The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Population Growth

Category: 18th century

During the first half of the 18th century, the pop­ulation of Great Britain increased by less than 15 per­cent. Between 1751 and 1801, the year of the first of­ficial census, the number rose by two-thirds to 10.7 million. During the next fifty years, the population of the country doubled. The reasons include a decline of deaths from infectious diseases, especially smallpox; an improved diet made possible by more efficient farm­ing practices and the large-scale use of the potato; and earlier marriages and larger families, especially in those areas where new industries were starting up.

Between 1760 and 1830 the production of cotton tex­tiles increased twelvefold, making the product Britain’s lead­ing export. At the same time, other inventions comparably raised the production of iron, and the amount of coal mined increased fourfold. By 1830 this Industrial Revolution had turned Britain into the “workshop of the world”. The towns that spread across north-western England, lowland Scotland, and southern Wales accustomed a generation of workers to factory life. The advantages were more regular hours, higher wages than those re­ceived by handicraft workers or farm labourers, and less dependence on human muscle power: many machines could be operated even by women and children.

London remained Britain’s largest city, a centre of commerce, shipping, justice, and administration more than of industry. Its population, estimated at 600,000 in 1701, had grown to 950,000 by 1801, and to 2,5 mil­lion by 1851, making it the largest city in the world. By then, Britain had become the first large nation to have more urban than rural inhabitants.

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