The Fair Country; LETTERS

Article excerpt

SIR - I feel I must disagree with the comments of James Samuel Cole regarding the ondition of the working class in the 19th century (Letters, April 3).

Viewed from 2010 the conditions in the industrial areas of 19th century Britain left a lot to be desired, but I would argue that viewed from the rural areas the conditions in the industrial areas were enticing.

The 18th century had seen the Agricultural Revolution, which for the farm labourer was a double whammy, in that simple mechanisation had created "efficiencies", which meant that more food, of all kinds could be produced with less labour, and the succession of Enclosure Acts had seen farmland concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, which led to a growth of the agricultural dispossessed.

To quote only one source, William Cobbett in his Rural Rides exposes the depth of poverty that was the experience of the agricultural workforce.

Industrialisation created lots of new jobs, some of which were skilled and others unskilled and the workforce flocked to the new industrial areas, which provided regular employment, improved housing and a wider social network.

To quote one incident in Blaenavon, Thomas Dyne Steel, an engineer with the ironworks in the 1850s, commented that it was very common for both men and women, from rural Herefordshire, to pay a visit to friends in Blaenavon and stay, because the standard of living was superior to that at home.

The glow of furnaces on the skyline to the west was a constant reminder of where the money was to be made. …