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Key Texts

  • P Joyce, ‘Work’ in FML Thompson (ed.), Cambridge Social History of Britain, vol 2.
  • David Gilbert and Humphrey Southall, 'The Urban Labour Market', in Martin Daunton (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain
  • Sally Alexander, ‘Women’s work in nineteenth-century London’ in Sally Alexander, Becoming a Woman
  • A J McIvor, A History of Work in Britain 1880-1950

seminar questions

  • What was the meaning of work in the nineteenth century?
  • How did the ‘culture of the factory’ pervade Victorian cities?
  • Were the employment opportunities for women in the last half of the nineteenth century a real advance for equal opportunities?
  • Account for the prevalence of sweated labour in Victorian Britain.
  • What were the causes and consequences of the high levels of unemployment and casual labour in Victorian cities?
  • What role did trade unions have in the regulation of working practices in this period?
  • Are the census and trade directories problematic as sources to understand working patterns in nineteenth-century cities?


further reading

D Alexander, Retailing in England during the Industrial Revolution

D Bythell, The Sweated Trades

F Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

D Green, ‘Street trading in London: a case study of casual labour 1830-60’ in Johnson and Pooley (eds), The Structure of Nineteenth-Century Cities

S D Chapman, The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Revolution

C Chinn, They worked all their lives: women of the urban poor

P Corfield, Power and the Professions

P Corfield and D Keene (eds), Work in Towns, 800-1850

A Howe, The Cotton Masters 1830-1860

G Stedman Jones, Outcast London

E Jordan, ‘Female unemployment, 1851-1911’, Social History, 13 (1988)

P Joyce, Work, Society and Politics

P Joyce, The Historical Meanings of work 

A. C. Kay, ‘Small Business, Self-Employment and Women’s Work-Life Choices in Nineteenth Century London’, in D. Mitch, J. Brown, M. H. D. Van Leeuwen (eds), Origins of the Modern Career

J Lown, Women and Industrialisation, chaps 1-3

P Malcolmson, ‘Getting a living in the slums of Victorian Kensington’, London Journal, 1 (1975)

Nicola Phillips, Women in Business, 1700-1850

Erika Rappaport, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London's West End

R Rodger, ‘Concentration and fragmentation: capital, labor, and the structure of mid-Victorian Scottish industry’, Journal of Urban History, 14 (1988)

R Samuel, ‘Workshop of the world: steam power and hand technology in mid-Victorian Britain’, History Workshop, 3 (1977)

G Shaw, ‘Changes in consumer demand and food supply in nineteenth-century British cities’, Journal of Historical Geography, 11 (1985)

L. Tiersten 'Redefining consumer culture', Radical History Review, 1993

J Treble, Urban Poverty in Britain 1830-1914

J T Ward, The Factory Movement 1830-1855


This painting may be viewed at Birmingham Art Gallery. For more information see their Pre-Raphaelite Online Resource.