During the Industrial Era society was highly stratified. Even within the working-class, a station-master would regard himself higher than the porters, and a butler 'lorded' it over the maids. Many working-class people aspired to join – or worked so their children could join the middle-classes. At the start of the 19th century few poor people received an education, until the 1880 Education Act made primary school, called board school, compulsory.
Before 1832, working-class children as young as six worked in factories and in mines. People often worked long hours with very little pay and in dangerous conditions. Three acts of Parliament were passed to make working life safer for the Victorian working-class:
Living conditions at the start of the Industrial Revolution were terrible and many poor town-dwellers lived in filthy slums, but:
Trade unions were forbidden until 1824. As the century went on, workers formed trade unions to improve their wages. After 1850, skilled workers such as the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, set up New Model Unions. In the late 1880s, after a series of strikes including the Match Girls Strike of 1888, and the Dockers' Strike of 1889, trade unions were set up for unskilled workers.
Some harsh attitudes toward the poor remained in place. For instance, The Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) had sent the poor to the workhouse but the Bank Holiday Act (1871) made paid bank holidays compulsory. Electoral reform meant that many working-class men got the vote in 1867 or 1884. The Independent Labour Party was formed by Kier Hardie in 1893. By 1900, the work of writers such as Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree had created new attitudes towards poverty by publishing their research on poverty. The 'Liberal Reforms' included Old Age Pensions (1908) and National Insurance (1911).
Though working-class life was hard and sometimes scarred by deep poverty, working-class people did find time to relax and enjoy themselves. Working-class leisure activities included playing or watching football, participating in bicycling clubs, reading newspapers and trashy serialised novels called 'penny dreadfuls' and visiting the local music hall.The 1871 Bank Holiday Act made paid bank holidays compulsory and working-class people started to travel by train to the seaside at Scarborough or Blackpool for their holidays.