By Janet Roebuck
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Additional resources for The Making of Modern English Society from 1850
At first this bridge was narrow and rickety and allowed only a few to make the journey across the gulf, but as government and civil service activities expanded and commerce and management became more complex, the bridge became wider and THE LATER NINETEENTH CENTURY: SOCIETY IN FLUX 31 more stable. In the twentieth century the business-and capital-owning Victorian middle class would shrink to form only a tiny percentage of the population, while the white-collar group would expand to become the middle class of the mid-twentieth century.
Railway travel was a necessity for some people, a joyous adventure for others, but life beside the line, even in the suburbs, was a pleasure for no one. Passing trains were dirty and noisy, a constant irritant in the daily lives of those who lived beside the line. The ‘railway age’ foreshadowed the ‘automobile age’ in that it increased mobility, stimulated suburban growth, and forced the less fortunate elements of society to come to terms with the problems of high noise levels and dirty air. Short- and medium-distance urban road transport advanced with the introduction of horse-drawn omnibus and tram services in many places in the second half of the nineteenth century.
There were few comforts and amenities in the offices of even quite prosperous gentlemen, and many of them were probably encouraged to lavish money on their homes not only to enhance their social prestige, but also to build a comfortable refuge from the discomforts of the office or factory. In addition, the Victorian middle classes were enchanted by the number of things their prosperity made available to them, and industry was producing an ever-increasing range of household commodities. The product of all these forces was the claustrophobic clutter and massively overstuffed ‘comfort’ of the typical mid-century middle-class home.