New Georgian period

  • Charles II died in 1685. He had witnessed the Great Fire of London in 1666.
  • He was succeeded by the Catholic King James II, who was deposed in 1689 by a Protestant King William of Orange who then ruled jointly with his wife Mary.
  • Queen Anne followed, reigning for 12 years in the early 1700’s.
  • The Georgian period (Georges I, II, III) lasted from 1714 until the early 19th century.


  • At the end of the 17th century the population of England and Wales was 5.5 million.
  • Over 600,000 lived in London.

Rich and Poor

  • Political power and influence was in the hands of rich land-owners.
  • Rise of new class of wealthy merchants and professional men.
  • Half the population lived at subsistence or bare survival level.
  • Most people lived in the countryside and made their living from farming.
  • Late 18th century Industrial Revolution – people moved to towns to work in mining or manufacturing industries.


  • Living conditions were unsanitary.
  • Water came from reservoirs through elm pipes, and then lead pipes into individual houses.
  • Lighting from candles made from tallow (animal fat) or beeswax.
  • Coal was essential for heating and cooking.
  • Most people in towns worked 80 hours per week.
  • A labourer earned 3 shillings and sixpence.
  • Life expectancy for a man at birth in 1850 was an average of 38 years. If he survived to the age of 10, it increased to 58 years.
  • Infant mortality was high, due to disease & malnutrition.
  • Those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment in a workhouse. Life was very harsh, many died,  and were buried in unmarked pauper graves.
  • Regular rubbish collections began – human waste was sold as fertilizer.


  • 1700’s Britain was building up a great overseas empire.
  • England lost The American War of Independence in 1783 but captured Canada.
  • 1707 Act of Union united Scotland with England and Wales (Great Britain). 


  • Food for ordinary people remained plain and monotonous. Meat was a luxury; poor people ate mainly bread and potatoes. Bread cost tuppence.
  • Tea drinking became common even among ordinary people.
  • The Huguenots introduced oxtail soup into the country for the first time.
huguenots of spitalfields Dennis Severs house bedroom
Images courtesy of Dennis Server’s House, Folgate Spitalfields


  • In Georgian Britain the wealthy owned comfortable upholstered furniture, some of it veneered or inlaid. Famous furniture designers were Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton.
  • The poor had none of these things. Craftsmen and labourers lived in two or three rooms. The poorest people lived in just one room. Their furniture was very simple and plain.


  • Men wore knee-length trouser-like garments called breeches and stockings; they also wore linen shirts, waistcoats, frock coats and buckled shoes. Both men and women wore wigs and for men three-cornered hats were popular.
  • Women wore stays (a bodice with strips of whalebone) and hooped petticoats under their dresses. Women did not wear knickers.
  • Fashionable women carried folding fans. Fashion was very important for the rich but poor people could only afford one set of clothes.


  • Games such as chess, drafts and backgammon were popular, as were tennis and a rough version of football. Dominoes, invented in China, reached Europe in the 18th century. In 1759 a man named John Jeffries invented an entirely new board game called A Journey Through Europe or The Play of Geography in which players race across a map of Europe.
  • In London, Pleasure Gardens were created. The modern style of cricket was being played, with the first cricket club being formed in Hampshire about 1750.
  • Rich people visited spas. They believed that bathing in and/or drinking spa water could cure illness. Towns like Buxton, Bath and Tunbridge were popular. At the end of the 18th century wealthy people began to spend time at the seaside, at resorts like Brighton and Bognor.
  • Reading was a popular pastime and the first novels were published at this time. Books were still expensive but in many towns you could pay to join a circulating library.
  • The first daily newspaper in England was printed in 1702. The editor was a female Huguenot called Elizabeth Mallet.  The Times began in 1785.
  • Smoking clay pipes was popular in the 18th century and so was taking snuff.


  • Charity schools were founded in many towns in England. Some were called Blue Coat Schools because of the colour of the childrens’ uniforms. Boys from well-off families went to grammar schools and girls also went to school. However people who did not belong to the Church of England, now a Protestant Church were not allowed to attend most public schools. Instead they went to their own dissenting academies.


  • Groups of rich men formed turnpike trusts. Acts of Parliament gave them the right to improve and maintain certain roads. Travellers had to pay tolls to use them. The first turnpikes were created as early as 1663 but they became far more common in the 18th century.
  • Travel was made dangerous by highwaymen; the most famous was Dick Turpin (1705-1739), who was hanged at Tyburn. Smuggling was also very common in the 18th century, particularly rum and tobacco.


  • Knowledge of anatomy greatly improved in the 18th century. John Hunter (1728-1793), a surgeon, is sometimes called the Father of Modern Surgery. He invented new procedures such as tracheotomy. Among other advances a Scottish surgeon named James Lind discovered that fresh fruit or lemon juice could cure or prevent scurvy.
  • A major scourge was smallpox. Even if it did not kill you it could leave you scarred with pox marks. Then, in 1721,  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced inoculation from Turkey.
  • In 1796 a doctor named Edward Jenner (1749-1823) realized that milkmaids who caught cowpox were immune to smallpox. He invented vaccination.


  • During the 18th century England produced two great portrait painters, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).
  • William Hogarth (1697-1764) painted scenes showing the harsh side of 18th century life.
  • The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768. In theatre, David Garrick (1717-1779) was a famous actor /manager who was a Huguenot.


  • Thomas Newcomen made steam engines to pump water from mines.
  • James Watt invented a steam engine that could power machinery.
  • The first industry to become mechanised was the textile industry. Cotton production boomed as a result of new inventions:
    • 1771 Richard Arkwright opened a cotton-spinning mill with a machine called a water frame, which was powered by a water mill.
    • 1779, Samuel Crompton invented a new cotton-spinning machine called a spinning mule.
    • 1785 Edmund Cartwright invented a loom that could be powered by a steam engine.


  • 1739 the great evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) began preaching. John Wesley (1703-1791) created a new religious movement called the Methodists.
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