The Victorian era (1837-1901) was a period of very rapid change and great contrasts.
New industries and technologies were transforming everyday life. They brought wealth and influence to the factory owners. However, for the workers in the factories and their families, life was often grim. More
The poor were expected to work hard but most lived in poverty.
The business owning class believed in economy and hard work but it was also a time of child labour and increasing squalor. In the cities, sanitation in the poorest houses was terrible. Many families lived crowded together as more and more people packed into the slums of the ever growing cities. More
As living conditions deteriorated, crime increased leading to the formation of a regulated police force.
The 1856 County Borough Police Act forced the whole of the country to set up police forces. Punishments for crimes could be severe. You could be transported to the colonies or contained in solitary confinement and made to do endless pointless tasks, such as walking the treadmill. More
It was a time of great faith in technology and progress.
Never had the world changed so fast. During the 60 years after Queen Victoria came to the throne, new inventions rapidly spread across Europe and North America. In 1851, there was a 'Great Exhibition' at Crystal Palace of technology and crafts from across the world. More
Landscapes and towns were transformed.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne, travel was mainly by coach, the railways were just beginning and street lighting was primitive. Over the next sixty years, gas lighting illuminated the streets, railways spread out across the world, steam ships crossed the Atlantic in record times, hot air balloons took to the skies and bicycles were invented. The period also saw the beginnings of the motor car. More
Technology was also providing new devices for use in the home.
In early Victorian times, candles or oil lamps lit most homes and people cooked on coal stoves or open ranges. Household equipment was fairly primitive. A host of new inventions, including the electric light bulb, carpet sweepers, water heaters, flush toilets, closed ranges, gas cookers and even, in a few homes, the first electric cookers, kettles and telephones were seen during the period. More
Home comforts were extremely important to the Victorians.
Family life offered security in a rapidly changing world, particularly for the middle class. The family became of great sentimental importance and the mother was seen as the centre of family life. Houses were richly decorated in dark colours. More
Very high standards of housekeeping were expected.
In Victorian times, servants were seen as a necessity for all but the poor. Without any help, all the pressure fell on the housewife to maintain standards, and those standards had never been so high. More
Many rich Victorians married for money and advancement rather than love.
Marriage was often a way of advancing yourself either socially or financially and the home was a status symbol. More
Victorian parents demanded obedience and respect from their children.
The father ruled the house; nevertheless, the Victorian home could be a place of great warmth. For the first time, children were treated as children, with their own books, games and toys. More
Unfortunately, the change from comfort to poverty could be swift.
An outbreak of disease or an injury at work could leave a family without the main wage earner. Older children had to earn a living and help with the house, rather than play or learn. Although laws to cut down how long a child could work were introduced, they were unpopular with some families, as they needed the money the children earned. More
There was little financial support outside the family, only the workhouse or orphanage.
The elderly, sick and disabled were generally supported within family circles. Without this, widows with children, or those with disabilities ended up on the streets or in the workhouse. For young, parentless children there was the orphanage. More
Conditions in workhouses, ophanages and asylums (places for the mentally ill) could be very harsh.
The Poor Law, passed in 1834, saw the creation of a new workhouse system. The law was very unpopular. Many thought it was harsh but others resented paying anything to support the poor. They felt that their poverty was their own fault. More
The workhouse was designed to be as unpleasant as possible, to encourage the poor to work hard and save.
If a whole family were admitted, they were often separated. Nearly everyone worked long hours and ate the same meals of gruel, watery soup, bread, cheese, suet and potatoes. More
Many people, especially the elderly, dreaded the workhouse.
This was because, once they went in, they rarely left it except for a pauper's burial. Older people would often carry out any work they were able, or beg on the streets, rather than apply to enter the workhouse. More
Observance of religion and a strict morality was seen as essential in Victorian society.
Although many failed to live up to these standards, an outward show of respectability was essential. This was the ‘golden age’ of preaching; people would often travel long distances to hear famous ministers. The Victorians insisted upon "plain preaching", which meant preaching with simplicity and clarity. More
There were more laws aimed at social reform than ever before.
Whilst some Victorians believed that new technologies would sort out social problems, others decided something had to be done about the terrible conditions in which many people lived. This covered legal reform, penal policy, working conditions, education and public health. More
The Elementary Education Act made education compulsory for the first time.
By the late Victorian era, more enlightened people tried to improve conditions for the poor through education and moral guidance. The Elementary Education Act 1870 made education compulsory from 1880. More
The Music Hall, fairs and parlour games were all popular.
Most Victorian houses had a piano and people entertained themselves with games and 'sing songs'. The phonograph was invented in the 1890's seeing the start of recorded speech and music. The Victorians had a liking for the exotic and the grotesque - freak shows and fairs were well attended. Reading was very popular amongst those who had an education. More
There was a great interest in Natural Science
In 1859, Darwin published his book, 'On the Origin of the Species'. It was met by hostility but by the 1870's Darwin's theory, that diversty in nature could be explained by evolution and natural selection, had become generally accepted. Cataloguing and collecting plants, insects and small animals became a craze amongst the wealthy. More
By the end of Victorian period, Britain was no longer the world's biggest industrial giant.
The USA and Germany had overtaken Britain in industrial output. New opportunities for travel and advancement had transformed many people's lives. The world had changed greatly but there were many social issues still to put right. More