Comment on this statement by Winston Churchill in 1899 :
“I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its own sewers”
a)Explain briefly the general meaning of this statement.
b)Explain why Britain was reluctant to vote any reform to treat poverty till the late 19th century.
c)Analyse why the situation changed in the early 20th century.
I) WinstonChurchill made the statement "I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to fluch its own sewers." in 1899. Before that year, the politician was a conservative. He had recently visited India and at the time believed the power Britain had over its colonies was normal and good. When he got back, he was advised to read The Martyrdom of Man by Windword Reade which made himchange his opinions about the colonisation and the greatness of his country. It was after his failure at the Oldham elections that he moved from the Conservative Party to the Labour Party. In 1899, Britain's poor were not helped and their conditions were still very bad. Churchill wanted to improve their living conditions by doing reforms : and so he contributed to the creation of the Old Age pensionsAct and helped to create National Insurance.
At the time of this statement, the sewer systems in Britain had already been changed after the summer of the Great Stench in 1958, but were still not very effective and could be considered as good. In 1899, a politician named Whitehead (who's father had worked with Churchill's father) asked the government, on the 27th February 1899, whether they weregoing to fulfil his request of improving the sewers and draining systems of England. The government refused any such change saying it was unnecessary.
At the time, Britain was at was against the Boers for the second time, going through defeats and victories. But the empire was well-known to be the biggest colonial power which was still expanding and a true strength when it came to military power,mostly at sea. The country was considered as a glorious one for these reasons.
Churchill is thus opposing a glorious empire, as most people see it, and a problematic country who cares more about the amount of land it rules than of the people that inhabit it and the hygiene in the streets of its cities.
II) During the 19th century, Britain continued to develop and become more industrialised.The population continued to move into towns making more than half of the British urban by the 1850's. There was also a huge increase in population that century : from 9 million in 1801 to 41 million in 1901. This increase was also due to immigrations, firstly of the Irish who were fleeing the potato famine in the 1840's and then of the Russian Jews because they were persecuted by the Tsar around the1880's. The poverty arose from the overpopulated towns, the sizes of the large families and the lack of jobs for the masses of people.
The people worked gradually in industry rather than in their own houses or shops. In fact about 80 % of the population were part of the working class, and 25 % was living at or below subsistence level. Their typical work was in factories or was servitude forwomen. The industry represented a big demand for women and child labour and so many children worked, mostly in the textile industry. Laws were passed to limit the abuse but children as young as ten were still allowed to work in the factories and could work as much as 12 hours a day.
The living conditions of the poor were awful, which joins well the bad working conditions. The cities were in adreadful state : they were dirty, unsanitary and overcrowded. The streets were very often unpaved and they were not cleaned. Rubbish was not collected and it was allowed to accumulate in piles in the streets. It wasn't unusual for families to have to share toilets with their neighbours or even with the whole street because the automatic flushing toilets were still rare and expensive. Considering the...
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