British Social Work in the Nineteenth Century by E.T. Ashton, A.F. Young

By E.T. Ashton, A.F. Young

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Under Chamberlain the radical city of Birmingham took the lead in civic reform. ’ The later Victorians were actively concerned about the evils of their big cities, though prone to lapse into inertia and indifference from time to time. Many of the governing classes still retained enough of the older utilitarian point of view to regard with fascinated horror the growth of municipal power, especially in the London County Council, which towards the end of the century was becoming ‘that great new sub-state which covets fresh functions every year’.

Any improvement of urban conditions helped the poor. Even more important was the fact that state intervention in matters of factory conditions and health opened the door to a limitation in other directions of the laisserfaire attitude that had been responsible for so much mass misery. Public opinion indeed was more receptive to Carlyle’s fulminations against laisser-faire in his latter-day pamphlets (1850), and the revolutions of 1848 in Europe had, like the chartist movement itself, made serious-minded middle class men and women think more deeply on social matters.

The new enthusiasm was based on the teaching that conversion could rescue all but the most degraded. The clergy, who had become more and more isolated from the common people, were now adjured to rouse people of all classes to the worship of God. Apart from its emphasis on conversion, the Evangelical movement was not unduly rigid on points of Church belief. The 14ethodists were excluded from the Church of England, not on points of dogma, but as a matter of Church discipline. In their philanthropic activities the evangelicals of the Church of England were prepared to co-opcratc with Nonconformists, and even at times with liberal freethinkers.

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