Social Reform and Change
Social reform and change. This historic theme examines the work of reforming campaigners and parliamentary reformers, who brought changes to the conditions of the poor and destitute.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else
Use the timeline and maps to see how reform changed society and people's lives.
Britain in the 19th century was one in which the suffering of it's poor was a marked contrast to the wealth and privilege of it's rich but there were some, who questioned the course of the nation and demanded change.
The crusade and triumph of Reform
Ambivalence by many, to the desperate situation of the poor in the early 19th century, stood alongside the actions of others, who demanded reform at every turn. The campaigning social reformers worked in all areas of society. They concerned themselves with the sick and destitute, seeking reform to the Poor Laws. They wanted regulation brought in to protect workers from being used as slaves in the new manufacturing industries. The plight of children and women was of particular concern, so education and women's property laws were challenged. Institutions were set up to encourage others to join the cause of reform. Places like the Foundling Hospital, dependent upon donations to fund it's function.
Social injustice went hand in glove with political inequality.
The Whigs and the Tories took opposing views as to whose interests to represent, with industrialists and landowners all pulling in different directions, with the poor caught in between, with no voice and no one to represent them in parliament. The bigger issues of reform, such as the abolition of slavery in Britain encountered support and dissent in equal measure.
In this theme we explore many aspects of reform across the centuries and the people who have spent a lifetime trying to achieve it.
Year Event Narrative
1349 The Ordinance of Labourers Prohibited the giving of relief to able-bodied beggars, "that they may be compelled to labour for their necessary living
1351 Statute of Labourers This statute was introduced designed to suppress the labour force by prohibiting increases in wages and prohibiting the movement of workers from their home areas in search of improved conditions. It was a response to the shortage of labour and thus to prevent the poor labourers from gaining collective bargaining power.
1531 Vagabonds Act Poor
1536 Henry VIII declared himself supreme head of the Church. The dissolution of the monasteries took place between 1536 and 1541.
1572 Vagabonds Act also known as the 1572 Poor Law An Elizabethan Act made provision for the punishment of sturdy beggars and the relief of the impotent poor. The Act formally moved responsibility for poor citizens from the church to local communities by introducing a tax to raise funds for their provision.
1586 Settlement and removal. If people tried to draw relief outside the parish of their birth, they could be removed. this meant that they could be rejected, or physically transported to another parish.In Scotland, poor people are marked with the town's mark.
1595 Buttock mail', a Scottish poor rate, is levied. Poor Relief
1598 - 1601 The Elizabethan Poor Law. The Poor Law was a national Act for England and Wales. It provided for a compulsory poor rate, the creation of 'overseers' of relief, provision for 'setting the poor on work'.
1662 A Poor Relief Act introduces the laws of settlement and removal. Poor Relief
1672 Scotland had "houses of correction" established in the burghs 1697 The Bristol Workhouse was established by private Act of Parliament. Poor Relief
1721 First smallpox innoculation Public Health
1723 Knatchbull's Act This act allowed English and Welsh parishes to build workhouses without first taking out private Acts of Parliament.
1740 A workhouse is established at Edinburgh. Poor Relief
1741 Foundling Hospital The Foundling Hospital established in London by Thomas Coram. It was a children's home established for the "education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children."
1771 Robert Owen was born. Owen was a founder of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement Owen was a founder of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement
1774 Out-relief introduced in Glasgow. That is, benefits or cash outside the poorhouse is made available in Glasgow.
1777 John Howard published his book, "The State of the Prisons", based on the study he had made of prison conditions on tours of Britain and Europe. This was based on the study he had made of prison conditions on tours of Britain and Europe.
1780 New Model Prison Sir George Onesiporous Paul built a model new prison at Gloucester based on the ideas of John Howard. It was secure, well-built, healthy, separated men, women and children. The rules ensured that prisoners wore uniform, were taught to read and write
1782 Gilbert's Act stated that workhouses should become poorhouses, relieving only those who were not able-bodied. It allowed parishes to form Poor Law Unions in order to build poorhouses. Poor law
1784 James Ramsay, doctor and preacher wrote on the 'Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies'. He also published 'An Inquiry into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade'. These were the first anti-slavery works by a mainstream Anglican writer who had personally seen the suffering and were, therefore, very influential. Abolition slavery
1787 Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded in Britain Abolition slavery
1787 Josiah Wedgewood wealthy industrialist and much respected man actively participated in abolition, becoming a member of one of the abolition committees. Abolition slavery
1788 Joseph Townsend dissertation on the Poor Laws Poor Relief
1788 Sir William Dolben's Act regulating the conditions on British slave ships enacted. Abolition Slavery
1792 Mary Wollstonecraft published her 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' Women's Emancipation
1794 Paupers became removable only if they were chargeable to another parish. Poor Relief
1795 The Speenhamland system. The Speenhamland system. A code for out-relief was drawn up by magistrates in Speenhamland, Berkshire. The Speenhamland system acquired some notoriety in the following years; it was believed to lead employers to pay unduly low wages while workers were forced to claim relief.
1796 Elizabeth FryElizabeth Fry Reformer and Quaker Elizabeth Fry makes her first visit to Newgate Prison to do what she could to alleviate the suffering of the women and children there
1798 Thomas Cranfield established a free children's day school on Kent Street near London Bridge. By the time of his death in 1838, he had established 19 free schools providing services for children and infants living in the lower-income areas of London Education People
1802 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act was passed, the very first piece of factory legislation. Factories
1803 Support for vaccination grew. Jenner was awarded government funding, and in 1803 the Royal Jennerian Institute was founded. Public Health
1803 Lord Ellenborough's Act made abortion after quickening a capital crime, and provided lesser penalties for the felony of abortion before quickening. Women
1805 A bill for abolition of slavery passes in House of Commons but is rejected in the House of Lords. Abolition Slavery
1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolishes slave trading in British Empire. Abolition Slavery
1807 The British begin patrols of African coast to arrest slaving vessels. Abolition Slavery
1807 Mary Carpenter was born, educational and social reformer Education People
1812 Elizabeth FryElizabeth Fry Reformer and Quaker Elizabeth Fry makes her first visit to Newgate Prison to do what she could to alleviate the suffering of the women and children there
1814 Angela Coutts was born, she was the wealthiest Victorian woman in Britain and a philanthropist People
1817 Elizabeth Fry and eleven other Quakers formed the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. She gave evidence to the House of Commons about conditions in prison, using evidence from her tour of British prisons. Her evidence influenced Sir Robert Peel to reform prison conditions in 1823. Prison Reform
1818 Treaty between Britain and Spain to abolish slave trade Abolition Slavery
1818 John Pounds in Portsmouth began teaching poor children without charging fees. He actively recruited children and young people to his school. Education People
1819 Cotton Mills Act. The Act required that no child under the age of nine was to be employed in cotton mills, with a maximum day of 16 hours for all those under 16. But once again the means of enforcing such legislation remained a serious problem. Textiles Factories
1819 The 'Peterloo Massacre' occurred at a reform meeting at St Peter's Field in Manchester. About 60,000 people gathered to hear Henry Hunt and others speak in favour of political reforms and rights for the poor. When Hunt arrived the yeomanry were sent by magistrates to arrest him. They slashed their way through the crowd killing eleven and injuring hundreds, including women. Political Reform
1819 Female reform societies were formed in the north of England Women
1820 Florence Nightingale was born. English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. People
1823 Anti-Slavery Society founded in Britain. Abolition Slavery
1823 - 1833 Over 70 women's anti slavery societies were formed Abolition Slavery Women's Emancipation
1823 Jon Stuart Mills was arrested for distributing pamphlets on birth control practises Women
1824 Repeal of the Combination Acts makinf trade unions legal 1825 Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, published her short but influential book, "Observations of the Siting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners." Unlike other early reformers, Elizabeth provided the concrete, explicit detail for operating penal regimes. Prison Reform
1832 Review of the Poor Law 1832Review of the Poor Law 1832 Political and Social Reform
1832 Reform Act 1832 Representation of the People
1833 Factory Act. No children were to work in factories under the age of nine (though by this stage numbers were few). A maximum working week of 48 hours was set for those aged 9 to 13, limited to eight hours a day; and for children between 13 and 18 it was limited to 12 hours daily. The Act also required children under 13 to receive elementary schooling for two hours each day. Textiles Factories
1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. This established a national Commission for England and Wales. Poor Law
1834 The British Slavery Abolition Act comes into force, abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire. Abolition Slavery
1838 Octavia Hill was born.Octavia Hill English social reformer, whose main concern was the welfare of the inhabitants of cities, especially London
1838 - 1848 Chartists movement formed. The aim of the Chartists was to gain political rights and influence for the working classes. The movement got its name from the formal petition, or 'People's Charter', that listed the six main aims of the movement. These included a vote for all men aged over 21, but, just like the Levellers, they did not ask for votes for women. Emancipation
1839 Child Custody Act enabled a mother to be given custody of children under seven. Women Children
1839 - 1840 A Poor Law Commission enquiry identified disease as a major cause of pauperism. Poor Law
1842 Edwin Chadwick, the secretary of the Poor Law Commission, and one of the main authors of the 1834 report, wrote a Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, identifying sanitation as a principal issue. Sanitation
1842 Mines and Collieries Act. Women and children were excluded from the mines and as a consequence became unemployed Women Mining
1843 Lord Shaftesbury became the president of the ragged schools. He used his knowledge of the schools, the refuges, and his understanding of the living conditions among low-income families to pursue changes in legislation. He served as the president of the Ragged School Union for 39 years. In 1944, the Union adopted the name "Shaftesbury Society", in his honour. Education Children
1843 Charles Dickens became associated with the Ragged Schools and donated money to them Education Children
1844 Ragged Schools Union was established to combine resources throughout the country, providing free education, food, clothing, lodging and other home missionary services for these children. Education
1844 Factory Act Factories
1845 Andover Workhouse Scandal Poor Law
1845 Thomas Banardo was born, founder and director of homes for poor children Children
1847 Charles Dickens and Angela Coutts set up a home for young women who had "turned to a life of immorality", including theft and prostitution. The home was called Urania Cottage in Shepherds Bush. Women
1847 Factory Act restricting the working day for women and children Factories
1848 Public Health Act. This defined responsible sanitary authorities, either town councils (in urban areas) or Poor Law Boards of Guardians (in rural areas). Public Health Sanitation
1849 The Metropolitan Sanitary Association is established to campaign for adequate public health provision for London Public Health Sanitation
1849 John Snow publishes On the Mode of Communication of Cholera and begins a study into the spread of the disease Public Health Sanitation
1851 Mary Carpenter published 'Reformatory Schools for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders', outlining the 3 different types of schools she envisioned. Education Children
1852 Mary Carpenter published published 'Juvenile Delinquents, their Condition and Treatment',which contributed to the passing of the Juvenile Offenders Act in 1854. Education
1854 Juvenile Offenders Act Education Crime
1858 A revised Public Health Act is passed, abolishing the Central Board of Health and creating local boards responsible for preventative action and reform. Public Health Sanitation
1859 Harriet Martineau published Female Industry. Women
1861 Offences Against the Persons Act made abortion a statutory offence. It confirmed the age of consent as 12, and made carnal knowledge of a girl under ten a felony and of a girl ten to twelve a misdemeanour. Women Children
1866 Sanitation Act. Parliament passes the Sanitary Act making local authorities responsible for the removal of 'nuisances' to public health and for the removal or improvement of slum dwellings. Public Health Sanitation Housing
1866 The Howard League for Penal Reform was founded and named after John Howard one of Britain's earliest penal reformers. It is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK. Prison Reform
1867 2nd Reform Act 1867 Representation of the People Act
1869 Angela Coutts established Columbia Market in 1869 as a covered food market with 400 stalls 1869 Charity Organisations Society Organizations
1870 Education Act (1872 in Scotland). This provided free compulsory elementary education for all, up to the age of 12 at first, later to 14. (The secondary system, 11+, was private or voluntary, and based on fees). Education
1870 First Banardo home established Children
1871 The creation of the Local Government Board. Political Reform
1872 Public Health Act. This defined responsible sanitary authorities, either town councils (in urban areas) or Poor Law Boards of Guardians (in rural areas). Sanitation
1875 Public Health Act Public Health
1878 William Booth founded the Salvation Army Organizations
1880 Education Act. The act extended the compulsory age of attendance at school until the age of 10. Education
1888 County Councils formed. Political Reform
1901 The Edwardian Age brings change to women's roles in society Women
1902 Education Act.The Act provided funds for denominational religious instruction in voluntary elementary schools, owned primarily by the Church of England and Roman Catholics. It ended the divide between voluntary schools, which were largely administered by the Church of England, and schools provided and run by elected school boards Education
1905 Unemployed Workmen Act: labour exchanges. Employment
1905 Royal Commission on Poor Laws set up to look at Poor Law reform Poor Law
1906 Education Act: free school meals. Education
1908 Old Age Pensions: these were non-contributory. Employment
1908 Women's National Anti Suffrage League founded. Women
1911 National Insurance Act: this covered health and unemployment. Employment
1918 Marie Stopes wrote 'Wise Parenthood' Woman Children
1918 - 1921 Means-tested 'out-of work donations' were given to unemployed people. Employment
1919 Addison Act: the first major finance for council housing. Housing
1929 Local Government Act. The Poor Law Boards of Guardians were replaced by local authorities. Political Reform
1942 Beveridge proposed a system of National Insurance Employment
1944 Education Act: free universal secondary education Education
1948 Children Act, which established local authority departments to receive children into care.. Children
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