I don't know if you've been watching the excellent "Victorian Farm" on BBC2 over the last few weeks, but it's become one of the few highlights on TV for me since it started. The programme follows a group of people living and working a farm as they would have done in Victorian times - using traditional methods combined with the "new technology" that was transforming farming in the late 19th century.
The programme makes frequent references to how the new technology of the time was replacing the intensive labour that had been needed before - although makes little judgement on why this was happening. I believe that the general opinion is that the advent of new machinery forced many people out of the country and into the cities, towns and factories - but I would argue that it was possibly the other way around.
People started flocking to the industrial centres from the country because the factories offered higher wages - and businessmen don't pay higher wages unless they have to! If it really had been a case that the new farming technology was putting farm workers out of work then the wages offered by the industrialist would have been lower - not higher. Add on the fact that working in factories offered predictable hours (though long) and less backbreaking (though still very hard) work and you can see why people moved to the cities and why farming had to change.
Despite all the advances in technology, farming actually remained quite labour intensive long after the Victorian era. One of my favourite books about the local area is called "The Spacious Days" by Michael Twist recounting his early life living and working on a farm not far from Slough in the 1930's. It's a charming and witty read, but it also reveals that farming was still a very labour intensive occupation even up to just before the start of WW2.
Watching Victorian Farm reveals just how hard life was back then - even if the participants in the programme seem to be enjoying themselves. I actually think they are enjoying the simplicity and honesty of that way of life more than anything - the work itself, particularly during the harsh winter months, was arduous although ultimately rewarding - and they know that they'll be back in the modern world soon enough. You also have to admire the sheer creativity and skill of the craftsmen back then.
Contrary to what many might think - although I believe we could do far worse than reacquaint ourselves with some of the Victorian morality, can do attitude and work ethic - I don't dream of us going back to those sort of times. What we forget, though, is that without the power provided by fuel such as coal and the freedom provided by the internal combustion engine we wouldn't be that much different today. For me, there is a certain irony that so-called "progressive" policy towards "man-made" global warming is likely to force a return to a Victorian style existence far more than any conservative policy would.