The Victorians

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  • Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850)

    Born at Bury in Lancashire, the son of a successful mill owner, Peel became an MP in 1809 and served as chief secretary in Ireland from 1812 to 1818. Home secretary from 1822 to 1830, he established the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Often called the founder of the modern Conservative party, Peel was the first to realise that middle-class voters wanted a stable economy rather than radical change. As prime-minister (1841-6) he proved much more liberal than many of his opponents (cf John Major). Anticipating famine in Ireland he bought cheap corn (1845) but his repeal of the Corn Laws led to the fall of his government and the break up of his party. He died in London following a riding accident.

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  • Lord John Russell (1792-1878)

    Born in London and educated in Edinburgh, Lord John became an MP in 1813. He was Home Secretary from 1835 to 1839 and Secretary of State for War from 1839 to 1841. When Peel's new Conservative Party split over Corn Law repeal, Russell became prime-minister (1846). It was he who instituted the programme of public works as a form of famine relief in Ireland and when this proved too expensive he tried to force Irish landlords to pay for the costs of feeding the poor themsleves, resulting in further evictions and deaths from starvation.

    Russell remained active in politics for another twenty years, serving as Foreign Secretary from 1859 to 1865, and prime-minister again from 1865 to 1866.

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  • William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)

    Born in Liverpool and educated at Eton and Oxford he entered Parliament as a follower of Peel (Conservative) in 1832. He first achieved high office as Chancellor of the Exchecquer in 1852, introducing income tax as a 'temporary measure' in that year. In 1867 he became leader of the newly formed Liberal Party and was Prime-minister from 1868 to 1874, 1880-85, 1889-90 and 1892-94. He opposed all hereditary privileges and traditions when they blocked his ideal of cheap and efficient government. His most revolutionary step was to embrace Home Rule for Ireland when the imperialist tide was running all the other way. A powerful orator he was known as the 'People's William'.

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  • Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

    Born in London, the eldest son of an Anglicised Jew, Disraeli made his early reputation as a novelist. Leader of the 'Young England' movement, his was a romantic conservatism similar to Pugin's. His opportunity for leadership came when the followers of Peel (including Gladstone) joined the Liberals. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer twice in minority governments before becoming leader of the Conservatives and briefly Prime-minister in 1868. During his second term as premier (1874-80) he brought the Queen out of retirement and bought the Suez Canal. At the Congress of Berlin (1878) he negotiated agreements between the powers that kept the peace in Europe until 1914. Charming and witty he was regarded by Gladstone as a shallow opportunist.

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  • John Street, Irk Town

    Built between 1827 and 1835 to house textile workers the block shaded in consisted of 14 'back-to-back' houses. With no proper sanitation and an open sewer running nearby there were many cases of cholera in the district between 1830 and 1850. The 1861 census shows that there was an average of six people living in each of the houses, most of them of Irish decent. By 1871 the overcrowding had grown worse. One of the 4 houses with cellars had 19 occupants.

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  • Torquay Museum

    A typical 19th century museum. Founded in 1844 to house the prehistoric objects found in Kents Cavern nearby and still owned by a private society, it has recently been refurbished with the aid of a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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