Life in 18th Century Britain

Teachers' notes, activities and linked resources

This resource was created in response to the National Theatre's 2012 production of Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer. The play, first performed in 1773, is a comedy based on practical jokes and mistaken identities. It raises issues of class and social customs, and questions how much has changed since the 18th Century.

Daru Rooke, a Curator with Bradford Museums and Galleries, used his knowledge about life during this period to write the programmes notes for the National Theatre. This resource features objects from Bolling Hall Museum alongside Daru's text.

Curriculum links:

KS3 English - Reading increasingly challenging texts

KS3 History - Britain 1745-1901; Study of an aspect of social history

Aims of resource:

An introduction to aspects of 18th Century social history through museum objects

Learning objectives:

Knowledge of a range of areas of 18th Century life
Understanding of British society at the time of the Industrial Revolution
Skills to use museum collections as sources and construct historical interpretations

Discussion ideas:

  • What sort of inequalities present in 18th Century society do you think still exist today?
  • What objects act as symbols of prosperity today?
  • Do you think the gap between the rich and poor is as great today as it was in the 18th Century?
  • Why are arranged marriages no longer popular today in British culture?
  • How do you think news was communicated in the 18th Century?
  • Look at the clothes worn by Francis and Caroline Lindley. What clues suggest that they are wealthy?
  • How do you think life might have been different for domestic servants and their employers in the 18th Century?
  • What do advantages and disadvantages do you think there might have been to working as a live-in servant in the 18th Century?
  • How important was it in 1750 to write down information about the running of the house (e.g. recipes, insurance, household budgets)? Would we do that today and if so how?

Activity ideas:

  • Research: Using this resource as a starting point for research, create a fact-file on different aspects of life in the 18th Century. Can you find any connections between them?
  • Examine an original source: Look at the duties of a butler and a housemaid in 1881 and write about what they might have been 100 years earlier. Look at what has changed. Are there things that wouldn't have been invented in 1781? How have clothes changed? Have standards of cleanliness changed?

  • Imagine you are a teenager in the 1750s and working as a servant in a big house. Use the details within this resource to write a diary entry imagining your daily life and include details such as:
    - What you think about your 'master'. Is he fair to you?
    - What are your ambitions in life?
    - What is your living accommodation like?
    - What daily jobs do you do?

  • Find out more about Oliver Goldsmith and his play She Stoops to Conquer from the links at the bottom of the page. Write a short summary of what you think the play is about.

View other My Learning resources about 18th Century history or scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

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