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You Are Here: Home > Essay Topics > Sociology Essays and Research Papers > Society & Civilization Research Paper Topics  > Essay on The Urban Life During Industrial Revolution

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Essay on The Urban Life During Industrial Revolution

The impact of industrialization upon European society was most vivid in the growing cities. The population explosion, the decline in agricultural employment, the rise of the factory system, and the improvements in transportation combined to uproot thousands of people. Young adults, and sometimes whole families, found themselves so desperate for employment that they chose migration to the growing factory towns.

Unprecedented growth changed the nature of cities and urban life, but there was a range of types of towns and cities. Older towns often still stood within their medieval defensive walls. The urban and the rural were intertwined in such towns, sometimes with farmland within the walls and usually with important farming surrounding the town. Urban families often still had gardens or even orchards. Livestock lived inside the towns, and it was not unusual to see a pig wandering the streets. A 1786 census of Hanover--an important German capital and the home of the English royal family--found 365 head of cattle living within the town walls, but no sidewalks, paved streets, or sewer system. This remained true of the new industrial towns: Transplanted animals lived alongside uprooted workers in the shadow of the factory.

The modern city emerged painfully during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. London began the habit of numbering street addresses and invented sidewalks in the 1760s. Watt developed steam heating for his office, and his steam pipes were the first central heating. Experiments with the newly plentiful supply of coal led William Murdock to the invention of indoor lighting--the burning of coal gas to provide better illumination than candles did. By 1807 the city of London was installing Murdock's gaslights on the streets; by 1820 gaslights were common in the homes of the well-to-do. The 1820s also saw London and Paris invent new public transportation systems: the horse-drawn omnibus, soon supplemented by urban railroads. The French Revolution led to a big change in city life--the invention of the restaurant, a result of the emigration of aristocrats who left behind many unemployed chefs. In 1789 Paris had only one restaurant (as distinct from inns or cafes); in 1804 there were more than five hundred and the institution was spreading. By the middle of the 19th century, the manufacturing economy had created vast department stores (such as the Bon Marche in Paris) and even arcade-shopping centers (such as the Galleria in Milan).

Urban life during industrialization was not entirely rosy. The industrial and manufacturing towns such as Manchester, Essen, and Lodz initially grew too fast for amenities to keep pace with the population. Housing, fresh water, sewers, and sanitation were dangerously inadequate. An attractive environment (such as trees or clean air) or convenient services (such as shops or schools) were rarer. Many contemporaries recorded their horror at the sight of factory towns. Charles Dickens depicted Manchester as a dreadful place blackened by the soot of ubiquitous coal burning. Elisabeth Gaskell, who rivaled Dickens for vivid details, described the nightmare of life in such conditions. In Mary Barton (1848), she depicted the squalid conditions of life in a slum cellar, where starvation and typhus competed for the lives of a family sleeping on beds of damp straw. . . .

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