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When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 London was already the largest metropolis in the world with a population of nearly 2 million, but most of her subjects were still country-dwellers. By the end of the century London had grown sixfold, and 80% of Britons lived in towns or cities.
In large part the story of 19th-century England is the story of the city. Early Victorian cities struggled to manage themselves with a public infrastructure that had changed little since Elizabethan times. There was no regular income tax. The government's role in matters of sanitation, water supply or public health was barely recognised. While 15% of all children could expect to die before their first birthday, urban children were far worse off than their country cousins. Figures published in the Lancet in 1843 showed that the life expectancy of a labourer in rural Rutland was 38, while in Liverpool it was just 15.