Decorated initial A

good many of the changes that brought about what we think of as the modern way of life in Great Britain took the form of abandoning long-held basic assumptions and replacing them with something else. For example, the 1870 Married Woman’s Property Act only became law after enough members of Parliament were ready to abandon the belief that in marriage husband and wife merge into one being, one, moreover, entirely controlled by the male member. Similarly, modern labor unions could not legally exist until Parliament no longer accepted two time-honored, older attitudes and assumptions. G. M. Young explains that earlier law “was still dominated by the old apprehension of combinations in restraint of trade, and, in more personal relations, by the frank acceptance of the Master as a privileged person. On a breach of contract, the servant could only sue: the master could prosecute. The master could only be cast in damages, the servant could be imprisoned” (122-23).

Modern labor relations come into being with the 1875 Employers and Workmen Act, which “recognized in its entirety the freedom of contract and the right of collective bargaining” (123). According to Young, the

author of this wise and timely measure of pacification, which in our social history may rank with Fielden’s [Factory] Act of 1847, was a typical product of Early Victorian training. Of comfortable Lancashire stock: a Rugbeian of Arnold’s time and a Trinity man; churchman, magistrate, and banker; Cross represents that combination of old sagacity and new intelligence which marks the blending of the traditional and authoritative element in public life with the exploratory and scientific. In history he does not rank as a great man: on the crowded canvas of Victorian politics he is barely an eminent man. [123]

Nonetheless Young concludes that “it might fairly be questioned whether any measures ever placed on the Statute book have done more for the real contentment of the people than the Employers and Workmen Act, and the Protection of Property Act, both of 1875, and the consolidation of the Factory Acts in 1878” (123).

Related material


Young, G.M. Victorian England: Portrait of an Age. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Last modified 26 April 2019