This paper focuses on language variation and change in nineteenth-century England. The first part of the paper is concerned with grammar writing and the influence that grammatical norms may have had on the English language. The second part of the paper takes a closer look at actual language usage. Throughout the paper particular attention is paid to language history ‘from below’, i.e. the linguistic situation of the lower social orders. For instance, the paper confirms, based on empirical data, that <i>you was</i>, a stigmatised feature in prescriptive grammars, was the dominant form in lower-class language usage. All in all, the paper also tries to show that nineteenth-century English still deserves a lot more scholarly attention.