Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
The greatest Revolutions are not always those which are accompanied by riot and bloodshed. England’s Revolution was peaceful, but it worked vast and almost incredible changes.
We find, in the first place, that after the great Napoleonic Wars and during the ‘forty years’ peace’ a new class, the ‘Middle Class,’ came into being. It had, of course, existed before this time, but it had been unable to make its power felt. The astonishing increase of trade and consequently of wealth, the application of steam power with special influence upon land and sea transit, transformed England into “the Workshop of the World.”
By the year 1840 railways were no longer regarded as something in the nature of an experiment, which might or might not prove a success; they had, indeed, become an integral part of the social life of the nation. In 1840 the Railway Regulation Act was passed, followed in 1844 by the Cheap Trains Act, which required that passengers must be carried in covered waggons at a charge of not more than one penny a mile and at a speed of not less than twelve miles an hour.
From 1844 onward the construction of railways proceeded apace, until by the year 1874 no less than 16,449 miles had been laid. Ocean traffic under steam progressed equally rapidly; in 1812 the first steamer appeared upon the Clyde, and in 1838 the famous Great Western steamed from Bristol to New York.
The quickening and cheapening of transport called for new and improved methods of manufacture; small business concerns grew into great mercantile houses with interests all over the face of the globe. Everywhere movement and expansion; everywhere change. A powerful commercial class came into existence, and power—that is, voting power—passed to this class and was held by it until the year 1865. From this year, roughly speaking, the power passed into the hands of the democracy.
Education, which had been to a great extent a class monopoly, gradually penetrated to all ranks and grades of society. In 1867 the second Reform Act was passed; a very large proportion of the urban working classes were given the power of voting, and it was naturally impossible to entrust such powers for long to an illiterate democracy. Therefore, in 1870, Mr Forster’s Education Act was passed, which required that in every district where sufficient voluntary schools did not exist a School Board should be formed to build and maintain the necessary school accommodation at the cost of the rates. By a later Act of 1876 school attendance was made compulsory. Every effort was made in succeeding years to raise the level of intelligence among present and future citizens. Education became national and universal.
During the period 1865-85 the population of the kingdom increased, and the emigration to the British colonial possessions reached its maximum in the year 1883, when the figures were 183,236.