Building and servicing the community
In the period under consideration, more land than ever before vanished beneath a blanket of building: new settlements were created, existing ones enlarged and vast urban conurbations appeared in hitherto sparsely populated areas, bringing with them a host of new problems concerned with public health and hygiene. This expansion of building was caused partly by the unprecedented growth of population and partly by its redistribution to meet the needs of industry. The comparatively small settlements of the seventeenth century were still characterised by buildings in local vernacular styles using easily available materials. Once transport by canal and rail enabled bulky products like bricks and Welsh slate to be competitive, the regionally distinct styles of building were gradually replaced by the monotonous uniformity which marked so much of the nineteenth-century urban landscape. Only close inspection reveals the quality of much urban housing of this period and the decorative detail with which it was sometimes enhanced. The nature of the townscape was also influenced by political consideration. While governments had previously assisted towns ravaged by fire, they now saw the building boom as a source of revenue and taxed different classes of building materials, thereby limiting the choice available to those unable to meet the additional cost. Only with the public health problems of the mid-nineteenth-century towns did both national and local governments adopt a positive attitude by passing legislation to regulate the development of the built environment. This chapter will consider, firstly, the provision of building materials, secondly, the changing styles of building in the period and, thirdly, the social problems created by urbanisation and their solutions in the form of legislation and the provision of public services.