DAILY LIFE IN ENGLAND IN THE PAST
By Tim Lambert
LIFE IN ROMAN BRITAIN
Towns in Roman Britain
After the first century AD the Celts who lived in what is now England were, to a certain extent, Romanized. Many towns appeared. Some were created deliberately. Others grew up by Roman forts as the garrisons provided markets for townspeople's goods. Roman towns were usually laid out in a grid pattern. Streets were often covered in gravel. When people walked on the gravel it became compacted. Very often streets had drains at the sides.
At first towns in Roman Britain were unprotected. Then in the late 1st and 2nd centuries fortifications were built. They consisted, at first, of ditches with earth ramparts and wooden palisades. Later many towns had stone walls.
In the center of Roman towns was a rectangular space called the Forum. It was lined by shops and by a public building called the basilica. Markets were also held on the forum. In the towns another important building was the public baths. In Roman times people went to the baths not just to get clean but also to socialize. Roman Baths consisted of a frigidarium or cold room, a Tepidarium or warm room and a caldarium or hot room. You usually finished with a dip in a cold pool.
To clean themselves Romans rubbed their skin with oil and scraped it off with a tool called a strigil.
Larger towns also had an amphitheater where cruel sports such as cock fighting were held and sometimes gladiators fought to the death. Some Roman towns also had theaters.
The Romans gambled with dice. They also played board games. Roman children played with wooden or clay dolls. They also played ball games.
In the late 1st and 2nd centuries the Romans practices cremation. However in the 3rd century they began to bury the dead. Citizens were buried in cemeteries outside the walls. Many Roman towns also had public toilets.
Towns in Roman Britain were small by our standards. It is not known exactly how big they were but London may have had a population of around 35,000. Towns like Colchester and Cirencester probably had between 10,000 and 12,000 inhabitants. Most towns were smaller with only 3,000-5,000 people.
Roman Britain was, of course, an agricultural society where most people made their living from farming (although there were many craftsmen). Only a small minority of the population (probably around 10%) lived in towns.
Life for the rich in Roman Britain
Meanwhile upper class Celts adopted the Roman way of life. They built villas modeled on Roman buildings and they enjoyed luxuries such as mosaics and even a form of central heating called a hypocaust. In a hypocaust the floor was raised above the ground on pillars. A fire was lit in a furnace and the hot air circulated under the floor. It also rose through spaces in the walls. (Smoke rose through spaces in walls then escaped through flues in the roof). Of course a hypocaust was expensive. It burned large amounts of wood and you needed slaves to keep loading fuel into the furnace. Only the rich could afford them.
Wealthy Romans also had wall paintings called murals in their houses. In their windows they had panes of glass. Of course poorer Romans had none of these things. Their houses were simple and plain and the main form of heating was braziers.
For the wealthy furniture was very comfortable. It was upholstered and finely carved. People ate while reclining on couches. Oil lamps were used for light. Furthermore some people had a piped water supply. Water was brought into towns in aqueducts they went along lead pipes to individual houses.
The sons and daughters of better off Romans went to primary school to learn to read and write and do simple arithmetic. Usually only boys went to secondary school where they would learn geometry, history, literature and oratory (the art of public speaking). Girls and boys from wealthy families were taught at home by tutors. Some upper class Roman women were highly educated.
Roman boys and girls wore a kind of necklace called a bulla. It consisted of a charm inside a pouch. It was worn around the neck. A boy wore his until he reached manhood. A girl discarded hers when she got married. For rich children the bulla might be made of gold.
For the rich in Roman Britain luxuries like wine and olive oil were imported.
Food In Roman Britain
The Romans also introduced new foods into Britain, among them celery, cabbages, radishes, cucumbers, broad beans and walnuts. Romans cooked on charcoal stoves. Olive oil was imported. So were olives, figs and grapes. Wine was also imported (although the Romans attempted to grow vines in Britain).
The Romans were also very fond of fish sauce called liquamen. They also liked oysters, which were exported from Britain.
A Roman dining room was called a triclinium. The Romans ate a breakfast of bread and fruit called the ientaculum. At midday they ate a meal called the prandium of fish, cold meat, bread and vegetables. The main meal was called the cena and was eaten in the evening.
Transport in Roman Britain
The Romans are also famous for the network of roads they built across Britain, which remained centuries after they departed. Rich people traveled by horse or on long journeys by covered wagon. Sometimes they were carried in litters (seats between two long poles).
Transport by water was also important to the Romans. They built large merchant ships called cortia, which could carry up to 1,000 tons of cargo.
Roman ships had a single main mast, which carried a rectangular sail, although some ships also had small sails at the bow and stern. Roman ships did not have rudders. Instead they were steered by oars. The Romans also built lighthouses to aid shipping.
Poor people in Roman Britain
However Roman rule probably made little difference to most poor Celts, especially in the north and extreme southwest of England. For them life went on much as it had before. Their houses remained simple huts.
Like the Celts before them and the Saxons after them the Romans kept slaves. A slave's life was, no doubt, horrid. He or she was simply a piece of property and could be bought and sold like an animal. Most people probably treated their slaves reasonably well simply to keep them working efficiently. However, no doubt some masters were cruel. Probably slaves who worked in mines were the worst off. However some slaves managed to gain their freedom or were given their freedom by their masters.
Soldiers in Roman Britain
In the first century the Roman legionary wore segmented armor (lorica segmentata). He threw a spear called a pilum and fought with a short sword called a gladius. He was protected by a curved rectangular shield. There were also auxiliary soldiers, both infantry and cavalry. When they finished their service they became Roman citizens.
By the third century cavalry had become much more important. The Roman army needed mobility to fight the Saxons who were making 'hit and run' raids on Britain. The Romans built a line of forts along the 'Saxon Shore' form Thw Wash to Portsmouth Harbour to fight them.
Portchester Castle, A Roman fort
The Romans were usually tolerant in religion but they destroyed the Druids. The Druids had great political and social influence. The Romans probably saw them as a threat.
However although the Druid priesthood was abolished the Celtic people continued to worship their traditional gods and goddesses. The Romans introduced their own gods but they were often very similar to the Celtic ones. In fact they were so similar temples were often dedicated to both the Celtic god and the Roman equivalent.
The Romans also introduced religions from the east. By the 3rd century Mithraism was popular. It involved the worship of the Persian god Mithras, god of light and the sun.
By the second century there were Christians in Roman Britain. The Romans persecuted Christians but we only the names of three Christian martyrs. St Alban was martyred at a Roman town called Verulamium. (Later in history another town was built by it and named St Albans). We also know the names of Aaron and Julius but little else about them. Persecution of Christians ended in 312 when Constantine converted to the new faith.
LIFE IN ANGLO SAXON ENGLAND
Society in Anglo Saxon England
Everyday life in Anglo Saxon England was hard and rough even for the rich. Society was divided into three classes. At the top were the thanes, the Saxon upper class. They enjoyed hunting and feasting and they were expected to give their followers gifts like weapons. Below them were the churls. Some churls were reasonably well off. Others were very poor. However at least they were free. Below them were a class of slaves called thralls. Their lives were very hard.
Some churls owned their own land but many 'rented' land from a thane. They 'paid rent' by working on the thane's land for part of the week and by giving him part of their crops.
In early Anglo Saxon Times England was a very different place from what it is today. It was covered by forest. Wolves prowled in them and they were a danger to domestic animals. The human population was very small. There were perhaps one million people in England at that time. Almost all of them lived in tiny villages - many had less than 100 inhabitants. Each village was mainly self sufficient. The people needed only a few things from outside like salt and iron. They grew their own food and made their own clothes.
By the 11th century things had changed somewhat. The great majority of people still lived in the countryside but a significant minority (about 10%) lived in towns. Many new towns had been created and trade was flourishing. England had grown into a stable, civilized state with an efficient system of local government. In the monasteries learning and the arts flourished.
The Anglo Saxons also gave us most English place names. Anglo Saxon place name endings include: ham, a village or estate, tun (usually changed to ton), a farm or estate, hurst, a wooded hill and bury, which is derived from the Anglo Saxon word burh, meaning fortress or fortified settlement. The Anglo Saxons called groups of Roman buildings a caester. In time that world evolved into the place name ending chester, caster or cester.
An 11th Century Anglo Saxon church in Chichester
Kinship (family ties) were very important in Anglo Saxon society. If you were killed your relatives would avenge you. If one of your relatives was killed you were expected to avenge them. However the law did provide an alternative. If you killed or injured somebody you could pay them or their family compensation. The money paid was called wergild and it varied according to a persons rank. The wergild for killing a thane was much more than that for killing a churl. Thralls or slaves had no wergild. If the wergild was not paid the relatives were entitled to seek revenge.
At first Anglo Saxon society was relatively free. There were some slaves but the basis of society was the free peasant. However in time Anglo Saxon churls began to lose their freedom. They became increasingly dependent on their Lords and under their control.
Farmers in Anglo Saxon England
The vast majority of Anglo Saxons made their living from farming. Up to 8 oxen pulled plows and fields were divided into 2 or sometimes 3 huge strips. One strip was plowed and sown with crops while the other was left fallow.
The Anglo Saxons grew crops of wheat, barley and rye. They also grew peas, cabbages, parsnips, carrots and celery. They also ate fruit such as apples, blackberries, raspberries and sloes. They raised herds of goats, cattle and pigs and flocks of sheep.
However farmers could not grow enough food to keep many of their animals through the winter so as winter approached most of them had to be slaughtered and the meat salted.
Some Anglo Saxons were craftsmen. They were blacksmiths, bronze smiths and potters. At first Anglo Saxon potters made vessels by hand but in the 7th century the potters wheel was introduced. Other craftsmen made things like combs from bone and antler or horn. There were also many leather workers and Anglo Saxon craftsmen also made elaborate jewelry for the rich.
Homes in Anglo Saxon England
The Anglo Saxons lived in wooden huts with thatched roofs. Usually there was only one room shared by everybody. (Poor people shared their huts with animals divided from them by a screen. During the winter the animals body heat helped keep the hut warm). Thanes and their followers slept on beds but the poorest people slept on the floor.
There were no panes of glass in windows, even in a Thane's hall and there were no chimneys. Floors were of earth or sometimes there were dug out and had wooden floorboards placed over them. There were no carpets. Rich people used candles but they were too expensive for the poor. Instead poor Anglo Saxons used rushlights (rushes dipped in animal fat).
Anglo Saxon toilets were just pits dug in the ground surrounded by walls of wattle (strips of wood woven together). The seat was a piece of wood with a hole in it.
Food in Anglo Saxon England
Anglo Saxon women ground grain, baked bread and brewed beer. Another Anglo Saxon drink was mead, made from fermented honey. (Honey was very important to the Anglo Saxons as there was no sugar for sweetening food. Bees were kept in every village). Upper class Anglo Saxons sometimes drank wine. The women cooked in iron cauldrons over open fires or in pottery vessels. They also made butter and cheese. Anglo Saxons ate from wooden bowls. There were no forks only knives and wooden spoons. Cups were made from cow horn.
The Anglo Saxons were fond of meat and fish. However meat was a luxury and only the rich could eat it frequently. The ordinary people usually ate a dreary diet of bread, cheese and eggs. They ate not just chickens eggs but eggs from ducks, geese and wild birds.
Clothes in Saxon England
Anglo Saxon men wore a shirt and tunic. They wore trouser like garments called breeches. Sometimes they extended to the ankle but sometimes they were shorts. Men might wear wool leggings held in place by leather garters. They wore cloaks held in place by brooches. Anglo Saxon women wore a long linen garment with a long tunic over it. They also wore mantles. Both men and women used combs made of bone or antler.
Weapons in Anglo Saxon England
In battle thanes wore chainmail. Ordinary Anglo Saxons just wore an iron helmet and held a round wooden shield. They fought with spears, swords and battleaxes. The usual Anglo Saxon tactic was to form a 'shield wall' by standing side by side holding their shields in a line. The shield wall was a very effective tactic. The Anglo Saxons only lost the battle of Hastings because some of them broke formation.
Rich Anglo Saxons
Rich people's houses were rough, crowded and uncomfortable. Even a Thane's hall was really just a large wooden hut although it was usually hung with rich tapestries. Thanes also like to show off any gold they owned. Any furniture must have been simple and heavy such as wooden chests.
However at least the rich Anglo Saxons ate well. In the evenings they feasted and drank. During the day the main pastime of the rich was hunting. Rich Anglo Saxons kept falcons. In the evenings apart from feasting they enjoyed storytelling, riddles and games like chess. After feasts minstrels or gleemen entertained the lord and his men by playing the harp and singing.
Towns in Anglo Saxon England
At first the Anglo Saxons were farming people and they had no need for towns. However in time trade slowly increased and some towns appeared. By the mid-7th century the Anglo Saxons were minting silver coins. In Anglo Saxon times a new town of London emerged outside the walls of the old Roman town. Some towns were created deliberately. King Ine founded Southampton at the end of the 7th Century. Other towns grew up at Hereford, Ipswich, Norwich and Bristol. In the late 9th century and early 10th century Anglo Saxon kings created fortified settlements called burhs. These were more than just forts. They were also flourishing little market towns. Examples include Winchester, the capital of England. In the towns craftsmen worked with iron, leather, bone and wood. Little wooden ships sailed to and from the Anglo Saxon ports. The main export from Anglo Saxon England was wool. Slaves were also exported.
Nevertheless all these towns were very small by modern standards. In 1086 the population of London was only 16,000-18,000 and a large town like Lincoln only had 5,000 inhabitants. A medium sized town like Colchester had about 2,500 inhabitants. Many towns were smaller.
The old Roman towns fell into decay and Roman roads became overgrown. Travel was slow and dangerous in Anglo Saxon times and most people only traveled if it was unavoidable. If possible people traveled by water along the coast or along rivers.
LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES
Society in Medieval England
Under the feudal system, introduced by the Normans society was like a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid was the king. Below him were the barons or tenants-in-chief. The king granted them land and in return they had to provide so many soldiers to fight for so many days a year. They also had to swear an oath of loyalty to the king and they became his vassals. The barons granted land to knights. In return they had to fight for so many days a year.
However this system proved awkward. If a knight had to fight, say, 40 days a year when the 40 days were up he would return home even if the king were in the middle of a campaign. Kings began to allow the barons to pay 'shield money'. They used the money to pay soldiers when they needed them.
At the bottom of society were peasants. Most were serfs or villeins. They were not free and could not leave their land without the lord's permission. Furthermore, as well as working on their own land they had to farm the lord's land for 2 or 3 days a week. They also had to work extra days for him at busy times like harvest. (Although in time more and more lords allowed them to pay money rents instead of doing labor service).
Villeins also had other burdens. For instance when a villein died his son had to give the lord the best animal before taking over his father's land. Usually peasants had to grind their grain to flour in the lord's mill (and give him a portion of their grain). In some places they also had to bake their bread in the lord's oven. However if you could escape from your village to a town for a year and a day you then officially became free. Moreover the Black Death severely weakened the villeinage system. At the time of the Domesday Book the population of England was around 2 million. By the end of the 13th century it had probably risen to about 6 million.
However in the early 14th century the climate of the world cooled and there were a series of famines. The population began to fall. The Black Death of 1348-49 killed about one third of the population of England. So many people died there was a serious shortage of labor and lords were willing to 'poach' workers from other lords by offering them higher wages. Parliament tried to fix wages by law to prevent them rising but this was impossible to enforce. By the 15th century the system of serfdom or villeinage had broken down in England.
In the Middle Ages the king ruled by divine right. In other words people believed that God had chosen him to be king and rebellion against him was a sin. However that did not stop rebellions! Kings had limited power in the Middle Ages and rebellion was easy. A great deal depended on the personality of the king. If he was a strong character he could control the barons. If he were weak or indecisive the barons would often rebel. Warrior kings who fought successful wars were the most powerful as they were popular with the nobility.
A Peasant's Hut in the Middle Ages
Medieval peasants homes were simple wooden huts. They had wooden frames filled in with wattle and daub (strips of wood woven together and covered in a 'plaster' of animal hair and clay). However in some parts of the country huts were made of stone. Peasants huts were either whitewashed or painted in bright colors.
The poorest people lived in one-room huts. Slightly better off peasants lived in huts with one or two rooms. There were no panes of glass in the windows only wooden shutters, which were closed at night. The floors were of hard earth sometimes covered in straw for warmth.
In the middle of a peasant's hut was a fire used for cooking and heating. There was no chimney. Any furniture was very basic. Chairs were very expensive and no peasant could afford one. Instead they sat on benches or stools. They would have a simple wooden table and chests for storing clothes and other valuables. Tools and pottery vessels were hung on hooks. The peasants slept on straw and they did not have pillows. Instead they rested their heads on wooden logs. The peasant's wife cooked on a cauldron suspended over the fire and the family ate from wooden bowls. Candles were expensive so peasants usually used rushlights (rushes dipped in animal fat).
At night in summer and all day in winter the peasants shared their huts with their animals. Parts of it were screened off for the livestock. Their body heat helped to keep the hut warm.
Rich People's Houses in The Middle Ages
The Normans, at first, built castles of wood. In the early 12th century stone replaced them. In the towns wealthy merchants began living in stone houses. (The first ordinary people to live in stone houses were Jews. They had to live in stone houses for safety).
In Saxon times a rich man and his entire household lived together in one great hall. In the Middle Ages the great hall was still the center of a castle but the lord had his own room above it. This room was called the solar. In it the lord slept in a bed, which was surrounded by curtains, both for privacy and to keep out drafts. The other members of the lord's household, such as his servants, slept on the floor of the great hall. At one or both ends of the great hall there was a fireplace and chimney. In the Middle Ages chimneys were a luxury. As time passed they became more common but only a small minority could afford them. Certainly no peasant could afford one.
About 1180 for the first time since the Romans rich people had panes of glass in the windows. At first glass was very expensive and only rich people could afford it but by the late 13th and early 14th centuries the middle classes began to have glass in some of their windows. Those people who could not afford glass could use thin strips of horn or pieces of linen soaked in tallow or resin which were translucent.
In the Middle Ages furniture was very basic. Even in a rich household chairs were rare. Most people sat on stools or benches. Rich people also had tables and large chests, which doubled up as beds. Rich peoples homes were hung with wool tapestries or painted linen. They were not just for decoration. They also helped keep out drafts. In a castle the toilet or garderobe was a chute built into the thickness of the wall. The seat was made of stone. Sometimes the garderobe emptied straight into the moat!
In the Middle Ages men wore tunics. Some men wore shorts and all wore 'hose' (tights or stockings). They wore a long tunic (to their ankles) and over it another garment, a gown. Women held their dresses with a belt tied around their waists.
Both sexes wore wool but it varied in quality. It could be fine and expensive or coarse and cheap. From the mid-14th century laws lay down which materials the different classes could wear, to stop the middle classes dressing 'above themselves'. (Poor people could not afford to wear expensive cloth anyway!). However most people ignored the law and wore what they wished.
In the late 14th and 15th centuries clothes became much more elaborate. Fashion in the modern sense began. For the wealthy styles changed rapidly. Women wore elaborate hats and men wore long pointed shoes called crakows. However poor people wore practical clothes. If it was wet and muddy they wore wooden clogs.
In the Middle Ages the rich ate well. They ate beef, mutton, pork and venison. They also ate a great variety of birds, swans, herons, ducks, blackbirds and pigeons. However the church decreed that Wednesday, Friday and Saturday were fast days when people were not allowed to eat meat. Rich people usually had fish ponds so they could eat pike and carp. They also ate fish caught in rivers or the sea.
The rich ate breakfast in private but they ate dinner at mid-morning and supper at 5 or 6 in the great hall. On special occasions they had huge feasts. The Lord and his lady sat at a table on a raised wooden platform so they could look down on the rest of the household. Often musicians entertained them while they ate. Rich people ate their food from slices of stale bread called trenchers. Afterwards they were given to the poor.
Poor people ate a simple and monotonous diet. For them meat was a luxury. If they were lucky they had rabbit or pork. They also ate lots of coarse, dark bread and cheese. They only had one cooked meal a day. In the evening the mother mixed grain with hot water. She added vegetables and, if available, meat or fish to make a kind of soup called pottage. In the autumn peasants gathered fruit and nuts. In normal years the peasants had an adequate diet but if there was a famine they might starve.
Rich People in The Middle Ages
The main pastime of the upper class was hunting. Lords hunted deer with packs of dogs and killed them with arrows. They also hunted wild boar with spears. Both men and women went hawking. In the evenings they feasted, danced and played board games such as chess and backgammon. In the mid-15th century playing cards arrived in England. When he was not hunting the noble or knight was fighting. Their wives were also kept busy. They had to organize the servants and generally run the household.
Knights also took part in tournaments. These events drew large crowds of spectators. At them knights fought with wooden lances, swords or maces. This was called jousting. There were also tourneys (fights between teams). Tournaments often lasted four days. Two days were for jousting, one was for tourneys and one was for archery competitions.
Children in The Middle Ages
Children from noble families saw little of their parents. When they were very young nurses looked after them. When they were about 7 they were sent to live with another noble household. Boys became pages and had to wait on lords and ladies. They also learned to fight. At 14 a boy became a squire and at 21 a knight. Girls learned the skills they needed to run a household. Childhood ended early for children in the Middle Ages. In upper class families girls married as young as 12 and boys as young as 14. They did not normally choose their own marriage partners. Their parents arranged their marriages for them. Children from poor families might have more choice about who they married but by the time they were about 7 or 8 they had to start helping their parents by doing simple jobs such as chasing away birds when crops had been sown or helping to weave wool. Children were expected to help the family earn a living as soon as they were able.
A Peasant's Life in The Middle Ages
Most people in the Middle Ages lived in small villages of 20 or 30 families. The land was divided into 3 huge fields. Each year 2 were sown with crops while one was left fallow (unused) to allow it to recover. Each peasant had some strips of land in each field. Most peasants owned only one ox so they had to join with other families to obtain the team of oxen needed to pull a plow. After plowing the land was sown. Men sowed grain and women planted peas and beans.
Most peasants also owned a few cows, goats and sheep. Cows and goats gave milk and cheese. Most peasants also kept chickens for eggs. They also kept pigs. Peasants were allowed to graze their livestock on common land. In the autumn they let their pigs roam in the woods to eat acorns and beechnuts. However they did not have enough food to keep many animals through the winter. Most of the livestock was slaughtered in autumn and the meat was salted to preserve it.
However life in the Middle Ages was not all hard work. People were allowed to rest on Holy days (from which we get our word holiday). During them poor people danced and wrestled. They also played a very rough form of football. The men from 2 villages played on a 'pitch' which might include woods and streams! There were no rules so broken limbs and other injuries were common. People also enjoyed cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bear baiting. (A bear was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it). Gambling was also common.
The 'backbone' of Medieval armies was the armored knight mounted on a horse. Norman knights wore chainmail, armor made of iron rings joined together. In the 14th century chain mail was replaced by plate armor. Metal plates were attached to each part of the body. Norman knights carried kite shaped shields. Later in the middle Ages shields became smaller.
The Normans built wooden forts called motte and bailey castles. An artificial mound of earth was created, called a motte and the living quarters were built on top. Below was a walled yard called a bailey where food and animals were stored. The whole thing was sometimes protected by a moat. However these early wooden forts were vulnerable to fire and later castles were built of stone. In the center was a stone tower called a keep where the inhabitants lived. Surrounding it was a curtain wall. However even if attackers breached the curtain wall the defenders could retreat into the keep and continue to hold out.The weakest part of a castle was its gate but there were ways of strengthening it. A building called a gatehouse was built. Often it was approached by a drawbridge over a moat. Gatehouses usually had an iron grid called a portcullis that could be raised or lowered vertically. Behind the portcullis was a covered passageway running through the gatehouse. Sometimes there was a second portcullis at the other end of the passageway. If you got past the drawbridge and the first portcullis you would have to fight your way to the second portcullis and the defenders would not make it easy for you. In the roof were holes through which the defenders could drop stones or pour boiling liquids.
Around the curtain wall were arrow slits called embrasures. Furthermore the tops of castle walls often had overhangs. In them were openings through which boiling liquids could be poured or stones could be dropped. They were called machicolations.
However attackers could use a variety of siege weapons. The simplest was a battering ram. The users were protected by a wooden shed but the defenders might set it on fire. They could also use a crane with giant 'tongs' to try and grab the ram. To climb the walls you could use ladders but that was dangerous as the defenders could push them over. Attackers might use a wooden siege tower on wheels. Inside it were ladders for soldiers to climb. At the top was a drawbridge. When it was lowered the attackers could swarm over the castle walls. Attackers could also use a kind of crane called a tenelon to get over the wall. On the end of a long wooden arm was a basket containing soldiers. The basket could be swung over the castle walls.
The attackers could also hurl missiles. A Medieval catapult was powered by twisted rope. The rope was twisted tighter and tighter then released, firing a stone. Another siege weapon in the Middle Ages was called a trebuchet. It worked by counterweight. It was a kind of see saw with a huge weight at one end and a sling containing a missile at the other. The sling was tied down and when it was released the great weight at the other end of the 'see saw' caused it to swing upwards and hurl its missile. Attackers could also tunnel under the castle walls. The tunnels were supported by wooden props. When ready they were covered in animal fat and burned. The tunnels would collapse and hopefully so would the walls.
However in the 14th century warfare was changed by the longbow. Longbows were not new (archaeologists have found examples thousands of years old). However in the 14th century the English learned to use the longbow in a new way. In the early Middle Ages archers were used to 'soften up' the enemy before knights charged. (They were used that way at Hastings). However in the 14th century the English devised a new tactic of having dismounted knights protect the archers and allowing the enemy to charge. The enemy cavalry was decimated by volleys of arrows. The longbow was used to win great victories at Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415). An archer could shoot an arrow every 5 or 6 seconds. He could shoot an arrow up to 225 meters. An arrow could penetrate armor at 90 meters. The one disadvantage of the longbow was that it took years to learn to use one properly.
In the Middle Ages roads were no more than dirt tracks that turned to mud in winter. Men traveled on horseback (if they could afford a horse!). Ladies traveled in wagons covered in painted cloth. They looked pretty but they must have been very uncomfortable on bumpy roads as they had no springs. Worse, travel in the Middle Ages was very slow. A horseman could only travel 50 or 60 kilometers a day. Some goods were carried by pack horses (horses with bags loaded on their sides) and peasants pulled along two-wheeled carts full of hay and straw.
However, whenever they could people traveled by water. It was faster and more comfortable than travelling by land. It was also much cheaper to send goods by water than by land. Some goods were taken by ship from one part of the English coast to another. This was known as the coastal trade. The main type of ship in the Middle Ages was called a cog. It had only one sail. Furthermore in the early Middle Ages ships did not have rudders. The rudder was invented at the end of the 13th century.
In the Middle Ages people believed they would gain favor with God if they went on long journeys they called pilgrimages to visit shrines. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) wrote the Canterbury Tales about a group of pilgrims who go to Canterbury to visit the burial place of Thomas Becket. They tell each other tales to pass the time.
Towns in The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages most people lived in the countryside and made a living from farming. However at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) about 10% of the population of England lived in town. Moreover trade boomed in the following two centuries and many new towns were founded. Examples of towns founded in the 12th and 13th centuries include Portsmouth, Plymouth, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Doncaster and Preston.
The first thing that would surprise us about Medieval towns would be their small size. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 London had a population of about 18,000. By the 14th century it rose to about 45,000. Other towns were much smaller. York may have had a population of about 13,000 by 1400 but it then fell to about 10,000 by 1500. Most towns had between 2,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. The larger towns had stone walls. Small towns often only had stone gates. They also had ditches and earth ramparts with wooden stockades on top. Most of the buildings in Medieval towns were of wood and fire was a constant danger. Many English towns were devastated by fire in the Middle Ages.
In towns in the Middle Ages there were a host of craftsmen such as carpenters, bakers, butchers, blacksmiths, bronze smiths, fletchers (arrow makers), bowyers (bow makers), fullers (who cleaned and thickened wool before it was dyed), dyers, potters, coopers, turners (who turned wooden bowls on lathes) and barber-surgeons who both cut hair, pulled teeth and performed operations. Often craftsmen of the same kind lived in the same street. Most craftsmen had a workshop at the bottom of their house which doubled up as a shop. Behind they had a storeroom. The craftsman and his family lived in rooms above. Many people in towns kept animals as well.
Craftsmen took in apprentices for money. The apprentice lived with the craftsman and his family and his apprenticeship might last 7 or 8 years. At the end the apprentice had to make a masterpiece to prove his skill. If it was good enough he was admitted to the guild. In the Middle Ages craftsmen were organised into guilds. They fixed hours of work and the wages paid to apprentices. They also inspected member's work to make sure it was up to standard. The guilds also prevented craftsmen from other towns or anyone who wasn't part of the local guild working in their town. Moreover guilds looked after their members in times of trouble like sickness. Merchants had their own guilds.
Guilds also put on plays called mystery plays. (The word mystery is a corruption of the French word metier meaning job or trade). The plays were based on Bible stories and were meant to instruct the people. However there was nothing solemn about these plays. They contained lots of jokes.
The Church in The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages religion was a vital part of everyday life. All children were baptized (unless they were Jewish) and everyone attended mass on Sunday. Mass was in Latin, a language that ordinary people did not understand.
Bishops ruled over groups of parishes called dioceses. They usually came from rich families. Bishops lived in palaces and often took part in government. Things were very different for parish priests. They were poor and often had little education. Parish priests had their own land called the glebe where they grew their own food. They lived and worked alongside their parishioners.
In the Middle Ages monks and nuns gave food to the poor. They also ran the only hospitals where they tried to help the sick as best they could. They also provided hospitality for pilgrims and other travelers (although as time went by there were an increasing number of inns where you could pay to stay the night). In a Medieval monastery there was an almonry where food or money was given to the poor, the refectory where the monks ate, the dormitory, infirmary and the cloisters where the monks could take exercise. An almoner looked after the poor, an infirmarian looked after the sick and a hospitaller looked after visitors.
As well as the monks from the 13th century there were also friars. They took vows like but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach. Franciscan friars were called grey friars because of their grey costumes. Dominican friars were called black friars.
In the Middle Ages most people were illiterate but not all. Upper class children were educated when they were pages. Among the poor the better educated priests might teach some children to read and write - a little. In many towns there were grammar schools where middle class boys were educated. (They got their name because they taught Latin grammar). Boys worked long hours in the grammar schools and discipline was severe. Boys were beaten with rods or birch twigs.
There were also chantry schools. Some men left money in their wills to pay for a priest to chant prayers for their soul after their death. When he was not praying the priest would educate local children. During the Middle Ages literacy and learning gradually increased. By the 15th century perhaps a third of the population could read and write.
From the early 13th century England had two universities at Oxford and Cambridge. At them students learned seven subjects, grammar, rhetoric (the art of public speaking), logic, astronomy, arithmetic, music and geometry.
Medicine in The Middle Ages
In the late 11th century a school of medicine was founded in Salerno in Italy. In the 12th century another was founded at Montpellier. In the 13th century more were founded at Bologna, Padua and Paris. Furthermore many students studied medicine in European universities. Medicine became a profession again. However ordinary people could not afford doctors fees. Instead they saw 'wise men' or 'wise women' with folk remedies.
In the Middle Ages medicine was dominated by the ideas of Galen and the theory of the four humors. Medieval doctors were great believers in blood letting. Ill people were cut and allowed to bleed into a bowl. People believed that regular bleeding would keep you healthy. So monks were given regular blood letting sessions. Medieval doctors also prescribed laxatives for purging. Enemas were given with a greased tube attached to a pigs bladder.
Doctors also prescribed baths in scented water. They also used salves and ointments and not just for skin complaints. Doctors believed it was important when treating many illnesses to prevent heat or moisture escaping from the affected part of the body and they believed that ointments would do that. In the Middle Ages doctors also examined a patient's urine. The color, smell and even taste of urine were important.
Astrology was also an important part of medicine in the Middle Ages. Doctors believed that people born under certain zodiac signs were more susceptible to certain ailments.
In the 13th century a new type of craftsmen emerged in towns called a barber-surgeon. They cut hair, they pulled teeth and they performed simple operations such as amputations and setting broken bones.
In the Middle Ages the church ran the only hospitals. (Although often the only thing they could do was offer food and shelter). In many towns monks and nuns cared for the sick as best they could.
Furthermore outside many towns were leper 'hospitals' (really just hostels as nothing could be done for the patients). Leprosy was a dreadful skin disease. Anyone who caught it was an outcast. They had to wear clothes that covered their whole body. They also had to ring a bell or a wooden clacker to warn people they were coming. Fortunately leprosy grew less common in the 15th century and it died out in Britain in the 16th century.
In the Middle Ages in some monasteries streams provided clean water. Dirty water was used to clear toilets, which were in a separate room. Monks also had a room called a laver where they washed their hands before meals.
However in castles the toilet was simply a long passage built into the thickness of the walls. Often it emptied into the castle moat. Despite the lack of public health many towns had public bath-houses were you could pay to have a bath.
From the mid-14th century the church allowed some dissections of human bodies at medical schools. However Galen's ideas continued to dominate medicine and surgery in the Middle Ages.
LIFE IN THE 16TH CENTURY
Society in the 16th Century
In 16th century England most of the population lived in small villages and made their living from farming. However towns grew larger and more important. During the 16th century trade and industry grew rapidly and England became a more and more commercial country. Mining of coal, tin and lead flourished. So did the iron industry. During this period England became richer and richer.
As England grew more and more prosperous life for the well off became more and more comfortable. Upper class and middle class people benefited from the growing wealth of the country. However for the poor life did not improve. For them life was hard and rough.
Meanwhile in the 15th century the population of England may have been around 2 and a half million. It rose steadily during the 16th century. By 1525 it had risen to around 3 million and by 1600 it was about 4 million.
Society was divided into four broad groups. At the top were the nobility who owned huge amounts of land. Below them were the gentry and rich merchants. Gentlemen owned large amounts of land and they were usually educated and had a family coat of arms. Most important gentlemen never did any manual work. Below the gentry were yeomen and craftsmen. Yeomen owned their own land. They could be as wealthy as gentlemen but they worked alongside their men. Yeomen and craftsmen were often able to read and write. Below the yeomen were the tenant farmers who leased their land from the rich. There were also wage laborers. They were often illiterate and very poor.
In the 16th century the parish became the basis of local government. The most important person was an appointed magistrate called the Justice of the Peace. Meanwhile kings and queens grew stronger. During the Middle Ages the barons held castles, which were difficult to capture so it was easy for them to rebel. Cannons changed all that.
Punishments in the 16th Century
In the 16th century prison was seldom used as a punishment. Instead people were held in prison until trial then the prisoner was given a physical punishment. Punishments were simple but harsh like flogging. Minor crimes were also punished by the pillory or the stocks. The pillory was a wooden frame on a pole with holes through which a person's head and hands were placed. The frame was then locked. The stocks was a wooden frame with holes through which a person's feet. Serious crimes were punished by death. Beheading was reserved for the wealthy. Ordinary people were usually hanged.
Houses in the 16th Century
In the Middle Ages rich people's houses were designed for defense rather than comfort. In the 16th century life was safer so houses no longer had to be easy to defend. Rich people built grand houses e.g. Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace. Later the Countess of Shrewsbury built Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.
Middle class people built sturdy 'half-timbered' houses. They were made with a timber frame filled in with wattle and daub (wickerwork and plaster). In the late 16th century some people built or rebuilt their houses with a wooden frame filled in with bricks. Roofs were usually thatched though some well off people had tiles. (In London all houses had tiles because of the fear of fire).
In the 16th century furniture was more plentiful than in the Middle Ages but it was still basic. In a wealthy home it was usually made of oak and was heavy and massive. Furniture was expected to last for generations. You expected to pass it on to your children and even your grandchildren. Comfortable beds became more and more common in the 16th century. In a middle class home a mattress was often stuffed with flock (a kind of rough wool).
Chairs were more common than in the Middle Ages but they were still expensive. Even in an upper class home children and servants sat on stools. The poor had to make do with stools and benches.
In the 15th century only a small minority of people could afford glass windows. In the 16th century they became much more common. However they were still expensive. If you moved house you took your glass windows with you! Windows were made of small pieces of glass held together by strips of lead. They were called lattice windows. However the poor still had to make do with strips of linen soaked in linseed oil.
Chimneys were also a luxury in the 16th century, although they became more common. Furthermore in the Middle Ages a rich person's house was dominated by the great hall. It extended all the way up to the roof of the building. In the 16th century many people installed another story in their house over the great hall. So well off Tudor people's houses became divided into more rooms.
In rich people's houses the walls of rooms were lined with oak paneling to keep out drafts. People slept in four-poster beds hung with curtains to reduce drafts. Wealthy people hanged tapestries or painted cloth on their walls.
In 16th century England carpets were a luxury only the rich could afford. They were usually too expensive to put on the floor! Instead they were often hung on the wall or over tables. People covered their floors with rushes or reeds, which they strewed with sweet smelling herbs.
In the 16th century wealthy people lit their homes with beeswax candles. However they were expensive. Other people made used candles made from tallow (animal fat) which gave off an unpleasant smell and the poor made do with rushlights (rushes dipped in animal fat).
Rich people had clocks in their homes. Most people relied on pocket sundials to tell the time. Rich people were also fond of gardens. Many had mazes, fountains and topiary (hedges cut into shapes). Less well off people used their gardens to grow vegetables and herbs.
However poor people lived in simple huts with one or two rooms (occasionally three). Floors were of hard earth and furniture was very basic such as benches, stools, a table and wooden chests. The poor slept on mattresses stuffed with straw or thistledown. The mattresses lay on ropes strung across a wooden frame.
In 1596 Sir John Harrington invented a flushing lavatory with a cistern. However the idea failed to catch on. People continued to use chamber pots or cess pits, which were cleaned by men called gong farmers. (In the 16th century a toilet was called a jakes). For toilet paper rich people used rags while poor people sometimes used a plant called woolly mullein.
Food in the 16th Century
In the 16th century rich people ate vast amounts of meat. However they ate few vegetables. On certain days by law people had to eat fish instead of meat. At first this was for religious reasons but later in the 16th century it was to support the fishing industry. If you lived near the sea or a river you could eat fresh fish like herring or mackerel. Otherwise you might have to rely on dried or salted fish.
Poor people lived on a dreary diet in the 16th century. In the morning they had bread and cheese and onions. They only had one cooked meal a day. They mixed grain with water and added vegetables and (if they could afford it) strips of meat.
All classes ate bread but it varied in quality. Rich peoples bread was made from fine white flour. Poor people ate coarse bread made of barley or rye. The Tudors were also fond of sweet foods (if they could afford them). However in the 16th century sugar was very expensive so most people used honey to sweeten their food.
In the 16th century new foods were introduced from the Americas. Turkeys were introduced into England about 1525. Potatoes were brought to England in the 1580s but at first few English people ate them.
Normally people did not drink water because it was too dirty. Young children drank milk. Other people drank ale or beer of, if they were rich, wine. The Tudors also drank cider and perry.
Rich people liked to show off their gold and silver plate. The middle classes would have dishes and bowls made of pewter. The poor made do with wooden plates and bowls. There were no forks. People ate with knives and their fingers or with spoons. Rich people had silver or pewter spoons. The poor used wooden ones.
In the 16th century ordinary people made much of their own food. A farmer's wife cured bacon and salted meat to preserve it. She baked bread and brewed beer. She also made pickles and conserves and preserved vegetables. Many farms kept bees for honey.
Towns in the 16th Century
Only a small part of the population of 16th century England lived in towns. Nevertheless peasants brought things to weekly markets to sell. All kinds of manufactured goods like shoes and pottery were on sale in towns.
In 1500 London probably had a population of between 60,000 and 70,000. By 1600 its population was over 250,000. Other Tudor towns were much smaller. Bristol probably had a population of about 14,000 in 1500. By 1600 it had grown to about 20,000. The next largest town, Norwich had about 10,000 inhabitants in 1500. In 1600 it still had less than 20,000. The largest town in the north of England was York. In 1500 it had a population of about 10,000. By 1600 it had only risen to about 12,000. The next largest town was probably Exeter with a population of about 9,000 in 1600. Most of the towns in Tudor England were much smaller with populations of between 2,500 and 4,000. In the 16th century anything with more than 1,000 inhabitants was considered a town.
16th century towns were dirty, smelly and crowded. There were no sewers and no drains. Rubbish such as rotting vegetables, offal and dirty water were thrown in the streets. In some towns every man was supposed to clean the street in front of his house once a week but it is unlikely many people bothered! Rats and other vermin were common.
People usually obtained their water from wells or from water carriers who carried water in containers on their shoulders. Some towns had conduits which brought in water from the countryside and which the public could use. Furthermore in some towns the principal streets were paved but most town streets were not.
In towns streets were also very narrow. Upper stories of buildings jutted out over lower stories. These were called jetties. At night the streets were dark and dangerous. Quite apart from the danger of being robbed it was easy to have an accident in dark, unpaved streets. In London you could hire a link boy with a lamp to light your way. However many people avoided going out after dark.
Given the dirty condition of Tudor towns it is not surprising that outbreaks of plague were common. When plague struck it might kill 10%, 15% or even more of the population of a town. However towns always recovered. There were always plenty of poor people in the countryside willing to come to towns in search of work.
Transport in the 16th Century
In the 16th century roads were just dirt tracks. Men were supposed, by law, to spend a number of days repairing the local roads but it is unlikely they did much good! People traveled by horse. You could either ride your own or you could hire a horse. From the mid-16th century some rich people rode in carriages. They must have been very uncomfortable because they did not have springs and roads were very bumpy.
In the 16th century you would be lucky if you could travel 50 or 60 kilometers a day. It normally took a week to travel from London to Plymouth. However rich Tudor people deliberately traveled slowly. They felt it was undignified to hurry and they took their time.
Goods were sometimes transported by pack horse (horses with bags on their sides). Also carriers with covered wagons carried goods and sometimes passengers. However when possible people preferred to transport goods by water. All around England there was a 'coastal trade'. Goods from one part of the country, such as coal, were taken by sea to other parts.
Games in the 16th Century
Although the days of armored knights were over rich people still enjoyed tournaments in the 16th century. The contestants dressed in armor and rode horses. They fought with wooden lances and swords. Rich people also enjoyed hunting. They went hunting deer with bows and arrows. After it was killed the deer was eaten. The rich also went hawking. Falcons were trained to kill other birds.
Rich people also liked wrestling and 'casting the bar', which was like shot-putting but with an iron bar. They also played billiards. Rich people also played board games like chess and backgammon. They also played tennis with a leather ball stuffed with hair. They also played bowls and skittles. Playing cards were also popular.
All classes gambled in 16th century England. Poor people gambled with dice. They also played games like shuffleboard (shove ha'penny) and nine men's morris. The Tudors also played drafts and fox and geese. Music and dancing were also very popular. The printing press made books much cheaper so reading was a popular pastime for well off people.
Ordinary people played a rough version of football. There were no rules and the 'pitch' was often a large area including woods and even streams! It was a very rough game. Injuries like broken limbs were common. Cruel 'sports' like cockfighting were also popular in the 16th century. So was bear baiting. A bear was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it.
16th century people liked plays, both comedies and tragedies. In the 16th century groups of professional actors became common. However governments were suspicious of actors. They were regarded as layabouts who did no useful work. From 1572 actors had to hold a licence from a noble. Without protection from some powerful man actors were likely to be arrested as vagrants!
In the early 16th century actors performed in market squares or inn courtyards. However in the late 16th century plays became more and more popular and it eventually became worthwhile making a purpose-built theaters in large towns. In 1576 a man named James Burbage built the first theater. Others followed. Those who could afford the best seats were sheltered from the weather. However the poor customers stood in the open air. They were called groundlings. Rich people sat on the stage!
There were no female actors in the 16th century. Boys played women's parts. Plays were usually held during the day because of the difficulty of lighting a stage.
Meanwhile children played with wooden dolls. (They were called Bartholomew babies because they were sold at St Bartholomew's fair in London). They also played cup and ball (a wooden ball with a wooden cup on the end of handle. You had to swing the handle and try and catch the ball in the cup).
Education in the 16th Century
Boys usually went to a kind of nursery school called a 'petty school' first then moved onto grammar school when they were about seven. The school day began at 6 am in summer and 7 am in winter (people went to bed early and got up early in those days). Lunch was from 11am to 1pm. School finished at about 5 pm. Boys went to school 6 days a week and there were few holidays.
Many children learned to read and write with something called a hornbook. It was not a book in the modern sense. Instead it was a wooden board with a handle. Fixed to the board was a sheet of paper with the alphabet and the Lord's prayer (the Our Father) written on it. The paper was usually protected by a thin slice of animal horn. Discipline in Tudor schools was harsh. The teacher often had a stick with birch twigs attached to it for hitting boys.
When they were about 15 or 16 the brightest boys might go to one of England's two universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Of course many boys did not go to school at all. If they were lucky they might get a 7-year apprenticeship and learn a trade. Some craftsmen could read and write but few laborers could.
As for girls, in a rich family a tutor usually taught them at home. In a middle class family their mother might teach them. Upper class and middle class women were educated. However lower class girls were not.
Children who did not go to school were expected to work. They helped their parents by doing tasks such as scaring birds when seeds were sown They also helped to weave wool and did other household tasks.
In the 16th century children from rich families usually had their marriages arranged for them. Children from poorer families had more choice over whom to marry. Yet girls usually married young. Many were married when they were only 15 or 16. Boys often married between the ages of 18 and 21.
Clothes in the 16th Century
For rich people fashion was important. For the poor clothes had to be tough and practical. All classes wore wool. However it varied in quality. The rich wore fine quality wool. The poor wore coarse wool. Linen was used to make shirts. However only the rich could afford cotton and silk. Rich people also embroidered their clothes with silk, gold or silver thread. Rich women wore silk stockings.
Men wore short trouser-like garments called breeches. They also wore tight fitting jackets called doublets. Another jacket called a jerkin was worn over the doublet. Over the jerkin rich men wore a gown, or later in the 16th century a cloak or cape.
However instead of a doublet many workingmen wore a loose tunic. It was easier to work in. Some workingmen wore a leather jerkin called a buff-jerkin. Men also wore stockings or woolen socks, which were called hose.
Women wore a kind of petticoat called a smock or shift or chemise made of linen or wool and a wool dress over it. A woman's dress was made of two parts, a bodice or corset like garment and a skirt. Sleeves were held on with laces and could be detached. Working women wore a linen apron. In Elizabethan England many women wore a frame made of whale bone or wood under their dress called a farthingale. If they could not afford a farthingale women wore a padded roll around their waist called a bum roll.
In the 16th century everyone wore hats. Poor women often wore a linen cap called a coif. After 1572 by law all men except nobles had to wear a woolen cap on Sundays. In the 16th century buttons were usually for decoration. Clothes were often held together with laces or pins. Furs in Tudor Times included cat, rabbit, beaver, bear, badger and polecat. People used mostly vegetable dyes such as madder for red, woad for blue or walnut for brown. The most expensive dyes were bright red, purple and indigo. Poor people often wore brown, yellow or blue.
In the 16th century laws called sumptuary laws laid down what each class could and could not wear. Complicated laws said that only people with a certain amount of wealth could wear certain expensive materials such as velvet and silk. These laws, of course, made no difference to poor people since they could not afford costly material anyway! However the laws were supposed to keep the classes separate. You were supposed to be able to tell which class somebody belonged to by his or her clothes. However many people simply ignored the sumptuary laws.
16th Century Warfare
In the 16th century warfare was transformed by guns. Early guns were lit by a slow match (string was soaked in saltpeter and when it was lit it smoldered). The slow match was touched to the gunpowder to ignite it. However in the early 16th century the wheelock was invented. A metal wheel spun against a piece or iron pyrites generating sparks that ignited the gunpowder. As a result most cavalry stopped using lances. Instead they carried two or three pistols each, ready to fire, and sabers.
Meanwhile in the early 16th century the traditional English weapon was the longbow but handguns were increasingly used. The longbow slowly went out of use in Tudor times. However muskets took a long time to reload and during that time the infantry needed protection from cavalry. They were protected by men with pikes (a weapon like a long spear).
Forts and walled towns often had bastions. They were triangular sections of wall that jutted out from the rest of the wall. They provided flanking fire. In other words guns on the bastion could fire at approaching soldiers from the sides.
LIFE IN THE 17TH CENTURY
Society in the 17th Century
During the 17th century England became steadily richer. Trade and commerce grew and grew. By the late 17th century trade was an increasingly important part of the English economy. Meanwhile industries such as glass, brick making, iron and coal mining expanded rapidly.
During the 1600s the status of merchants improved. People saw that trade was an increasingly important part of the country's wealth so merchants became more respected. However political power and influence was held by rich landowners.
At the top of 17th century society were the nobility. Below them were the gentry. Gentlemen were not quite rich but they were certainly well off. Below them were yeomen, farmers who owned their own land. Yeomen were comfortably off but they often worked alongside their men. Gentlemen did not do manual work! Below them came the mass of the population, craftsmen, tenant farmers and laborers.
For the upper class and the middle class life grew more comfortable but for the poor life changed little At the end of the 17th century a writer estimated that half the population could afford to eat meat every day. In other words about 50% of the people were wealthy of at least reasonably well off. Below them about 30% of the population could afford to eat meat between 2 and 6 times a week. They were 'poor'. The bottom 20% could only eat meat once a week. They were very poor. At least part of the time they had to rely on poor relief.
By an act of 1601 overseers of the poor were appointed by each parish. They had power to force people to pay a local tax to help the poor. Those who could not work such as the old and the disabled would be provided for. The overseers were meant to provide work for the able-bodied poor. Anyone who refused to work was whipped and, after 1610, they could be placed in a house of correction. Pauper's children were sent to local employers to be apprentices.
On a more cheerful note in the 17th century in many towns wealthy people left money in their wills to provide almshouses where the poor could live.
Banks in the 17th Century
Furthermore banking developed in the 17th century. As England grew more commercial so lending money became more important. In the early 17th century goldsmiths lent and changed money. Then in 1640 King Charles I confiscated gold, which London merchants had deposited at the mint for safety. Afterwards people began to deposit money with goldsmiths instead. The goldsmiths gave receipts for the gold in the form of notes promising to pay on demand.
In time merchants and tradesmen began to exchange these notes as a form of money. The goldsmiths realized that not all of their customers would withdraw their gold at the same time. So it was safe to issue notes for more gold than they actually had. They could then lend money using the extra notes. The Bank of England was founded in 1694.
Rich people's houses in the 17th Century
In the late 17th century furniture for the wealthy became more comfortable and much more finely decorated. In the early 17th century furniture was plain and heavy. It was usually made of oak. In the late 17th century furniture for the rich was often made of walnut or (from the 1680s) mahogany. It was decorated in new ways. One was veneering. (Thin pieces of expensive wood were laid over cheaper wood). Some furniture was also inlaid. Wood was carved out and the hollow was filled in with mother of pearl. At this time lacquering arrived in England. Pieces of furniture were coated with lacquer in bright colors.
Furthermore new types of furniture were introduced in Stuart England. In the mid 17th century chests of drawers became common. Grandfather clocks also became popular. Later in the century the bookcase was introduced.
Chairs also became far more comfortable. Upholstered (padded and covered) chairs became common in wealthy people's homes. In the 1680s the first real armchairs appeared.
In the early 17th century the architect Inigo Jones introduced the classical style of architecture (based on ancient Greek and Roman styles). He designed the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, which was the first purely classical building in England.
The late 17th century was a great age of building grand country homes, displaying the wealth of the upper class at that time.
Poor people's homes in the 17th Century
However all the improvements in furniture did not apply to the poor. Their furniture, such as it was remained very plain and basic. However there were some improvements in poor people's houses in the 17th century.
In the Middle Ages ordinary people's homes were usually made of wood. However in the late 16th and early 17th centuries many were built or rebuilt in stone or brick. By the late 17th century even poor people usually lived in houses made of brick or stone. They were a big improvement over wooden houses. They were warmer and drier.
Furthermore in the 16th century chimneys were a luxury. However during the 17th century chimneys became more common and by the late 17th century even the poor had them. Furthermore in 1600 glass windows were a luxury. Poor people made do with linen soaked in linseed oil. However during the 17th century glass became cheaper and by the late 17th century even the poor had glass windows.
In the early 17th century there were only casement windows (ones that open on hinges). In the later 17th century sash windows were introduced. They were in two sections and they slid up and down vertically to open and shut. Although poor people's homes improved in some ways they remained very small and crowded. Most of the poor lived in huts of 2 or 3 rooms. Some families lived in just one room.
Food in the 17th Century
In the early 17th century people began eating with forks for the first time. During the century new foods were introduced into England (for the rich) such as bananas and pineapples. New drinks were introduced, chocolate, tea and coffee. In the late 17th century there were many coffee houses in the towns. Merchants and professional men met there to read newspapers and talk shop. However for the poor food remained plain and monotonous. They subsisted on food like bread, cheese and onions. Ordinary people also ate pottage each day.
Clothes in the 17th Century
At the beginning of the 17th century men wore starched collars called ruffs. Women wore frames made of wood or whalebone under their dresses. They were called farthingales. However the farthingale was soon discarded and the ruff evolved into a large lace collar (for those who could afford it!). In the 17th century men wore knee length, trouser like garments called breeches. They also wore stockings and boots.
On the upper body men wore linen shirts. In the early 17th century they wore a kind of jacket called a doublet with a cape on top. Men wore their hair long. They also wore beards. In the late 17th century a man's doublet became a waistcoat and men wore a frock coat over it. With breeches it was rather like a three-piece suit. Men were now clean shaven and they wore wigs.
Women wore a linen nightie like garment called a shift. Over it they wore long dresses. The dress was in two parts the bodice and the skirt. Sometimes women wore two skirts. The upper skirt was gathered up to reveal an underskirt. From the mid 17th century it was fashionable for women to wear black patches on their faces such as little stars or crescent moons.
Games in the 17th Century
In the 17th century traditional pastimes such as cards and bowls continued. So did games like tennis and shuttlecock. People also played board games like chess, draughts, backgammon and fox and goose. The wealthy also played a game called pale-maille (Pall Mall in London gets its name from an area where the game was played). Charles II also made yachting a popular sport.
The theater remained popular. However the Puritans disapproved of the theater and in 1642 they banned it completely. Theater began again in 1660. In the early 17th century the stage jutted out into the audience. In the late 17th century it took on its modern form. In the early 17th century boys played women's parts. However after 1660 actresses performed. Among the poor cruel 'sports' like cock fighting and bull and bear baiting were popular. (A bear or bull was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it). The first English newspaper was printed in 1641. The first women's magazine was The Ladies Mercury in 1693.
Transport in the 17th Century
In 1600 the royal posts were exclusively used to carry the kings correspondence. However in 1635, to raise money, Charles I allowed members of the public to pay his messengers to carry letters. This was the start of the royal mail.
From the middle of the 17th century stagecoaches ran regularly between the major English towns. However they were very expensive and they must have been very uncomfortable without springs on rough roads. There was also the danger of highwaymen. In 1663 the first Turnpike roads opened. You had to pay to use them. The money was used to maintain the roads. In towns wealthy people were carried in sedan chairs.
Warfare in the 17th Century
In the early 17th century firearms were either matchlocks or wheel locks. A matchlock held a slow burning match, which was touched to the powder when the trigger was pulled. With a wheel lock a metal wheel spun against iron pyrites making sparks. During the 17th century both of these were gradually replaced by the flintlock which worked by hitting a piece of flint and steel making sparks.
Furthermore in the early 17th century the cartridge was invented. The musket ball was placed in a container, which held the right amount of gunpowder to fire it. The soldier no longer had to measure powder from a powder horn into his gun.
Apart from artillery there were two branches of an army. The cavalry were usually armed with wheel lock pistols and sabers. They were protected by back plates, breastplates and helmets. The infantry consisted men armed with muskets and those armed with pikes. A musket took a long time to reload and the soldiers were very vulnerable while they did so. Therefore they were protected by men with pikes (a weapon like a long spear). In theory there were two musketeers to each pike man. The pike men usually had a steel helmet but musketeers did not usually wear armor.
About 1680 the bayonet was invented. With bayonet fixed a musket could be used as a weapon even if it had been fired and was not reloaded. The bayonet did away with the need for pike men.
LIFE IN THE 18TH CENTURY
Society in 18th Century Britain
In the late 18th century life the industrial revolution began to transform life in Britain. Until then most people lived in the countryside and made their living from farming. By the mid 19th century most people in Britain lived in towns and made their living from mining or manufacturing industries.
From 1712 a man named Thomas Newcomen (1663-1729) made primitive steam engines for pumping water from mines. In 1769 James Watt (1736-1819) patented a more efficient steam engine. In 1785 his engine was adapted to driving machinery in a cotton factory. The use of steam engines to drive machines slowly transformed industry.
Meanwhile during the 1700s Britain built up a great overseas empire. The North American colonies were lost after the War of Independence 1776-1783. On the other hand after the Seven Years War 1756-1763 Britain captured Canada and India. Britain also took Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent and Tobago in the West Indies. In 1707 the Act of Union was passed. Scotland was united with England and Wales. England became part of Great Britain.
Owning land was the main form of wealth in the 18th century. Political power and influence was in the hands of rich landowners. At the top were the nobility. Below them were a class of nearly rich landowners called the gentry. In the early 18th century there was another class of landowners called yeomen between the rich and the poor. However during the century this class became less and less numerous. However other middle class people such as merchants and professional men became richer and more numerous, especially in the towns.
Below them were the great mass of the population, craftsmen and laborers. In the 18th century probably half the population lived as subsistence or bare survival level.
In the early 18th century England suffered from gin drinking. It was cheap and it was sold everywhere as you did not need a license to sell it. Many people ruined their health by drinking gin. Yet for many poor people drinking gin was their only comfort. The situation improved after 1751 when a tax was imposed on gin.
At the end of the 1700s a group of Evangelical Christians called the Clapham Sect were formed. They campaigned for an end to slavery and cruel sports. They were later called the Clapham Sect because so many of them lived in Clapham.
Towns in 18th Century England
Many towns in England were improved in the later 18th century when bodies of men called Paving or Improvement Commissioners were formed by Acts of Parliament. They had powers to pave and clean the streets and sometimes to light them with oil lamps. Some also arranged collections of rubbish. Since most of it was organic it could be sold as fertilizer.
Agriculture in 18th Century England
During the 18th century agriculture was gradually transformed by an agricultural revolution. Until 1701 seed was sown by hand. In that year Jethro Tull invented a seed drill, which sowed seed in straight lines. He also invented a horse drawn hoe which hoed the land and destroyed weed between rows of crops.
Furthermore until the 18th century most livestock was slaughtered at the beginning of winter because farmers could not grow enough food to feed their animals through the winter months.
Until the 18th century most land in England was divided into 3 fields. Each year 2 fields were sown with crops while the third was left fallow (unused). The Dutch began to grow swedes or turnips on land instead of leaving it fallow. (The turnips restored the soil's fertility). When they were harvested the turnips could be stored to provide food for livestock over the winter. The new methods were popularized in England by a man named Robert 'Turnip' Townshend (1674-1741).
Under the 3 field system, which still covered much of England, all the land around a village or small town, was divided into 3 huge fields. Each farmer owned some strips of land in each field. During the 18th century land was enclosed. That means it was divided up so each farmer had all his land in one place instead of scattered across 3 fields. Enclosure allowed farmers to use their land more efficiently. Also in the 18th century farmers like Robert Bakewell began scientific stock breeding (selective breeding). Farm animals grew much larger and they gave more meat, wool and milk.
Food in the 18th Century
There was little change in food in the 18th century. Despite the improvements in farming food for ordinary people remained plain and monotonous. For them meat was a luxury. In England a poor person's food was mainly bread and potatoes. In the 18th century drinking tea became common even among ordinary people.
Houses in the 18th Century
In the 18th century a tiny minority of the population lived in luxury. The rich built great country houses. A famous landscape gardener called Lancelot Brown (1715-1783) created beautiful gardens. (He was known as 'Capability' Brown from his habit of looking at land and saying it had 'great capabilities'). The leading architect of the 18th century was Robert Adam (1728-1792). He created a style called neo-classical and he designed many 18th century country houses.
In Georgian Britain the wealthy owned comfortable upholstered furniture. They owned beautiful furniture, some of it veneered or inlaid. However the poor had none of these things. Craftsmen and laborers lived in 2 or 3 rooms. The poorest people lived in just one room. Their furniture was very simple and plain.
Clothes in the 18th Century
In the 18th century men wore knee-length trouser like garments called breeches and stockings. They also wore waistcoats and frock coats. They wore linen shirts. Both men and women wore wigs and for men three-cornered hats were popular. Men wore buckled shoes.
Women wore stays (a bodice with strips of whalebone) and hooped petticoats under their dresses. Fashionable women carried folding fans. Fashion was very important for the rich in the 18th century but poor people's clothes hardly changed at all.
Games in the 18th Century
Traditional games remained popular in the 18th century. These included games such as chess, drafts and backgammon. They also tennis and a rough version of football. It is believed dominoes was invented in China. It reached Europe in the 18th century. Then in 1759 a man named John Jeffries invented an entirely new board game called A Journey Through Europe or The Play of Geography in which players race across a map of Europe.
Horse racing was carried on for centuries before the 18th century but at this time it became a professional sport. The Jockey Club was formed in 1727. The Derby began in 1780. For the well off card games and gambling were popular. The theater was also popular. In the early 18th century most towns did not have a purpose built theater and plays were staged in buildings like inns. However in the late 18th century theaters were built in most towns in England. Assembly rooms were also built in most towns. In them people played cards and attended balls. In London pleasure gardens were created. Moreover a kind of cricket was played long before the 18th century but at that time it took on its modern form. The first cricket club was formed at Hambledon in Hampshire about 1750.
Also in the 18th century rich people visited spas. They believed that bathing in and/or drinking spa water could cure illness. Towns like Buxton, Bath and Tunbridge prospered. At the end of the 18th century wealthy people began to spend time at the seaside. (Again they believed that bathing in seawater was good for your health). Seaside resorts like Brighton and Bognor boomed.
Reading was also a popular pastime in the 18th century and the first novels were published at this time. Books were still expensive but in many towns you could pay to join a circulating library. The first daily newspaper in England was printed in 1702. The Times began in 1785.
Many people enjoyed cruel 'sports' like cockfighting and bull baiting. (A bull was chained to a post and dogs were trained to attack it). Rich people liked fox hunting. Public executions were also popular and they drew large crowds. Boxing without gloves was also popular (although some boxers began to wear leather gloves in the 18th century). Puppet shows like Punch and Judy also drew the crowds. Furthermore in the late 18th century the circus became a popular form of entertainment.
Smoking clay pipes was popular in the 18th century. So was taking snuff. Wealthy young men would go on a 'grand tour' of Europe lasting one or two years.
Education in the 18th Century
In the early 18th century charity schools were founded in many towns in England. They were sometimes called Blue Coat Schools because of the color of the children's uniforms. Boys from well off families went to grammar schools. Girls from well off families also went to school. However dissenters (Protestants who did not belong to the Church of England) were not allowed to attend most public schools. Instead they went to their own dissenting academies.
Transport in the 18th Century
Transport was greatly improved during the 18th century. Groups of rich men formed turnpike trusts. Acts of Parliament gave them the right to improve and maintain certain roads. Travelers had to pay tolls to use them. The first turnpikes were created as early as 1663 but they became far more common in the 18th century.
Transporting goods was also made much easier by digging canals. In the early 18th century goods were often transported by pack horse. Moving heavy goods was very expensive. However in 1759 the Duke of Bridgewater decided to build a canal to bring coal from his estate at Worsley to Manchester. He employed an engineer called James Brindley. When it was completed the Bridgewater canal halved the price of coal in Manchester. Many more canals were dug in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. They played a major role in the industrial revolution by making it cheaper to transport goods.
Travel in the 18th century was made dangerous by highwaymen. The most famous is Dick Turpin (1705-1739). Originally a butcher Turpin does not deserve his romantic reputation. In reality he was a cruel and brutal man. Like many of his fellow highwaymen he was hanged. Smuggling was also very common in the 18th century. It could be very profitable as import duties on goods like rum and tobacco were very high.
Medicine in the 18th Century
Knowledge of anatomy greatly improved in the 18th century. The famous 18th century surgeon John Hunter (1728-1793) is sometimes called the Father of Modern Surgery. He invented new procedures such as tracheotomy. Among other advances a Scottish surgeon named James Lind discovered that fresh fruit or lemon juice could cure or prevent scurvy. He published his findings in 1753.
A major scourge of the 18th century was smallpox. Even if it did not kill you it could leave you scarred with pox marks. Then, in 1721 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced inoculation from Turkey. You cut the patient then introduced matter from a smallpox pustule into the wound. The patient would (hopefully!) develop a mild case of the disease and be immune in future. Then, in 1796 a doctor named Edward Jenner (1749-1823) realized that milkmaids who caught cowpox were immune to smallpox. He introduced vaccination. The patient was cut then matter from a cowpox pustule was introduced. The patient gained immunity to smallpox.
In 1700 many people believed that scrofula (a form of tubercular infection) could be healed by a monarch's touch. (Scrofula was called the kings evil). Queen Anne (1702-1714) was the last British monarch to touch for scrofula. However there were still many quacks in the 18th century. Limited medical knowledge meant many people were desperate for a cure. One of the most common treatments, for the wealthy, was bathing in or drinking spa water, which they believed could cure all kinds of illness.
Technology in the 18th Century
In the late 18th century technology advanced rapidly as Britain industrialized. From 1712 Thomas Newcomen made steam engines to pump water from mines. Then, in 1769, James Watt patented a more efficient steam engine and in the 1780s it was adapted to power machinery. The first industry to become mechanized was the textile industry. In 1771 Richard Arkwright opened a cotton-spinning mill with a machine called a water frame, which was powered by a water mill. Then, in 1779, Samuel Crompton invented a new cotton-spinning machine called a spinning mule. Finally in 1785 Edmund Cartwright invented a loom that could be powered by a steam engine. As a result of these new inventions cotton production boomed.
Iron production also grew rapidly. In 1784 a man named Henry Cort (1740-1800) invented a much better way of making wrought iron. Until then men had to beat red hot iron with hammers to remove impurities. In 1784 Cort invented the puddling process. The iron was melted in an extremely hot furnace and stirred of 'puddled' to remove impurities. The result was a vast increase in iron production.
LIFE IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Society in the 19th Century
During the 19th century life was transformed by the Industrial Revolution. At first it caused many problems but in the late 19th century life became more comfortable for ordinary people. Meanwhile Britain became the world's first urban society. By 1851 more than half the population lived in towns. The population of Britain boomed during the 1800s. In 1801 it was about 9 million. By 1901 it had risen to about 41 million. This was despite the fact that many people emigrated to North America and Australia to escape poverty. About 15 million people left Britain between 1815 and 1914. However many people migrated to Britain in the 19th century. In the 1840s many people came from Ireland, fleeing a terrible potato famine. In the 1880s the Tsar began persecuting Russian Jews. Some fled to Britain and settled in the East End of London.
In the early 19th century Britain was ruled by an elite. Only a small minority of men were allowed to vote. The situation began to change in 1832 when the vote was given to more men. Constituencies were also redrawn and many industrial towns were represented for the first time. The franchise was extended again in 1867 and 1884. In 1872 the secret ballot was introduced. Once most men could vote movements began to get women the right to vote as well. In 1897 in Britain local groups of women who demanded the vote joined to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).
In 19th century Britain at least 80% of the population was working class. In order to be considered middle class you had to have at least one servant. Most servants were female. Throughout the 19th century 'service' was a major employer of women.
In the 19th century families were much larger than today. That was partly because infant mortality was high. People had many children and accepted that not all of them would survive.
In the early 19th century a group of Evangelical Christians called the Clapham Sect were active in politics. They campaigned for an end to slavery and cruel sports. They gained their name because so many of them lived in Clapham. Organised religion was much more important in the 19th century than it is today. Nevertheless in 1851 a survey showed that only about 40% of the population were at church or chapel on a given Sunday. Even allowing for those who were ill or could not make it for some other reason it meant that half the population did not go to church. Certainly many of the poor had little or no contact with the church. In 1881 a similar survey showed only about 1/3 of the population of England at church on a given Sunday. In the late 19th century organized religion was in decline in Britain.
Work in the 19th Century
During the 1800s the factory system gradually replaced the system of people working in their own homes or in small workshops. In England the textile industry was the first to be transformed. The Industrial Revolution also created a huge demand for female and child labor. Children had always done some work but at least before the 19th century they worked in their own homes with their parents or on land nearby. Children's work was largely seasonal so they usually did have some time to play. When children worked in textile factories they often worked for more than 12 hours a day. In the early 19th century parliament passed laws to restrict child labor. However they all proved to be unenforceable. The first effective law was passed in 1833. It was effective because for the first time factory inspectors were appointed to make sure the law was being obeyed. The new law banned children under 9 from working in textile factories. It said that children aged 9 to 13 must not work for more than 12 hours a day or 48 hours a week. Children aged 13 to 18 must not work for more than 69 hours a week. Furthermore nobody under 18 was allowed to work at night (from 8.30 pm to 5.30 am). Children aged 9 to 13 were to be given 2 hours education a day.
Conditions in coalmines were often terrible. Children as young as 5 worked underground. However in 1842 a law banned women and boys under 10 from working underground. In 1844 a law banned all children under 8 from working. Then in 1847 a Factory Act said that women and children could only work 10 hours a day in textile factories. In 1867 the law was extended to all factories. (A factory was defined as a place where more than 50 people were employed in a manufacturing process). In 1878 a law banned women from working more than 56 hours a week in any factory. In the 1850s and 1860s skilled craftsmen formed national trade unions. However unskilled workers did not become organised until the late 1880s.
Cities in the 19th Century
Living conditions in early 19th British century cities were often dreadful. However there was one improvement. Gaslight was first used in 1807 in Pall Mall in London. Many cities introduced gas street light in the 1820s. However early 19th century cities were dirty, unsanitary and overcrowded. In them streets were very often unpaved and they were not cleaned. Rubbish was not collected and it was allowed to accumulate in piles in the streets. Since most of it was organic when it turned black and sticky it was used as fertilizer.
Furthermore in the early 19th century poor people often had cesspits, which were not emptied very often. Later in the century many people used earth closets. (A pail with a box containing granulated over it. When you pulled a lever clay covered the contents of the pail). In the early 19th century only wealthy people had flushing lavatories. However in the late 19th century they became common. In the early 19th century poor families often had to share toilets and on Sunday mornings queues formed.
Given these horrid conditions it is not surprising that disease was common. Life expectancy in cities was low (significantly lower than in the countryside) and infant mortality was very high. British cities suffered outbreaks of cholera in 1831-32 and in 1848-49. Fortunately the last outbreak finally spurred people into action. In the late 19th century most cities dug sewers and created piped water supplies, which made society much healthier. Meanwhile in 1842 Joseph Whitworth invented the mechanical street sweeper.
Poverty in the 19th Century
At the end of the 19th century more than 25% of the population of Britain was living at or below subsistence level. Surveys indicated that around 10% were very poor and could not afford even basic necessities such as enough nourishing food. Between 15% and 20% had just enough money to live on (provided they did not lose their job or have to take time off work through illness). If you had no income at all you had to enter the workhouse. The workhouses were feared and hated by the poor. They were meant to be as unpleasant as possible to deter poor people from asking the state for help. However during the late 19th century workhouses gradually became more humane.
Homes in the 19th Century
Well off people lived in very comfortable houses in the 19th century. (Although their servants lived in cramped quarters, often in the attic). For the first time furniture was mass-produced. That meant it was cheaper but unfortunately standards of design fell. To us middle class 19th century homes would seem overcrowded with furniture, ornaments and nick-knacks. However only a small minority could afford this comfortable lifestyle.
In the early 19th century housing for the poor was often dreadful. Often they lived in 'back-to-backs'. These were houses of three (or sometimes only two) rooms, one of top of the other. The houses were literally back-to-back. The back of one house joined onto the back of another and they only had windows on one side. The bottom room was used as a living room cum kitchen. The two rooms upstairs were used as bedrooms. The worst homes were cellar dwellings. These were one-room cellars. They were damp and poorly ventilated. The poorest people slept on piles of straw because they could not afford beds. However housing conditions gradually improved. In the 1840s local councils passed by-laws banning cellar dwellings. They also banned any new back to backs. The old ones were gradually demolished and replaced over the following decades.
In the early 19th century skilled workers usually lived in 'through houses' i.e. ones that were not joined to the backs of other houses. Usually they had two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. The downstairs front room was kept for best. The family kept their best furniture and ornaments in this room. They spent most of the their time in the downstairs back room, which served as a kitchen and living room. As the 19th century passed more and more working class people could afford this lifestyle. In the late 19th century workers houses greatly improved. After 1875 most towns passed building regulations which stated that e.g. new houses must be a certain distance apart, rooms must be of a certain size and have windows of a certain size.
By the 1880s most working class people lived in houses with two rooms downstairs and two or even three bedrooms. Most had a small garden. At the end of the 19th century some houses for skilled workers were built with the latest luxury - an indoor toilet. However even at the end of the 19th century there were still many families living in one room. Old houses were sometimes divided up into separate dwellings. Sometimes if windows were broken slum landlords could not or would not replace them. So they were 'repaired' with paper. Or rags were stuffed into holes in the glass.
In the late 19th century most homes also had a scullery. In it was a 'copper', a metal container for washing clothes. The copper was filled with water and soap powder was added. To wash the clothes they were turned with a wooden tool called a dolly. Or you used a metal plunger with holes in it to push clothes up and down. Wet clothes were wrung through a device called a wringer of mangle to dry them. The clothes wringer or mangle was invented by Robert Tasker in 1850. In 1875 a man named John B. Porter invented a portable ironing board. Sarah Boone patented an improved device in 1892. At the beginning of the 19th century people cooked over an open fire. This was very wasteful as most of the heat went up the chimney. In the 1820s an iron cooker called a range was introduced. It was a much more efficient way of cooking because most of the heat was contained within. By the mid-19th century ranges were common. Most of them had a boiler behind the coal fire where water was heated.
Gaslight first became common in well off people's homes in the 1840s. By the late 1870s most working class homes had gaslight, at least downstairs. Bedrooms might have oil lamps. Gas fires first became common in the 1880s. Gas cookers first became common in the 1890s. In the last 2 decades of the 19th century many British towns and cities installed electric street lights. However electric light was expensive and it took a long time to replace gas in people's homes.
In the early 19th century only rich people had bathrooms. People did take baths but only a few people had actual rooms for washing. In the 1870s and 1880s many middle class people had bathrooms built. The water was heated by gas. Working class people had a tin bath and washed in front of the kitchen range.
Food in the 19th Century
In the early 19th century most of the working class lived on plain food bread, butter, potatoes and bacon. Butcher's meat was a luxury. However food greatly improved in the late 19th century. Railways and steamships made it possible to import cheap grain from North America so bread became cheaper. Refrigeration made it possible to import cheap meat from Argentina and Australia. Consumption of sugar also increased. By the end of the 19th century most people were eating better food. Furthermore in the late 19th century canned food first became widely available. The rotary can opener was invented in 1870 by William Lyman. Furthermore in the 1870s margarine, a cheap substitute for butter, was invented. Several new biscuits were invented in the 19th century including the Garibaldi (1861), the cream cracker (1885) and the Digestive (1892). The first chocolate bar was made in 1847. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875.
Education in the 19th Century
In the early 19th century the churches provided schools for poor children. From 1833 the government provided them with grants. There were also dame schools. They were run by women who taught a little reading, writing and arithmetic. However many dame schools were really a child minding service. In Britain the state did not take responsibility for education until 1870. Forsters Education Act laid down that schools should be provided for all children. If there were not enough places in existing schools then board schools were built. In 1880 school was made compulsory for 5 to 10 year olds. However school was not free, except for the poorest children until 1891 when fees were abolished. From 1899 children were required to go to school until they were 12. Meanwhile girls from upper class families were taught by a governess. Boys were often sent to public schools like Eton. Middle class boys went to grammar schools. Middle class girls went to private schools were they were taught 'accomplishments' such as music and sewing.
Games in the 19th Century
In the early 19th century working people had very little leisure time. However things improved by the end of the century. In 1871 the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year. Also in the 1870s some clerks and skilled workers began to have a weeks paid annual holiday. However even at the end of the 19th century most people had no paid holidays except bank holidays. In the early 19th century everyone had Sunday off. In the 1870s some skilled workers began to have Saturday afternoon off. In the 1890s most workers gained a half day holiday on Saturday and the weekend was born. By the end of the 19th century most people had more leisure time.
Meanwhile during the 19th century sports became organised. The first written rules for rugby were drawn up in 1845. The London Football Association devised the rules of football in 1863. The first international match was held between England and Scotland in 1872. In 1867 John Graham Chambers drew up a list of rules for boxing. They were called the Queensberry Rules after the Marquis of Queensberry. The Amateur Athletics Association was founded in 1880. Polo was first played in Britain in 1869. Several new sports and games were invented during the 19th century. Although a form of tennis was played since the Middle Ages lawn tennis was invented in 1873. Snooker was invented in India in 1875. Volleyball was invented in 1895. At the end of the 19th century bicycling became a popular sport. The safety bicycle was invented in 1885 and in 1892 John Boyd Dunlop invented pneumatic tyres (much more comfortable than solid rubber ones!) Bicycling clubs became common in Victorian Britain.
Ludo was originally an Indian game. It was introduced into Britain c. 1880. Reading was also popular in the 19th century. In 1841 Edgar Allan Poe published the first detective story The Murders In The Rue Morgue. The first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet was published in 1887 by Arthur Conan Doyle. Many middle class people also enjoyed musical evenings when they gathered around a piano and sang. Middle class people were very fond of the theater. In the late 19th century there were also music halls where a variety of acts were performed. In the 19th century going to the seaside was very popular with those who could afford it. The first pleasure pier was built at Brighton in 1823 and soon they appeared at seaside resorts across Britain.
One new hobby in the 19th century was photography. Henry Fox Talbot took the first photograph in 1835. However photography was more than just a pastime. In 1871 a writer said that one of the great comforts for the working class was having a photo of a family member who was working a long way off. They could be reminded what their loved one looked like. the first cheap camera was invented in 1888 by George Eastman. Afterwards photography became a popular hobby.
In the 19th century the modern Christmas evolved. Before then Christmas wasn't especially important. It was one of only many festivals celebrated during the year. However the Victorians invented the Christmas card and the Christmas cracker. The Christmas tree was known in England before the 19th century but it was really made popular when the royal were shown in a magazine illustration with one. Father Christmas or Santa Claus became the figure we know today in the 19th century.
Transport and Communications in the 19th Century
Transport greatly improved during the 19th century. In the mid 19th century travel was revolutionized by railways. They made travel much faster. (They also removed the danger of highwaymen). The Stockton and Darlington railway opened in 1825. However the first major railway was from Liverpool to Manchester. It opened in 1830. In the 1840s there was a huge boom in building railways and most towns in Britain were connected. In the late 19th century many branch lines were built connecting many villages. The first underground railway in Britain was built in London in 1863. Steam locomotives pulled the carriages. The first electric underground trains began running in London in 1890. From 1829 horse drawn omnibuses began running in London. They soon followed in other towns. In the 1860s and 1870s horse drawn trams began running in many towns. Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler made the first cars in 1885 and 1886. The motorbike was patented in 1885. Also in the 1880s the safety bicycle was invented and cycling soon became a popular hobby.
Meanwhile at sea travel was revolutionized by the steam ship. By 1815 steamships were crossing the English Channel. Furthermore it used to take several weeks to cross the Atlantic. Then in 1838 a steamship called the Sirius made the journey in 19 days. However steam did not completely replace sail until the end of the 19th century when the steam turbine was used on ships. By the mid 19th century lifeboats were commonly carried on ships.
In the early 19th century the recipient of a letter had to pay the postage, not the sender. Then in 1840 Rowland Hill invented the Penny Post. From then on the sender of a letter paid. Cheap mail made it much easier for people to keep in touch with loved ones who lived a long way off. The telegraph was invented in 1837. A cable was laid across the Channel in 1850 and after 1866 it was possible to send messages across the Atlantic. A Scot, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. The first telephone exchange in Britain opened in 1879.
LIFE IN THE 20TH CENTURY
Society in the 20th Century
British society changed greatly during the 20th century. In 1914 only about 20% of the population was middle class. By 1939 the figure was about 30%. In the late 20th century the number of 'blue collar' or manual workers declined rapidly but the number of 'white collar' workers in offices and service industries increased rapidly.
In the 1950s large numbers of West Indians arrived in Britain. Also from the 1950s many Asians came. In the late 20th century Britain became a multicultural society. There was another change in British society. In the late 20th century divorce and single parent families became much more common.
Also, in the 1950s young people had significant disposable income for the first time. A distinct 'youth culture' emerged, first with teddy boys, then in the 1960s with mods and rockers and in the late 1970s with punks and also with rock music. A revolution in music was led by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley.
Women in the 20th Century
In 1918 in Britain women over 30 were allowed to vote. More occupations were opened to women during the 20th century. The first police women went on duty in 1914. The 1919 Sex Disqualification Removal Act allowed women to become lawyers, vets and civil servants. (The first female solicitor was Carrie Morrison in 1922). Also in 1922 Irene Barclay became the first female chartered surveyor.
Nevertheless in the early 20th century it was unusual for married women to work (except in wartime). However in the 1950s and 1960s it became common for them to do so - at least part-time. New technology in the home made it easier for women to do paid work. Before the 20th century housework was so time consuming married women did not have time to work. Manufacturing became less important and service industries grew creating more opportunities for women.
In 1970 the law was changed so women had to be paid the same wages as men for doing work of equal value. In 1973 women were admitted to the stock exchange. From 1975 it was made illegal to sack women for becoming pregnant. Also in 1975 a new law made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. In 1984 a new law stated that equal pay must be given for work of equal value.
Work and Industry in the 20th Century
In the years 1900-1914 the British economy was stable and unemployment was quite low. However during the 1920s there was mass unemployment. For most of the decade it hovered between 10% and 12%. Then, in the early 1930s, the British economy was struck by depression. By the start of 1933 unemployment among insured workers was 22.8%. However unemployment fell substantially in 1933, 1934 and 1935. By January 1936 it stood at 13.9%. Unemployment continued to fall and by 1938 it was around 10%.
However although a partial recovery took place in the mid and late 1930s there were semi-permanent depression areas in the North of England, Scotland and South Wales. On the other hand new industries such as car and aircraft making and electronics prospered in the Midlands and the South of England where unemployment was relatively low.
The problems of depression and high unemployment were only really solved by the Second World War, which started industry booming again. Unemployment remained very low in the late 1940s and the 1950s and 1960s were a long period of prosperity.
However this ended in the mid-1970s. In 1973 there was still full employment in Britain (it stood at 3%). However shortly afterwards a period of high inflation and high unemployment began. In the late 1970s unemployment stood at around 5.5%.
However in the years 1980-1982 Britain was gripped by recession and unemployment grew much worse. It reached a peak in 1986 then it fell to 1990. Unfortunately another recession began in 1990 and unemployment rose again. However unemployment began to fall again in 1993 and it continued to fall till the end of the century.
Meanwhile in the late 20th century a change was coming over the British economy, sometimes called de-industrialization. Traditional industries such as coal mining, textiles and shipbuilding declined rapidly. On the other hand service industries such as tourism, education, retail and finance grew rapidly and this sector became the main source of employment.
In the early 20th century it was unusual for married women to work (except in wartime). However in the 1950s and 1960s it became common for them to do so - at least part-time. New technology in the home made it easier for women to do paid work. Before the 20th century housework was so time consuming married women did not have time to work. At the same time the economy changed. Manufacturing became less important and service industries grew creating more opportunities for women.
Homes in the 20th Century
At the start of the 20th century working class homes had two rooms downstairs. The front room and the back room. The front room was kept for best and children were not allowed to play there. In the front room the family kept their best furniture and ornaments. The back room was the kitchen and it was where the family spent most of their time. Most families cooked on a coal-fired stove called a range, which also heated the room.
This lifestyle changed in the early 20th century as gas cookers became common. They did not heat the room so people began to spend most of their time in the front room or living room, by the fire. Rising living standards meant it was possible to furnish all rooms properly not just one. During the 20th century ordinary people's furniture greatly improved in quality and design.
In the 1920s and 1930s a new style of furniture and architecture was introduced. It was called Art Deco and it used geometric shapes instead of the flowing lines of the earlier Art Nouveau. The name art deco came from an exhibition held in Paris in 1925 called the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs.
At the beginning of the 20th century only rich people could afford electric light. Other people used gas. Ordinary people did not have electric light until the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 20th century vacuum cleaners and washing machines were available but only rich people could afford them. They became more common in the 1930s, though they were still expensive. By 1959 about two thirds of British homes had a vacuum cleaner. However fridges and washing machines did not become really common till the 1960s.
Labour saving devices and new cleaning materials meant that housework was usually a part time job rather than a full time one. That made it much easier for women to work outside the home.
The first practical electric fire was made in 1912 but they did not become common until the 1930s. Central heating became common in the 1960s and 1970s. Double glazing became common in the 1980s. Plastic or pvc was first used in the 1940s. By the 1960s all kinds of household goods from drain pipes to combs were made of plastic.
In 1900 about 90% of the population of Britain rented their home. However home ownership became more common during the 20th century. By 1939 about 27% of the population owned their own house.
Meanwhile the first council houses were built before the First World War. More were built in the 1920s and 1930s and some slum clearance took place. However council houses remained rare until after World War II. After 1945 many more were built and they became common. In the early 1950s many homes still did not have bathrooms and only had outside lavatories. The situation greatly improved in the late 1950s and 1960s.
In the 1950s and 1960s large-scale slum clearance took place when whole swathes of old terraced houses were demolished. High-rise flats replaced some of them. However flats proved to be unpopular with many people. Some people who lived in the new flats felt isolated. The old terraced houses may have been grim but at least they often had a strong sense of community, which was usually not true of the flats that replaced them.
Furthermore in 1968 a gas explosion wrecked a block of flats at Ronan Point in London and public opinion turned against them. In the 1970s the emphasis turned to renovating old houses rather than replacing them. Then, in 1979 the government adopted a policy of selling council houses.
20th Century Food
The diet of ordinary people in Britain greatly improved during the 20th century. In 1900 some families sat down to tea of a plate of potatoes and malnutrition was common among poor children. Food was also expensive. In 1914 a working class family spent about 60% of their income on food. By 1937 food was cheaper and they only spent about 35% of their income on food.
Food was rationed during World War II. In January 1940 butter, sugar, bacon and ham were rationed. Tea was also rationed from 1940. Rationing became more severe in 1942. From July 1942 sweets were rationed. Instead of real eggs many people had to make do with 'dried eggs' imported from the USA.
Rationing lasted for several years after the war. Tea rationing lasted until 1952. Sweet rationing ended in 1953. Meat and cheese rationing remained until 1954.
In the late 20th century convenience foods became far more common. That was partly because fridges, freezers and later microwave ovens were common. (Microwave ovens first became common in the 1980s). The British diet also became more varied. Chinese and Indian takeaways and restaurants became common. So, in the 1980s, did hamburger and pizza chains.
Several new foods were invented in the 20th century. Choc-ices went on sale in the USA in 1921. The ice-lolly was patented in 1923. Sliced bread was first sold in the USA in 1928. Fish fingers went on sale in 1955. Meanwhile in 1954 Marc Gregoire developed the non-stick frying pan.
At the end of the 20th century the first genetically modified foods were introduced. Today scientists are developing soya beans that can help prevent heart attacks and tomatoes that can help to prevent cancer as well as rice that can resist drought and needs fewer nutrients.
The way people shopped also changed. In the early 20th century people usually went to small local shops such as a baker or butcher. Shops usually did deliveries. If you went to the butcher you paid for meat and a butcher's boy on a bicycle delivered it. The first supermarket in Britain opened in 1951. In the 1950s and 1960s supermarkets replaced many small shops. Credit cards became available in 1966 and at the end of the 20th century shopping on the internet
20th Century Clothes
At the beginning of the 20th century fashionable men wore trousers, waistcoat and coat. They wore top hats or homburgs.
In 1900 women wore long dresses. It was not acceptable for women to show their legs. From 1910 women wore hobble skirts. They were so narrow women could only 'hobble' along while wearing them. However during World War I women's clothes became more practical. Meanwhile in 1913 Mary Phelps Jacob invented the modern bra. She used two handkerchiefs joined by ribbon. In 1915 lipstick was sold in tubes for the first time. In the early 1920s women still wore knickers that ended below the knee. However during the 1920s knickers became shorter. They ended above the knee. During the 1940s and 1950s younger women wore briefs.
A revolution in women's clothes occurred in 1925. At that time women began wearing knee length skirts. In the mid and late 1920s it was fashionable for women to look boyish. However in the 1930s women's dress became more conservative. During World War II it was necessary to save material so skirts were shorter. Clothes were rationed until 1949.
Meanwhile the bikini was invented in 1946. In 1947 Christian Dior introduced the New Look, with long skirts and narrow waists giving an 'hourglass' figure. During the 1950s women's clothes were full and feminine. However in 1965 Mary Quant invented the mini skirt and clothes became even more informal.
After the First World War men's clothes became less informal and more casual. In the 1920s wide trousers called 'Oxford bags' were fashionable. Men also often wore pullovers instead of waistcoats. In the 19th century men's underwear covered almost the whole body, stretching from the ankles to the neck and the wrists. However in the 1920s they began to wear shorts that ended above the knee and sleeveless vests. The first y-fronts went on sale in the mid-1930s.
In the second half of the 20th century fashions for both sexes became so varied and changed so rapidly it would take too long to list them all. One of the biggest changes was the availability of artificial fibers. Nylon was first made in 1935 by Wallace Carothers and polyester was invented in 1941. It became common in the 1950s. Vinyl (a substitute for leather) was invented in 1924.
20th Century Transport and Communications
The first cars appeared at the end of the 19th century. After the First World War they became cheaper and more common. However in 1940 only about one in 10 families in Britain owned a car. They increased in number after World War II. By 1959 32% of households owned a car. Yet cars only became really common in the 1960s. By the 1970s the majority of families owned one.
In 1903 a speed limit of 20 MPH was introduced. It was abolished in 1930. However in 1934 a speed limit of 30 MPH in built-up areas was introduced. Meanwhile in 1925 the first electric traffic lights were installed in London. A driving test was introduced in 1934. Also in 1934 Percy Shaw invented the cat's eye. The parking meter was invented by Carlton Magee. The first one was installed in the USA in 1935. In 1983 wearing a seat belt was made compulsory.
Meanwhile in 1936 Belisha Beacons were introduced to make road crossing safer. The first zebra crossing was introduced in 1949. In 1931 an American called Rolla N. Harger invented the first breathalyzer. It was first used in Indianapolis USA in 1939. A Swede named Nils Bohlin developed the three-point seat belt in 1959.
Meanwhile in the late 19th century horse drawn trams ran in many towns. At the beginning of the 20th century they were electrified. However in most towns trams were phased out in the 1930s. They gave way to buses, either motor buses or trolley buses, which ran on overhead wires. The trolleybuses, in turn were phased out in the 1950s. Ironically at the end of the 20th century some cities re-introduced light railways.
In the mid-20th century there was a large network of branch railways. However in 1963 a minister called Dr. Beeching closed many of them.
In the early 20th century only a small minority of people had a telephone. They did not become common till the 1960s. Even so, in 1979 31% of households did not have a phone. The first mobile phone call in Britain was made in 1985. Mobile phones became common in the 1990s. Emails also became common at that time.
In 1919 planes began carrying passengers between London and Paris. Jet passenger aircraft were introduced in 1949. However in the early 20th century flight was a luxury few people could afford. Furthermore only a small minority could afford foreign travel. Foreign holidays only became common in the 1960s. The Boeing 747, the first 'Jumbo jet' was introduced in 1970 and the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994.
20th Century Leisure
During the 20th century people had more and more leisure time. In 1900 the average working week in Britain was 54 hours. By the 1980s it was 39 hours. Furthermore in 1900 most people had no paid holidays except bank holidays. In 1939 a new law said that everyone must have one weeks annual paid holiday. By the 1950s two weeks were common and by the 1980s most people had at least 4 weeks annual holiday.
In 1900 Frank Hornby invented a toy called meccano. In 1907 Robert Baden-Powell formed the boy scouts. In 1910 the girl guides were formed. The first crossword was devised in 1913 by Arthur Wynne.
In the early 20th century films were often shown in theaters but an increasing number of purpose built cinemas appeared. The great age of cinema going was the 1930s when most people went at least once and sometimes twice a week. Early films were black and white but in the 1930s the first color films were made. (Although it was decades before all films were made in color).
Radio broadcasting began in 1922 when the BBC was formed. By 1933 half the households in Britain had a radio. Television began in Britain in 1936 when the BBC began broadcasting. TV was suspended during World War II but it began again in 1946. TV first became common in the 1950s. A lot of people bought a TV set to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II and a survey at the end of the that year showed that about one quarter of households had one. By 1959 about two thirds of homes had a TV. By 1964 the figure had reached 90% and TV had become the main form of entertainment - at the expense of cinema, which declined in popularity. At first there was only one TV channel but between 1955 and 1957 the ITV companies began broadcasting. BBC2 began in 1964 and Channel 4 began in 1982.
In Britain BBC2 began broadcasting in color in 1967, BBC 1 and ITV followed in 1969. Video recorders became common in the early 1980s. Many video hire shops opened at the that time. At the end of the century videos were replaced by DVDs. Portable TVs became common in the 1980s and satellite broadcasting began in 1989. Satellite or cable TV became common in the 1990s. Personal computers became common in the 1980s. The internet became common in the late 1990s. Furthermore in the late 20th century gardening became a very popular pastime. So did DIY.
Education in the 20th Century
In 1900 children in Britain sometimes left school when they were only 12 years old. However in 1918 the minimum school leaving age was raised to 14. Between the wars working class children went to elementary schools. Middle class children went to grammar schools and upper class children went to public schools.
In 1947 the school leaving age was raised to 15 and in 1972 it was raised to 16. Meanwhile following the 1944 Education Act all children had to sit an exam called the 11 plus. Those who passed went to grammar schools while those who failed went to secondary modern schools. However in the late 1950s public opinion began to turn against the system and in the 1960s and early 1970s most schools became comprehensives.
Until the late 20th century teachers were allowed to hit children. Corporal punishment was phased out in most primary schools in the 1970s. The cane was abolished in state secondary schools in 1987. It was finally abolished in private schools in 1999.
There was a huge expansion of higher education in Britain in the 1960s and many new universities were founded. In 1992 polytechnics were changed to universities. Meanwhile the Open University began in 1969. In the late 20th century people had far more opportunities for education and training than ever before.
Medicine in The 20th Century
Medicine made huge advances in the 20th century. In 1900 Freud founded psychoanalysis when he published The Interpretation of Dreams. In 1920 Hermann Rorschach invented the Rorschach test (patients are asked to look at ink blots and say what they see).
Vitamins were discovered in 1912. Insulin was first used to treat a patient in 1922. The iron lung was invented in 1928. In 1943 Willem Kolff built the first artificial kidney machine.
In the years 1935-1940 a group of drugs called the sulphonamides were discovered. They were used to treat bacterial infections such as gonorrhea. Antibiotics were discovered too. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming but it was not widely used till after 1940. Another antibiotic, streptomycin was isolated in 1944. It was used to treat tuberculosis. They were followed by many others. A vaccine for measles was discovered in 1963.
Meanwhile in Britain the health of ordinary people greatly improved when the National Health Service was founded in 1948 and in the 1950s Dr Jonas Salk invented a vaccine for poliomyelitis.
Meanwhile surgery made great advances. The most difficult surgery was on the brain and the heart. Both of these developed rapidly in the 20th century. The first heart transplant was performed in 1967. The first test tube baby was born in 1978.
20th Century Warfare
When the First World War began in 1914 it was impossible for infantry to advance without terrible losses because firearms were now so powerful. The result was a deadlock. By the end of 1914 both armies had dug lines of trenches with barbed wire and machine guns.
In 1915 the Germans used gas on the western front. At first they used chlorine, the phosgene. However troops were supplied with gas masks. Finally in 1917 the Germans used mustard gas. Yet gas failed to break the stalemate. Meanwhile in 1915 the Germans used the first flamethrowers.
Both sides tried to destroy the enemy trenches with mines. They dug tunnels under the enemies trenches then detonated mines to obliterate them. However both sides used listening devices to warn them if the enemy was trying to do that. If they detected sounds of digging they would dig their own counter-tunnels into the tunnels the enemy was making. A fight would then take place underground.
Meanwhile in September 1916 the British introduced the tank. They were used in the Battle of the Somme in September 1916. Unfortunately they were too few in number and too likely to break down to prove decisive. Tanks were first used in large numbers at Cambrai in November 1917. In 1918 British and French tanks proved decisive in winning the war. Meanwhile the first sub machine guns were developed in 1918.
One new weapon in the First World War was the U-boat. People had experimented with submarines since the early 17th century but it was the invention of the diesel engine that really made submarines feasible. The British launched their first submarine in 1901 but during the First and Second World Wars German U-boats sank hundreds of allied merchant ships.
During the First World War the allies introduced weapons to counter the U-boat menace. Some U-boats were destroyed by mines and from the end of 1915 by depth charges. The allies also used Q-ships (merchant ships with disguised guns). Furthermore from April 1917 allied ships traveled in convoys with escorts. By 1918 aircraft technology had improved so much planes could escort convoys. Despite all these measures submarines continued to play an important part in naval warfare.
Meanwhile in 1915 the Germans began using Zeppelin airships to bomb British cities. However Zeppelins proved very vulnerable to fire from planes and anti-aircraft guns.
At the beginning of the First World War aircraft were used to observe the enemy. During the war aircraft technology changed rapidly. However the war ended before aircraft could play a decisive part. During the Second World War aircraft realised their full potential. Dive bombers were used to support the army while other planes were used to bomb cities and destroy the enemies industries.
In July 1918 aircraft took off from HMS Furious and bombed Zeppelin sheds. It was a portent of things to come. Although aircraft carriers came too late to play a significant part in the First World War they played a decisive part in naval warfare in the Second World War. In 1944 jet engines were introduced and planes became still faster. In 1947 a plane flew faster than sound for the first time.
During the Second World War tanks continued to play a dominant role despite the development of anti-tank guns. However during World War II there were two new developments. The Germans began using rockets. On 13 June 1944 they launched the first V-1 flying bomb. More dangerous was the V-2 rocket. It had a range of 200-220 miles. It rose to a height of 50 miles and traveled at over 2,000 mph.
In 1954 the Soviet Union made the first ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile). The other development was the atomic bomb. On 6 August 1945 one exploded over Hiroshima. On 9 august another exploded over Nagasaki. Each killed tens of thousands of people. The Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949.
In 1952 American scientists invented the much more powerful hydrogen bomb. The USSR exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1954. The first nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus was launched in 1955. During the Vietnam War the Americans experimented with laser guided missiles. However they were not used on a large scale until the Gulf War of 1991.
Last revised 2017