The History of British society demonstrates that British society has changed immeasurably over the many centuries since pre-historic times just as all human society has developed. These major social changes have manifested themselves within Britain in many different ways and some changes have significantly affected Britain's place in the wider world.
The distant past does not offer us much information on the structures of society but major changes in human behaviour make it likely that society must have changed dramatically. In common with much of Europe, the introduction of farming around 4000 BCE must have heralded an enormous shift in all aspects of human life in comparison to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle it was replacing. It is still very much conjectural what changes may have occurred and recent evidence of permanent buildings and habitation over 3000 years earlier mean that these may still have been gradual shifts. One of the most obvious symbols of change in prehistoric society is Stonehenge. The building of such stone circles, burial mounds and monuments throughout the British Isles seems to require a division of labour. Builders would need to dedicate themselves to the task monument construction so as to become proficient in the required skills. Not having time to hunt and farm would make them dependant upon other people to such an extent that specialised farmers would emergence who not only provided for themselves but also the monument builders.
What we know of prehistoric times apart from their monuments is mostly derived from the remains of burial and this shows another major change in society, the rise of an aristocracy. It is perhaps inevitable that a division of labour would give some people less work while others got more and an increase of lavishly furnished graves seems to confirm this. Again care should be taken in inferring too many complex ideas of social history from gravesites but they do show that people had surplus time for the production of decorative items and they hint at early beliefs on death and religion. This aristocracy, whether it gained its position through martial strength or technological skill, made further social stratification almost inevitable.
Two other changes which surely influenced social change was the beginning of the iron age and the building of hill fortss. Ability in the first probably did lead to the necessity of the second but the growth in population, competition for resources and an unwillingness to simply move on and abandon settled lives or farms probably made the needs for forts greater. Fortification and war raised one important unanswered question about British society, the role of invasion. Any incursion of other peoples into the British Isles is bound to have major social effects but as to whether these events were invasions, immigrations or simply adoption of outside ideas is not really known and the native populations may have been mostly killed, slowly supplanted, integrated with the new or just had the aristocracy replaced. These questions relate to many of the changes in culture seen in prehistoric and later times such as the Beaker people, the Celts, the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons
The arrival of the Romans in 54 BC probably did not alter society greatly at first as it was simply a replacement of the ruling class but numerous, at first minor, ideas would gain footholds. It is from the Romans and particularly Tacitus that we get the first important written records of Britain and its tribal society. Although being only briefly and disparagingly mentioned we get fascinating glimpses of society in Britain before the Romans particularly the importance of powerful women such as Cartimandua and Boudicca. City dwelling was not new to pre-Roman Britain but this was a lifestyle that the Romans preferred even though only a select few Romanised Britons would be allowed to live there. Romanisation was an important part of the Roman conquest strategy and Britons who willingly adopted roman ways were rewarded as client kings; good example of this is Togidubnus and his ultra-modern Roman-style house at Fishbourne.
Despite the roman conquest being relatively swift there was often rebellion and the unconquered Caledonian tribes in the far north and so the army became an important part of roman British life. An army probably larger than most medieval monarchs it gave a low status Briton the chance of a steady job, the possibility of seeing the rest of the empire and rewards for surface if they survived. The army also brought people to Britain not just from present day Italy but from all over the empire. To subdue and control the country the Romans built a major road network which not only was an important civil engineering project but formed the basis of the country’s communication links. The Romans brought many other innovations and ideas such as writing and plumbing but how many of these things were the preserve of the rich or were even lost and re-appropriated at a later date is uncertain. The one other great social change the Romans brought to Britain was the arrival of Christianity, whose effect on society was probably minimal at first but eventually far reaching.
Early medieval society
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD is thought to bring about general strife and anarchy to society but the actual events are not well understood. Archaeology certainly shows a reduction in the expensive goods found before and the Roman cities begin to be abandoned but much of British society had not had such things. Certainly numerous peoples took advantage of the absence of Roman power but how they affected British society is far from clear. The hegemony of Roman rule gave way to a selection of splintered, often competing, societies, including later the heptarchy. Rather then think of themselves as a small part of a larger roman empire they reverted to smaller tribal allegiances.
The Anglo-Saxons arrival is the most hotly contested of events and the extent to which they killed, displaced, or integrated with the existing society is still questioned. What is clear is that a separate Anglo-Saxon society, which would eventually become England with a more Germanic feel was set up in the south east of the island. These new arrivals had not been conquered by the Romans but their society was perhaps not too dissimilar to that of Britain. The main difference was their pagan religion which the surviving northern areas of non-Saxon rule sought to convert to Christianity. During the 7th century AD these northern areas, particularly Northumbria became important sites of learning with monasteries acting like early universities and figures such as Bede at the forefront of European thought. In the 9th century Alfred the Great was extremely interested creating a literate, educated people and did much to promote the English language, even writing books himself. Alfred and his successors unified, and brought stability, and is also credited with reorganising the country into shires, the forerunners of current British counties.
Late medieval society
Feudalism, although always a very contentious idea, is often used to describe medieval society. Basically stated, a lord owns land or a fief which he allows vassals to work in return for their military service. The vast majority of the people were peasants who would work on the vassal's fiefs. This or a similar system was the basis of later medieval society. It probably existed in some form in Britain before the Norman conquest but the Normans did much to institute it, either replacing existing lords or by becoming 'overlords' above, now demoted, lords. A wealth of information on these social structures can be drawn from one of the best early surveys of its type, Domesday Book.
After the Norman conquest society seemed fixed and unchanging for several centuries but gradual and significant changes were still taking place the exact nature of which would not be appreciated until much later. The Norman lords spoke Norman and in order to work for them or gain advantage the Anglo-Norman language that developed in England became a necessary administrative and literary language (see Anglo-Norman literature), but despite this the English language was not supplanted and after gaining much in grammar and vocabulary began in turn to replace the language of the rulers. At the same time the population more than doubled between Domesday and the end of the 13th century and this growth was not checked by the almost continual foreign warfare, crusades and occasional civil anarchy.
The crusades are one measure of the ever increasing power of the church in medieval life, with some estimates suggest as many as 40,000 clergy were ordained during the 13th century and this is also shown by the spate of cathedral building, common throughout Europe, at the time. These great buildings would often take several generations to complete, spawning whole communities of artisans and craftsmen offering them jobs for life.
The increase in population lead not only to larger cities and towns but also to many more towns being built. This did not mean that Britain changed significantly from being a mainly rural society and many agricultural changes, such as crop rotation kept the countryside profitable. It has been suggested that the 13th century experienced a mini-industrial revolution with the increased use of wind power and the wool industry changing. Wool, always important to the British economy, was traditionally exported to be processed but it was now more frequently processed in Britain creating a variety of extra jobs. Many people were finding different roles and responsibilities within society what with the growth of English common law giving people greater access to the law and the "commons" starting to have a place in parliament during Edward I's time.
The Black Death re-shaped society
After many years of growth and gradual change there was one seismic event which changed British society dramatically. The Black Death in the middle of the 14th century is thought by some estimates to have almost halved the population. Whole villages were wiped out by the plague but rather then destroying society it managed to reinvigorate it. Before the plague there was a large workforce and it may have even been too large with overpopulation and people competing for scarce resources. The cut in population meant that labourers were in short supply and peasants who had once been confined to a landowner's estate now had great incentive to travel to areas without workers. This social mobility was combined with the fact that peasants could charge much more for their services and this began a switch from indentured labourer to wage earner which signalled the beginning of the end for the feudal system.
The peasant's new found freedoms were very worrying to the authorities and they instituted laws detailing the maximum that a peasant should be paid but this had little effect on wages. The first of several sumptuary laws were also made dictating exactly how people at every level of society should dress and what they could own in an effort to enforce social distinctions. These new laws plus a newly levied poll tax which had been calculated on pre-plague population figures led directly to the Peasants' Revolt. Although quickly put down the revolt was an early popular reform movement a precursor to later more successful uprisings.
Geofrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales give an illuminating picture of many of the different people who made up medieval society although these portraits are limited mainly to the middle classes. The Wife of Bath is one particularly vibrant character within the Tales and a few years later a real world equivalent Margery Kempe wrote her autobiography showing that women had an important part in medieval society.
The Tudor dynasty period was seen as a very stable time compared to the previous years of almost constant warfare. The reformation caused not only internal and external conflict it also had some surprising effects on society. Before the dissolution of the monasteries these institutions had been one of the important parts of social welfare, giving alms and looking after the destitute, and their loss meant that the state would have to adopt this role, which culminated in the Poor law of 1601. The monasteries also had been the major educational establishments in the country, after they had gone many new grammar schools were founded and this, along with the earlier introduction of the printing press helped improve literacy. At the same time though, language suffered when the Act of Union which combined England and Wales into one state outlawed the Welsh language.
The agricultural reforms which had begun in the 13th century accelerated in the 16th century with inclosure altering the open field system and denying many of the poor access to land. Large areas of land which had once been common and whose usage was shared between many people were now being inclosed by the wealthy mainly for extremely profitable sheep farming. This change in farming practices probably contributed to the growth in cities as the unlanded and unemployed moved looking for work at the same time there was a marked growth in the suburb. These features were noted by an 'explorer' of Britain, John Leland, not a place for the excluded poor who were traditionally kept on the outskirts of the city but as a place for the middle classes to escape the crowded centre.
Many new opportunities presented themselves for people to alter their place in society. There were the refinement of both the blast furnace and gunpowder which made the arms trade lucrative plus science, art, trade and exploration were all on the increase. William Shakespeare is a very good example of the burgeoning society, not only because this lowly son of a glove maker went on, apparently without a university education, to become an actor, playwright and theatre owner, not highly socially regarded professions, but that people increasingly had the money and time to attend the theatre.
James I of England (James VI of Scotland) authorised an new translation of the Bible which is known as the King James Bible.
Oliver Cromwell the man with most influence on British society?
If Shakespeare and his contemporaries symbolised the start of true social mobility then Oliver Cromwell reached the high point of social movement unequalled even in the 20th century. The son of a farmer he went on to become a king in all but name and the effect of that short-lived republicanism would permanently alter British society.
Cromwell's rise to power was in part the outcome of religious conflict and dissent present since the Lollards of the 14th century. But these religious radicals and even the Protestant Reformation did not seem to affect society greatly, and in the case of the Reformation it was in Britain a relatively calm transformation compared to other parts of Europe. There was burning of heretics on both sides as the two factions vied for power, but the vast majority of lay people seemed unmoved or even uncertain as to which faith they belonged to. It was only in Stuart times, when the population felt itself to be strongly Church of England, that fear of the re-adoption of the Catholic religion began to cause problems.
The English civil war was far from just a conflict between two religious faiths, and indeed it had much more to do with divisions within the one Protestant religion. With the austere, fundamentalist Puritanism on the one side opposed to what they saw as the little-different-from-Catholic decadence of the Anglican church on the other. Divisions also formed along the lines of the common people and the gentry, and also between the country and city dwellers. It was a conflict that could not but have an impact on all parts of society and a frequent slogan of the time was "the world turned upside down".
In 1648 the Grandees on the winning Parliamentary side of the Civil War, faced with the perceived duplicity and uncompromising stand of King Charles I gradually came around to the idea which more radical elements on the Parliamentary side had been advocating for some time, that the death of the King was necessary to restore peace. In January 1649 King Charles was tired and executed as a traitor. During the Interregnum there were two major types of government the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Both of these governments were based on the rule of the same class of gentry and wealthy merchants who had formed the majority of the electorate to Parliament before the Civil War. After the capture of King Charles I and during the fist few years of the Interregnum the old ruling class faced challenges to their position by other sections of society. The most important of these groups were the Levellers who wished to level society removing class distinctions to make all men equal. They also wished to see universal suffrage for all adult male house holders, regular elections and the abolition of all tithes which would break the power of the established church. The Levellers' power base was in the New Model Army, but the Grandees managed to contain and then destroy decent within the Army and with this loss of influence the levellers were no longer able to mount a credible challenge to the established order. There were more radical groups than the Levellers for example the Diggers, the Fifth Monarchy Men, and the Ranters. But these more radical groups did not attract many supporters.
The Protectorate, which preceded the Restoration, might have continued a little longer if Oliver Cromwell's son, Richard Cromwell, had been capable of carrying on his father's policies. Richard Cromwell eventually resigned his position as Lord Protector, but Britain was not yet ready to be a republic. George Monck, governor of Scotland under the Cromwells, instituted military rule when the younger Cromwell resigned his position in 1659; Monck then began negotiations for Charles to return from exile. The Declaration of Breda paved the way for the restoration and Charles's return from exile, an event which took place on May 23, 1660. Later in London, on May 29, he was restored as king.
After eleven years without a king the transition back to a true monarchy was quick and almost uneventful. The people might have supported the limiting of the power of the king but what they did not like were the strictures placed on society by the Puritans. Amongst other things, the Puritans banned gambling, cock fights, the theatre and even Christmas. The arrival of Charles II—The Merry Monarch—brought a relief from the warlike and then strict society that people had lived under for several years. The theatre returned along with expensive fashions such as the periwig and even more expensive commodities from overseas. The British Empire had been expanding since the late 16th century and along with much wealth coming back to the country expensive luxury items were also appearing. Sugar and coffee from the East Indies, tea from India and slaves from Africa were all essential items forming the backbone of trade and the first three became the basis of London society.
One in nine of the population of the country is estimated to have lived in London near the end of the Stuart period and, as a hub of trade, expensive goods from all over accumulated there. Coffee houses were becoming the centres of business and social life, and it has also been suggested that tea might have played its own part in making Britain great as the antiseptic qualities of tea allowed people to live closer together, protecting them from germs, and making the industrial revolution possible. These products can be considered as beginning the consumer society, which while it promoted trade and brought development and riches to society, helped exacerbate the gap between rich and poor. Newspapers, a fairly new invention, became important tools of social discourse and diarists of the time such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn are some of the best sources we have of everyday life in Restoration England.
Stuart society ended with the Glorious Revolution, perhaps not all that glorious but it did show that the power of the king had not recovered from limitations it suffered in the civil war and was still under obligation to the state. One of William III's first action on coming to power was to sign the Act of Toleration of 1689 which granted rights of free religious worship to many of the protestant sects which had been formed around the time of the civil war. Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Ranters and Quakers were all allowed to pray freely although many of these groups had taken the opportunity of the expanding empire and had set themselves up in colonies.
The industrial revolution can be thought of as starting as early as the 16th century although it did not reach its peak until the 19th century the form it took during the Georgian era was an agricultural revolution. Along with developments in technology such as Jethro Tull's seed drill which allowed greater yields the process of inclosure, which had been altering rural society since the middle ages, became unstoppable. More people were made unemployed by being excluded and forced off the land which, despite compensation, often meant having to enter the workhouse which left many with a lasting distrust of the law. Criticism from the church did not stop the process and the new mechanisation that was being introduced needed the much larger fields. The layout of the British countryside with the patchwork of fields divided by hedgerows that we see today. As with other major times of inclosure the poor moved into the cities looking for work, not only did existing cities grow but small market town such as Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds became cities simply by weight of population.
The agricultural changes also took place in Scotland, which had recently became part of Britain by the Act of Union 1707, with equally or even more destructive results. Lowland Clearances first altered the makeup of southern Scotland and fifty years later the north suffered under the Highland Clearances. The clearance of the north had much more to do with politics and the failure of the Jacobite rebellion then the merely economic changes taking place elsewhere but they permanently altered Scotland. The subsistence farming which had existed in the Highlands since ancient times was swept away and replaced by sheep farming along with much of the culture of the clan based society. Many Scottish people either entered the big cities or emigrated.
The social changes during the Victorian era were wide ranging and fundamental leaving their mark not only upon Britain but upon much of the world which was influenced by Britain during the 19th century. It can even be argued that these changes eclipsed the massive shifts in society during the 20th century, certainly many of the developments of the 20th century have there roots in the 19th. The technology of the industrial revolution had a great impact on society. Inventions like John Kay's flying shuttle, the steam engine of James Watt among others, Josiah Wedgwood's porcelain, and John Wilkinson's foundries not only introduced new industries for employment but also the products and services produced altered society. Mining to extract the coal, and other raw materials, needed to fuel the revolution was also a major new industry and before 1842 even women worked in the mines.
Poor rights and votes
The new industrial centres that had built up brought great power and wealth to the rest of the country but they did not have any power themselves. Cities like Manchester that only years before had been little bigger than villages had no Members of Parliament to represent them whereas there many "rotten boroughs" with MPs but few constituents. On the 16 August 1819 a crowd of people calling for parliamentary reform gathered at St. Peter's Field in Manchester was attacked and dispersed, killing eleven. The Peterloo massacre highlighted peoples' dissatisfaction for their lack of representation. The Reform Act of 1832 sought to redress this inequality and redistribute the MPs. The constituencies were changed and many people of the middle classes were given the vote but huge numbers of the lower classes were still excluded. The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 offered some measure of local government for these cities and the popular Chartist movements was formed to urge reform but householders would not get the vote until the Reform acts of 1867 and 1884.
The status of the poor is one area in which huge changes occurred. A good illustration of the differences between life in the Georgian and Victorian eras are the writings of two of Britain's greatest authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Both writers held a fascination for people, society and the details of everyday life but in Austen the poor are almost absent, mainly because they were still the rural poor remote and almost absent from the minds of the middle classes. For Dickens, only a few years later, the poor were his main subject having suffered some of their same fate. The poor now were an unavoidable part of urban society and their existence and plight could not be ignored. Industrialisation made large profits for the entrepreneurs of the times and their success was in contrast not only to the farm workers who were in competition with imported produce but also the aristocracy whose land owning wealth was now becoming of less significance than business wealth. It is about this time that the class system, always seen as a hallmark of Britain, began to flourish. Probably inspired by the even more complex caste system of newly colonised India the British class system created a intricate hierarchy of peoples which contrasted the new and old rich, the skilled and unskilled, the rural and urban and many more.
John Wesley's Methodists had succeeded in their campaign for the abolition of slavery in 1807 and Britain began its work to eradicate it worldwide but at the same time indentured labour and near-slavery were still common, even at the heart of Empire. Some of the first attacks on industrialisation were the luddites destruction of machines but this had less to do with factory conditions and more to do machines mass producing linen much quicker and cheaper than the hand made products of the skilled labourers. The army was called to the areas of luddite activity such as Lancashire and Yorkshire and for a time there were more British soldiers controlling the luddites then fighting Napoléon in Spain. The squalid, dangerous and oppressive conditions of many of the new Victorian factories and the surrounding communities which rose to service them became important issues of discontent and the workers began to form trade unions to get their working conditions addressed.
The first unions were feared and distrusted by the government and they tried in different ways to ban them. The most widely known case was that of the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1834. An early attempt at a union which was tried on a spurious charge, found guilty and transported to Australia. The sentence was challenged and they were released shortly afterwards but unions were still threatened. It was not until the formation of the TUC in 1868 and the passing of the Trade Union Act 1871 that union membership became reasonably legitimate. Many pieces of legislation were passed to improve working conditions including the Ten Hours Act 1847 to reduce working hours and these culminated in the Factory Act 1901 .
Links and progress
The railways changed communications and society dramatically
Another important development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication links. Stage coaches, canals, steam ships and most notably the railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about rapidly facilitating trade and industry. Even later communication methods such as photography, cinema, telegraph, telephones, cars and aircraft which would not have an impact until the 20th century were rooted in the 19th century. Trains not only promoted business they also promoted leisure. Many people used the train services to visit the seaside helped by the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 which created a number of fixed holidays which all sectors of society could enjoy. Large numbers travelling to quiet fishing villages such as Worthing, Brighton, Morecambe and Scarborough began turning them into major tourist centres and people like Thomas Cook saw tourism and even overseas travel as viable businesses. The trains also became an important factor in regulating and ordering society with "railway time" being the standard by which clocks were set throughout Britain. Steam ships such as the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western made international travel more common but also advanced trade so that in Britain it was not just the luxury goods of earlier times that were imported into the country but essentials such as corn from the America and meat from Australia. One more important innovation in communications was the Penny Black the first postage stamp which standardised postage to a flat price regardless of distance sent.
The Victorians were impressed by science and progress and felt that they could improve society in the same way as they were improving technology. The model town of Saltaire along with others was founded as planned environment with good sanitation and many civic, educational and recreational facilities, although it lacked a pub regarded as a focus of dissent. Similar sanitation reforms were made in the crowded, dirty streets of the existing cities prompted by the Public Health Acts 1848 and 1869 . It is notable that soap was the main product shown in the relatively new phenomena of advertising. Victorians also strove to improve society through many charities and relief organisations such as the Salvation Army, the RSPCA and the NSPCC, at the same time there were many people trying to reform areas of public life such as Florence Nightingale. Other new institution was Robert Peel's "peelers" one of the earliest formal police forces.
Queen Victoria was arguably one of the most powerful women in Britain since Queen Elizabeth but her status did not dramatically improve the position of women within society. There were many movements to obtain greater rights for women but voting rights did not come until the next century. The Married Women's Property Act 1882 meant that women did not lose their right to their own property when they got married and could divorce without fear of poverty although divorce was frowned upon and very rare during the 19th century. The Victorian are often credited with inventing childhood. Despite the image of large Victorian families the trend was towards smaller families probably because of lower infant mortality rates and longer life spans. Legislation reduced the working hours of children while raising the minimum working age and the passing of the Education Act 1870 set the basis for universal primary education.
War and depression
Victorian attitudes and ideals continued into the first years of the 20th century what really changed society was the start of World War I. The army was traditionally never a large employer in the nation and the regular army stood at 247,432 at the start of the war. By 1981 there were about 5 million people in the army and the fledgling Royal Air Force newly formed from the RNAS and the RFC was about the same size of the pre-war army. The casualties of almost 3 million were known as the lost generation and such numbers can not but leave society unscarred even so some people felt their sacrifice was little regarded in Britain with poems like Siegfried Sassoon's Blighters criticised the ill-informed jingoism of the home front. Conscription brought people of many different classes, and also people from all over the empire, together and this mixing was seen as a great leveller which would only accelerate social change after the war.
The social reforms of the last century continued into 20th with the Labour Party being formed in 1900 but it did not achieve major success until the 1922 general election. Lloyd George said after the first world war that "the nation was now in a molten state" and his Housing Act 1919 would lead to affordable council housing which allowed people to move out of Victorian inner-city slums. The slums though remained for several more years with trams being electrified long before many houses. The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave women householders the vote but it would not be until 1928 that equal suffrage was achieved.
A short lived post-war boom soon lead to a depression which would be felt worldwide. Particularly hardest hit was the north of England and Wales where unemployment reached 70% in some areas. The General Strike was called during 1926 in support of the miners and their falling wages but little improved the downturn continued and the Strike is often seen as the start of the slow decline of the British coal industry. In 1936 200 unemployed men walked from Jarrow to London in a bid to show plight of the industrial poor but the Jarrow March as it was known had little impact and it would not be until the coming war that industrial prospects improved. George Orwell's book The Road to Wigan Pier gives a bleak overview of the hardships of the time.
The Second World War is sometimes regarded as simply a continuation of the previous war after a brief period of peace but each conflict was significantly different particularly for British society. The war started with a phoney war in which threats of major actions did not materialise but thousands of children were moved from the cities into the country. Ten times the number of children were evacuated in 1939 then there were troops on the early expeditionary force in France but many returned some months later remained in the cities until the end of the war. There was half the number of military casualties in this war then the last but the improvements of aerial warfare meant that there were many more civilian casualties and a foreign war seemed much closer to home. The early years of the war in which Britain "stood alone" and the blitz spirit which developed as Britain suffered under aerial bombardment helped pull the nation together after the divisions of the previous decade and campaigns such as "Dig for Victory " helped give the nation common purpose. The focus on agriculture to feed the nation gave some people their first introduction to the countryside and women played an important part in the war effort as the Land Girl but also with 500,000 women in the armed forces and even Princess Elizabeth the future queen training as a lorry driver. The measure of freedom women received through these jobs and working in factories in the jobs of male workers who had gone into battle is considered as contributing to the later sexual revolution.
Late twentieth century
The Labour Party victory after the war was seen as a vote by the returning soldiers for what they felt were their rights after serving their country. The most important reform was the founding of the NHS on the 5 July 1948 which promised to give "cradle to grave" care for everyone in the country regardless of their income. Rationing which had been instituted during the war was actually extended afterwards with bread only being rationed between 1946-1948 and sweets being rationed until 1954. For some of the very poorest though rationing was beneficial as their rationed diet was of greater nutritional value then their pre-war diet. Just as after the First World War there was a short lived boom after the Second World War and then there was an economic downturn with the early 1950s known as the austerity years.
Leisure began to be more accessible to more people after the struggles of war. Holiday camps which had first opened in the 1930s became popular holiday destinations in the 1950s and people increasingly had money to pursue their personal hobbies. The BBCs early television service was given a major boost in 1953 with the coronation proving an impetus for people to buy televisions and an estimated audience of 20 million. At the same time other new consumer goods were coming into houses and the houses themselves were often owned with mortgages. The markets where people traditionally bought their goods were being replaced by chain stores and shopping centres and advertising became widespread. Cars were also becoming a significant part of British life with city centre congestion and ribbon developments springing up along many of the major roads which lead to the idea of the green belt to protect the countryside which was at risk from development.
The 1960s were seen across much of the western world as a time with great shifts in attitudes and the same can be seen in Britain. One notable event was the publication by Penguin Books of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960. Although first printed in 1928 the publication of a cheep mass-market paperback version prompted a court case. The prosecuting council's question, "Would you want your wife or servants to read this book?" highlighted how far society had changed but by how little some people had noticed the change. The book was seen as one of the first events of a general relaxation of sexual attitudes although the prudish Victorian attitudes which were being rejected were themselves a reaction to the licentious Georgian times. Other elements of the sexual revolution included the development of The Pill, Mary Quant's miniskirt and the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967. There was also a rise in the incidence of divorce and abortion and a resurgence of the women's liberation movement whose campaigning helped secure the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975.
The 1960s were also the time of greater disregard for the "establishment" with a satire boom of people more willing to attack those they no longer felt to be their elders and betters. Pop music became a dominant form of expression for the young and groups like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were seen as leaders of sub cultures and similar cultures such as hippies, punks and skinheads would become more important to a more diverse society. Reforms in education led to the effective elimination of the grammar school; the rise of the comprehensive was aimed at producing a more egalitarian educational system, and there were ever-increasing numbers of people going into higher education. In the 50s and 60s immigration of peoples to the UK, mainly from former British colonies in the Caribbean, India and Pakistan, began to escalate which was followed by tension and racism. Dire predictions were made as to the effect of these new arrivals on British society and tension led to riots but in the longer term many people with differing culture have successfully integrated into the country and some have risen to positions of importance.
One important change was people being given the opportunity to buy their council houses during the 80s which meant many more people became property owner in a stakeholder society but at the same time Margaret Thatcher instituted measures to suppress trade unions so that they would be of less significance in the future. The UK's entry into the EEC in 1973 meant that Britain is now more closely tied to the rest of Europe then ever before but her relationship with Europe is still much discussed and little decided upon. The ecology movements of the 80s means there is less emphasis on intensive farming and now a much greater emphasis on organic farming and conservation of the countryside. Religious observance notably declined Britain during the 20th century even with the extension of non-Christian religions due to immigration and travel. Church of England attendance has particularly dropped although it is not clear if personal spirituality has changed markedly. The movement to Keep Sunday special seems to have all but lost its battle and the move towards a 24 hour society continued, with working and living patterns changing accordingly.