Urban Development in 19th Century Britain

2501 words (10 pages) Essay in History

08/02/20 History Reference this

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This assignment will attempt to describe and evaluate the progression of urban development during the 1880s whilst considering its effects on modern society. The research for this assignment will be taken from websites which hold credibility and provide a history which is relevant to the findings needed.

During the early 19th century, society in the United Kingdom was still rural with little urban development. However, this all changed with the industrial revolution which happened in the mid-1800s. This change saw that over 90% of the population would move on from agriculture (P. Bairoch and G Goertz, 1985).

The 19th century saw a continuing growth of cities which created a shift in the urban hierarchy, this took the focus away from cities such as Exeter, Norwich and York, and towards new major towns including Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. This meant that the biggest cities outside London were in the North and the Midlands. As well as cities being on the rise with the increase of urban development, leisure and resort towns saw inflation which meant more people were travelling (Boydell and Brewer, ND). This however created a social issue, it meant that the introduction of the working class was needed with more people working in factories and believing they had no rights. This brought the introduction of Chartism in 1838 which spread like wildfire all over the country (Encyclopaedia Britannica, ND). As more working men were getting more rights and better pay, women decided they also wanted this. Thus, the creation of the suffragettes, a organisation of radical feminists who believed that women were worth more than man. They would leave bombs in public places and smash shop windows as part of their protests (BBC Newsround, ND).

London seemed to be the place where young people migrated to every year, many of those sought apprenticeship jobs working with numerous tradesmen within the city. Other youngsters went into work with aristocratic families as domestic servants. However, as the total population of London alone increased, so did the amount of deaths and crimes. But with the numerous people dying, people were still fleeing to London away from their small villages (M White, 2009).


Scientific, technological and industrial innovations which included the mass production of railways, the steam engine and the uses of gas and electric are what made up the industrial revolution, not to mention the growing number of factories including cotton mills, wool factories and steel factories across the country. However, this led to big social costs, for example: child labour, pollution and disease and poverty grew worse in the growing cities including London (Historical Association, ND).

The rising crime rate in Victorian Britain was causing worry to the public. With the increase of crime rising from roughly 5,000 to around 20,000 in 40 years with help from the industrial revolution, society decided that change was needed, and criminals should be punished for their crimes. Britain only had small prisons and even those were poorly ran with even worse conditions. The common punishments for some of the crimes committed often saw the criminals transported to America and Australia. However, most crimes carried the death sentence meaning the person/s would be executed as punishment. (The National Archives, ND)

The Victorians were worried that the development in new cities would influence the number of criminals and whether they could be controlled. To try and put a stop to the surge in crime, 90 prisons were built or were expanded. This cost the country millions of pounds (The National archives, ND).

The Prisons act 1835 meant that improvements in procedures were a priority. It also meant that prison inspectors had to make reports annually, this provided prisons with the financial stability and assistance needed from the treasury. In 1853 when transportation of prisoner’s was stopped, an increase in the number on criminals who would receive a long-term sentence and those who would receive the death penalty was evident. This meant more prisons were needed all over the country (Parliament UK, ND).

HMP Pentonville was one of the prisons which was built in the 19th century, more specifically 1842. It was established by Act of Parliament and cost over £84,000. The structure was built by Major Joshua Jebb, using Jeremy Bentham’s design (pictured right) which consisted of a central hall and five wings which were easily seen and accessed by those standing in the central hall. The original designs meant that 520 prisoners would have their own cell which would be 13 ft long, 7 ft wide and 9 ft high. This design was proven to work as it became the model for a further 54 prisons built in Britain over the next 6 years (A. Holt, 2019).


HMP Pentonville was the teaching school for those who were wanting to become an executioner. Albert Pierrepoint was one of the most famous executioners, he executed 42 men between 1941 and 1954 (A. Holt, 2019). He was most famous for executing Antonio Mancini, the British gangster, which launched his career making him the chief executioner (Word Press, ND).


Though HMP Pentonville isn’t situated in the centre of the capital (Pictured Left), it is in fact one of the closest that remains. It sits between Camden Town and Highbury towards the north of London city, most other prisons have turned into museums for tourism purposes. HMP Pentonville is a Category B men’s prison which holds inmates whom have previously escaped a closed prison, serving a sentence for offences including threats, robbery, sexual offences or firearms offences, or the criminal has committed terrorist offences (Prison Phone, ND). These crimes are a lot worse than those a person would have been hanged for in the 1800s as mentioned before.


The prison now remains untouched regarding its structure and is still a place of reformation and rehabilitation to some of the United Kingdoms most notorious criminals (Justice.gov, ND). However, in the early days there were no toilets or wash basins, just a hole in the corner of the room. There are now toilets and shower blocks and the facilities are much better to align with a person’s basic human rights.

Whilst HMP Pentonville originally housed those who would commit petty crimes including children, the crimes would be something as small as damaging a tree or stealing a loaf of bread. However, because prisoners had to pay for everything whilst serving their time, those who were wealthy would have better conditions and sometimes even serve shorter sentences (My Learning, ND). HMP Pentonville has now housed some of the most famous criminals in Britain, including James Whitlock and Matthew Baker (the two prisoners who escaped). Not to mention celebrities such as Pete Doherty who served time in 2005, Boy George who served a sentence in 2009 for imprisoning and assaulting a male escort and George Michael who served his time in 2010 for drug driving (J Lockett, 2016).

HMP Pentonville is owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II along with many ore across the country. Darren Huges is the current governor of HMP Pentonville and has over 25 years’ experience working in the justice and legal sectors which includes the youth justice and the public sector (Nacro.org, ND). It is unknown who first ran the prison; however, it is known that Major Joshua Jebb who built the prison was also on the administrator’s board (justice.gov.uk, ND).

From research taken there is a clear understanding that the Victorians had a huge influence into the way that the criminal justice system is formed today, and the way that Britain adapted to the change from agricultural life to urban living. With the rise of the industrial revolution, crime rates sored which meant that the introduction of more prisons was needed. Today most of those prisons are still used and most are still using the same structure as designed by Jeremy Bentham which means that HMP Pentonville, whilst being the most feared prison in Britain, created a legacy of its own. The urban development of 19th century Britain had a huge impact on modern Britain in relation to people living in cities more than rural areas.

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