KS3 > Political Reform

In this topic, we explore the political changes that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that helped turn Britain from a country with few people had the right to vote to one which was much closer to the democracy we have today.

The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a period of great change in Britain. This was especially the case for Parliament. At the start only a few, very rich people had any say in politics. By the end, many more people – although not everyone – could choose their Member of Parliament.

The changes were driven by the Industrial Revolution and events abroad, such as the American and French Revolutions.

In what historians call the ‘Industrial Revolution’, new technologies were introduced into manufacturing. This meant that goods could be made in larger numbers and much more cheaply. It led to many major social changes. Many people moved from the countryside to new towns to work in the new factories. New ‘classes’ of people emerged – the wealthier middle classes, such as those who owned or managed the new factories, and the working classes who mostly worked in them.  Generally, the people in these groups could not vote, and many felt that their interests were not represented in Parliament.

New Steam Engine, 1857 (from The Book of the Baltic)

For many in the working classes, lives were very hard. Some trades that had been well-paid were replaced by machines. The people who had worked in these trades either lost their jobs or had to accept much lower wages. In the countryside, machines replaced many jobs, leading to un