Living Conditions During the Industrial Revolution

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Skilled weavers, for example, lived well in pre-industrial society as a kind of middle class. They tended their own gardens, worked on textiles in their homes or small shops, and raised farm animals. They were their own bosses. One contemporary observer noted, “their dwelling and small gardens clean and neat, —all the family well clad, —the men with each a watch in their pocket, and the women dressed in their own fancy, —the Church crowded to excess every Sunday, —every house well furnished with a clock in elegant mahogany or fancy case. . . . Their little cottages seemed happy and contented. . . . it was seldom that a weaver appealed to the parish for a relief. . . . peace and content sat upon the weaver’s brow” (Thompson 269). But, after the Industrial Revolution, the living conditions for skilled weavers significantly deteriorated. They could no longer live at their own pace or supplement their income with gardening, spinning, or communal harvesting. For skilled workers, quality of life took a sharp downturn: “A quarter [neighborhood] once remarkable for its neatness and order; I remembered their whitewashed houses, and their little flower gardens, and the decent appearance they made with their families at markets, or at public worship. These houses were now a mass of filth and misery“ (269).In the first sixty years or so of the Industrial Revolution, working-class people had little time or opportunity for recreation. Workers spent all the light of day at work and came home with little energy, space, or light to play sports or games. The new industrial pace and factory system were at odds with the old traditional festivals which dotted the village holiday calendar. Plus, local governments actively sought to ban traditional festivals in the cities. In the new working-class neighborhoods, people did not share the same traditional sense of a village community. Owners fined workers who left their jobs to return to their villages for festivals because they interrupted the efficient flow of work at the factories (Stearns 73-74). After the 1850s, however, recreation improved along with the rise of an emerging the middle class. Music halls sprouted up in big cities. Sports such as rugby and cricket became popular. Football became a professional sport in 1885. By the end of the 19th century, cities had become the places with opportunities for sport and entertainment that they are today (Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire 164).

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