Class was both economic and cultural and encompassed income, occupation, education, family structure, sexual behaviour, politics, and leisure activities. Many middle-class observers thought that working-class people imitated middle-class people as much as they could, but they were mistaken; working-class cultures which varied by locality and other factors were strong, specific, and premised on their own values. During the 19th century, members of the middle class were the moral leaders of society they also achieved some political power. The upper class had titles, wealth, land, or all three; owned most of the land in Britain; and controlled local, national, and imperial politics.
Most Victorian Britons were Christian. The Anglican churches of England , Wales , and Ireland were the state churches of which the monarch was the nominal head and dominated the religious landscape even though the majority of Welsh and Irish people were members of other churches. The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian. There was some religious diversity , as Britain also was home to other non-Anglican Protestants notably Methodists , Roman Catholics , Jews , Muslims , Hindus , and others at the end of the period there were even a few atheists.
Alongside their faith, Victorians made and appreciated developments in science. The best-known Victorian scientific development is that of the theory of evolution. It is typically credited to Charles Darwin , but versions of it were developed by earlier thinkers as well, and the pseudoscience of eugenics was an ugly outgrowth of Victorian evolutionary theory. Victorians were also fascinated by the emerging discipline of psychology and by the physics of energy.
The formal political system was a constitutional monarchy.
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It was in practice dominated by aristocratic men. The British constitution was and is unwritten and consists of a combination of written laws and unwritten conventions. At the national level, government consisted of the monarch and the two houses of Parliament , the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
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During the Victorian period, the House of Commons became the centre of government, the House of Lords lost power though it remained influential until the Parliament Act of , and the monarchy transformed into a symbol of the nation. The House of Commons consisted of about men called members of Parliament MPs , who were elected to represent the counties and boroughs of England , Scotland , Wales , and Ireland.
England had many more representatives than the other three nations, by virtue of its status as first among these four equals, the product of tradition as well as its greater political power and wealth. The upper house, the House of Lords , was populated principally by several hundred noblemen who had life tenures.
Members of both houses were wealthy men. Formal national politics was dominated by two major parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative or Tory Party. At the start of the period, MPs were elected by the half-million property-owning men in a population of 21 million who had the vote.
In the vote was granted to Catholic men and in , to most middle-class men; in and the franchise was extended to working-class men. Most women over age 30 got the right to vote in Full adult suffrage , with no property requirement, was achieved with the second Representation of the People Act This story of the expansion of the national electorate is important, but there is more to political participation than voting at the national level.
Local politics were also important. And being denied a voice and access to institutions certainly did not render nonvoters indifferent to politics or to how power was wielded; they made their opinions on these known via demonstrations, petitions, and pamphlets. Important political events during this period included the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; the expansions of the franchise; working-class political activism, most notably Chartism ; the rise of liberalism as the dominant political ideology , especially of the middle class; and the nationalization of Conservative and Liberal parties and the emergence of the British Labour Party in The growth of the state and state intervention were seen in major acts that limited hours for factory workers and miners, in public health acts, and in the provision of elementary education by the state.
The Victorian British Empire dominated the globe, though its forms of rule and influence were uneven and diverse. The traffic of people and goods between Britain and its colonies was constant, complex, and multidirectional. Britain shaped the empire, the empire shaped Britain, and colonies shaped one another. British jobs abroad included civil and military service, missionary work, and infrastructure development.
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People from various imperial locations traveled to, studied in, and settled in Britain. Money, too, flowed both ways—the empire was a source of profit, and emigrants sent money home to Britain—as did goods such as jute , calico cotton cloth, and tea. Dramatic expansion of the empire meant that such goods came to Britain from all over the world. Between and the empire grew, shifted its orientation eastward, and increased the number of nonwhite people over whom it exerted control. India became central to imperial status and wealth. There was significant migration to the settler colonies of Australia and New Zealand and later to Canada and South Africa.
Britain took control of large parts of Africa including Egypt , Sudan , and Kenya , which together were home to about 30 percent of the African population. The same period also saw the start of anticolonial movements that demanded freedom from British domination in India and elsewhere. These would ultimately lead to decolonization after World War II.
This half-century of growth was followed by an economic depression and from until by a modest recovery. With the earliest phases of industrialization over by about , the British economy expanded.
Britain became the richest country in the world, but many people worked long hours in harsh conditions. Yet, overall, standards of living were rising. Most families not only had a home and enough to eat but also had something leftover for alcohol , tobacco , and even vacations to the countryside or the seaside. Of course, some decades were times of plenty, others of want. Relative prosperity meant that Britain was a nation not only of shopkeepers but of shoppers with the rise of the department store from mid-century transforming the shopping experience.
Increased wealth, including higher real wages from the s, meant that even working-class people could purchase discretionary items. Mass production meant that clothes, souvenirs, newspapers, and more were affordable to almost everyone. More access made British cultural products more important.
‘Victorian’ sexual exploitation of poor girls isn’t history | Tom Seymour | Society | The Guardian
Not only did they reveal much about the society from which they emerged, but during the Victorian period Britain was the cultural capital of the English-speaking world including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Why is she not seen as a national heroine? She forced society to face the sordid details of its abuse. No wonder she was unpopular, and that seems to have clung to her memory ever since. Under the Contagious Diseases Act, police doctors carried out the most invasive genital examinations of any woman, from the age of 13, who might have a sexual infection.
Women were held responsible for the consequences of gonorrhoea and tertiary syphilis. It may sound archaic, a terrible relic of a less enlightened age, but recent events such as the Rotherham and Rochdale child sex abuse scandals are proof that we need a Butler in society today, says Mathers.
They are horribly similar to abuses she discovered in Liverpool and London in the s.
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Very little has changed. Yet again, the police and our government are standing by and doing nothing or, in some cases, facilitating the abuse.
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Over a period of eight years, Butler campaigned to have the Contagious Diseases Act repealed, lobbying MPs in the Houses of Parliament and holding civic meetings across the country. A respectable woman did not talk of such things in polite society, and she was met with hostility wherever she went. It was a small attitude shift for the powers that be, and a life-changing moment for the women Butler gave voice to.
Yet Butler was under no illusion that legislation alone would solve the problem. But society today still tacitly condones the exploitation of a certain class of women. The girls in Rotherham were treated like slaves, there to be exploited and abused.
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Butler would have recognised it: the culture of fallen women.