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Modernist Britain

By jan_m
  • First Reform Bill

    Passed by Parliament as the "Representation of the People Act" (also known as "Great Reform Act"). Introduced changes in the electoral system of the United Kingdom. 56 rotten boroughs were abolished; 42 new boroughs were created to ensure fair representation for the growing industrial cities. The franchise remained contingent on property. Nevertheless, the electorate almost doubled in England and Wales.
  • Factory Act

    An Act of Parliament to regulate child labour in the textile industry. The employment of children under 9 in textile factories became illegal, and children between 9 and 13 had to receive two hours of schooling per day.
  • Queen Victoria

    Queen Victoria
    1819-1901. Reign: 1837-1901 (Queen of Great Britain and Ireland), 1876-1901 (Empress of India). The niece of William IV, Victoria succeeded to the throne at the age of 18. From 1840 to his death in 1861, she was married to Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The royal couple had nine children and emphasised middle-class rather than aristocratic values: family life, respectability, industriousness and an interest in the arts, business and technological progress.
  • People's Charter

    People's Charter
    A petition for democratic reform on the basis of six points: one man (!), one vote; equal electoral districts; payment of members of Paliament; elections by secret ballot; removal of property qualifications for MPs; and parliamentary elections every year. Gave rise to 'Chartism', a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom, which had its high time during the economic crises of the 1840s.
  • Great Famine

    In the autumns of 1845 and 1846, the potato crop in Ireland, which had accounted for about 60% of the Irish food production, was hit by blight, causing the plants to rot. During the four-year famine, about 1 million people died; a further 2.5 million people emigrated to Britain and North America over the next decade (Maurer 345). The disaster was aggravated by decisions of the British government: Ireland continued to export food, and relief efforts were insufficient.
  • Communist Manifesto

    Communist Manifesto
    Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the German original of the Communist Manifesto was published in London in 1848; an English translation followed in 1850. It claimed that "[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles".
  • Great Exhibition

    Great Exhibition
    The "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations" or simply the Great Exhibition took place form May 1st to October 15th 1851. Held in the Crystal Palace, a cast-iron and glass building erected in Hyde Park, it attracted almost six million visitors. The event was meant to showcase the world's most advanced inventions, machines and works of art.
  • On the Origin of Species

    On the Origin of Species
    Based on evidence collected during his expedition on the Beagle in the 1830s, Charles Darwin presented a theory of evolution and the diversity of life that was based on the principle of natural selection. In 1871, Darwin's exploration of human evolution, The Descent of Man, was published. As "Social Darwinism", Darwin's theory was adopted as an ideology that proclaimed a struggle for existence between both individuals and societies and justified "laissez-faire" politics.
  • Second Reform Bill

    The Second Reform Act virtually doubled the electorate, enabling one-third of adult males in Britain and one-sixth in Ireland to vote in parliamentary elections. In particular, the vote was extended to working-class electors in the boroughs (i.e. towns and cities).
  • Third Reform Bill

    Extended the vote to working-class voters in the countryside. As a consequence roughly two-thirds of adult males in England and Wales, three-fifths in Scotland and half in Ireland were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. Apart from women, the Act excluded male servants and many members of the armed forces. Even so, critics considered it "a leap in the dark" (Kramer 148) for giving power to the 'unpredictable' masses.
  • Trials against Oscar Wilde

    Trials against Oscar Wilde
    Having lost his lawsuit for criminal libel against the Marquess of Queensberry (who had claimed that Wilde "posed as a sodomite"), Oscar Wilde was tried on charges of "gross indecency". Prosecution opened on 26 April. While the jury was unable to reach a verdict, a second trial ended with Wilde being sentenced to two years' hard labour. After his release in 1897, Wilde went into exile on the Continent. Suffering from poor health, he died in November 1900.
  • (Second) Boer War

    (1899-1902). The Boers (Dutch for “farmers”) were settlers of European descent who had founded the Transvaal, an independent state close to the British Cape Colony in South Africa. During a gold rush, the Transvaal attracted many “Uitländers” – “foreigners”, predominantly of British origin –, who paid taxes but had no political representation. Rising tensions led to a war between the Boers and forces from Britain and its local colonies.
  • Edward VII

    Son and successor to Queen Victoria. Only in 2011 did Prince Charles replace him as the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. Edward was 59 when he became king, and Victorianism had shaped Britain for more than half a century. Edward played an important role in the modernisation of the British Navy and in brokering European alliances: the “Uncle of Europe” was related to most of the Continental monarchs.
  • Women's Social and Political Union

    Women's Social and Political Union
    Founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, the WSPU was a women’s suffrage organisation whose slogan “Deeds not words” marked a radicalism missing from earlier campaigns. Organising demonstrations, interrupting political speeches or smashing shop windows, WSPU members sought public attention for their cause through provocation and confrontations with the police. Their tactics intensified around 1909 when the organisation resorted to militant acts such as arson, bombings and direct assaults on politicians.
  • Bloomsday

    The day on which the fictional (!) events of James Joyce’s Ulysses (published in 1922) occur. Since the 1950s, Joyce’s literary achievements have been celebrated through readings, performances and festivals on this day. “Bloomsday”, a term not used by Joyce himself, was named after the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom.
  • Labour Party

    The Labour Representation Committee was founded in 1900, with many trade unionists stepping onto the political field. Its policies were informed by socialism; one central aim was the “common ownership of the means of production”. The name “Labour Party” was officially adopted in 1906 after Labour candidates had won their first seats in Parliament. In 1924, the first Labour government took office.
  • People's Budget

    In 1909, the Liberal government announced its intention to fight poverty through a series of welfare reforms, particularly the introduction of old-age pensions for workers. Increased taxes on high income, an inheritance tax and a land tax were planned in order to pay for the measures. This “People’s Budget” was passed by the House of Commons, but voted down by the House of Lords. Only in 1911 and after some changes did it become law.
  • George V

    George V
    (reign: 1910-1936). Son and successor to Edward VII. In 1917, George changed the name of the royal house from “Saxe-Coburg-Gotha” to “Windsor”, a symbolic commitment to Britain despite the German family branches. Since 1931, when Parliament gave up its veto right over political decisions in the Dominions George personified the “bracket” around the nations of the former Empire, remaining their head of state. In 1932, he started the tradition of royal Christmas broadcasts.
  • Lords lose right of veto

    The Lords’ rejection of the “People’s Budget” triggered a constitutional crisis because by convention, the upper house did not interfere with financial bills. In order to assert its predominance over the Lords, the House of Commons passed the Parliament Act 1911, which removed – now in the form of a law – the right of the Lords to veto money bills. They could no longer veto other bills either, only delay them for up to two years.
  • Cat and Mouse Act

    Cat and Mouse Act
    Popular name of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, which allowed for prisoners of poor health to be set free (and to be arrested again after their recovery). The Act was passed with the suffragettes in mind, who, once imprisoned for assault or other felonies, tended to go on hunger strike.
  • The Great War

    (1914-1918). Originally expected to be a short (and, as some happily believed, even purifying) clash, the Great War, later referred to as “World War I”, developed into a large-scale conflict between the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, the USA and others) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire).
  • Easter Rising

    The movement for Irish Home Rule was several decades old, but all parliamentary bills to this end had proved unsuccessful. WWI halted further political efforts. In 1916, on Easter Monday, Irish nationalists staged an armed rebellion, seizing key buildings in Dublin. With police forces and the British army moving in, the uprising was put down within six days and the leaders were court-martialled and executed.
  • Franchise for women

    The Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised the soldiers and women because the paradox that people were asked to fight and labour in the protection of Britain but were not represented in its political system was acutely felt at the end of WWI. Women received the right to vote for the first time, but had to be at least 30 years of age and meet property qualifications.
  • Irish Free State

    In 1919, the Irish Republic was proclaimed, which led to the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921). As a result of the peace treaty, Ireland was partitioned. The counties of Northern Ireland opted to remain with the United Kingdom (which prepared the ground for the Northern Ireland conflict), whereas the other counties established the Irish Free State. While its government was independent from Britain, the Irish Free State was a constitutional monarchy in which the British monarch had executive powers.
  • General Strike

    With the British coal industry in trouble, miners were expected to accept longer hours and pay cuts. In their support, the Trade Union Council called a general strike which about 1.5 million railwaymen, dockers, steelworkers and printers took part in. After a few days, however, it became apparent that the strike was not effective; the government had taken precautions so that the country did not come to a standstill. After nine days, the general strike was called off.
  • British Broadcasting Corporation

    British Broadcasting Corporation
    A royal charter established the BBC as a public service broadcaster. (A private forerunner, the British Broadcasting Company, had existed since 1922.) Funded by license fees, the BBC’s mission was (and is) “to inform, educate and entertain” the British public. After a series of “firsts” in the 1920s – first radio news bulletin, first royal address –, the BBC started to experiment with television broadcasts in the 1930s. The tests were suspended during World War II, to be resumed afterwards.
  • Universal Suffrage

    The Equal Franchise Act gave equal voting rights to men and women: franchise for everybody over 21.
  • Stock Market Crash

    The Wall Street Crash ended a speculative boom at the stock market, with shares losing up to one half of their value in a matter of days. It ushered in the Great Depression, a world-wide economic plunge accompanied by unemployment, poverty and hunger. Culturally, it put an end to the “Roaring Twenties” or the “Jazz Age”: the time of a bohemian upper class (in Britain: the Bright Young Things) leading “glittering” lives, and of relative prosperity for many.
  • Edward VIII

    (abdicated on 11 December 1936). Son and successor to George V. His intention to marry the American Wallis Simpson, who had been divorced twice, caused a constitutional crisis, as the Prime Minister announced his intention to resign if the king went through with it. He argued that the royal marriage was not a personal matter: as Head of Church, Edward VIII had to support the Anglican attitude towards remarriage after divorce, and as a monarch, he had to be a moral example.
  • George VI

    George VI
    (reign: 1936-1952). Son to George V, brother and successor to Edward VIII. His reign comprised the time of appeasement politics, World War II and post-war reconstruction. Did not really look like Colin Firth (as the photo should prove).
  • Munich Conference

    A diplomatic meeting at the end of which Britain, France and Italy accepted, in the absence of Czechoslovakian representatives, Germany’s intended annexation of the Sudetenland, i.e. the regions in Czechoslovakia predominantly inhabited by Germans. In retrospective, with the knowledge of WWII, the Munich Pact is often regarded as the final failure of British appeasement politics: the hope that a war could be avoided through negotiations, concessions and compromise.
  • World War II

    Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, following the German invasion of Poland two days earlier.