The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Rise of the Middle Class

Category: 18th century

With the industrialization, the British middle class grew larger and more influential as the number of financiers, factory owners and capitalist farmers in­creased. The upper class still possessed the land and titles, but the industrial middle class had the money. During the whole of the 18th century, the landed aris­tocracy, which largely controlled Parliament, firm­ly resisted any attempts by the middle class to gain power.

But wealth was to bring political influence, and the new capitalists worked hard to eliminate govern­ment interference in business and to ensure a climate favourable for continued industrial expansion.

The new industrialists developed not only a new style of business, but also a new lifestyle. Some of them imitated aristocracy by buying country estates and taking up such sports as hunting and horse racing. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, however, the middle class valued leisure only when it promoted work skills and family life, and criticized aristocracy for idle­ness and gambling.

Many of the middle class were relatively well ed­ucated. Many people in the middle class paid consider­able attention to religion, believing it to be a good way to instill morality. They generally considered hard work the key to a good life and to social success. They crit­icized poor people for not working hard enough and were reluctant to help the poor on the grounds that it encouraged bad habits among the needy.

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