When the first volume of this work was published, The Times welcomed the book and the project in these words: Here - almost for the first time - we have a picture of normal society in a past age in the same fullness of detail as we can picture our own age. It is the beginning of what we have never had before, a history of the English people. This second volume covers the period of the Great Exhibition and the development of the production of cheap mass-produced steel; the railway system continued to grow and the fortunes of canals and decline. It was an era of free trade and of great expansion in Britain's overseas trade. Industrial and housing conditions were slowly beginning to improve and the status of trade unions was legalised.