Britain in the Eighteenth Century
In the eighteenth century, Britain was a very different country, both
industrially and agriculturally. Today's major cities such as London
and Birmingham were a fraction of the size that they are today. There
were no major factories, with the eighteenth century equivalent
running on power generated from waterwheels. There were no roads, just
dirt tracks, and all farming was done manually, with help from horses
pulling carts instead of machinery.
Approximately 5.5 million people lived in England and Wales in the
eighteenth century. This was less than there is today living in
London. There is no way to know the exact amount of inhabitants, as
there was no accurate method, like the modern day national census. The
way that historians have accurate estimates on the population
distribution of the country is the usage of old parish records, which
recorded baptisms, marriages and funerals. When many of these were
gathered, an overall view of the country in the eighteenth century was
Roughly a third of the eighteenth century population resided in the
Southeast region of the country, with nearly of them living in rural
towns and villages. Of the whole of the country, the most densely
populated area was roughly from the mouth of the River Severn, to
below the Thames estuary to the south, and the Walsh to the north. The
reasons for this being the most popular choice is the fertile land,
and the relatively warmer climate, compared to the rest of the
country. People moved there because agriculture-based jobs were the
most common, and these factors helped that.
The least populated areas of the country in the eighteenth century
were the North and the West. This was due to these areas being hilly
and less suitable for farming than the southern regions.
In the eighteenth century, family sizes were, on average, bigger than
they are today. People were having more children, with the hope that
in the future they would provide more money for the family. Even
though the population was rising, many children died in infancy. It
was estimated that roughly half the children were dying before their
Another factor affecting population growth was the diseases of the
time. Killing diseases such as smallpox, dysentery, consumption and
typhus were widespread. Out of the entire population, they most
affected the poor people, due to their inadequate shelter, poor diet,
and sometimes, excessive drinking.
From 1720-1750 cheap gin was drunk in large quantities, especially in
London. To stop this, in 1751 Parliament raised the tax on spirits,
and kept a close watch on the sale of it, which made it less of a
problem among the poorer people.
Even though the drink problem was taken care of, the lack of basic
medical knowledge caused death...