This Chronology presents important dates in the history of social change and social reform in Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries including parliamentary reform, industrialisation, urbanisation, industrial disputes, advances in technology, labour rights, sanitary conditions and health protection, education, social welfare, female emancipation, women's suffrage, and children’s rights.
1799 The Combination Act , titled An Act to prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen , prohibits trade unions and collective bargaining by workers.
1801 The official Census reports that Britain has a population of a little of 10.5 million.
1802 The Health and Morals of Apprentices Act (also known as the Factory Act) limits hours of work for apprentices to 12 per day. No night work is allowed. Young employees are to provide education, decent clothing and accommodation to apprentices.
1807 Gas lights introduced in London. The Society for the Suppression of Vice is established. The Slave Act abolishes slave trade in the British Empire, but not slavery itself. Parochial Schools Bill makes provision for the education of the labouring classes.
1811 The National Society for the Education of the Poor founded.
1811-17 Luddites (mostly textile artisans in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire) riot and destroy labour-saving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.
1815 Corn Laws cut off less expensive foreign wheat. Apothecaries Act sets national (England and Wales) standards for licensing of apothecaries.
1816 Safety lamps are introduced in mines. Robert Owen opens first infant school in New Lanark, Scotland.
1819 The First Factory Act stops children under nine from working in factories and limits those aged nine to sixteen to 72 hours. Peterloo massacre. An estimated 11 people, including a woman and a child, die from saber cuts and trampling by a cavalry charge, and over 400 men, women and children receive serious injuries at a mass reform meeting of 60,000 people on the 16th of August around what's now St Peters Square, Manchester. The term 'Peterloo' was intended to mock the soldiers who attacked unarmed civilians by echoing the term 'Waterloo'.
1820-1825 Legal Acts reform criminal codes. London's Regent Street built for expensive shopping.
1820-1850 A rapid growth of the British economy. Britain as a country gets richer, but the standard of living of the urban lower classes decreases. A respectable paid occupation for a middle-class woman is governess or dressmaker.
1821 The population of England and Wales is 11.5 million, Scotland 2 million, Ireland almost 7 million. The population of London is almost 1.5 million. Beginning of a spread of factory system and growth of industrial towns. The Bank of England (image) begins to function as a central bank.
1821-23 Famine in Ireland.
1823 The Anti-slavery Society formed.
1824 Combinations Acts of 1799 and 1800 repealed. Trade Unions legalised.
1825 Combinations of Workmen Act prohibits trade unions to collectively bargain for better terms and conditions at work, and suppresses the right to strike. Stockton and Darlington railway opens with a thirteen tonne train, 'Rocket', which achieves a speed of 44 miles per hour.
1826 Journeymen Steam Engine, Machine Makers and Millwrights Friendly Society formed.
1828 Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. Non-Anglican Protestants such as Unitarians, Wesleyan Methodists, Primitive Methodists and the Society of Friends, could sit in Parliament and participate in local government.
1829 The Catholic Emancipation Act ends most of denials or restrictions of Catholic civil rights, ownership of property, and holding of public office. This legislation allowed Catholics to sit as MPs for the first time since the Elizabethan Act of Settlement in 1558/9. Liverpool and Manchester railway opens. Sir Robert Peel’s police make their appearance in London. Before this time public order was maintained by the military forces.
1830 The Manchester-Liverpool Railway is opened. The Swing Riots, a widespread uprising by agricultural workers, begins with the destruction of threshing machines in the Elham Valley area of East Kent in the summer of 1830. It spreads throughout the whole of southern England and East Anglia.
1830s Demolition of houses arising from street clearances, warehouse construction and railway building in London.
1831 Factory Act prohibits night work of person under the age of 21. The Truck Act prohibits in certain trades the payment of wages in goods, tokens, or otherwise than in the current coin of the realm. The cholera epidemic draws attention to the deplorable lack of sanitation in the industrial cities.
1832 1832 The Reform Act enfranchises middle-class males and restructures representation in Parliament. Report of the Select Committee on the Bill for the Regulation of Factories describes appalling conditions, excessive hours of work and cruelty to children in factories.
1833 The Factory Act or Children’s Charter. The Factory Act limits child labour; no children under 9 are to work in factories (silk mills exempted); children under 13 are to work no more than 9 hours per day and 48 hours per week. Younger children are to attend school for at least two hours on six days a week, and holidays for the children and young persons to be all day on Christmas Day and Good Friday, and eight half days. Slavery is abolished in the British Empire. Oxford Movement commences within the Church of England, aiming for faith revival and church reforms
1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Parish workhouses are instituted. Robert Owen founds the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. Chimney Sweeps Act forbids the apprenticing of any boy under the age of 10 years, and the employment of children under 14 in chimney sweeping unless they are apprenticed or on trial. The apprentices are not to be 'evil treated' by their employers, and any complaints of the children are to be heard by justices of the peace.
1835 Municipal Corporations Act replaces the unpaid administration of squires and magistrates with professional bureaucrats serving elected councils. Working Men’s Association is founded. The legislation follows the Reform Act of 1832, which abolishes most of the rotten boroughs for parliamentary purposes.
1836 The Civil Marriage Act broadens the range of legitimate marriage partners, regardless of religion and ceremony. The Church of England loses its monopoly over marriage services, and non-Anglicans are allowed to marry either in their own Church or in Registry Offices.
1837 Queen Victoria succeeds to the throne. The middle class makes up about 15 percent of the population of England. The mandatory civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths is introduced in England and Wales.
1838 People's Charter published. Anti-Corn Law League founded. London-Birmingham line opens, and the railway boom starts (17 September).
1839 Child Custody Act gives mother limited rights in her children and right to petition for co-guardianship.Rural Police Act empowers Justices of the Peace to establish county police forces.
1840 The population of England and Wales is almost 16 million. Vaccination Act makes free vaccination available. Report of the Select Committee on the Health of the Towns exposes squalid living conditions in many industrial areas and recommends to create district boards of health which turn the public attention to the causes of illness and suggest means by which the sources of contagion might be removed. Penny Post: an inexpensive and fast mail service is established. Vaccination for the poor introduced. Chimney Sweeps Act prohibits any child under the age of 16 years being apprenticed, and any person under 21 being compelled or knowingly allowed to ascend or descend a chimney or flue for sweeping, cleaning or coring. Grammar Schools Act allows endowment funds to be spent on modern and commercial subjects.
1842 Report on Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, compiled by Edwin Chadwick, Secretary to the Poor Law Commission, reveals that working-class streets and homes are appallingly and dangerously unsanitary. Mines and Collieries Act makes it illegal for women and children under ten to work below ground. Prime Minister Robert Peel reintroduces income tax (which had last been collected in 1816). The tax becomes the government's principal source of revenue for public spending. Railway from Manchester to London opens.
1843 The Royal Commission for Inquiry into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts established.
1844 The Royal Commission of Health in Towns established. Beginning of the cooperative movement at Rochdale. Labour in Factories Act amends the regulations concerning factory inspectors and certifying surgeons. For the first time machinery is required to be guarded.The Railway Regulation Act provides for a minimum standard for rail passenger travel. It also makes provision of certain compulsory services at a price affordable to poorer people to enable them to travel to find work.
1845 Engels laments in his Condition of the Working Class in England: “The worker is forced to live in such dilapidated dwellings because he cannot afford to rent better accommodation, or because no better cottages are available close to the factory where he is working.” The Final Report of the Health of the Towns Commission recommends that local authorities should be responsible for drainage, paving, cleansing and water supply as well as they should have the authority to require that landlords clean and repair properties dangerous to public health. The Bastardy Clause of the 1834 Poor Law repealed.
1845-48 The potato blight destroys Ireland's population growth; up to a million people die of malnutrition; two million emigrate. The new technology of steam printing makes books cheaper.
1846 Parliament begins defining what constitutes unfit conditions for living accommodation in the first of several Nuisances Removal Acts. Repeal of the Corn Laws.
1847 Cholera epidemics in London and other industrial cities in England. The Ten Hour Act further limits the workday for both women and adolescent males to ten hours daily and 58 hours in a week. Asylum for Idiots established at Highgate. James Simpson Young first uses chloroform for women in labour. William Dixon and W. P. Roberts, two of the leaders of the Miners' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, become the first union officials to stand for election to parliament.
1848 Major cholera epidemic sweeping westwards in Europe; in England about 60,000 deaths, about 14,000 in London alone. Influenza pandemic, 50,000 deaths in London. Public Health Act establishes a General Board of Health empowered to create local boards of health which have authority to deal with water supplies, sewerage, control of offensive trades, quality of foods, paving of streets, removal of garbage, and other sanitary measures. The Queen’s College for Women is founded in London. An Act of Parliament established 'ragged schools' for the children of the poor. Publication of John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy, the book which presented a more optimistic view of the possibility for improving the conditions of living of the working class.
1849 Another cholera epidemic; 3,183 deaths reported in London. There are over 3,000 textile factories in Britain.
1850 Factories Act amends the act of 1847 by stating the times between which young people and women could be employed in factories; and increases the total hours which could be worked by them to 60 per week. Public Libraries Act enacted.
1851 The population of England is almost 18 million. 54 percent live in urban areas. Saltaire, a model housing development is built by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry. The Great Exhibition, a celebration of technological achievement and British imperial power, opens at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London (1 May). It attracts more than six million visitors to Britain, the richest nation in the world. There are 161,000 commercial horse-drawn vehicles on British roads, most of them are linked to railway travel. Cripples Home and Industrial School for Girls founded at Marylebone.
1852 The first public library opens in Manchester.
1853 Compulsory Vaccination Act introduces vaccination for all infants within four months of birth, but contains no powers of enforcement. Queen Victoria uses chloroform at the birth of her eighth child, and thereby ensures its use as an anaesthetic.
1854 London Working Men's College is founded.
1854-56 Crimean War: Florence Nightingale organises hospitals and nursing services.
1855 Metropolis Management Act creates the Metropolitan Board of Works, body to co-ordinate the construction of the London's infrastructure. Abolition of stamp duties on newspapers enables the British workers to read newspapers at an affordable price.
1857 Matrimonial Causes Act establishes divorce courts (The Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes). It entitles couples to divorce without the need to obtain permission via a private Act of Parliament. The grounds, however, are different for men and women: a husband can divorce his wife on the grounds of adultery; the woman, on the other hand, must prove adultery and cruelty or desertion. The famous report on prostitution by William Acton presents a conservative view of female sexuality.
1858 Workhouse Visiting Society is formed. The first swimming bath for ladies is opened at Marylebone, London. Lionel de Rothschild is the first Jew seated in Parliament. The property qualification of MPs abolished.
1859 Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species.
1860 Food and Drugs Act prevents the adulteration of food.The Nightingale School of Nursing is founded.
1860s Philanthropic societies build model housing: blocks of tenements (mainly in London) where working people can rent flats, e.g. Beaconsfield buildings, Improved Industrial Dwellings Company and Peabody Trust. Some large factory owners also build model housing estates for employees, e.g. the manufacturer and philanthropist Titus Salt at Saltaire.
1861 Local Government Act amends the 1858 act by requiring local authorities to purify sewerage before discharging it into rivers and canals. Post Office savings scheme for ordinary people is launched. The abolition of the 'Taxes on Knowledge' (the stamp duties on newspapers and the customs and excise duties on paper) results in spectacular development of daily and Sunday newspapers. Lectures in physiology opened to ladies at University College, London.
1863 The world's first underground railway opens in London in January between Paddington and Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. There are over 1,000 newspapers in Britain. Queen's Institute founded in London for the industrial training of women.
1864 The first Contagious Diseases Act is passed, permitting forcible registration and regular internal examination of women suspected to be prostitute, within a radius of 11 army camps and naval ports in England and Ireland.
1865 Girls are admitted to Cambridge Local Examinations. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson passes the Society of Apothecaries examination and becomes the first British woman licensed as a doctor. Barbara Bodichon forms Women's Suffrage Committee.
1866 A second new Contagious Diseases Act adds Chatham and Windsor to the list of towns and introduces the enforcement of fortnightly medical examinations of women for venereal disease. Women's suffrage societies founded in London, Edinburgh, and Manchester.
1867 Second Reform Act doubles the electorate (15 August). Metropolitan Poor Act provides for the establishment of hospitals for the sick and insane. John Stuart Mill introduces the first women’s suffrage bill into parliament. Josephine Butler establishes the first Industrial Home which provides former prostitutes with work, such as making clothes and envelopes. Factory Extension Act brings all factories employing more than 50 people under the terms of all existing factory acts, forbids the employment of children, young people and women on Sundays; and amends some regulations of previous acts.
1868 Founding of the Trades Union Congress. Torren's Act imposes punishment for landlords who fail to improve their property. Last public execution in England.
1869 The Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts founded. The first municipal housing estate in Europe, St Martin’s Cottages are built in Liverpool. The Charity Organisation Society is founded in response to growing pauperism in London and other large cities during the 1860s. First women's college at Cambridge (Girton — image). Women ratepayers receive municipal franchise. Imprisonment for debt is abolished. Anglican Church disestablished in Ireland.
1870 W. E. Forster's Education Act makes elementary education available to all children in England and Wales. William Fowler MP introduces a private member's bills to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts. A Royal Commission is set up to consider the matter. The First Married Women’s Property Act allows wives to retain earned income and property acquired after her marriage.Over 30 large music halls in London and almost 400 large music halls in Britain.
1871 The population of England and Wales is 27,7 million, Scotland 3.5 million, Ireland 5.4. Religious tests for university teachers and officials abolished. Trade unions legalised and workers are granted the right to strike. Bank Holidays Act lays down that Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and 26th of December (if a weekday) should be official holidays.
1872 Voting by secret ballot is introduced in national elections. National Agricultural Labourers Union founded. Metalliferous Mines Regulation Act prohibits the employment in the mines of all girls, women and boys under the age of 12 years; introduces powers to appoint inspectors of mines; and sets out rules regarding ventilation, blasting and machinery.
1872 Infant Custody Act provides a possibility that a mother can obtain child custody even if she committed adultery.
1874 Women’s Trade Union League formed. London Medical College for Women opened. Factory Act raises the minimum working age to nine; limits the working day for women and young people to 10 hours in the textile industry, to be between 6 am and 6 pm; and reduces the working week to 561 hours. London School of Medicine for Women founded.
1875 The Artizans Dwellings Act allows councils to clear and redevelop slum areas and re-house inhabitants.
1875 Women physicians can be licensed to practise.
1877  Royal Free Hospital admits women as medical students.
1878 Women are admitted to degree courses at the University of London. Maria Grey Training College for women teachers founded. Legal separation permitted if wife is repeatedly assaulted. Electric lights are installed in some London streets. Phillipa Flowerday appointed as nurse to the J & J Colman (Norwich) to work among the factory people, and to visit them at home when they are ill. She is believed to be the first trained nurse to be appointed to work as a nurse within an industrial organisation.
1877 Social campaigners, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, are tried for republishing Charles Knowlton's The Fruits of Philosophy, a book advocating contraception. Their action is considered 'likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences', and they are sentenced to six months imprisonment.
1877 Electric lights are installed on some London streets.
1879  First women's colleges at Oxford — Somerville (image) and Lady Margaret Hall). Pharmaceutical Society admits women as members. London's first telephone exchange opens.
1880s Some 120,000 Jews flee from Eastern Europe to England to avoid religious and economic persecution. The middle classes begin to move to the suburbs from city centres. Stores begin to sell canned meat and fruits.
1880 Elementary education becomes compulsory for children aged 7 to 10. Women admitted to degrees at the University of London. Josephine Butler begins her campaign against the 'white slave trade' and names officials in the trafficking of girls from London to Belgium.
1880-96  Real wages go up by almost 45 per cent.
1882 A second Married Women's Property Act entitles married women to retain separate ownership of any property they own before their marriage. (Previously, a wife's existing property legally passed into the ownership of her husband when they married.)
1883 Married women obtain the right to acquire their own property. The first electric tram is in operation.
1884 The third Reform Act creates a uniform franchise qualification based on the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1868. As a consequence almost two-thirds of adult males in England and Wales, three-fifths in Scotland and half in Ireland are entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes is appointed. Marks & Spencer opens as a stall at Kirkgate, Leeds.
1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act raises age of consent to 16. Criminal Law Amendment Act permits wives to testify against husbands in court. The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes reveals extent of overcrowding in inner city areas. John Kemp Starley invents the modern safety bicycle. Domestic service still remains the largest area of employment for women and girls, but clerical work and shop work moves to the second place.The railway network covers 27,000 kilometres (17,000 miles)
1886 The Contagious Diseases Acts are repealed.The Maintenance in Case of Desertion Act enables magistrates to award the wife maintenance up to a maximum limit of 2 pounds a week if she can show the Bench that her husband was able to support her and their children but refused or neglected to do so and deserted her. The Guardianship of Infants Act mandates that when father dies, guardianship passes to mother.
1886 Shop Hours Regulation Act regulates the hours of work of children and young persons in shops. The hours of work are not to exceed 74 per week, including meal times.The Salvation Army has 1,749 congregations and over 4,000 officers in Britain.
1887 Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee turns into a celebration of fifty years of domestic progress.
1888 Local Government Act establishes county councils and county borough councils in England and Wales. 1,400 women go on strike in protest of the poor wages and dangerous conditions in the at Bryant & May matchstick factory. Trade Union membership stands at 750,000. Jack the Ripper murders 5 women in London slums.
1889 Employment of children under age 10 prohibited. Elementary school compulsory for children up to age 12. London County Council (LCC) formed. Women's Franchise League established.
1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act allows London’s local councils to build houses as well as clearing away slums. Councils have to re-house at least half the people displaced by slum clearance. First moving-picture shows appear. The first electric underground train line in London begins to operate.
1892 London County Council (LCC) begins building tenement blocks.
1893 The Independent Labour Party formed. Elementary Education Act (Blind and Deaf Children) requires provision of free schools for blind and deaf children.
1894 Parish councils created. Trade union membership reaches 1.5 million.
1897 Queen Victoria's Dimanond Jubilee marks the high tide of the British Empire. Workmen’s Compensation Act establishes the principle that persons injured at work should be compensated. National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) founded. Actress Minni Palmer becomes the first woman car driver and car owner.
1898 Thomas M. Legge (later Sir, 1863-1932) appointed as the first medical inspector of factories.
1901 Queen Victoria dies at the age of 80. Her reign lasted 63 years – the longest of any British monarch. The middle class makes up about 25 percent of the population of England. Census reveals that there are 212 female doctors in the UK.
1902 Balfour's Education Act provides for secondary education.
1903 LCC, influenced by the Garden City and Arts & Crafts movements, begins to build 'garden village' estates in the suburbs. The first was Totterdown Fields estate in Tooting. The Women's Social and Political Union is founded by Emmeline Pankhurst with the aim of gaining the vote for women. In response to a government unsympathetic to their arguments, the group turns to acts of civil disobedience. The London County Council Tramways first electric line opens in May between Westminster Bridge and Tooting.
1905 London-based churches, missions, and charities support some 7,500 volunteers and almost 1,000 paid visitors, the vast majority of them being middle or upper class women.
1906  The Liberal Party wins the general election and embarks on a significant series of reforms. In extending the principle of governmental responsibility for the nation's citizens, these lay the foundations of the modern welfare state. Workers are compensated for injuries at work. The National Federation of Women Workers is set up by Mary MacArthur.
1907 Under the Qualification of Women Act , women can be elected onto borough and county councils and can also be elected mayor. Act allowing marriage with deceased wife’s sister. Free medical treatment for children at schools.
1908 Old age pension introduced. Five shillings a week to be given to every poor man and woman over 70 years old.
1909 Campaign for female suffrage intensifies.
1911 National Insurance Act: insurance provided for sick workers. Every worker with less than 100 pounds a year is to pay fourpence a week to the State. The employer adds fivepence and the Government threepence, making it all a shilling a week, which is paid to a doctor (known as the panel doctor), who then gives the worker free treatment when he or she is sick.
1913 Maternity, sickness, and unemployment benefits are introduced in Britain. Cat and Mouse Act passed, allowing hunger-striking women suffragists in prisons to be released when their health is threatened and then re-arrested when they had recovered.
1914 The First World War begins. The wartime effort sees a large influx of women into the workforce, to fill jobs vacated by men conscripted to serve in the war against Germany.
1918 The First World War ends. Women of thirty (wives of electors and female householders) are allowed to vote. 1919 Lady Nancy Astor becomes the first female Member of Parliament. 1920 Sex Discrimination Removal Act allows women access to the legal profession and accountancy. 1923 Matrimonial Causes Act grants divorce on same ground to both sexes. 1925 Widows’ Pension Act passed. 1929  Suffrage for all over 21.
Davies, Gill. . New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2011.
Morgan, Kenneth O., ed. . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Mathias, Peter. . New York: Routledge, 2001.
Thackeray, Frank W., John E. Findling, eds. . Westport: Greenwood, 2002. Last modified 15 February 2014
1918 The First World War ends. Women of thirty (wives of electors and female householders) are allowed to vote.
1919 Lady Nancy Astor becomes the first female Member of Parliament.
1920 Sex Discrimination Removal Act allows women access to the legal profession and accountancy.
1923 Matrimonial Causes Act grants divorce on same ground to both sexes.
1925 Widows’ Pension Act passed.
1929  Suffrage for all over 21.
Davies, Gill. . New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2011.
Morgan, Kenneth O., ed. . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Mathias, Peter. . New York: Routledge, 2001.
Thackeray, Frank W., John E. Findling, eds. . Westport: Greenwood, 2002.
Last modified 15 February 2014