Key dates in the Sociological history and development of Great Britain



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Key dates in Land, Road, Building 
Great Britain 1200 - 1899


1281 City of London Regulation prohibited pigs wandering in the streets, and a further Regulation in 1297 required the removal of pigsties from the streets.

1283 City of London Regulation prohibited tallow-melting in the streets and further Regulations the scouring of furs (1310), flaying of dead horses (1311) and solder melting (1371).

1285 Act required there to be two hundred feet of clearance on each side of highways between market towns to avoid providing cover for highwaymen.

1297 City of London Regulation required every man to keep clean the front of his own tenement.


1309 City of London Regulation prohibited the casting of filth from houses into the streets and lanes of the City. People "ought to have it carried to the Thames or elsewhere out of town".

1357 Royal Order required that no rubbish or filth should be thrown or put into the rivers of Thames and Flete; all such rubbish must be taken out of the City of London by cart (ref. Simon, Sanitary Institutions, p.40).

1371 Royal Order forbade the slaughtering of oxen, sheep and swine in the City of London.


1467 Beverley (Yorks) passed a rule forbidding the building of any more kilns because of the stink and badness of the air, and the detriment of fruit trees


1530 The Maintenance and Repair of Bridges and Highways Act. This was followed by acts authorising the raising of rates for bridges, and later for gaols.

1555 Highways Act required parishioners to provide for or put in four days labour for maintenance of highways and to appoint a “surveyor of highways” or overseer.

1562 Highways Act extended the period of labour required from parishioners for the maintenance of highways (see 1555) to 6 days.

1589 A (Planning) Act against Erecting and Maintaining Cottages attempted to reduce rural poverty by preventing over-population of villages where opportunities for employment were restricted by the availability of land. The act prohibited the building of cottages unless four acres of land were put with them; and the taking of lodgers. Corporate and market towns, maritime districts and places dependent on mines and quarries were exempt. The restrictions were extended to areas surrounding London in 1593.


1602 A City of London Proclamation, extending one of 1580, banned further building within three miles of the gates of the City; prohibited multiple occupation of existing buildings; and ordered lodgers who had arrived during the preceding seven years to leave.

1635 The first national postal service between London and Edinburgh established. Hackney coaches limited to 3 mph in London.

1657 A coach service began running three times a week between London and Chester.

1666 Fire of London.

1667 London Building Act. “An Act for the rebuilding of London ... and for the better regulation, uniformity and gracefulness of such new buildings as shall be erected for habitations.

1691 Further Act regarding the repair of highways and the control of charges for carrying goods; the local justices to appoint “overseers” at special “Highways Sessions”.


Eighteenth Century

England at the start of the century was still mainly a land of hamlets and villages with the majority of the population living in the south. The population probably numbered about five and a half million.

In the towns, houses, including the cellars, were desperately overcrowded; there were no sanitary systems, and streets were unpaved and filthy. In the early part of the century) only about one child in four, born in London, survived.

During the century transport between towns improved, mills and factories were built; and, as towns developed, dispensaries, general hospitals, hospitals for special groups of patients, and charity schools were founded in London and in provincial towns.


1706 Turnpike roads began to be built by Trusts, individually authorised to borrow money and levy tolls by separate private acts of Parliament.

Regular stagecoach service began running between London and York..

1749 Stage coach service between Edinburgh and Glasgow began, taking 12 hours each way.

1751 Turnpike Act contained measures to prevent damage being caused to turnpike roads.

1754 The “Flying Coach” advertised that “however incredible it may appear, this coach will actually (barring accidents) arrive in London in four days and a half after leaving Manchester”.

1757 Turnpike Act amended and reduced into one act the laws in force for regulating the turnpike roads. All over the country property owners were tabling plans to upgrade stretches of public highway that crossed their estates and sought to set up tollgates and charge fees. Typical fees were one penny for a horse, three pence for a coach and four to six pence for a heavily loaded cart.

1770 Building of the Liverpool-Leeds canal across the Pennies began; completed in 1816. At the peak of the building of canals there were 4000 miles of inland waterways.

1773 General Turnpike Act consolidated and amended numerous acts referring to individual roads. Between 1760 and 1774, 452 separate private turnpike acts were passed.

1796 Around this time a number of towns and counties (eg. Folkestone, Suffolk, Wakefield and York) obtained private acts for cleansing and improving the lighting of their streets.


1801 First General Enclosure Act. Enclosure of land had been going on for centuries, but had increased substantially during the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Private acts of Parliament were passed which overrode objections to the enclosure, often at the expense of the poor. The act of 1801 was designed to standardise and simplify the procedures for obtaining private acts by setting out standard clauses that could be incorporated by reference in private bills and allowing affidavits to be accepted as evidence.

1821 Inclosure Act (note spelling) strengthened the rights of landlords to take over land allotted to them by the Commissioners.

1831 Land tax ceased to be collected.

1835 Highways Act consolidated and amended the law relating to highways in England (see 1773); forced labour for the maintenance of parish roads was abolished, and work on parish roads to be financed by the rates and on trust roads by tolls.

1836 Inclosure Act set out the procedures for enclosing open and arable fields.

1844 Turnpike Trusts numbered about 1000, and were receiving about £1.5 million in tolls p.a

1845 Inclosure and Improvement of Commons Act set up Inclosure Commissioners to supervise and remedy defective or incomplete actions taken under previous inclosure acts and the many private acts.

1851 Common Lodging Houses Act introduced registration of the keepers of common lodging houses and empowered local authorities to inspect and make regulations
concerning the lodging houses.

The Labouring Classes Lodging Houses Act authorised local authorities to establish lodging houses for the labouring classes.

1852 Completion of the connection of major cities by telegraph wires.

1858 London Omnibus Company founded with about 600 buses and 6000 horses.

1861 Offences against the Person Act ……. In regard to vehicles the act stated "Whosoever, having charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever shall be guilty of a misdemeanour ... liable to two years imprisonment with or without hard labour.

Locomotives Act regulated the use of locomotives on turnpikes and other roads; enabled special tolls to be levied on such vehicles; required the vehicles to consume their own smoke; and introduced weight restrictions when crossing bridges.

1862 The rapid growth in railways since 1840 had linked all the main cities and revolutionised passenger and freight transport. London to Edinburgh by rail now took 10½ hours; this was reduced to 8½ in 1888.

1863 Public Works (Manufacturing Districts) Act enabled large towns to obtain loans from the Public Works Loan Commission for sanitary works.

First underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway (Paddington to the City of London), opened. It became known as "The Sewer".

1865 Locomotives on Turnpike and Other Roads Act, the "Red Flag" Act, introduced a 4 m.p.h. limit on highways; and mechanical vehicles had to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

1866 Labouring Classes Dwelling Act enabled the Public Works Loan Commission to make loans towards the erection of dwellings for the labouring classes.

Simon’s Annual Report for 1865 to the Privy Council contained the results of a survey, by HJ Hunter (1823-1908), of dwellings of the labouring classes in towns. A survey of rural dwellings had been reported the year before. The general conclusion was that existing powers were completely inadequate to control overcrowding or prevent the continued use of dwellings unfit for human habitation.

1867 Sewage Utilisation Act widened the powers of authorities to dispose of sewage.

1868 Sanitary Act amended administrative details of the 1866 act, and enlarged the powers of the sewer authorities in relation to house drainage, privies and removal of house refuse.

Artisans and Labourers Dwelling Act (Torrens Act) empowered local authorities to compel owners to demolish or repair insanitary dwellings, and to keep their properties in a habitable state. This was the first national legislation to tackle slum dwellings, although action was limited by legal procedures and the high compensation involved. Previously some action had been taken under local acts.

1870 Tramway Act permitted kcal authorities to build municipal tramways.

1873 Return of Owners of Land (The New Doomsday Survey) found that less than 7,000 men owned more than four fifths of the land.

1875 Artizans and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act (Cross’ Act) gave local authorities powers of compulsory purchase of "areas unfit for human habitation", so that they could be rebuilt and the houses let by the authorities. Little was actually achieved because of the compensation that had to be paid.

1876 Rivers Pollution Act prohibited the disposal of solid matter, liquid or solid sewage, or drainage from mines and factories into streams; but stated that the Local Government Board shall not sanction any such control in districts which are areas of manufacturing industries, unless satisfied that no material injury will be inflicted on such industries

1877 Public Health (Water) Act simplified the process for municipalities to purchase private waterworks; and required rural sanitary authorities to ensure that every occupied dwelling house had within a reasonable distance an available and sufficient supply of wholesome water.

1879 Artizans and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act amended the terms of compensation and the re-housing of persons displaced by improvement schemes. However the problems of re-housing displaced persons at affordable rents remained.

1882 Artizans Dwellings Act extended the provisions of the 1875 and 1879 acts. See 1890.

1883 Cheap Trains Act required all railway companies to offer cheap workmen’s fares, and to provide proper third class accommodation.

1885 Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, (chairman, Sir Charles Dilke) , of which the Prince of Wales was a member, drew attention to the shortage of suitable housing for working class people and the resulting overcrowding. This was followed by the act below.

Housing of the Working Classes Act laid down that every local authority entrusted with the execution of laws relating to public health must enforce them so as to secure the proper sanitary condition of all premises within their district; and empowered local authorities to make bylaws in respect of houses let in lodgings.

1888 Local Government Act created county and county borough councils, elected by ratepayers, to take over from the justices of the peace in rural areas the duties of rating, licensing, asylums, police, highways and weights and measures.

1889 Public Health (Amendment) Act contained sections on a number of sanitary and safety matters including the prevention of danger from telegraph wires, disposal of chemical refuse, safety of building sites and of places of public resort and pleasure grounds.

1889 Housing of the Working Classes Act simplified procedures; empowered local authorities to build council houses using money from the rates; and made it a duty of medical officers of health to report unfit houses and slum areas.

1892 Burgh Police Act in addition to police matters, required all burghs to appoint medical officers of health and sanitary inspectors and laid down regulations regarding housing, sewerage, provision of water, dairies and slaughter houses.

1894 Local Government Act created elected urban and rural district councils which took over the duties of the sanitary authorities; created parish councils; enabled more women to become members of boards of guardians; and advocated the appointment of visiting committees to poor law infirmaries.

Local Government (Scotland) Act established the Local Government Board for Scotland which replaced the Board of Supervision, and introduced changes in local government.

Housing of the Working Classes Act amended a clause in the 1890 act about the borrowing powers of local authorities.

1894 Manchester Ship Canal opened allowing ocean-going ships to reach Manchester.

1896 Locomotives on Highways Act, repealed the “red flag” act of 1865; and introduced a speed limit of 14 miles per hour, lowered by the Local Government Board to 12mph.

1897 Cleansing of Persons Act permitted local authorities to provide cleansing and disinfestation for persons infested with vermin.

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