Class and the Family

The 19th century was a time of great social change. As the economy of the United Kingdom industrialised, the significance of the middle class increased, and the number of people in it boomed. A new clerical and administrative role appeared. This move into blue collar work brought about a transfer of upper working class people into the lower middle classes.

In some ways this produced a balanced power triangle - between the upper classes who still had the greatest wealth and who were the main employers, the middle classes with their political, social and economic influence, and the working class who were powerful in terms of their vast numbers and because of greater recognition given to their value to society. This increased acceptance of the working classes led to the vote being extended to over 60% of men.

The middle class covered a wide range of people, from lawyers, doctors and bankers to shopkeeper, teachers and clerks. These middle class Victorians may to us seem strict, narrow minded and over interested in being considered 'respectable'. They tried to copy the lifestyles of the upper classes and do nothing that would cause their friends and neighbours to gossip about them.

Poor working class parents often forced children as young as four to work at home. Although they only earned a few pennies a week, this was greatly needed to buy food and fuel. Some families took in other people's washing. Others did outwork for local factories.

The class divisions were marked by the attention played to dress, speech and social behaviour, and etiquette.