AP Euro Mr.


Peter Straubinger Period 8

Regardless of era or location, rapid changes in the infrastructure of a town or city will often result in unexpectedly widespread consequences. One of the finest examples of this principle is the English city of Manchester, which received an unprecedented boom in population due to its swiftly growing textile industry; from 1750 to 1851, the population had jumped from 18,000 to over 300,000. Such a profound expansion would obviously result equally radical changes to all aspects of Manchestrian life. Issues raised range those of aesthetics and environmental issues to the increasing harshness of the populace’s lives; namely, their health and well being, and their declining character. Tough (some may even say “inhumane”) conditions only exacerbated these problems. Thus, it is not only the effects of Manchester’s growth, but the reactions of those who witnessed said effects that painted a clear portrait of life at the time. One of the most wholly obvious negative effects on Manchester’s state as a whole was the decline of aesthetic value, and the increase of pollution, which resulted from the all-pervading textile industry. Often, outsiders would be appalled at the sad state of the city’s residences: the smoke-blackened houses and towering, lifeless buildings. Present above all else were the loud and unsightly factories which dominated the nearly all the working class’s everyday life. Paintings and other artistic representations displayed the same sad scene. Smoke poured from spires jutting out of the omnipresent factories, as wastewater flowed into the contaminated river and the compacted houses contributed to the air’s already horrid level of pollution. For those who were educated and involved in examining the effects of widespread pollution and squalor, Manchester was an even

bleaker place. Edwin Chadwick, a public health reformer, described in great detail the bad ventilation, overcrowding, and general decomposition of the area. The whole of a labor-intensive town was thick with filth and grime, which served only to weaken the populace in almost every conceivable facet. However, there were some to whom Manchester did not seem such a depressing place; in a preface to a business directory in 1852, Wheelan and Co. stated

“Perhaps no part of England…presents such remarkable and attractive features as Manchester…there is scarcely a country of the face of the habitable globe into which the fruits of its industry have not penetrated.”

Sadly, it is not difficult to explain the disparity between the comments of Wheelan and Co. and the majority of other opinions. Being a business enterprise, it is obviously in the interest of the company to put a positive shine on the state of things; were they to truly relay the squalid, impoverished lifestyle which the populace led, within an equally town, their enterprise would obviously be put in a far less appealing light. Hence, it is only good business sense that Wheelan and Co. bend the truth in order to keep as many reformers and humanists at bay as possible, lest the true nature of Manchester (among other cities) be discovered. Pollution was, unfortunately, not the greatest of the Manchestrian populace’s worries by any means. Obviously, of greater concern was their health and well being, which was in a dire state indeed. Figures displaying average lifespans of varies professions within different urban and rural show the stark reality of the situation: those in industrial districts live far shorter lives than those in rural ones, and Manchester is the

worst of the worst. In 1843, a Manchestrian laborer could be expected to live a full 21 years less than one in Rutland, a rural province. The figures are just as startlingly dire in regards to other professions. Those in professions regarding public health had opinions that differed little. The prevailing squalor in Manchester led to not only to an upsurge in new and horrific maladies, but also a much higher frequency (and resultant death toll) from illnesses which should normally have been merely unpleasant. Cramped, overcrowding living spaces meant that diseases spread like fires in dry brush, with simple maladies often becoming sweeping pandemics. Some posited that the death toll due to the poor living conditions of Britain’s working class was greater that held by the wars of the time. Not all were of the same opinion regarding the plight of the general populace’s well being, however. The following statement is by Thomas B. Macaulay, a member of parliament, made in the 1830s:

People live longer because they are better fed…lodged…clothed, and attended…owing to the increase in national wealth which the manufacturing system has produced...”

At face value, Macaulay’s statement seems logical enough. However, further examination of others’ opinions regarding general welfare show his statement to be at best a misguided absurdity, and at worst a contemptible lie. Unfortunately, the latter seems more likely. Macaulay was a member of Parliament; an upper classman standing above the laborers to whom the working class’s appalling lifestyle was most devastating. It is likely that Macaulay was far more concerned with the wealth that manufacturing cities like Manchester produced, rather than the lives lost to create said wealth. Being one of England’s gentry, it is probable he has little idea of the true horror the working class

experienced on a daily basis, and a quick examination of factual evidence (namely, that which concerns lifespans) would prove him wrong. It is understandable that as the living conditions of a population decline, so too will that population’s morale. And as morale fails, standards of morality are soon to decline alongside. Even a casual observer could see that the people of Manchester were drained and somber. The word “desperate” springs to mind; however, desperation implies some small amount of hope, which has likely been crushed out of the majority of the working class. Great crowds of people toil and shuffle through the streets in an autonomous fashion, seeking not even to steal a glance and enjoy their surroundings (though there was little to enjoy!). Leisure seems alien, and it is apparent that every man regards himself as solitary, alone against forces greater than himself. Such a wretched situation would obviously breed contempt, anger and sorrow; given that these emotions cannot be directed at a faceless enterprise like a textile factory or a squalid home, they are instead projected upon the fellow man. Edwin Chadwick, who previously described the foul conditions laborers resided in, went on to show why such conditions are a blow against the character of the populace:

“…The…population is less susceptible to moral influences…the effects of education are more temporary than with a healthy population. These circumstances [create a population] short lived, reckless, and intemperate, and with habits of sensual gratification.”

Chadwick’s words themselves require little explanation. It is a simple, concise explanation for how the weasel of poverty can and will drag the rabbit of morality out of the warren of a man’s soul. What prompted Chadwick’s words is also quite obvious when

one considers his occupation. As a public health reformer, it is no great leap of the imagination why a reckless population, seeking comfort only in carnal pleasures, should distress him greatly. With a decline in morality, what shall buoy the value of human life in a man’s heart? The chain is as evident today as it was in 19th century Manchester; poverty leads to desperation leads to hopelessness leads to anger leads to recklessness leads to violence leads to death. One can assume Chadwick was an educated man; if so, then this downward spiral would have been distressingly evident to him. Hence, his efforts to broadcast the dangers of a hopeless society before the situation became too dire. There was another ill-effect of Manchester’s growth which affected all others, both subtly and overtly. The inhumane conditions in which Manchester’s laborers worked was akin to a gremlin, with his fingers in the pies of immorality, well-being, and the squalidness of the surrounding environment. Manchester’s building. The din of machinery was pervasive; omnipresent and harsh, it seemed to echo the pallor cast over the entire city. As the poet Robert Southey said,

“…when the bell wrings, it is to call the wretches to work instead of their prayers.”

The state in which men worked was enough to sap even the love of God from their hearts, instead replaced with a robotic drive to work, eat, and perhaps eke out some crude pleasure by way of painted women. However, little blame can be foisted upon these men for their lack of aspirations to higher pursuits; it is the fault of the conditions they must place themselves within in order to merely subsist. A map of Manchester, properly interpreted, brings one to a similar conclusion. By 1850, the city was what could only be described as a sprawl. There was little open area, the countryside replaced by more and

more cold, stone buildings. To describe these conditions as “tough” would be a gargantuan understatement. Navigating the cramped, filthy streets (no doubt rife with criminals, hooligans and ne’er do wells) was in itself a gauntlet, only to arrive at a “prize” which is best described by Flora Tristan, French socialist and women’s right advocate, in 1842:

“…[Workers] spend from twelve to fourteen hours each day shut up in low-ceilinged rooms where with every breath of foul air they absorb fibers of cotton, wool or flax, or particles of copper, lead or iron. They live suspended between an insufficiency of food and an excess of strong drink; they are all wizened, sickly and emaciated, their bodies thin and frail, their limbs feeble, their complexions pale, their eyes dead. If you visit a factory, it is easy to see the comfort and welfare of the workers have never entered the builder’s head.”

In these few sentences, Ms. Tristan has managed to summarize not only the causes, but the effects of the state the laborers were in. treated like cattle, the workers only exist to make a profit. Given their “insufficiency of food” it is obvious that their wages are niggardly, and their foul conditions leave them to seek refuge in the bleak comforts of alcohol. To examine Ms. Tristan’s occupation, however, reveals a mildly startling truth. She is a woman’s rights advocate, yet here she pleas the plight of men. While not to say that those who advocate the rights of women have no compassion for the rougher sex, it is obvious that for her to dedicate such feeling and passion to the cause of men it must be a horrible plight indeed in which they are held. To campaign for women’s rights is merely to campaign for the rights of a section of humanity as a whole; here, Ms. Tristan sees human beings suffering, and she seeks to remedy this fact. She was not the only one with this aim. Manchester’s own lower class, those who were trodden upon by untold masses,

often expressed their outrage and disgust at the blows which higher classes struck against them. One example is the Manchestrian reaction to the “Corn Laws”, a tax on imported grain. Similar to pre-Revolutionary France, grain (and its resultant products) was likely the staple of the poor man’s diet. Hence, a tax levied on the foodstuff was a direct blow to the lower classes. The protests this incurred were not only against the laws themselves, but at the fashion in which higher classes would seek to raise themselves up the ladder of wealth upon the backs of the poor. However, the plight of the working man could not continue forever. William Alexander Abram, a journalist, described improvements to working conditions at length. Increased wages, shortened workdays (to merely 10 hours per day!) and far more spacious working areas are cited. In addition, he extols the virtues of public parks, libraries, and other civic improvements. He goes on to say that sickness, mortality and discontent are all decreasing. However, before one can interpret his claim as a contradiction of the previous grievances, once must know that the date of Abram’s publication was 1868. Therefore, rather than there being a conflict between his words and the complaints of others, he instead illustrates a reaction to said complaints; the suffering of the working class was recognized, and soon after began to be remedied. His words point to a brighter future for laborers not only in Manchester, but across Britain; for when a country recognizes as a whole that it is built upon the shoulders of the common laborer, that country shall realize how valuable the well-being of the working man truly is. Hence, Manchester’s growth through the 18th and 19th centuries was a rather grim time indeed; production came at the cost of quality of life, development at the cost of aesthetic value, efficiency at the cost of morality. The change in lifestyle during this period was arguably one of the world’s greatest cultural shifts, and it seemed that the

common laborer was plunging deeper and deeper into the proverbial abyss. However, it is the words of reformers and activists who began to herald in a new, brighter age for the everyman, as their reactions to Manchester’s growth reached more and more ears.

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