portrayed and immensely detailed (Loades 1999, 32). Though the Pre-Raphaelites style was initially not widely accepted, over time it became a popular form of art that was highly copied by artists from all over Britain and parts of Europe.

Dante Gabriel and John Everett were among the first artists to contribute to the Pre-Raphaelite movement and helped establish it in 1840s with the addition of other talented members like Holman Hunt.

Landscape painting was also immensely popular during the early 19th century and proved to be a cornerstone in British art. Richard Bonington, Constable, John Sell Cotman, Robert Cozens, Turner and Thomas Girtin were among the first artists to popularize landscape art through their vibrant pieces.

The late 19th century saw a divergence into the crafts, with the introduction of the Arts and Crafts Movement that encouraged the design of hand made goods and crafts. Leading artists included William Etty, who chiefly concentrated on the nude, Randolph Caldecott, John Tenniel, and William Morris who specialized in book illustrations, Edward Landseer focused on animal pictures and George Watts’ Victorian expressions.

Late 19th century saw an influx in French artists who criticized the storytelling descriptiveness that was the basis of Victorian art, gradually but persistently influencing British artists into concentrating more on texture, color, tone and form. French influence is to a great extent underscored in works by artists such as Wilson Steer, Augustus John and Walter Sickert (Beryly 1999, 101).


The industrial revolution brought about the transformation of labor from small scale to large scale after the establishment of industries (Sears 1973, 67-68). Most people in the early 19th century made a living from home based workshops and small-scale farming. The introduction of textile industries brought about the demand for labor and children were recruited to fill in the vacuum.

By late 19th century, a variety of careers for skilled workers had been created and categorized in accordance to skill and pay (Hobsbawm 1994, 52). These included Production, plastics and Metalworkers, supervisors, wood craftsmen, mechanical operators, textile and furnishing workers among others.

Professionals such as Architects, Cartographers, Surveyors, and Engineers were also recognized (Foster 2004 53). This form of grouping eventually led to the association of workers under the same category and consequently trade unions were formed.


In early 19th century, Britain had men wearing trousers and cotton shirts under a waistcoat and coat. This form of attire contained three layers of dressing and was largely fashionable. Women wore cotton dresses that had puffed sleeves and under the dresses, they put on crinoline made of steel wire or a corset, (Simson 1996, 88).

Gradually the bustle was introduced in the latter part of the 19th century and was recognized by the flat front and bulging back of the dresses. Women also first wore knickers or knickerbockers in the latter part of the 19th century, while women in the early 19th century wore drawers that were cumbersome for they were equivalent to tight fitting trousers.

Children during this time wore similar clothes to the adults, but the last quarter of the 19th century saw the introduction of clothes specially made for children (Lambert, 2008).

Early 19th century clothes were made by a seamstress, the process was long, and tedious but with the introduction of advanced sewing machines and industrialization of the textile industry in the late 19th century, clothes became cheaper and readily available.

Shoes remained expensive through out the 19th century for they were hand made and there lacked an industry specializing in shoe production. Clothing differentiated social classes and this was evident because Wealthy men wore top hats, middle class men wore bowler hats while the working people wore cloth caps.

Victorian women wore chemises, parasols, jewelry, petticoats, corsets, drawers, hats, gloves, shoes and boots. Part of the reason why there was rapid progression in fashion in the latter 19th century was because of the class difference (Williams 2006, 107).

No sooner had a new upper-class trend emerged than the lower class copied it. This drove demand by upper class for better and unique designs and with the presence of capable technologies, led to steadily more elaborate fashions.


Britain had exceptional grammar schools and universities prior to the 19th century. Churches were responsible for educating children from poor families and orphans albeit no schools taught science subjects (Clow 1952, 33). In the late 19th century, new developments in industries provided the need for science subjects such as chemistry and the state was forced to take control of the educational sector.

The Victorian economy witnessed individual industries fail due to lack of managerial and organizational skills (Hudson 2000, 19). This was accredited to lack of actuarial education considering the primary education was poor, grammar schools mainly focused on classics and industrial courses were not studied in University because they lacked compulsory education.

The state therefore intervened, and primary education was made compulsory in 1870. Public schools were instructed to introduce science in the curriculum and build laboratories. The state went ahead to establish central exams, technical schools and colleges and teaching allowances.

In 1880 education was made compulsory for every 5 to 10 years old with the introduction of The Fosters Education Act. From 1899, children were required to go to school until they were 12 for a fee (Daunton 1995, 16).


In the early 19th century, employees usually had a day off on Sunday. Gradually, skilled employees in the late 19th century began taking Saturday afternoon off and eventually the whole of Saturday too. Football was recognized as a recreational activity and an organization called The London Football Association was formed to govern it in 1863.

Other sports such as tennis, cycling, rugby, croquet and volleyball all came to the limelight in the 19th century and the availability of free time during weekends led to these sports going mainstream in the late 19th century. Indoor games and board games such as ludo became more common and book-reading clubs became familiar social literature events.

Other activities included musicals, singing groups and middle class Victorians attended plays in theatres (Chambliss 1973, 20). Department stores were common phenomena for shoppers, with the first one having been introduced as early as 1863. Late 19th century also saw the construction of public recreation parks that were aimed at providing space for leisure.


Through out the 19th century, Britain went through the most metamorphic period in its entire history. Primarily responsible for this was the industrial revolution that brought about an immense change in culture due to the urbanization of several rural areas and the increase in earnings for individuals.

Education however lagged behind as compared to other civilized societies of Britain’s caliber, and this was due to lack of science subjects in schools that preferred to teach a more traditional form of education based on culture. Houses were primarily of the same design in the earlier parts of the century, but there was a gradual shift to a variety of designs that saw buildings drastically change in design.

Homes of the well to do were dominated by portraits especially through out the latter part of the century, and affluent Victorians rarely lacked portrait of family members in their homes. Some of the greatest but less known contributors to the industrial revolution at the time were the entrepreneurs and inventors.

These groups of individuals were accountable for the turn of British small-scale production to mass production of goods and consequently creation of employment. Inventions such as the steam engine, the railway, the radio, the bicycle, the gas cooker, the sewing machine and the telephone were the catalysts that acted as precursors to the industrial revolution and played a major role in the transformation of the British culture.


Brunskill, Roberts. 2000. Houses and cottages of Britain: origins and development of traditional buildings. London: Oxford University Press.

Byerly, Alison. 1999. “Effortless Art: The Sketch in Nineteenth-Century Painting and Literature’. Web.

Chambliss, William. 1973. Problems of Industrial Society. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

Clow, Archibald. 1952. Chemical Revolution. London: Ayer Co.

Daunton, Mogan. 1995. “”. Web.

Foster, Charles. 2004. Capital and Innovation: How Britain Became the First Industrial Nation. Northwich: Arley Hall Press.

Gardiner, Juliet. 1997. The Columbia companion to British history. Michigan: Columbia University Press.

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1994. The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd.

Hudson, Pat. 1973. The Industrial Revolution. London: Oxford University Press.

Lambert, Tim. 2008. “”. 2008. Web.

Loades, Doyle. 1999. Reader’s guide to British history. Los Angeles: Macmillan Publishers.

Sears, Stephen. 1973. The Horizon history of the British Empire. New York: Time-Life Books.

Simson, Howard. 1996. Britain in the 19th century. New York: penguin press.

Williams, Chris. 2006. A Companion to 19th Century Britain. London: Blackwell Publishers.

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