The period of Queen Victoria’s reign, between 1837 and 1901, and commonly known as the Victorian era, is called by some the second English Renaissance. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence. Culturally, there was a shift from the rationalism of the Georgian period towards Romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and the arts. The era is also popularly associated with the values of social and sexual restraint.
In ideology, politics, and society the Victorian era brought astonishing innovations and changes: democracy, feminism, unionisation of workers, socialism, Marxism, and other modern movements. In fact, the age of Darwin, Marx, and Freud was not only the first that experienced modern problems, but also the first that came up with modern solutions.
The Victorians were impressed by science and progress, and felt that they could better society in the same way as they were developing technology. During the Victorian era, science grew into the discipline it is today. An important development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication links.
Stagecoaches, canals, steam ships and most notably the railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about, rapidly facilitating trade and industry. Although initially developed in the early years of the 19th century, gas lighting also became widespread during the Victorian era in industry, homes, public buildings and the streets.
In international relations, the Victorian era was a long period of peace, known as the Pax Britannica, and economic, colonial and industrial consolidation. Domestically, the agenda was increasingly liberal, with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political and industrial reforms and the widening of the voting franchise.
The population of England almost doubled in the Victorian Era and the population of Scotland also increased rapidly. At the same time, however, about 15 million emigrants left the United Kingdom and settled mostly in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
The 19th-century Britain saw a huge population increase accompanied by rapid urbanisation, stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The large numbers of skilled and unskilled people looking for work kept wages down to a barely subsistence level. Available housing was scarce and expensive, resulting in overcrowding.
The Victorian era became notorious for the employment of young children in factories, mines and as chimney sweeps. Child labour, often brought about by economic hardship, played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset.
The children of the poor were expected to help towards the family budget, often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low wages. Children as young as four were put to work. In coal mines children began work at the age of 5 and generally died before the age of 25. Many children (and adults) worked 16-hour days.