At the time of the 1841 Census, England was passing through a period of rapid and radical change, from being a country with a primarily agricultural economy to becoming the first modern industrial state. In the previous forty years there had been immense advances in industrial techniques and inventions which enabled Britain to become the workshop of the world, and for a few decades the foremost industrial power. The country had survived the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars without any serious civil disturbance. During the first forty years of the 19th century there had been a series of legislative and administrative reforms. In 1828 the Catholic Emancipation Act freed Roman Catholics from the restrictions placed upon them. In 1829 Sir Robert Peel set up the Metropolitan Police Force and a proper constabulary was gradually introduced all over the country, creating a framework for law and order. In 1832 the Great Reform Bill rationalised Parliamentary representation, swept away the “pocket boroughs” and extended the franchise to many freeholders and the larger tenant farmers in the counties. In 1834 central Registration of Births Deaths and Marriages was introduced, enabling proper statistics of the population to be prepared, and in 1836 Local Government was reformed. Apart from these the greatest change lay in the realm of transport. The building of canals had enabled coal and agricultural produce to reach centres of population, but an even greater change was the building of the modern railway system, carrying both goods and passengers. The pioneer was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, opened in 1830. In 1832 a railway reached Leicester, but the Midland Railway did not reach Oakham until 1848, (after buying and closing the Oakham Canal) so that in 1841 the nearest railway to Oakham would still be at Leicester, and Rutland was still in the age of the horse. The early 1830’s had been a time of good harvests, but from 1836 agricultural areas were hard hit by poor harvests, and by 1837 there was a severe trade depression which lasted till 1842. In that year there were disturbances known as the ‘plug riots’ in the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile manufacturing towns in protest against the lowering of wages by factory owners and the poverty of the handloom weavers. The recovery of trade in the following year saved the country from further serious disorder. The movement known as Chartism appeared in 1837 demanding universal male suffrage, annual parliaments and voting by secret ballot Chartism was to reach its peak in 1848 but then died away. After the Great Reform Bill the Government made a grant to encourage elementary education, working through two societies, the (Church of England) National Society and the (nonconformist) British and Foreign School Society. Even so, in 1841 it was thought that two thirds of the male population and half the female population were unable even to sign their name. It was not until the Census of 1851 that the majority of the population became urban dwellers. London was far and away the largest city, indeed the largest in Europe. In 1841 the population was said by Henry Mayhew to be made up as follows: Engaged in trade and manufacture 3,000,000 Engaged in agriculture 1,500,000 Engaged in mining, quarrying and transport 750,000 Domestic servants 1,000,000 Independent persons 500,000 Professional persons 200,000 Army, Navy, Civil servants etc. (Government service) 200,000 Paupers etc. 200,000 Residue (3,500,000 women and 7,500,000 children) 11,000,000 Total population 18,350,000 There seems no information available as to how the trade depression of 1838-42 affected Rutland, but the Committee of the Oakham Canal Company felt able to spend over a thousand pounds on improvements to the Oakham wharf in 1841, which suggests a degree of prosperity locally. Nationally, one very hopeful feature of the period was the accession to the throne in 1837 of a young, intelligent and strong minded queen, Victoria, and her marriage in 1840 to Prince Albert. Together they set the tone for the following half century, and by Prince Albert’s influence it became the convention that the Crown was strictly non-party and did not take sides in politics.
Langham Village History Group ~ © 1996 - 2021
England in 1841 by David Tew
Langham Village History Group