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With the arrival of the centenary of Britains entry into World War I, peoples thoughts inevitably turn to the events of 1914. Over the years people have referred to the pre-war era as a golden period before the horrors began, but in truth it was not an easy time for the majority of people in the UK. So what was life really like in pre-war Britain?

Picture Showing Britain Pre-War
Pre-war Britain was very different

For many it was already a time of hardship, with numerous strikes taking place, including those by rail workers, miners and people working in mills. Pay and working conditions left a lot to be desired. Millions of people lived in poor quality overcrowded housing, with widespread poverty and malnutrition, leading to childhood illnesses such as rickets being rife.

Life expectancy in 1914 was just 53 years for women and 49 years for men. Today they are 82 and 79 respectively. Lloyd George as Chancellor of the Exchequer, had brought in some early welfare services, despite a lack of support from many of his contemporaries. The old age pension had been introduced in 1909, but you had to be 70 to be eligible and most people simply didn't reach this age.

Subsidised school meals were another recent introduction, aiming to tackle the high levels of malnutrition, but it was a gradual rollout and as at 1914 there were still many local authorities where school meals were not available.

One blessing was that in the early part of 1914 people in the UK were blissfully unaware of the years of war to come. However, another problem was looming far closer to home, as politicians met with growing demands for home rule in Ireland, with increasingly violent protests taking place there. Another key political issue was the battle for womens right to vote. The suffragette movement was at its peak, with very public protests, including arson attacks and many hunger strikes by those imprisoned, although all activity would be brought to an end with the outbreak of war.

Even among non suffragettes, there were changes for women, with some women beginning to wear ready-made clothes, stocked by the more progressive shops in London. Particularly adventurous or rebellious ladies might even venture out in public without wearing a hat. Corsets were starting to become less fashionable, with many women preferring the greater comfort of the new looser styles of the time.

Motor cars were becoming popular with those who could afford to buy one, and highly unpopular with most other people. Roads were not good quality, drivers were sometimes reckless and casualties were relatively high, in fact higher than losses on the roads today, with over 2,000 people killed on the roads in 1914.

Unless you lived the life of a wealthy aristocrat, life in pre-war 1914 Britain was not easy. Yet, when called upon to fight for and give their lives for their country, men did not hesitate, and when expected to fill the empty workplaces of the men, women too rose to the challenge.

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