e2bn E2BN
Victorian Crime and Punishment
HomePrisoner case studiesPrisoners19th Century JusticeTeachers Area

19th Century Justice homepage

Conditions in the Early 1800's

Conditions in the Early 1800's

Housing in Bedford
Housing in Bedford

With the Industrial revolution at its height, new industries and technologies were transforming everyday life.
For the owners of the new factories and businesses, the opportunities seemed endless, bringing new wealth and influence. However, for the workers in the factories and their families, life was often grim.

It was a time of rising crime and increasing squalor, as people packed into the slums of the ever expanding cities. In rural areas, changes to agricultural practices left many labourers without sufficient work to support their families. To feed their families, many turned to crime.

Poaching was a common crime in rural areas and petty theft in urban areas. The crowded cities also provided opportunities for thieves to ply their trade.

Even for those with work in the factories, the change from reasonable prosperity to poverty could be swift. It only took an outbreak of disease or an injury at work, to leave a family without the support of the main wage earner. Older children had to earn a living and help with household tasks.

Many families were dependant on poor relief. The winters in the early 19th century were exceptionally bitter. In 1801, everything froze for 13 weeks and the number of families applying for support rose sharply. The settlement laws made it difficult for people to move around to find work, as they had to have a certificate from their parish agreeing to take them back if they became chargeable to the state.

As more and more families required support from the parish, discontent with the poor law grew. The payment for the poor law came from taxes on property owners but, in reality, these were often passed on to the tenants that rented the properties, causing more hardship. However the poor law itself was about to change.