The Uppers and Grounders

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about social structures with steampunk society. I’ve been particularly fascinated by how things such as airship docking and the invention of a literally ‘higher’ set society would effect class structures.

Imagine, if you will, a working class area of Victorian London. It’s most likely near a dock or industrial complex, with workers and their families forming the majority of the population. Let’s say for the sake of this example that the area is near a dock, and above this sea-faring dock we were to place an airship dock. I have always imagined these structures to be a small maze of gangplanks and boardwalks held fifty foot above the city by large pillars; so, it is as though we have two docks placed one directly over the other.

Now, imagine the types of people that are likely to have access to airships. Air travel is likely an expensive endeavor due to the fact it is a relatively new technology and is most likely associated with leisure. The ships would not be used for laborious tasks such as fishing, but could be used to transport goods more quickly than would be possible by sea. It would act as a kind of express delivery service and could therefore charge more for the service than a seafaring vessel; sea-based transport businesses would undoubtedly decline and the Ground level dock would rely more heavily on rough tasks such as fishing. Airships would also probably be used as a smoother form of human transport and travel; after all, passengers would not be rocked back and forth by waves, and would not be constricted by the tides, passage would be much faster. So, it can be assumed that airship travel would be a more upper class luxury while sea-faring vessels became a tool for the working class fisherman.

If airship travel is to become a popular pastime of the upper class, it is not so unreasonable to assume that they would move to a location with better access to these aristocratically friendly ‘upper’ docks; this would also serve to make way for the increase of working class people moving inland to find work in factories and mills as a result of sea transport work becoming invalid. There is the possibility that the upper classes would rise above the working class London and form a small dwelling space on the same pillar-raised level as the upper docks. A city in the sky is developed on the fifty foot high dock boards and expands over London to separate the upper class from the ever increasing working class struggle occurring on the ground.

We are left with a two-tiered city.

On the Upper levels, aristocrats and lords live near the grandiose air vessels, expanding a selectively inhabited city across the sky. Below, those unable to ascend are forced to stay near the locations of Ground level London that can provide paying work; docks, factory complexes and industrial mills.

It is this idea of a split city that really got me thinking about social structure in my steampunk narratives. I think it would be interesting to explore this a little more within my writing, perhaps introduce the figure of the ‘Fence-Jumper’ who can feign aristocracy to gain access to the Upper level but does so to gain the upper hand in the Ground level market; stealing trinkets and purses on their visits to use and sell on the Ground.

Certainly food for thought. However, this is a thought that occurred to me rather suddenly and I’d like to hear what you think. Have I not accounted for something? Is there something I’ve missed? 

I also need to figure out where the middle class fit into all this…If there would be a middle class at all.


2 thoughts on “The Uppers and Grounders

  1. That’s fascinating! Yeah, it makes sense to me that those in pursuit of academic and scientific knowledge would sail the skies while the ground folk got on with the real work…

    Middle classes, I suspect, would be skilled manual labourers. Tailors, cobblers, lens makers…Supplying necessities to the high fliers, while having no desire / finances to travel themselves.

    • Hi Thiefree, thanks for the comment!

      I couldn’t agree more, the sky is a newly attainable landscape with a lot of unexplored possibilities. There would be a lot of scientific research about the skies, a lot of entrepreneur opportunities and a lot more countries would be accessible for holiday-making.

      I really like your idea about the middle-class being skilled traders, it would give them a chance to work in either city depending on their craft. Most of them would be needed, as you say, to sell their goods to sky-faring travelers (who would have more money than those below) and to provide repairs etc. for the ships. So maybe the Middle class could live in the Uppers, but still work while the upper class just tend to loll around a bit more.

      I got me some new ideas~

      Thank you!

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