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 The 1700s
 The 1800s

by Jim Nelms
Georgian literature, art and music c.1800
The eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw a mushrooming of scholarly and popular works that we still consider 'classics', for example, Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), Hume's Treatise on Human Nature (1739), Johnson's Dictionary (1755), Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776), Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811), Scott's Waverley Novels (1814 onwards), Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and Tennyson's Lady of Shalot (1832).

The turn of the century saw artists such as Turner and Constable and, in 1824, George IV encouraged the government to create a National Gallery.

Musically, the period started with Handel regularly composing and performing in London and ended with Mendelsson's Fingal's Cave likewise being performed to a metropolitan audience. Other works such as Rule Britannia, God save the King and Auld Lang Syne also date from this period. In 1823, the Royal Academy of Music opened in London.

Highland clearances 1800
In the aftermath of Culloden, many Highland chieftains either sold their ancestral lands or looked for new ways to exploit the land to earn more money. The local populations - no longer required for warfare - were 'cleared'. On some occasions, this process was amicable and peaceful but, on others, considerable violence was used with houses being burned above people's heads and ill members of families being left to die.

Some landlords provided alternative employment for the population - fishing as opposed to crofting; other landlords assisted emigration to the New World; while others still did nothing. Previosly populous estates were turned over to sheep and deer. The most notorious clearances of the early eighteenth century occurred on the estates of the Duke of Sutherland, under his factor, Patrick Sellar.

The union with Ireland and adoption of the Union Flag 1801
During the American fight for independence, the Irish had raised a force of United Volunteers, announcing their loyalty to the Crown, and their influence was used to win an independent Irish Parliament. However, this caused bloody clashes between Catholics and Protestants, and the Prime Minister of the time, William Pitt, concluded that direct rule form London was the only solution.

After bribery of the Commons and gentry, Britain and Ireland were formally united, with seats for 100 Irish members in the Commons and thirty-two peers in the Lords. The red saltire of St Patrick was incorporated in the Union flag to give the present flag of the United Kingdom (only properly called the Union Jack when used aboard ship).

First British Census 1801
In Britain, the census was introduced to help the government understand the country and better utilise the population in times of war. In 1801, in England and Wales, the population was nearly nine million while, in Scotland, the figure was a little over 1,600,000. (Ireland was not included until 1821, when her population was over 6,800,000). The census has been taken in the first year of the decade ever since (with the exception of 1941).      

The Napoleonic wars 1803 - 1815

Following the French Revolution, Napoleon I of France began a series of European wars. His aim was the conquest of Europe. In 1803, Britain resumed war against France, following an appeal from the Maltese (objecting to Napoleon's seizure of the island in 1798).

In 1805, Napoleon's planned invasion of Britain from Boulogne ended with Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, and in 1806, Napoleon instituted an attempted blockade - 'the Continental System' - to isolate Britain from Europe. This finally collapsed after its rejection by Russia.

Napoleon then made the fatal decision to invade Russia and was defeated by the Russian resistance, losing some 380,000 men. Britain, Prussia, Russia, Austria and Sweden formed a new coalition, which defeated Napoleon at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Germany. Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba.


He returned to Paris in 1815, but was finally defeated at Waterloo by Wellington and his Prussian allies, on 18 June that year.

The Battle of Trafalgar 1805
For much of the 1780s, 1790s and early 1800s, the British fleet was involved in actions against the French and Spanish in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Caribbean. Admirals such as Rodney and Hood established British superiority but it was Horatio Nelson who secured British naval dominance.

Successful at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and Copenhagen in 1801, his most famous encounter occurred off the Spanish coast at Trafalgar in October 1805. It proved to be the decisive naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars, with Nelson defeating the combined Spanish and French fleets without loss of any British ship. Unfortunately, it was not without personal cost - Nelson was killed on his flagship, Victory, during the battle, by a sniper's bullet.

Abolition of the Slave Trade 1807
Since 1772, it had been legally recognised that individuals could not be slaves in Britain. Despite this, in the later eighteenth century, Britain dominated the international trade in slaves. Between 1782 and 1807, it is estimated that Britain traded in over 1,000,000 human lives.

There was little public discontent in Britain concerning the traffic before the early nineteenth century but, in 1807, the slave trade was abolished within the British Empire.

A concerted campaign, led by William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, then followed and, in 1833, slavery itself was abolished within the British Empire (though not within British protectorates, such as Sierra Leone). £20,000,000 in compensation had to be paid to the plantation owners in the Caribbean.

Luddites 1811 - 1817
In the face of industrial revolution, traditional home workers were threatened by new machines and industrial practices. In Nottingham, in March 1811, organised machine breaking began - associated with Ned Ludd.

Despite government attempt to limit spread, the machine breaking soon broke out across the Midlands and north of England. Mills and property were attacked and, occasionally, people were killed. In 1813, seventeen Luddites were executed in York and this caused the movement to diminish.

The last significant Luddite attack took place at a Loughborough lace factory in February 1817.

The Regency 1811 - 1820
From 1811 to 1820, George III's son acted as Regent, due to his father's illness. He was an unpopular figure, overweight and regarded as extravagant. He also lost public favour for his treatment of his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. However, he was a supporter of the arts, and the period of his regency and monarchy were years of adventure and achievement in all the arts and sciences.  

Corn Laws and agriculture 1815
Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, legislation was introduced to regulate the import of cereals in an attempt to maintain an adequate supply for consumers while providing a secure price for the producers. Cereals could not be imported into Britain until the domestic price reached eighty shillings a quarter. This price meant that cereals and bread were more expensive than they needed to be and this caused considerable agitation.  

Other aspects of agricultural production also caused popular concern - in 1834, six Dorset farmworkers - The Tolpuddle Martyrs - were transported to the colonies for seven years because they had taken an illegal oath to a labourers' union.

Peterloo Massacre 1819
On 16 August 1819, a crowd of over 50,000 gathered in St Peter's Fields in Manchester to hear a speech on parliamentary reform by Henry Hunt.

The crowds were well behaved but the local authorities panicked and attempted to arrest Hunt and disperse the crowd.

Eleven people were killed and around 400 injured in the melee.

Cato Street Conspiracy 1820
In February 1820 (only eight years after the shooting of the prime minister, Spencer Perceval), a Jacobite plot to assassinate the entire cabinet of Britain's Parliament was discovered. The leader of the plotters, Arthur Thistlewood, was betrayed and arrested at a house in Cato Street. He, and other conspirators, were subsequently hanged for the crime.

University reform 1822

In the early nineteenth century, Britain had eight universities. Oxford and Cambridge were by far the most significant but other medieval foundations had survived at St Andrews (the oldest in Scotland, dating from c.1411), Glasgow and Aberdeen (two separate universities - King's and Marischal).


Later foundations in Edinburgh (1582) and Dublin (1592) were also active, although other universities such as at London, Durham, Peterhead and Kirkwall had failed to survive more than a few years.

In 1822, St David's College, Lampeter, was founded and, in 1828, University College, London. Durham was revived in 1832 and from then until the present day, university expansion was a popular political subject. Considerable booms in numbers occurred in the early 1900s, the 1950s, the 1960s (following the Robbins Report) and the 1990s.

Stockton to Darlington Railway 1825

Following the work of the British steam pioneers, George Stephenson built the first public steam railway which ran from Stockton to Darlington in 1825. This heralded extensive railway building in Britain, providing a fast and economical means of transport and communication. Stephenson's next locomotive, the 'Rocket' of 1829, achieved speeds of 50kph/30mph.


William IV and the First Reform Act 1832

William, Duke of Clarence, became William IV (1830-37) following the death of his brother, George, in 1830. In 1832, he secured the passage of the first Reform Bill by agreeing to create new peers to overcome the hostile majority in the House of Lords.

Also known as the 'Representation of the People Act', the Reform Act aimed to extend the voting rights and redistribute Parliamentary seats. 'Pocket' and 'Rotten' boroughs were abolished, as they had formed unrepresentative constituencies, and seats were redistributed on a more equitable basis in the counties.


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