Victorian era

Victorian era

The Victorian era of the United Kingdom was the period of Queen Victoria's rule from June 1837 to January 1901 [Swisher, Clarice, ed. "Victorian England". San Diego, CA : Greenhaven Press, 2000. ] . This was a long period of prosperity for the British people, as profits gained from the overseas British Empire, as well as from industrial improvements at home, allowed a large, educated middle class to develop. Some scholars would extend the beginning of the period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians—back five years to the passage of the Reform Act 1832.

The era was preceded by the Georgian period and succeeded by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian era roughly coincided with the first portion of the "Belle Époque" era of continental Europe and other non-English speaking countries within Europe.

The era is often characterized as a long period of peace, known as the "Pax Britannica", and economic, colonial, and industrial consolidation, temporarily disrupted by the Crimean War, although Britain was at war every year during this period. Towards the end of the century, the policies of New Imperialism led to increasing colonial conflicts and eventually the Anglo-Zanzibar War and the Boer War. Domestically, the agenda was increasingly liberal with a number of shifts in the direction of gradual political reform and the widening of the voting franchise.

In the early part of the era the House of Commons was dominated by the two parties, the Whigs and the Tories. From the late 1850s onwards the Whigs became the Liberals even as the Tories became known as the Conservatives. These parties were led by many prominent statesmen including Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Derby, Lord Palmerston, William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury. The unsolved problems relating to Irish Home Rule played a great part in politics in the later Victorian era, particularly in view of Gladstone's determination to achieve a political settlement.


The Victorian fascination with novelty resulted in a deep interest in the relationship between modernity and cultural continuities. Gothic Revival architecture became increasingly significant in the period, leading to the Battle of the Styles between Gothic and Classical ideals. Charles Barry's architecture for the new Palace of Westminster, which had been badly damaged in an 1834 fire, built on the medieval style of Westminster Hall, the surviving part of the building. It constructed a narrative of cultural continuity, set in opposition to the violent disjunctions of Revolutionary France, a comparison common to the period, as expressed in Thomas Carlyle's "" and Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities". Gothic was also supported by the critic John Ruskin, who argued that it epitomised communal and inclusive social values, as opposed to Classicism, which he considered to epitomise mechanical standardisation.

The middle of the century saw The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World's Fair and showcased the greatest innovations of the century. At its centre was the Crystal Palace, an enormous, modular glass and iron structure - the first of its kind. It was condemned by Ruskin as the very model of mechanical dehumanisation in design, but later came to be presented as the prototype of Modern architecture. The emergence of photography, which was showcased at the Great Exhibition, resulted in significant changes in Victorian art. John Everett Millais was influenced by photography (notably in his portrait of Ruskin) as were other Pre-Raphaelite artists. It later became associated with the Impressionistic and Social Realist techniques that would dominate the later years of the period in the work of artists such as Walter Sickert and Frank Holl.

Victorian festivals, holidays, and celebrations

*January 6: The Epiphany.
*March 25: The Annunciation.
*The Three months after Easter: The Party season.
*May 24: The Birthday of Queen Victoria. 1819.
*May-June: The Picnic season.
*June 24: Midsummer.
*August: The End of season.
*September 29: St. Michael's festival.
*December 25: Christmas.


;1832 : Passage of the first Reform Act.Swisher,Clarice,ed."Victorian England". San Diego:Greenhaven Press,2000. pgs 248-250] ;1837 : Ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne.;1840 : New Zealand becomes a British colony, through the Treaty of Waitangi ;1842 : The Mine Act banned women and children from working in coal, iron, lead and tin mining.;1846: Repeal of the Corn Laws.;1848 : Death of around 2,000 people a week in a cholera epidemic.;1850 : Restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Britain.;1851 : The Great Exhibition (the first World's Fair) was held at the Crystal Palace, with great success and international attention.;1857 : The Indian Mutiny, a widespread revolt in India against the rule of the British East India Company, was sparked by "sepoys" (native Indian soldiers) in the Company's army. The rebellion, involving not just sepoys but many sectors of the Indian population as well, was largely quashed within a year. In response to the mutiny, the East India Company was abolished in August 1858 and India came under the direct rule of the British crown, beginning the period of the British Raj.;1858 : The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, responded to the Orsini plot against French emperor Napoleon III, the bombs for which were purchased in Birmingham, by attempting to make such acts a felony, but the resulting uproar forced him to resign.;1859 : Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species", which led to various reactions.;1861 : Death of Prince Albert; Queen Victoria refused to go out in public for many years, and when she did she wore a widow's bonnet instead of the crown.;1866 : An angry crowd in London, protesting against John Russell's resignation as Prime Minister, was barred from Hyde Park by the police; they tore down iron railings and trampled on flower beds. Disturbances like this convinced Derby and Disraeli of the need for further parliamentary reform.;1875 : Britain purchased Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal as the African nation was forced to raise money to pay off its debts.;1882 : British troops began the occupation of Egypt by taking the Suez Canal, in order to secure the vital trade route and the passage to India, and the country became a protectorate. ;1884 : The Fabian Society was founded in London by a group of middle class intellectuals, including Quaker Edward R. Pease, Havelock Ellis, and E. Nesbit, to promote socialism. ;1888 : The serial killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered and mutilated five (and possibly more) prostitutes on the streets of London.;1870 - 1891 : Under the Elementary Education Act 1870 basic State Education became free for every child under the age of 10.


Popular forms of entertainment varied by social class. Victorian Britain, like the periods before it, was interested in theatre and the arts, and music, drama, and opera were widely attended. There were, however, other forms of entertainment. Gambling at cards in establishments popularly called casinos was wildly popular during the period: so much so that evangelical and reform movements specifically targeted such establishments in their efforts to stop gambling, drinking, and prostitution.

Brass bands and 'The Bandstand' became popular in the Victorian era. The band stand was a simple construction that not only created an ornamental focal point, but also served acoustic requirements whilst providing shelter from the changeable British weather. It was common to hear the sound of a brass band whilst strolling through parklands. At this time musical recording was still very much a novelty.

Another form of entertainment involved 'spectacles' where paranormal events, such as hypnotism, communication with the dead (by way of mediumship or channelling), ghost conjuring and the like, were carried out to the delight of crowds and participants. Such activities were more popular at this time than in other periods of recent Western history.

Technology and engineering

The impetus of the Industrial Revolution had already occurred, but it was during this period that the full effects of industrialization made themselves felt, leading to the mass consumer society of the 20th century. The revolution led to the rise of railways across the country and great leaps forward in engineering, most famously by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Another great engineering feat in the Victorian Era was the sewage system in London. It was designed by Joseph Bazalgette in 1858. He proposed to build convert|82|mi|km|abbr=on of sewerage linked with over convert|1000|mi|km|abbr=on of street sewers. Many problems were found but the sewers were completed. After this, Bazalgette designed the Thames Embankment which housed sewers, water pipes and the London Underground. During the same period London's water supply network was expanded and improved, and gas reticulation for lighting and heating was introduced in the 1880s.

During the Victorian era, science grew into the discipline it is today. In addition to the increasing professionalism of university science, many Victorian gentlemen devoted their time to the study of natural history.

Photography was realized in 1829 by Louis Daguerre in France and William Fox Talbot in the UK. By 1900, hand-held cameras were available.

Although initially developed in the early years of the 19th century, gas lighting became widespread during the Victorian era in industry, homes, public buildings and the streets. The invention of the incandescent gas mantle in the 1890s greatly improved light output and ensured its survival as late as the 1960s. Hundreds of gasworks were constructed in cities and towns across the country. In 1882, incandescent electric lights were introduced to London streets, although it took many years before they were installed everywhere.

Child labour

The Victorian era became notorious for employing young children in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps. Several Factory Acts were passed to prevent the exploitation of children in the workplace. Children of poor families would leave school at the age of eight and were then forced to go to work. School was not free at this time. All of these jobs came with dangers. Many children got stuck in the chimneys that they were sweeping, and in factories it was not uncommon for children to lose limbs crawling under machinery to pick things up. Children also did not have the rights that they have today. Breaks were unheard of, days were much longer, and they earned very little money.


Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organisations, clergymen and single women became increasingly concerned about prostitution, which came to be known as "The Great Social Evil." Although estimates of the number of prostitutes in London by the 1850s vary widely (in his landmark study, "Prostitution", William Acton reported that the police estimated there were 8,600 in London alone in 1857), it is enough to say that the number of women working the streets became increasingly difficult to ignore.

When the United Kingdom Census 1851 publicly revealed a 4% demographic imbalance in favour of women (i.e. 4% more women than men), the problem of prostitution began to shift from a moral/religious cause to a socio-economic one. The 1851 census showed that the population of Great Britain was roughly 18 million; this meant that roughly 750,000 women would remain unmarried simply because there were not enough men. These women came to be referred to as "superfluous women" or "redundant women," and many essays were published discussing what, precisely, ought to be done with them.

While the Magdalene Asylums had been "reforming" prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society—usually for work as domestic servants. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman" (an umbrella term used to describe any women who had sexual intercourse out of wedlock) became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics. In the writings of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth and others, prostitution began to be seen as a social problem.

When Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1864 (which allowed the local constabulary to force any woman suspected of venereal disease to submit to its inspection), Josephine Butler's crusade to repeal the CD Acts yoked the anti-prostitution cause with the emergent feminist movement. Butler attacked the long-established double standard of sexual morality.

Prostitutes were often presented as victims in sentimental literature such Thomas Hood's poem "The Bridge of Sighs", Elizabeth Gaskell's novel "Mary Barton" and Dickens' novel "Oliver Twist". The emphasis on the purity of women found in such works as Coventry Patmore's "The Angel in the House" led to the portrayal of the prostitute and fallen woman as soiled, corrupted, and in need of cleansing.

This emphasis on female purity was allied to the stress on the homemaking role of women, who helped to create a space free from the pollution and corruption of the city. In this respect the prostitute came to have symbolic significance as the embodiment of the violation of that divide. The double standard remained in force. Divorce legislation introduced in 1857 allowed for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a woman could only divorce if adultery was accompanied by cruelty. The anonymity of the city led to a large increase in prostitution and unsanctioned sexual relationships. Dickens and other writers associated prostitution with the mechanisation and industrialisation of modern life, portraying prostitutes as human commodities consumed and thrown away like refuse when they were used up. Moral reform movements attempted to close down brothels, something that has sometimes been argued to have been a factor in the concentration of street-prostitution in Whitechapel, in the East End of London, by the 1880s.

By the time the CD Acts were repealed in 1886, Victorian Britain had been completely transformed. This era, which at its outset looked no different from the century before it, would end resembling much more the era that would follow.

ee also

* Victorian architecture
* Victorian decorative arts
* Victorian fashion
* Victorian morality
* Victorian literature
* History of British society
* Horror Victorianorum
* Imperialism
* Victoriana
* Neo-Victorian
* Workhouse

Further reading

*Altick, Richard Daniel. "Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature". W.W. Norton & Company: 1974. ISBN 0-393-09376-X.
*Burton, Antoinette (editor). "Politics and Empire in Victorian Britain: A Reader". Palgrave Macmillan: 2001. ISBN 0-312-29335-6.
*Gay, Peter, "The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud", 5 volumes, Oxford University Press, 1984-1989
*Janowski, Diane, "Victorian Pride - Forgotten Songs of America", 6 volumes, New York History Review Press, 2007-2008.
*Flanders, Judith. "Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England". W.W. Norton & Company: 2004. ISBN 0-393-05209-5.
*Mitchell, Sally. "Daily Life in Victorian England". Greenwood Press: 1996. ISBN 0-313-29467-4.
*Wilson, A. N. "The Victorians". Arrow Books: 2002. ISBN 0-09-945186-7

External links and references

* [ Great Victorian Lives - An Era in Obituaries from "The Times"]
* [ The Victorian Web]
* [ The Victorian Dictionary]
* [ 1876 Victorian England Revisited]

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