Liberty's Dawn

Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Liberty's Dawn
    Book Description:

    This remarkable book looks at hundreds of autobiographies penned between 1760 and 1900 to offer an intimate firsthand account of how the Industrial Revolution was experienced by the working class. The Industrial Revolution brought not simply misery and poverty. On the contrary, Griffin shows how it raised incomes, improved literacy, and offered exciting opportunities for political action. For many, this was a period of new, and much valued, sexual and cultural freedom.

    This rich personal account focuses on the social impact of the Industrial Revolution, rather than its economic and political histories. In the tradition of best-selling books by Liza Picard, Judith Flanders, and Jerry White, Griffin gets under the skin of the period and creates a cast of colorful characters, including factory workers, miners, shoemakers, carpenters, servants, and farm laborers.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19481-4
    Subjects: History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: ‘A Simple Naritive’
    (pp. 1-20)

    At the dawn of the nineteenth century, a subtle and little-noticed social change began to take place in Britain. As the industrial revolution picked up pace, a growing number of ordinary working people picked up pen and paper and wrote down their memories. Some, such as the poet Robert Anderson, overcame impoverished origins to acquire considerable literary skills. His ‘Memoirs of the author’ were published in 1820 as a preface to a volume of his poetry.¹ Others scratched out their stories without artistry, apologising as they wrote for their poor spelling, explaining that their schooldays had ended before they ‘learned...

  5. PART I Earning a Living
    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-22)

      It is to work that we turn first, inevitably and necessarily. The poor spent most of their lives working hard to keep the proverbial wolf from the door. With work starting in childhood and continuing for as long as one had the health to perform it, it was, without a doubt, the central experience of any labourer’s life.

      But the nature, necessity and rewards of work were experienced by different members of the working-class family in very uneven ways. At the head of the ideal family stood the male breadwinner. Men were called upon to take up the hardest, dirtiest...

    • CHAPTER TWO Men at Work
      (pp. 23-56)

      Since the moment that the term ‘industrial revolution’ entered our language, most writers have believed that the process went hand in hand with the destruction of older, more benign, working patterns. Engels’Condition of the Working Class in Englandgave an unflattering, and hugely influential, account of the newly created factory system. He informed his middle-class readers of the ill health, physical deformities and accidents caused by very long hours of work at machines; and the discipline, oppressive and petty in equal measure, that subjugated the hapless worker to fines for lateness, but also for activities as innocuous as singing,...

    • CHAPTER THREE Suffer Little Children
      (pp. 57-83)

      The doleful image of the Victorian child forced to work long hours from a very young age is one of the first things that come to mind when we consider Britain’s industrial past. Poets, novelists, essayists and reformers have all played their part in immortalising the plight of the child worker. Children crowd the margins of several of Charles Dickens’ novels, most memorably, perhaps, in the form of Oliver Twist with his narrow escape as the apprentice of Mr Gamfield the chimney-sweep; and in David Copperfield, Dickens’ semi-autobiographical hero, sent to work as a ‘labouring hind’ in the warehouse of...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Women, Work and the Cares of Home
      (pp. 84-106)

      Like not a few of the autobiographers, Benjamin North, the eighth child of a day labourer in Thame, Oxfordshire, was born into a life of poverty. From a young age, North was spending his days working long hours in the cold as a bird-scarer and ploughboy, all on a diet that consisted of little more than bread and lard, a little cheese and ‘once a week a mite of meat’.¹ But North’s greatest regret for his childhood concerned not the long hours and scanty rations, but the fact that he returned home each night to a home ‘without a mother...

  6. PART II Love
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 107-108)

      Love and sexual desire are intrinsic to the human condition. Be it the adolescent Samuel Bamford, swept off his feet by ‘heart-gushings of romantic feeling’.¹ Or Robert Anderson, unable to concentrate at church because of that girl with rosy cheeks sitting across the aisle.² Or Elizabeth Oakley, whose heart quickened when she first spotted the new man on her employer’s farm: ‘he was the nicest looking young man I had ever seen . . . he had dark eyes and his hair was black and hanging in shining ringlets around his head’.³ In different ways, the autobiographers captured the possibilities...

    • CHAPTER FIVE A Brand New Wife and an Empty Pocket
      (pp. 109-133)

      John Harland was an ordinary working man. Born in the north Yorkshire village of Askrigg in 1792, by his late teens he and his family had moved to Clayton, a village a few miles from the centre of Bradford, to take advantage of the town’s thriving woollen industry. As a young adult, John learned wool-combing – an easily learned and monotonous trade which involved preparing the raw wool for spinning into yarn. Like most people, though, John had interests beyond work. His growing commitment to the Methodist faith emerges as his abiding concern, but scattered among his pious reflections is...

    • CHAPTER SIX Naughty Tricks on the Bed
      (pp. 134-162)

      The history of marriage delivered on its promise to shed light on both the material and the interior lives of the working poor. As we saw in the last chapter, marriage customs could not withstand the economic and social upheaval that accompanied the industrial revolution. From the turn of the century, some young couples began to enjoy higher incomes. Others found themselves in families and communities less firmly attached to the belief that marriage must be delayed until such time as housekeeping could commence. Both forces undermined the social norms that for several centuries had governed who could marry, and...

  7. PART III Culture
    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 163-164)

      Recounting the familiar milestones of life – entering the workforce, learning a trade, getting married, rearing a family – formed the mainstay of many autobiographies. So it is not for nothing that they have also formed the mainstay of our narrative. But to confine ourselves to retelling the material side of our life during the industrial revolution would be a great disservice to our writers. After all, the autobiographer who confined himself to writing about the daily grind was relatively rare. There, jostling for space with the practical side of earning a living, were all the other things that made...

    • SEVEN Education
      (pp. 165-185)

      Emanuel Lovekin was not the kind of man to leave much trace on the historical record. He was born in 1820, the fourth child of Thomas Lovekin, a foundry worker living in Donnington Wood in Shropshire. As a skilled furnace man his father earned a good wage but most of it went on drink, leaving an unhappy wife struggling to raise a family of nine children as best she could. It was an inauspicious start to life and Emanuel was at work in the local coal mines by the age of seven and a half. History does not usually tell...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Gospel Times
      (pp. 186-211)

      Hamlet Nicholson had the impoverished start in life typical of many of our autobiographers. Born into a shoemaker’s large family in Rochdale in 1809, he never spent so much as a day at school. Instead he was working alongside his father ‘at the cobbler’s stool’ by the age of eight and he learned his letters from his father and elder sisters. From early childhood, Hamlet attended the weekly service at the parish church, St Mary’s, extending his ‘stock of words’ and deriving a quiet peace from the prayers, psalms and lessons delivered by the church’s ministers.¹ He worshipped there, he...

    • CHAPTER NINE Sons of Freedom
      (pp. 212-240)

      James watson was ‘born of poor parents, in an obscure town’ and raised by his mother following the death of his father when he was barely a year old. As an adult, however, Watson’s life was anything but obscure. Whilst working as a warehouseman in Leeds, Watson’s sense of injustice was sparked when he stumbled across a meeting of workmen reading works by Thomas Wooler, Richard Carlile and William Cobbett. He instantly fell in with the Radicals and in the 1820s emerged as a leading figure in the movement. He sold unstamped newspapers, learned typesetting so that he might set...

  8. CHAPTER TEN Conclusion
    (pp. 241-247)

    Change is worked into the grain of modern life. That our lives differ from those of our grandparents is common knowledge. And whilst none of us know quite what the future holds, we can safely assume that our children will in turn go on to inhabit a world that differs from this one. We can even say something about the general direction of change. Each generation will live longer, enjoy greater levels of material comfort, eat a more varied and exotic diet, and have more possessions. New technologies will change the way in which the next generation lives, works, travels...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 248-280)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-295)
  11. Index
    (pp. 296-304)