What Was Life Like in Eighteenth Century England?

During the eighteenth century, as England was rapidly becoming a global power, everyday life was subject to broad and sweeping changes — most notably those of the Industrial Revolution. Consumerism and commercial enterprise were encouraging more people to move to the cities, while at the same time eroding traditional peasant economies and self-sufficiency in the countryside.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution the majority of English people lived in rural areas, where they (or other members of their small communities) produced what they needed for themselves — from food and clothing to tools and furniture. Life was far from idyllic for many during this time, as disease and poverty were rife.

Among other things, new technologies of the Industrial Revolution enabled farmers to develop methods of feeding livestock during the winter. This meant that fresh (rather than salted) meat was available all year round. Roast beef became an integral part of British culture, even as the nation was flooded with all kinds of new and exotic foods from abroad (such as Italian pasta, Indian rice, fancy French sauces and turtle meat from the West Indies).

However, with the global imperialist expansion of "Great Britain," as it came to be called, came a harrowing cognitive dissonance in national identity. Knowing that economic prosperity at home was founded on exploitation and cruelty abroad, the idea of Britain as a "land of the free" became increasingly untenable for many English people during the eighteenth century. Additionally, owing to the rising influence of consumerism, British people became more competitive with each other and ultimately less unified.