Life in Britain on the Eve of the First World War

The Telegraph has an interesting series of short articles about life in Britain at the start of WWI. While all of the articles are worth reading, here are the best parts for those who like to compare standard of living then and now.

Work and leisure

Most Edwardians worked in dark, noisy factories, cut hay in fields, toiled down dirty and dangerous mines; had bones bent by rickets and lungs racked by tuberculosis. Life expectancy then was 49 years for a man and 53 years for a woman, compared with 79 and 82 years today. They lived in back to back tenements or jerry-built terraces, wore cloth caps or bonnets (rather than boaters, bowlers and toppers) and they had never taken a holiday - beyond a day trip to Brighton or Blackpool - in their entire lives.

Transport

Mrs Patrick Campbell was invoked in court on the eve of the war to prove that a driver charged with ‘exceeding the motor-car speed limit’ (20mph) was really driving ‘very carefully.’

In the last full year before the war, 2,099 people died on the road (compared with 1,754 in 2012).

In 1910 of the 500 pilots active, 29 died, in half a million miles of flying. Much safer were the 5,800 pilots of 1912, of whom 140 died in 12.5 million miles… present-day aviation fatalities run at one every 1.24 billion miles.

Diet

Beyond the average purse, 5lbs for 1s and 2d – they [Jersey potatoes] are a luxury as are fresh peas. To have them you are going to have to economise on other articles of diet.

Entertainment

Alongside reels from Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford which delighted the masses came more artistically ambitious fare: from Italy, according to a review published on 11 March, came The Passions of the Renaissance, ‘a masterpiece of cinematography’ which ‘simply enthralls the spectator’, and a ‘startling’ documentary about the British army which featured ‘some very wonderful pictures of bursting shrapnel.’

Women’s rights

[One] of the abiding images of the women’s suffragette movement is the arrest of its militant leader Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst as she tried to present a petition to the King at Buckingham Palace in May 1914. She was lifted off her feet in a bear hug by Chief Inspector Rolfe… The day after the Buckingham Palace protest some 60 women appeared at Bow Street and there was utter chaos as they shouted, sang the Marseillaise, threw newspapers and launched a shoe at the magistrate which he neatly caught and passed to an attendant. The Telegraph coverage was headlined ‘Suffragette Orgie [sic], Pandemonium in Court.’