If middle-class moralities invoked peculiar anxieties, the development of a huge manual working class throughout the nineteenth century posed immense moral problems of its own. The fundamental problem as conceived by the middle-class moralists (and many subsequent historians) was the effect of industrialisation and urbanisation, and in particular factory work, on the working-class family and the role of the woman within it. The issue had long exercised the evangelicals but became central in the 1830s and 1840s, coinciding with the crisis of the domestic system of manufacturing in textile areas which dramatised the speed of change. Most of the evidence used in the debates of that period relate to these areas. The alleged lack of virtues and sense of shame of women cotton operatives was deplored alike in parliamentary debate and government blue books, in contemporary novels and in newspapers. Lord Ashley (later 7th Earl of Shaftesbury) wrote with regard to women’s labour in the cotton mills:

You are poisoning the very sources of order and happiness and virtue; you are tearing up root and branch all relations of families to each other; you are annulling, as it were, the institution of domestic life decreed by Providence Himself, the wisest and kindest of earthly ordinances, the mainstay of social peace and virtue and therein of national security. 1