industrial revolution during the reign of Queen Victoria

As a result of economic change in Europe explain the characteristics and consequences of the industrial revolution during the reign of Queen Victoria. Outline some explanations for the economic takeoff: population explanation, political, revolutionary, and social


Major inventions essentially led to an intensified production of cotton in the North-West subsequent to the 1770s. Thus, the invention of Arkwright’s water-frame increased the physical structure of the population and commenced a permanent migration away from the countryside to the urban centers due to industry steadily taking over agriculture as the lifeblood of the population. By 1850, Liverpool, for instance, ranked seventh among the European capital cities while Manchester was at number nine on the list in the same year. The effect of ranking the towns was that urban centers were created which concentrated riches with huge sectors of the new working class. Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to take that creation of new centers of populace to imply a re-distribution of political power. The prevailing political structure in Britain guaranteed power to only the privileged few. Traditional segments of society were still largest in London and the South-East and this system gave privilege to only a few individuals in the society. Using this archaic political system had given rise to cities like Leeds and Manchester, which were only accorded part of the electoral power they had.

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Changes brought by the Industrial Revolution

Drastic changes characterized the industrial revolution which encompassed transformation from the use of tools to the use of machines.[1] This also meant that there was mass production and manufacturing of products as compared to previous methods of production that were hand based. Queen Victoria, who ruled between 1837 and 1901, ruled for the longest period of time and it is during her reign that Britain was not only a leading country in terms of industrialization but it was the same period that this industrialization saw its peak.

Thus, during her reign, there was an extensive rail network that connected communities within the country. This was despite the fact that the country was chiefly agrarian and somewhat rural. Critics have had different views and differing viewpoints. To some of them this period represented part of an era that is referred to as the second industrial revolution (Spodek 2001). Others, however, point out that if this period is referred to as such, it would call for unnecessary debate given that the country had already achieved much development and totally shed off its medieval skin.

Among the reasons to support the argument that the period ought not to be seen as industrial revolution era is that by this period, life had become so different for the people and the number of them that had to work for a living had shot up considerably. This was more so in England. Secondly, much of the mechanization that found its use during the period had been achieved earlier during the industrial revolution period. What was just remaining was its full appreciation. Nevertheless, the consequences of the industrial revolution had major impacts during the Victorian era in a multifaceted perspective.

Some of the major challenges that faced her during the early years on the throne included epidemics and crop failures. These challenges became even more notable when they interacted with economic collapses.[2] The challenges to a great extent touched the virtue of a stable society, led to other problems like insurrections and prompted for actins to be taken. Notably, a major part of the laws that caused problems in the populace had their origin in the Napoleon era. They had been intended to protect the British economic backbone by protecting the agricultural base, which by then the promise of economic stability.

Effects on the Socio-cultural setup

As a result of drastic changes that came as a result of the industrial revolution wave, the social setup of the society was also affected and therefore many laws had to be brought to compliment the socio-economic changes. For instance, working women increased in numbers as well as the number of children at work (Gelardi 2008). Economic consolidation and strengthening of industrial positions were major characteristics of the Queen Victoria era. Due to the fact that the industrial revolution had brought the dire need to boost the manufacturing capacity of the nation, the manufactured goods also needed more markets. This led to wars taking place every year (Spodek 2001). It also led to deteriorated conditions of the workplace. Child labor became rampant length of working hours increased and the gap between the ruling power and the capitalist merchants became clearer. As can be seen, there were many changes that industrial revolution brought. Social changes in the interactions and social institutions, changes in the peoples’ culture, economic diversification; all characterized this period and therefore called for the equivalent changes in the political system to complement them.

Prior to the first industrial revolution, the economic base of England was principally defined by the cottage industry. Through this type of economic setup, merchants sold raw materials to workers, who in turn used them for production of goods at their cottages. It is during the same period that Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell began to explore other issues about man, science, history the world and existence. Their discoveries also influenced the way of doing things during this period (Roderick & Johnson 2004). People began also to examine issues concerning religion and philosophy and these greatly influenced the way laws were exercised and further influenced the social and cultural setup of the society.

Although the momentum of the Industrial Revolution had previously taken place, it was during the reign of Queen Victoria that full effects of industrialization became more evident.[3] The great leaps made in engineering were remarkable especially considering the fact that this was significant in complementing the heavy railway networking systems. Examples of such leaps are the famous engineering works by Isambard. Sewage system also became a notable achievement in the Victorian era that could be ascribed to the developments and changes brought by the industrial revolution. For instance, in 1858, Joseph Bazalgette designed the sewage system in London. In his plan, he made suggestions to build over a thousand miles of street sewers that would link over eighty miles of sewerage. He also made a further achievement by designing an embankment that was used to house the water pipes and those sewers.

As the rail network system also grew extensively, the social setup transformed in that there was movement of people to major towns from either buffer towns or rural areas. Further, the industrial revolution brought an inescapable sense of newness which produced a profound interest in the bond between desire to embrace modernity and the dire need to have cultural continuities. This formed the basis of the Battle of the styles fought by proponents of classical ideals and those of Gothic ideals. This was basically a clash of the two desires that wished to express themselves predominantly.

In 1851, just fourteen years after queen Victoria ascended to the throne, there was an important function that defined the cultural aspect and affect of the consequences of the industrial revolution. This was the Great Exhibition, which was done as a platform to display the greatest innovations made in the century. These innovations were of course results of the industrial revolution. An example of showcased innovation was the crystal palace which became to be viewed as the prototype of the modern architecture. Another accompaniment in the exhibitions was photography. Photography significantly changed the mode of appreciating art transformed abruptly.

Due to the needs created by the industrial revolution, it is within the Victorian era that the science we have today was nurtured to become a grown discipline. Professionalism in science at the university level increased and people devoted much of their time for the study. In addition, natural history also became a significant field of interest, hence the works of Charles Darwin and Lyell. Charles Darwin published his works in 1859 and this greatly changed how people viewed religion. In fact, it introduced greater insecurity and doubt among the people. The results of such devotions into the study led to developments such as photography (achieved by Louis Daguerre and William Talbot in 1839). By the close of the century, hand-held cameras were already in use.


Sprouting of towns like the one shown above led to the growth of factories which needed more workers especially given that the industrial was basically interested with mass production of commodities. Due to the fact that owners of factories built houses for their employees, the towns expanded more and more. Deficiency in labor supply led a social change in the society as children laborers increased in numbers in the farms and factories. Boys were engaged in forced labor especially sweeping of chimneys, working down mines and in the grinding mills. This was rampant until it was officially forbidden and considered illegal by law to employ a boy under the age of twelve.

Ackroyd (2000), while looking at the biography of Britain, states that the results of the industrial revolution had touched every part of the structure that made the British society. The workers in the agricultural sector, which previously formed a very important constituent of the economy, were just as affected as the merchants, who on the other hand wanted more powers as they demanded that the government stay away from interfering with their business issues. Yet, their powers had been taken by the wave of change and given to the industrial and financial capitalist. This exemplified a momentous shift in the society and as could still further be depicted from the wars that were later fought, it was evident that decisions to war came with greater consequences than before. Yet realization of the economic good of increased industrial capability and mass production intermarried with vast markets for the products produced dire consequences of war.

More markets had to be secured and territories conquered for this to be achieved. Thus, though there had been peace in her early years on the throne, decisions of war had greater consequences than ever. As an example, the Great War saw the deaths of millions of people as opposed to thousands in the Battle of Culloden. By the time of the Great War, the level at which machinery were used was more advanced as compared to the period of the Battle of Culloden.

The impact of the industrial revolution on the cultural aspect of coronation was also eminent in the formation of the Victorian jewelry as it was known became a common feature of the Victorian post industrial revolution period. Given that the queen herself loved to wear jewelry, she was a major influence on other women during her period and this became a remarked characteristic that defined the Victorian era. Barbra (1986) argues that the quantity of jewelry and its quality were influenced by the industrial as opposed to political revolution given that the period of her reign could effectively be described as peaceful. Thus, given that the queen had great appreciation for jewelry, and intermarried with the peaceful political atmosphere she enjoyed during her reign, mass production of jewelry was made possible. It was produced in large quantities. The period that preceded the Victorian era had been characterized by high quality jewelry though the quantities produced were small and the prices high making them on affordable to the rich. On the contrary, the Victorian period saw an increase in production and a decrease in quality as well as prices of jewelry.

The social institutions in Britain before the industrial revolution were very rigid. The main components of the structure were aristocrats and the church, the working class, and the middle class. The church together with the aristocracy formed the top class. Power and wealth were vested in this first-class and despite the fact that the group comprised of only two percent of the population, there was extra power in it that gave an advantage when it came to matters of land control powers. The royal family, the clergy, lords; great officers had these privileges which further gave them tax advantages over others.

Effects of the Industrial Revolution on the Economy

A big change that had already been brought by the first industrial revolution was the replacement of merchant by the industrialist in the dominance of the capitalism system. Thus by the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, the industrialist was more dominant in the control of economic affairs in the system than the merchants.

During her reign, however, there was a need for expansion and of course, this expansion happened faster. This meant that the industry became larger than before and therefore the financial backbone of the industry was in the hands of the financial capitalist. The financial capitalist and the corporation thus became the dominant figures of this period as giant industrial empires were formed where the ownership of the assets was removed from production. That is to say that the owners of these giant corporations or industrial empires were divorced from the management of the assets and production or manufacturing activities.

As mentioned earlier, there was dire need for market control for the benefit of the industrial empires that were dominant players in the system of the day. For this reason, industrial cartels were amalgamated into giant corporations and mergers and alliances were also common. Developments that had earlier on been achieved were well appreciated during this period (Kesselman et al 2008). For instance, due to the amalgamations mentioned, there was increased use of electric power.

These features led to production of new goods and the introduction of new services. The end implication was an increased level of international trade and international relations became a more important matter. Increased international trade also resulted from the fact that the machines were more efficient, methods applied more intricate and these were mixed with mass production methods, which lowered costs of production but increased output levels (Roderick & Johnson 2004). Supply thus exceeded demand in the domestic market and called for international markets.

Another economic impact of the consequences of industrial revolution was the gradual change to long-term economic trends. Investing in overseas industries became a common target, not just to Britain alone, but even to other countries like Germany and the United States. Financiers got the opportunity to exert political and economic control of the British Empire. A remarked competition ensued in the market that bolstered business amalgamations and formation of super- corporations (Hook 1991). By 1870s, financiers had become more powerful and controlled major parts of the industry. This raised concerns in the political quarters with fears that British overseas investments needed more protection and security.

Technological Characteristics of Industrial Revolution during Victorian era

The technology was changing rapidly during the Victorian era. Notably, communication became a significant development of the period with the improvement of the railway network. Development in transport industry reached its peak during this period when steamships were built, railway networks intensified, canals dug and stagecoaches introduced (Hirsch et al 2002). These developments produced immense results as transportation of goods improved and facilitation of trade and industry became evident with respect to efficiency and effectiveness.

Implication of the developments in the transport industry more so the introduction of trains into transportation of goods and humans was evident from the change it introduced in the lives of people. For instance, people used the train time as the standard time for their activities. With steamships, importation of goods from abroad as far as India, Australia and America became easier and cheaper (Porter & Prince 2009).

With respect to communications, the innovation of the postage stamp (specifically the penny black) helped in the standardization of postage price irrespective of the distance. The eve-increasing populations in the urban centers presented a serious challenge to the technology of the day as the conditions of health deteriorated with respect to waste disposal and general sanitation (Ward 2005). As mentioned earlier, this prompted for the application of engineering and architectural design to ensure effective disposal of wastes in the cities starting with the city of London. Thus the engineering works of Bazalgette became famous for achieving the purpose of waste disposal and improving the sanitation of London.


The events that took place during the Victorian era evidently suggested that this period was a special period in the industrial revolution era. In fact, the speed at which technology and science were imbued into society underscored the very backbone of society. As such, the changes seen helped shape the legal system. For instance, improved technology led to desire for increased levels of production which in turn caused deficient labor supply and factories were abruptly opened. This led to the employment of children prompting the legal system to take steps to ban the practice of employing girls and boys of ages below twelve.

Works Cited:

Barbara, Weiss, “The hell of the English: bankruptcy and the Victorian novel.” Illustrated Edition; Bucknell University Press, 1986

Gelardi J. P. “In triumph’s wake: royal mothers, tragic daughters, and the price they paid” St. Martin’s Press, 2008

Hirsch, Donald E. Kett, J. F. & Trefil J. S. “The new dictionary of cultural literacy” 3rd Revised and Illustrated Edition, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002

Hook S. “The Hero in History: a Study in Limitation and Possibility” Transaction Publishers, 1991

Jones L. “Advanced English Cambridge” University Press, 1998

Kesselman, M., Krieger, J., Allen, C. S. & Hellmann S “European Politics in Transition” Cengage Learning, 2008

Porter, D. & Prince D. “Frommer’s London” 2009

Roderick F. & Johnson P. A. “The Cambridge economic history of modern Britain: History of Britain after 1450”            Illustrated Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2004

Spodek H. “The Industrial Revolution:1740- 1914” John Wiley & Sons Publications, 2001

Ward T., H. “Characteristics and consequences of the industrial revolution during the reign of Queen Victoria.”  Kessinger Publishing, 2005

Lewis, J. M. & Lloyd-Jones, R. “British industrial capitalism since the industrial revolution” Routledge, 1998

[1] For instance, bathing machines were used as compared to previous modes where people bathed naked. Cotton spinning machines, steam engines are just other few examples.

[2] Previously, agriculture formed backbone of British economy and crop failures meant significant implication to the economy hence economic failure. See Barbara, Weiss (1986: 23): The hell of the English: bankruptcy and the Victorian novel

[3] This makes the period to be referred to by other critics as the second industrial revolution period: See Lewis & Lloyd-Jones 1998 pp: 15, 33,210-234

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