Why did so many people move during the Age of Revolution (1775-1848)?

This enquiry is suitable for students aged 7-14, you can download a free, printable PDF version here.

The following enquiry can be undertaken as described or adapted to suit the teaching and learning needs of your students. It will need to be handled sensitively – particularly if students are refugees for example, or have been forced to move for other reasons.

Why do people move?

People might move locally, from a village to a town, for example, for jobs or houses. People might move nationally, to another part of the country or internationally, to another country. People might choose to move, or be forced to move.

Ask the students to think about why people move today from one place or country to another. Is it ‘push’ factors – no jobs, low wages, war; or is it ‘pull’ factors – to be by the sea, raising a family outside of a city, better prospects or a safer life in a new town or country?

Discuss as a class whether they were all born in the local area, or whether they have moved there from another area or country. Students could make a class diagram showing where class members have moved from, why and how far away it is. Who has moved the most times? Who has moved the fewest times? Who has moved the furthest? Who has moved the shortest distance?

Talk about all the reasons they can think of why people might move and whether these are ‘pushes’ or ‘pulls’. Make a list of these reasons under the headings ‘pushes’ and ‘pulls’.

Remind the students about history topics they have already studied. This might include early settlers, the Tudors, or the World Wars. Why did the Romans come to Britain? Why did the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings? What was the attraction of Britain to these people? Why did children move during World War II?


Why did so many people move in the Age of Revolution (1775 – 1848)?

Students use the sources and notes to find out why people moved and then write their findings in a table (like the one below). Each student/group can investigate every object, or different objects can each be allocated for different students/groups to explore and then shared with the class through a whole class table. Images can be projected onto the whiteboard, printed or viewed on computers or tablets.


  1. Michael Armstrong and other ordinary workers

Ask students to look carefully at the images of The life and adventures of Michael Armstrong, New Lanark and the Davy Miner’s Lamp.

  • What do these images tell us about the sort of work people did in the late 1700s/early 1800s?

Students can read the notes for each of these objects to answer the questions:

  • Where did these workers move from and to?
  • Why did they move?
  • Was this a push or a pull?


  1. George Loveless and the Tolpuddle Martyrs

Ask students to look carefully at The Tolpuddle Martyrs Sculpture

  • How does the man in the sculpture – George Loveless – look?
  • He is about to leave home. Can they tell from the sculpture how he might be feeling about this?

Students can read the Tolpuddle Martyrs Sculpture notes and answer the questions:

  • Who were the Tolpuddle Martyrs?
  • Where did they move to?
  • Why?
  • Was this a push or a pull?
  • When did this happen? How long ago?
  • How useful is this as a historical source?


As an extension, students can look at the model of the HM Bark Endeavour and the painting of the Kongouro and read the Endeavour notes and the Kongouro notes to answer the questions:

  • How did British people find out about Australia?
  • What happened once they knew it was there..?
  • What else did Captain Cook find out about the wider world?


  1. Olaudah Equiano and enslaved peoples

Ask students to listen to the extract from Olaudah Equiano’s book The interesting narrative of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African. Can they answer the questions from the extract? They can use the Olaudah Equiano notes to find out more:

  • Who was Olaudah Equiano?
  • Where did he move from and to?
  • Why?
  • Was this a push or a pull?
  • When did this happen? How long ago?


  1. Irish migrants

Ask students to look at the sculpture of The Apprehensive Man.

  • What words would they use to describe the man in this sculpture?
  • Why might he look like this?
  • How do they think he is feeling?
  • How useful is this as a historical source?

They can read the Apprehensive Man notes to answer these questions:

  • Why is this man so very thin?
  • Where did he move from and to?
  • Why?
  • Was this a push or a pull?
  • When did this happen? How long ago?



Students can record their findings – individually or collectively – in a table like this one:






People moved for other reasons too – to fight in wars in the army or navy, or to be closer to family.


Show the students the images of Locomotion I and SS Great Britain. Talk about how these revolutions in steam-powered transport opened up opportunities for more people to move through choice.

Talk about how similar and different these reasons for moving are compared to today. How do the experiences of the class compare to the examples from the Age of Revolution? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?


Useful Links

The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum

Ulster Museums: Ulster American Folk Park

New Lanark Mills World Heritage Site

Undertanding Slavery Initative 

International Slavery Museum, Liverpool