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Introduction: The Changing Landscape

In 1800, 90% of the population worked in the countryside and 10% in the towns. By the end of the century, only 25% lived in the countryside with 75% living in towns and cities.

During this period, most towns and cities had witnessed great change. More homes were built to house the great numbers moving from the countryside to the town. However, the appearance of rural areas remained unchanged. Rural labourers lived mostly in cottages of mud, plaster and thatch with one room downstairs and one up sometimes housing families of 10 or 12 children. These buildings might have looked picturesque, but they were damp and draughty to live in.

Life was often hard and work was monotonous for the men, women and children who laboured in the fields, particularly during harvest time.

Towards the end of the century, wages had risen and life was more comfortable for farm workers. Agricultural labourers however remained amongst the poorest paid of all workers.

Although people continued to move to the cities as the changing work patterns of industry over agriculture drove them to search for a better life, many continued to prefer life on the land.

Artists tried to capture this rural way of life, which they could see was fast disappearing as more and more people moved away from the land. Some of these artists romanticised the passing way of life as a rural idyll.

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