Somebody once told me that the Victorian era was the greatest time of Britains history. I was much younger at the time and my youthful “know it all” response was one of ridicule. “What, emptying human waste into the street, dead before the age of 35 after being forced to work 12 hours a day for a pittance!” I replied. It really didn’t sound such a wonderful time at all. But then I didn’t know what I was talking about.
As I’ve got a bit older, and have had endless conversations with people about everything that is wrong with society – it is impossible to avoid the thought that the Victorian people who built the canals, invented the railways, created the worlds first sewage systems, provided running water and powered the Industrial Revolution – probably wouldn’t have bothered if they could glimpse 150 years into the future and see how dismally useless and pathetic their ancestors would become by comparison. The Victorians had a “go getting attitude” in abundance. We modern Brits on the other hand prefer to chillax, and the worst of us spend our time searching for things to get upset and offended about or look for people to sue against for a trip, slip or fall that wasn’t our fault.
To illustrate this point I’m making; in 1839 – the Manchester to London Railway was being built. But just outside Manchester the railway builders faced a massive problem at Stockport. The River Mersey cut a huge valley through the landscape. Going around this valley at the flattest route would have been impractical, and trains need a flat line. So Victorian engineer George Watson Buck was asked to solve the problem. He designed the incredible 27 arch viaduct that still dominates the towns landscape, and the problem was solved. That may not sound so impressive until you consider that it took 1 year for 600 men to work day and night laying 11,000,000 bricks building the viaduct that remains the biggest brick structure in Europe.
I dread to think how that monumental achievement could be accomplished in todays society, almost 180 years later. We are the micro chipped, laser guided, satellite tracked, space travelling pioneers who can transplant human faces on each other. We can go on the internet and zoom in on our back garden from space. And yet, we could never match the achievement of building that viaduct in a year. The risk assessments and shadow impact calculations would take much longer for starters.
So how did our relatives of two centuries ago achieve such an incredible feat of engineering and building in less time than it takes British government ministers to make skilled train builders redundant at Bombardier in Derby and award the next big train building contract to a German builder, putting 1,400 skilled workers on the dole? Well the answer is fairly straight forward. They saw that a viaduct had to be built and they ordered the bricks and got cracking. A Victorian phrase that still survives to this day is “lets not fanny about.”
But to look at things through the eyes of a modern person who lives in the current times and has to endure our ridiculous self destructive politics, its easy to see why as a nation, as a people, we just don’t have the “go getting” mentality. Its been beaten out of us by politicians and trade unions.
Going back to the train building travesty of 2010, the reason the government worked for over 1 year on plans to sack 1,400 British workers and get the trains built in Germany was simply because Siemens, the German train building company quoted a cheaper price. Any money saved on this brilliant example of incompetence and stupidity will contribute towards the 1,400 craftsmen and womens unemployment benefit bill, and in time, on regenerating Derby after the inevitable social and community decay has set in. This kind of dismal, mind numbing farce is sadly a daily occurrence in this once sensible and proud country. The Victorians were not hindered by such political dithering and dodgy dealings. They were focused on the job that needed doing – and everybody was working together towards a common goal so everything was much more straight forward.
I marvel at the achievements and the common sense attitudes of the Victorian people. It was not my intention to put modern day stupidity in the spotlight, but one can see that it is treacherous to avoid when comparing how British folk went about business 200 years ago compared to today.
A lovely story I heard about the industrial revolution was regarding the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal which took just 6 years to complete between 1887 and 1893. The 36 mile hand dug canal came about because Manchesters business leaders were frustrated by Liverpools dock and railway companies excessively rising the costs to transport goods from Manchester to the docks for export all over the world. So, rather than be squeezed out of competitive business; the Manchester cotton mill owners got together and built their own ship canal that effectively cut out the middle man. It was a stroke of industrial brilliance and a fervent demonstration of the Victorian will to succeed.
17,000 workers a day threw shovels and spades into the ground, prisons shoved their convicts out to assist. The ship canal needed digging out, and without further a do, it was – creating the worlds first industrial estate at Trafford Park, building the worlds only swing aquaduct at Barton and most importantly, sending the message around the world that British people were serious, determined and successful at whatever they turned their minds and hands to.
By modern day comparison, such a bold and visionary project would never get off the ground. Online petitions would claim the green belt would be too adversely affected and conservation groups would protest that wildlife would be threatened by such a project. Stoned unemployed former students would set up a protest camp on the site and handcuff themselves together, their plight being televised 24 hours a day on Sky News. Obviously it is inconceivable that convicted prisoners would be forced to work on something like that today – an extraordinary infringement on their human rights if ever there was one.
The point I’m focused on is very simple. We need to take a long hard look at what happened in the 1800s and try to replicate the tenacity, vision and hard work that made our bygone relatives so successful. The political parties claim that manufacturing once again needs to shape Britains future. But at present, according to the government “we export more to Ireland than to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.”
There are almost 3,000,000 unemployed people in this country – most of them desperate to work and they are out of work through no fault of their own. We pay them all money to survive without any income from a job, and slowly watch them disintegrate through poverty, depression and lack of aspiration. The Victorians, as you will expect, had a radically different policy on this. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Simple as that. If we take Victorian values and principles and hypothetically apply them to todays society and put those 3,000,000 to work – making things, building, digging or carrying things, there would be an all out civil war.
Things have become so convoluted by bureaucracy, political correctness, and overseas interference that our politicians genuinely don’t know how or where to start to try and turn things around. Modern society shares very few of the values, traditions or morals that our ancestors respected and honoured so proudly.
The Victorian era was dirty, it was hard, cold, disease ridden and full of poverty. But the people were remarkable, and I am very proud of them. If we shared their standards we would still all be part of a Great Britain. They were called Victorians because they had Queen Victoria at the head of society from 1837 to 1901. Our next King will be called Charles and I suspect that in a couple of hundred years, if we remain such a feeble race of lazy, incompetent and uninspired people, History will know us forever as “the Charlies.”