10.6. Improvements which were not Increases in Monetary Earnings

These were gas lighting, postage stamps, transport by rail, and easier working conditions.

The most obvious improvement for the people from the Industrial Revolution was gas lighting in the streets, the interior of public buildings, and in the factories.

Gas lighting was first implemented in streets in London in 1810, and in the majority of towns and cities by 1825; as to factories, it began in the North from 1808.

The great advantage of street lighting was the general possibility to move around the towns in the evenings, and the reduction in the activities of thieves and violent gangs. Its use in buildings particularly gave the people more hours for reading, and thus increased the level of general knowledge and of literacy.

The financial arrangement for the supply of street lighting was the formation of a public subscription company, which used the money from the subscribers to construct and operate the gas company. The company was paid by the local authority, and thus could pay dividends to the subscribers; the local authority made the payments out of funds collected from the rates. Thus street lighting was a practical improvement for the whole population, paid for by house owners.

Gas lighting for the factories in Lancashire and Yorkshire was used to illuminate the working areas of the mills, in the early morning and the evening in the winter months. Thus the mills could be run for longer hours, which meant that the companies could produce more cotton or woollen cloth, and that the workers could earn their wages during more hours.  

“This [Bradford] is one of the many towns which, when approached just after dark on a winter’s evening, present that curious species of illumination resulting from the countless windows of large factories. Five, six, seven stories of such windows are to be seen, extending to great width, and each throwing out its glare from the gas-lights within the long rooms or galleries of the factory. Those who, by residing in an agricultural county, or even in London, are not accustomed to such a sight, can scarcely form an idea of the singular effect which these symmetric specks of light produce when viewed in the aggregate from a distance.” 

(Knight, 1844, Worsted factories, p. 35)

Postage stamps for letters were introduced in 1840. These made the communication between family members in different towns much easier. In 1849, 268 million letters were sent with stamps; that is, about 15 letters per family.

Personal travel was 0.21 shillings (1700 price level) per passenger mile by stagecoach in 1800, but with third class railway fares in 1865 was 0.05 shillings per passenger mile; the journey speed instead of 7.76 miles per hour in 1820 was 23.2 miles per hour in 1870. With reference to freight, the costs by road in 1800 were 0.7 shillings per ton mile (price level 1700) and by canal were 0.25 shillings; in 1865 the costs by rail were 0.06 shillings per ton mile

(Bogart, 2013, p. 14, p. 16)

That is, the passenger ticket cost went down to 25 %, the journey time to 30 %, and the freight rate to 10 % resp. 25 %.        

In 1844, Parliament enacted a law, requiring the railway companies to run trains (generally known as “Parliamentary trains”!) with cheap tickets for the lower classes. All companies had to provide one train daily, with carriages for third-class passengers, on each track, in both directions, and stopping at all the stations, with the following conditions:

  • the fare should be 1 penny per mile;
  • the average speed should be not less than 12 miles per hour;
  • third class passengers should be protected from the weather, and be provided with seats.

(Wikipedia, “Railway Regulation Act 1844”)

The number of rail passenger journeys increased from 33,700,000 in 1845 to 60,400,000 in 1849. As to the “parliamentary trains”, there were 1,060,000 pounds paid for tickets, which corresponded to 250,000,000 passenger miles. With about 2,000,000 working-class families, that would be 25 miles per person per year (Porter, 1851, p. 330). In 1840, there were groups of three or four weavers in Manchester, who paid for a ticket for one of their number to take their cloths to Liverpool by train. 

Transport by rail was very important for the supply of food. Cattle could be killed in the town near the farm, and the carcasses moved by rail to the cities; before the railways, the cattle were walked to the city, and lost an average of 20 pounds weight each. By 1849, one million animals (killed) were reaching London each year. 

In the case of fruit and vegetables, these could be brought to the cities at lower cost than in horse vehicles; the short time in transport meant that these articles arrived practically without physical damage or over-ripening. Market gardening around London increased greatly in the 1840’s; farms in Kent were selling large amounts of cherries to Yorkshire. Manchester had a complex railway network to bring large quantities of potatoes, cabbages, turnips and carrots from the agricultural areas of Lancashire, Chester, Yorkshire, plus imports from Ireland through Liverpool. 

The easier conditions in agriculture and mines are noted in the appropriate chapters. In the mines, underground work for small children and women (which had always existed) was abolished. Cotton manufacture in the mills did not require much physical effort after the introduction of the power-loom in 1830-1850. Note: this does not only mean that the weaving work in the factory in 1850 was lighter than in the factory in 1815; it also means that the weaving work in the factory in 1850 was lighter than in the cottages in 1770, as even then the weavers had to work 10 hours a day in a difficult position.   

“I can only allude to a class of subjects so vast and so interesting that a good volume might be written on them. I refer to the thousand and one scientific inventions of the past half century [1831-1881] which have been applied in so many ways to the improvement and the manufacture of articles in use in every-day life, tending to lighten labour, make life more comfortable, and in various ways minister to our happiness. Take one very simple instance as an illustration – that of a trifling and insignificant article which, though in daily use, is thought but little of. Few people stop to bestow a moment’s thought to the great convenience promoted by its use as compared with the inconvenience which attended the striking of a light fifty years ago. People who only know the lucifer match have no idea of the trouble and inconvenience of the tinder-box and flint and steel in use fifty years ago. …..”

(J. T. Slugg, Reminiscences of Manchester Fifty Years Ago, pp. 319-320)

A final consideration for the whole of the working classes was that they could be clothed in cotton. This was lighter than wool or flannel, was durable, could be presented in many colourful designs, and was easily washed and thus more hygienic.

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