1828        Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. This removed the political disabilities imposed on non-Anglican Protestants by legislation passed in 1673 and 1661 respectively. Following the repeal of these Acts, Dissenters could sit in parliament and participate in local government. The Act changed the Anglican constitution into a Protestant constitution.

1829        Catholic Emancipation Act. This controversial legislation allowed Catholics to sit as MPs for the first time since the Elizabethan Act of Settlement (1558/9). The Act was passed by Wellington's government despite huge opposition; the constitution now became Christian but non-denominational.
Metropolitan Police Act. This was the culmination of the work of Robert Peel to establish a civilian, unarmed police force. It was the foundation of policing in Great Britain and was based on his work in Ireland.

1831        (Hobhouse) Factory Act. This was the third Factory Act, its predecessor being the 1801 Health and Morals of Apprentices Act and the 1819 Factory Act. Hobhouse's Act forbade night work for persons under the age of 21.

1832        Reform Act. It took almost two years for this Act to reach the Statute Books and brought Britain to the verge of revolution. The Reform Act was the first systematic change to the constitution; it extended the franchise to include those who did not own landed property and was the first of a series of constitutional changes.

1833        Factory Act. Passed by the Whig government, this Act was an attempt to regulate the working hours of women and children. It left much to be desired but was a step towards government regulation of working conditions.
Abolition of Slavery Act. This was the culmination of a lengthy campaign that had begun during the 18th Century. The legislation was finalised by the Jamaica Act of 1839.
first Education grant. Although not a piece of legislation, the grant of £20,000 for the provision of schools was the first time that the goverment had involved itself in education in any way. The first Education Act did not reach the Statute Books until 1870.

1834        Poor Law Amendment Act. Following the 1832 Reform Act, the PLAA was intended to reduce the poor rates; it was not intended to help the poor who suffered as a result of the legislation. The PLAA replaced the existing poor laws and was responsible for the establishment of workhouses throughout the country. The poor were treated as criminals and people starved rather than apply for poor relief because that meant that they would become inmates of the dreaded "poor law bastilles".

1835        The Municipal Corporations Act was a local government version of the 1832 Reform Act. It made existing municipal corporations more answerable to the electors and allowed other towns to apply for incorporation.

1836        Civil Marriages Act: after the passing of this law, non-Anglicans were able to marry either in their own Church or in Registry Offices. The Church of England lost its monopoly over marriage services
Tithe Commutation Act: this provided for the payment of tithes to the Church of England in cash, depending on the price of wheat.
reduction of Stamp Duty. The Government's decision to reduce the stamp duty was primarily due to the success of the "war of the unstamped", and in 1836 the duty was reduced from 4d to 1d, in order to take the unstamped newspapers off the streets while allowing legal newspapers wider circulation.

1837        Registration Act (of Births, Marriages and Deaths). Although the 1833 Factory Act restricted working hours for young people, there was no means of telling the age of a person since no official records existed. Anglican churches had to recorde baptisms, marriages and burials but there were few records for non-Anglicans. This legislation made it compulsory for all births, marriages and deaths to be registered at a Registry Office; certificates were issued for each event and a second copy was retained at Somerset House in London. The administration of this Act was within the remit of the Poor Law Commission.

1838        Irish Poor Law Amendment Act. After a Commission reported that the 'importation' of the English 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was inappropriate for Ireland, the government brought in its own "experts" and the 1834 PLAA was passed for Ireland. It was implemented just before the outbreak of the potato blight and proved to be inadequate to meet the crisis.

1839        The Jamaica Act finalised the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act, setting the remaining slaves and apprentices free in the British colonies.
The Rural Constabularies Act extended the 1829 Metropolitan Police Act and required counties to establish their own police forces. The Act was passed in the face of Chartist activity.

1840        Penny Post. This was the idea of Sir Rowland Hill. Prior to this, recipients paid for any letters that were sent to them. Hereafter, the sender attached an adhesive, pre-paid label to any items that were posted. The most famous 'stamp' of this period is the Penny Black.

1842        Railway Act. This first piece of railway legislation was mainly a safety Act to ensure that railways ran safe services. New lines had to be inspected by the Board of Trade, which could demand traffic returns and inquire into accidents.
The Mines Act prohibited the employment of all females and boys under 10 years old from working underground in mines.

1844        The Railway Act ("Parliamentary Train Act") followed Gladstone's Committee of inquiry into railway policy. By this law, the government assumed the absolute right to take control of all railways in times of national emergency and to fix fares and freight charges. It also said that railway companies had to provide a minimum service of one train each day each way, travelling at not less than 12 miles per hour and stopping at every passenger station, charging no more than 1d. per mile for third class passengers.
Bank Charter Act. This Act tied the issue of bank notes to the Bank's gold reserves and required it to keep the accounts of the note issue separate from those of its banking operations. The Bank of England had to produce a weekly summary of both accounts.
This Factory Act legislated only for textile factories and was the successor to the 1833 Factory Act. It said that women and young persons (13-18) were to work no more than 12 hours per day; children under 13 were to work no more than 6½ hours per day and no child under 8 was to be employed.
The Companies Act aimed to prevent 'reckless speculation' and to prevent the establishment of dubious compaines by making it compulsory for all companies to be registered officially. The companies also had to issue prospectuses and publish accounts regularly.

1846        Repeal of the Corn Laws. The Corn Laws had been passed in 1815 and had raised the price of wheat artificially, leading to an economic depression. A concerted campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws had been going on since 1838. Consequent upon the repeal, the career of Sir Robert Peel was terminated.
Gauges Act. This was another piece of railway legislation that prohibited the extension of the 7' gauge, except on the Great Western Railway and said that a third line of 4' 8½' had to be laid where 7' track met 4' 8½" line.

1847         Factory Act. Yet another piece of compromise legislation by the Whig government, this so-called '10-Hour Act' said that women and children between the ages of 13 and 18 could work a maximum of ten hours a day or 58 hours a week. The precise times of work were not set down and the 'relay' or shift system survived. Working hours for men were left untouched.
Poor Law Act. This Act followed on from the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and replaced the Poor Law Commission with a Poor Law Board headed by a government Minister. Poor releif became more responsible to parliamentary control.

1848        Public Health Act. This was the first piece of legislation that attempted to deal with issues of public health. However, it was permissive rather than compulsory in towns other than Municipal Corporations. The Act established a central Board of Health and allowed Local Boards of Health to be set up if more than 10% of the population petitioned for one. No central inspection was required for authorities that had Boards of Health outside the legislation. Towns where the death rate exceeded 23 per 1,000 were obliged to set up a Board of Health.

1849        Repeal of the Navigation Acts. These laws had been introduced in the Seventeeth Century and said that goods being imported into Britain and her colonies had to be carried either in British ships or the ships of the country where the goods had origin. The laws had been modified during the 1820s but finally they were repealed.

1850        Factory Act. The law dealt only with textile factories. Women and young persons (13-18 years old) were to work in factories only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. or 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. but working hours were raised from 10 to 10½ per day.
Coal Mines Inspection Act. The 1842 Mines Act had not dealt with safety in the mines; this legislation attempted to rectify that omission. More inspectors were provided to enforce the 1842 Act and were to produce reports of conditions and safety standards in the mines. The coal mine owners opposed all attempts to regulate conditions in the mines and many of these men sat in the House of Lords; one of the most influential was the Marquis of Londonderrry who owned many of the coal mines in the north east of England, particularly around Durham.

1851        Ecclesiastical Titles Act. In 1850 Pope Pius IX restored the Catholic hierarchy in Britain, giving the Catholic Church a hierarchy like that of all Catholic countries.Th Ecclesiastical Titles Act was an anti-Catholic measure intended to prevent the newly createdCatholic dioceses from taking existing Anglican diocesan names. Ironically, many of the Anglican dioceses had continued to use established Catholic names after the Reformation. The law was repealed by Gladstone in 1871.

1855        Abolition of stamp duties on newspapers. In June the final remaining penny of the British newspaper duty was removed and in September the Daily Telegraph appeared at the price of 1d. For the British working man, the newspaper became what reformers in the 1830s had predicted: 'the readiest, the commonest, the chief vehicle of knowledge'.

1856        County and Borough Police Act. The Metropolitan Police was established in 1829; in 1839 the Rural Constabularies Act was passed. This third piece of legislation obliged the counties to organise police forces, subject to government control and devised a system of inspection already in use in factories, workhouses and education. Grants to the police became dependent on the efficiency of the force: it was estimated that half of them were not efficient. The Act shifted the emphasis from the prevention of crime to its detection.

1857        Matrimonial Causes Act. By this Act, divorce courts were established. Women were given only limited access to divorce which could be obtained only on a specific cause other than adultery. Right of access to children after divorce was extended and women were able to repossess their property after a legal separation or after a protection order given consequent upon the husband's desertion.

1858        Abolition of the property qualification for MPs: this was one of the demands made by the Chartists. From this date, men did not have to own property in order to stand as candidates in parliamentary elections.
Jewish Disabilities Act implemented. In 1847, Baron Lionel de Rothschild was elected as an MP for London but objected to taking the oath which included the phrase "on the true faith of a Christian". He asked to be sworn in on the Old Testament. It took eleven attempts in the House of Lords to have the oath changed. Subsequently, Jews were able to take their seats in both Houses.
Medical Act

1859        Molestation of Workmen Act. This Act allowed peaceful picketing in the event of strike action taking place. The Act said that 'no person, by reason merely of his endeavouring peaceably and in a reasonable manner, and without threat or intimidation, direct or indirect, to persuade others to cease or abstain from work, in order to obtain the rate of wages or the altered hours of labour agreed to by him and others, should be deemed to have been guilty of "molestation" or "obstruction".'

1860        Food and Drugs Act. This was the first attempt at legislation to prevent the adulteration of food. It was common to find harmful additives in staple foods: white lead in flour, ground glass in sugar, red lead in coffee for example. The new law made the inclusion of additives a criminal offence. However, it was not very effective and had to be amended in The Mines Regulation and Inspection Act increased the number of mines inspectors and prohibited boys below the age of 12 from working underground.

1861        Repeal of paper duties. Gladstone helped the publishing industry by abolishing the excise duty on paper. This made producing newsapers cheaper still; it revived rural paper works and encouraged the growth of London newspapers and the provincial press.

1866        Sanitary Act. Finally, it was recognised that the 1848 Act had failed to produce the desired results: this was due mainly to that Act being permissive rather than compulsory. The 1866 Act compelled local authorities to improve local conditions and remove nuisances (health hazards). They became responsible also for the provision of sewers, water and street cleaning. The Act enforced the connection of all houses to a new main sewer; it set definite limits for the use of cellars as living rooms, and established the definition of 'overcrowding'. Every town was to appoint Sanitary Inspectors and the Home Secretary was empowered to take proceedings for the removal of nuisances where local authorities failed to act.

1867        the second Reform Act. This extended the franchise to most urban working men.
Master and Servant Act. This Act amended an existing piece of legislation; strikers could now be prosecuted only for breach of contract. The Trade Unions were still dissatisfied, however, because it was possible for criminal proceedings to take place on the grounds of 'aggravated causes'.

1869        Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Irish Church. This Act came into effect on 1 January 1871. All ecclesiastical property belonging to the Church of Ireland, except churches in use, was vested in the Commissioners. Compensatoin was set at £16 million: half of the capital of the confiscated property and surplus funds were to be used for the relief of suffering. The Act also said that no Irish bishops were to sit in the House of Lords. Nonconformist ministers were to be given a grant from the Regium Donum (gift of the monarch) The Church of Ireland was to have a General Synod that was elected triennially by the dioceses.

1870        Irish Land Act. This law was passed by Gladstone's government and was intended to protect tenants against unfair eviction. Landlords were required to pay up to £250 to tenants who had been evicted unfairly and tenants were assisted in the purchase of their holdings by being able to borrow up to 2/3 of the cost from the government.
Married Women's Property Act. This piece of legislation allowed women to keep £200 of their own earnings.
(Forster's) Education Act. This Act was intended only to 'plug the gaps' in the educational provision that existed. The two religious organisations that ran schools were given grants and the Act provided for the establishment of so-called 'Board Schools'. Education was neither free nor compulsory under this legislation.
Cardwell's army reforms begin. Cardwell was the Secretary of State for War; his reforms continued for over ten years.

1871        University Test Act. Until the passing of this Act, all academics and students at Oxford and Cambridge Universities had to be practising members of the Anglican Church. By this legislation, the privileges of the Anglican Church were removed and the universities were open to all with suitable abilities regardless of religious faith.
Civil Service reforms. Posts in the Civil Service were dependent upon privilege and connection with the 'right' people until this legislation. Thereafter, positions were open to all who could pass the examinations. The Foreign Office was excluded from the legislation, however, and continued to be the domain of privilege and connection.
Trade Union Act recognised unions as legal bodies with the right to own property and funds. Unions were allowed to protect these at law and they were also allowed to conduct strikes.
Criminal Law Amendment Act. This took away the power of strike action: although TUs could conduct strikes under the Trade Union Act, this second piece of legislation forbade the use of picketing of any description )even peaceful picketing). Consequently, it would be almost impossible for a strike to be conducted.
Abolition of the purchase of Commissions. This was one of Cardwell's Army Reforms by which officers in the British Army were to be appointed by merit and ability rather than being able to buy rank. The legislation met great opposition.

1872        Licensing Act. Gladstone believed that drink was the curse of the working man and wanted to introduce sobriety as a character-reform. He also believed that a sober, hard-working man would be able to save money and therefore have savings for his 'retirement'. This Act

1872        Ballot Act: this was one of the things that the Chartists had demanded. The Act introduced the secret ballot to all elections, making them less corrupt and less subject to bribery and corruption. The legislation was opposed by landlords and employers who could no longer control the votes of their tenants and workers.
Coal Mines Regulating Act. This insisted on the introduciton of safety methods such as fan ventilators, stronger timber supports, wire ropes, imporved winding gear and better safety lamps.
Public Health Act. This divided England and Wales into Health Authority districts, each of which had to have its own Medical Officer of Health and accompanying staff. The duties of the Health Authorities were not specified and most Health Boards were unwilling to spend the required money on radical reforms.

1873        Judicature Act. This Act rationalised the legal system in Britain by united seven different courts into one High Court of Justice.

1874        Licensing Act. This was an amendment to Gladstone's Act and provided for longer opening hours.
The Factory Act reduced working hours to 10 per day; it also said that no child couild be employed until the age of 10 and no young person could work full time until the age of 14.

1875        Artisans' Dwelling Act: local authorities were given the power to buy and demolish slum houses and replace them with modern, healthy housing. Because of severe opposition, the powers were permissive rather than compulsory
Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act. This again legalised peaceful picketing and allowed unions to cary out as a group whatever individuals could do in law. Unmions could no longer be charged with conspiracy for taking such action.
Public Health Act: This legislation was the work of Richard A Cross. The Act set down in detail what local authorities had to do in terms of public health:

Employers and Workmen Act: this put workmen and their employers on the same legal footing in cases of breach of contract: breach of contract was a civil offence. Prior to this legislation, if a workman broke his contract it was deemed to be a criminal offence, whereas if an employer did so it was only a civil offence.

1876        (Sandon's) Education Act. School Attendance Committees were established to encourage as many children as possible to take advantage of educational opportunities and parents were made responsible for ensuring that their children received basic instruction. The Committees could help to pay the school fees if parents were too poor to do so themselves - but this was not compulsory.
Merchant Shipping Act: this was the work of Samuel Plimsoll and was aimed at preventing ship owners sending unseaworthy or overloaded ships to sea, at the expense of the sailors' lives. The Act required a series of 'lines' to be painted on the ship to show the maximum loading point. It was not until 1890 that Board of Trade officials applied the regulations that Plimsoll had intended.

1878        Factory and Workshops Act. All workshops and factories employing more than 50 people were now to be inspected regularly by government inspectors rather than by local authorities (as previously).

1880        Employers' Liability Act aplied to all manual workers except seamen and domestic servants; it gave to injured employees or their dependents the same rights to recover damages from their employers that non-employees always enjoyed

1881        Irish Land Act. This was another piece of legislation passed by Gladstone and it gave to Ireland what Irish tenants had been requesting for many years: the so-called "3 Fs" - fair rents, fixity of tenure and free sale of the tenancy. The Act also provided for the establishment of Land Courts which would decide on what was a 'fair rent'. Unfortunately, the Land League did everything it could to prevent the Act from working and the evictions and violence in Ireland continued.
(Mundella's) Education Act. This made attendance at elementary school compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 10. Parents had to pay 'school pence' - about 3d. per child per week. Often, poor parents could not afford this sum of money.

1882        The Married Women's Property Act allowed all married women to continue as the separate owners and administrators of their property after marriage.

1884        third Reform Act. This extended the franchise to most adult males.

1885        Redistribution Act. This Act went hand in hand with the Reform Act: all boroughs with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants lost their MP; those with fewer than 50,000 MPs lost one MP. There were now 142 seats available for redistribution and these were given to densely populated areas. Constituencies were reorganised so that there were 647 single member constituencies of the 670 in existence.

1888        County Councils Act. This legislation established County Councils. The old local government boards (about 27,000 of them) were replaced by 67 elected County Councils which had extensive and compulsory powers to deal with matters such as road maintenance, the building of bridges, the establishment of a police force and the administrative duties that had previously been within the remit of JPs. Some sixty towns with populations over 60,000 became County Boroughs with the same powers as County Councils. Under this legislation, unmarried women were allowed to vote for councillors although they were not allowed to become councillors themselves.

1891        TheFee Grant Act effectively made elementary education free of charge

1894          Local Government Act (often referred to as the Parish Councils Act) . This Act divided the counties into Urban District Councils and Rural District Councils, each with its own elected coucil. Rural District Councils were divided into civil Parish Councils which had to be elected if the population exceeded 300. Generally, the civil parishes had the same boundaries as the ecclesiastical (Church of England) parishes. Women were now allowed to stand as candidates and sit as councillors on these councils.

1897        Workmen's Compensation Act. This law said that an employer should compensate a workman who was injured, and the dependants of a workman who was killed at work, irrespective of any negligence on the part of the employer or his other employees. The Act was restricted to a limited number of employments, the so-called "dangerous trades" that included the building trade.


Victorian History

Last updated 20 December 2006