Children sleeping in a Bethnal Green slum, in London, 1900. (via Wikimedia Commons)
In the later nineteenth century Britain was the world’s leading power. Its Navy dominated the seas. Its industry and commerce dominated world trade. And Britain ruled over a huge empire of millions across the globe. The image below is a useful source in showing how the British Empire saw itself and how many others saw it.
This was the Britain that people inside and outside the country saw in the 1890s. But that was just one perspective. Under the surface there was a more complex story, one with many chapters. And this mighty power and great Empire had more than its share of troubles as well as triumphs.
At home, Britain faced many challenges. Although it was the wealthiest power in the world, many of its people lived in terrible poverty, squalor and ill-health. At the same time, roughly half of the population – the female half – was unable to vote for the government which ruled the country. And some of them wanted this to change.
There were many other challenges at home. Many British industries were dangerous places to work, and working conditions were being challenged by the rising trade union movement.
There were even challenges to the British Empire itself. The right of Britain to rule its Empire was being challenged in many places, from Ireland to India.
In this theme we’ve gathered material from the Churchill Archive which will allow you to investigate some of these other stories, including: the lives and conditions of ordinary British people; British people’s views of what kind of country Britain should be; and the views of the British people on the British Empire.
A map of the world, showing the extent of the British Empire in 1886, with imperial dominions marked in the traditional pink/red. (By Walter Crane - http://maps.bpl.org/id/M8682/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)