Crime and Punishment
Big Question Crime 1750 - 1900 Main page

Did the Industrial Revolution lead to more crime?

The BIG QUESTION in this Strand is about how much crime has changed over the centuries. One of the big factors affecting crime is the economy of the country: what work do people do, and where? Who is rich and who is not?

During the period covered by this Gallery, Britain went through some extraordinary changes. The population rose from 10 million in 1750 to 42 million in 1900. In 1750 most of these people lived in villages in the countryside; by 1900 most of the British people lived in towns and cities. London was the only great city in Britain in 1750, with a population of 2/3 of a million people; this rose to over 3 million by 1900. But other places, small rural towns or even villages in 1750 had become cities by 1900. For example, Liverpool's population rose from 22,000 to 450,000; Manchester's from 18,000 to 376,000; Preston's from 5,000 to 92,000, and so on.
For many people, life in these new cities was tough. They lived in over-crowded, squalid housing. Disease was common. But they were also more free than they had been in the village, where their employer also owned their home and always knew what they were up to.
These cities grew up because of industry. In textiles, iron, metal goods and pottery, production moved to large scale factory methods. Instead of a skilled worker making items on a small scale, factories used machines, powered by water or steam engines, employing a huge work force of semi-skilled or unskilled workers to manufacture on a large scale. Working conditions were often unsafe, and employment was uncertain, but some industrialists grew rich, rivalling the wealth and power of the older landowning classes.
The Industrial Revolution meant that far more goods, of all kinds, were being made, moved about, and sold. The transport system changed radically to meet the new demands. First stage-coaches supplied faster travel than ever before, then, from the 1770s, canals provided an entirely new, cheap, bulk transport system. From 1840 the railways supplanted both, with 23,000 miles of track in Britain by 1900, providing fast, cheap transport for passengers and freight.
So how did these dramatic changes to the face of Britain affect crime? Was there more crime, or less? Were there different crimes? And what did people at the time think was going on?
In the Case-Studies in this Gallery of the Crime Strand you will find examples of real crimes committed in this period. You will see how the government began to collect and analyse crime statistics and understand some of the problems involved in doing this. You will also see that people at the time thought and argued about changes in crime.

Three Case-Studies:

1. New Crimes
2. Crime Statistics
3. The Causes of Crime

1. Work through each of these Case-Studies. Read and analyse the Sources in each. There are HINTS in each Case-Study to help you get the most out of the Sources.
2. At the end of your Case-Study, fill in some of the Gallery Worksheet.
3. Move on to the next Case-Study.

Case Studies
Source 1 Source 2 Source 4 Source 3 Case Study 3 The Causes of Crime Case Study 2 Crime Statistics Case Study 1 New Crimes to Crime 1450-1750 to Prevention 1750-1900 End to Crime in the 20th Century Case Studies Game Worksheet