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Queen Victoria, after whom the era is named.
|Preceded by||Georgian era|
|Followed by||Edwardian era|
|Tudor period||File:Tudors.JPG (1485–1603)|
The Victorian era of the United Kingdom was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from June 1837 until her death on the 22nd of January 1901.  The reign 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 an educated middle class to develop. Some scholars extend the beginning of the period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political games 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 the Gilded Age of the United States.
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 time. 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.
The population of England had almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901. Ireland’s population decreased rapidly, from 8.2 million in 1841 to less than 4.5 million in 1901. At the same time, around 15 million emigrants left the United Kingdom in the Victorian era and settled mostly in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
During the early part of the era, the House of Commons was headed by the two parties, the Whigs and the Tories. From the late 1850s onwards, the Whigs became the Liberals; the Tories became 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. Indeed these issues would eventually lead to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent domino effect that would play a large part in the fall of the empire.
The reign of Victoria was the longest in British history, and is foreseeably likely to be exceeded only if the present monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) remains on the throne to 2017.
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 in 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 The French Revolution: A History 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 19th 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 with Queen Victoria being the first British Monarch to be photographed. 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.
- Passage of the first Reform Act.
- Accession of Queen Victoria to the throne.
- New Zealand becomes a British colony, through the Treaty of Waitangi.
- Queen Victoria marries Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield. He had been naturalised and granted the British style of Royal Highness beforehand. For the next 17 years, he was known as HRH Prince Albert
- Birth of the Queen's first child The Princess Victoria. Within months she was granted the title Princess Royal
- Birth of the Queen's heir-apparent The Prince Albert Edward, Duke of Cornwall (Duke of Rothesay). He was swiftly made Prince of Wales
- Massacre of Elphinstone's Army by the Afghans in Afghanistan results in the death or incarceration of 16,500 soldiers and civilians. The Mines Act of 1842 banned women/children from working in coal, iron, lead and tin mining. The Illustrated London News was first published.
- Birth of The Princess Alice
- Birth of The Prince Alfred
- The Irish famine begins. Within 5 years it would become the UK's worst human disaster, with starvation and emigration reducing the population of Ireland itself by over 50%. The famine permanently changed Ireland’s and Scotland's demographics and became a rallying point for nationalist sentiment that pervaded British politics for much of the following century.
- Repeal of the Corn Laws.
- Birth of The Princess Helena
- Death of around 2,000 people a week in a cholera epidemic.
- Birth of The Princess Louise
- Restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Britain.
- Birth of The Prince Arthur
- The Great Exhibition (the first World's Fair) was held at the Crystal Palace, with great success and international attention. The Victorian gold rush. In ten years the Australian population nearly tripled.
- Birth of The Prince Leopold
- Crimean War: The United Kingdom declared war on Russia.
- 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. Prince Albert was given the title The Prince Consort
- Birth of The Princess Beatrice
- 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.
- Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, which led to various reactions. Victoria and Albert's first grandchild, Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, is born — he would later become William II, German Emperor
- 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.
- The Prince of Wales marries Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor.
- 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.
- The Constitution Act, 1867 passes and British North America becomes Dominion of Canada.
- Britain purchased Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal as the African nation was forced to raise money to pay off its debts.
- The Princess Alice becomes Grand Duchess of Hesse when her husband succeeds as Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse
- Treaty of Berlin (1878). Cyprus becomes a Crown colony. The Princess Alice dies. Princess Louise's husband The Marchioness of Lorne is appointed Governor-General of Canada
- British troops began the occupation of Egypt by taking the Suez Canal, in order to secure the vital trade route and passage to India, and the country became a protectorate.
- Princess Louise and Lord Lorne return from Canada
- 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. Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany dies.
- Prime Minister William Gladstone and the Liberal Party tries passing the First Irish Home Rule Bill, but the bill is rejected by the House of Commons.
- The serial killer known as Jack the Ripper murdered and mutilated five (and possibly more) prostitutes on the streets of London. Victoria's eldest daughter, the Princess Royal becomes German Empress when her husband succeeds as Frederick III, German Emperor. Within months, Frederick dies, and their son becomes William II, German Emperor. The widowed Vicky becomes the Dowager Empress as is known as "Empress Frederick".
- 1870 - 1891
- Under the Elementary Education Act 1870, basic State Education became free for every child under the age of 10.
- Victoria and Albert's first great-grandchild, Princess Feodora of Saxe-Meiningen, is born.
- Victoria and Albert's last grandchild, Prince Maurice of Battenberg, is born.
- The Prince of Wales' eldest son Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence dies of influenza. His place in the succession is taken by his brother Prince George of Wales (later Duke of York and eventually George V).
- The Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh succeeds as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha when his uncle dies. The Duchy skips over The Prince of Wales due to his renunciation of his succession rights to that Duchy.
- Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dies. His nephew Prince Charles Edward, Duke of Albany succeeds him, because his brother Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and nephew Prince Arthur of Connaught had renounced their rights.
- The death of the much-loved Victoria saw the end of this era, and the ascension of her eldest son, Edward, began the Edwardian era, another time of great change.
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.
Natural history becomes increasingly an "amateur" activity. Particularly in Britain and the United States, this grew into specialist hobbies such as the study of birds, butterflies, seashells (malacology/conchology), beetles and wildflowers. Amateur collectors and natural history entrepreneurs played an important role in building the large natural history collections of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Many people used the train services to visit the seaside, helped by the Bank Holiday Act of 1871 which created a number of fixed holidays which all sectors of society could enjoy. Large numbers travelling to quiet fishing villages such as Worthing, Brighton, Morecambe and Scarborough began turning them into major tourist centres, and people like Thomas Cook saw tourism and even overseas travel as viable businesses.
Technology and engineering
An important development during the Victorian era was the improvement of communication links. Stage coaches, canals, steam ships and most notably the railways all allowed goods, raw materials and people to be moved about, rapidly facilitating trade and industry. Trains became another important factor ordering society, with "railway time" being the standard by which clocks were set throughout Britain. Steam ships such as the SS Great Britain and SS Great Western made international travel more common but also advanced trade, so that in Britain it was not just the luxury goods of earlier times that were imported into the country but essentials such as corn from the America and meat from Australia. One more important innovation in communications was the Penny Black, the first postage stamp, which standardised postage to a flat price regardless of distance sent.
Even later communication methods such as cinema, telegraph, telephones, cars and aircraft, would have an impact. Photography was realized in 1829 by Louis Daguerre in France and William Fox Talbot in the UK. By 1900, hand-held cameras were available.
Similar sanitation reforms, prompted by the Public Health Acts 1848 and 1869, were made in the crowded, dirty streets of the existing cities, and soap was the main product shown in the relatively new phenomenon of advertising. A 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 82 mi (132 km) of sewer system linked with over 1,000 mi (1,600 km) of street sewers. Many problems were encountered 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 a gas network for lighting and heating was introduced in the 1880s.
The Victorians were impressed by science and progress, and felt that they could improve society in the same way as they were improving technology. The model town of Saltaire was founded, along with others, as a planned environment with good sanitation and many civic, educational and recreational facilities, although it lacked a pub, which was regarded as a focus of dissent. 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. This study of natural history was most powerfully advanced by Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution first published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859.
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.
Health and medicine
Medicine progressed during Queen Victoria's reign.
Although nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, had been proposed as an anaesthetic as far back as 1799 by Humphry Davy, it wasn't until 1846 when an American Dentist named William Morton started using ether on his patients that anaesthetics became common in the medical profession. In 1847 chloroform was introduced as an anaesthetic by James Young Simpson. Chloroform was favored by doctors and hospital staff because it's much less flammable than ether, but critics complained that it could cause the patient to have a heart attack. Chloroform gained in popularity in England and Germany after Dr. John Snow gave Queen Victoria chloroform for the birth of her eighth child (Prince Leopold). By 1920, chloroform was used in 80 to 95% of all narcoses performed in UK and German-speaking countries.
Anaesthetics made painless dentistry possible. At the same time the European diet grew a great deal sweeter as the use of sugar became more widespread. As a result, more and more people were having teeth pulled and needed replacements. This gave rise to "Waterloo Teeth", which were real human teeth set into hand-carved chunks of ivory from hippopotamus or walrus jaws. The teeth were obtained from executed criminals, victims of battlefields, from grave-robbers, and were even bought directly from the desperately impoverished.
Medicine also benefited from the introduction of antiseptics by Joseph Lister in 1867 in the form of Carbolic acid (phenol). He instructed the hospital staff to wear gloves and wash their hands, instruments, and dressings with a phenol solution and, in 1869, he invented a machine that would spray carbolic acid in the operating theatre during surgery.
19th century Britain saw a huge population increase accompanied by rapid urbanization stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. The large numbers of skilled and unskilled people looking for work kept wages down to barely subsistence level. Available housing was scarce and expensive, resulting in overcrowding. These problems were magnified in London, where the population grew at record rates. Large houses were turned into flats and tenements, and as landlords failed to maintain these dwellings slum housing developed. Kellow Chesney described the situation as follows: "Hideous slums, some of them acres wide, some no more than crannies of obscure misery, make up a substantial part of the metropolis... In big, once handsome houses, thirty or more people of all ages may inhabit a single room." (The Victorian Underworld)
The Victorian era became notorious for the employment of young children in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps. Child labour, often brought about by economic hardship, played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset: Charles Dickens, for example, worked at the age of 12 in a blacking factory, with his family in a debtors' prison. In 1840 only about 20 percent of the children in London had any schooling. By 1860 about half of the children between 5 and 15 were in school (including Sunday school).
The children of the poor were expected to help towards the family budget, often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low wages. Agile boys were employed by the chimney sweeps; small children were employed to scramble under machinery to retrieve cotton bobbins; and children were also employed to work in coal mines, crawling through tunnels too narrow and low for adults. Children also worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, or shoe blacks, or selling matches, flowers, and other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades, such as building, or as domestic servants (there were over 120,000 domestic servants in London in the mid 18th century). Working hours were long: builders might work 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter, while domestic servants worked 80 hour weeks. Many young people worked as prostitutes (the majority of prostitutes in London were between 15 and 22 years of age).
"Mother bides at home, she is troubled with bad breath, and is sair weak in her body from early labour. I am wrought with sister and brother, it is very sore work; cannot say how many rakes or journeys I make from pit's bottom to wall face and back, thinks about 30 or 25 on the average; the distance varies from 100 to 250 fathom. I carry about 1 cwt. and a quarter on my back; have to stoop much and creep through water, which is frequently up to the calves of my legs." (Isabella Read, 12 years old, coal-bearer, testimony gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission 1842
"My father has been dead about a year; my mother is living and has ten children, five lads and five lasses; the oldest is about thirty, the youngest is four; three lasses go to mill; all the lads are colliers, two getters and three hurriers; one lives at home and does nothing; mother does nought but look after home.All my sisters have been hurriers, but three went to the mill. Alice went because her legs swelled from hurrying in cold water when she was hot. I never went to day-school; I go to Sunday-school, but I cannot read or write; I go to pit at five o'clock in the morning and come out at five in the evening; I get my breakfast of porridge and milk first; I take my dinner with me, a cake, and eat it as I go; I do not stop or rest any time for the purpose; I get nothing else until I get home, and then have potatoes and meat, not every day meat. I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; my legs have never swelled, but sisters' did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh 300 cwt.; I hurry 11 a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings, to get the corves out;" (Patience Kershaw, 17 years old, coal-bearer, testimony gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission 1842)
Children as young as three were put to work. In coal mines children began work at the age of 5 and generally died before the age of 25. Many children (and adults) worked 16 hour days. As early as 1802 and 1819, Factory Acts were passed to limit the working hours of workhouse children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours per day. These acts were largely ineffective and after radical agitation, by for example the "Short Time Committees" in 1831, a Royal Commission recommended in 1833 that children aged 11–18 should work a maximum of 12 hours per day, children aged 9–11 a maximum of eight hours, and children under the age of nine should no longer be permitted to work. This act, however, only applied to the textile industry, and further agitation led to another act in 1847 limiting both adults and children to 10 hour working days.
Beginning in the late 1840s, major news organizations, 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 as 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 were 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.
- Social history of England
- Horror Victorianorum
- Victorian America
- Women in the Victorian era
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- 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.
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- Wilson, A. N. The Victorians. Arrow Books: 2002. ISBN 0-09-945186-7
- ^ Swisher, Clarice, ed. Victorian England. San Diego, CA : Greenhaven Press, 2000.
- ^ The UK population: past, present and future, statistics.gov.uk
- ^ Ireland - Population Summary
- ^ Exiles and Emigrants. National Museum of Australia
- ^ a b c d e f g h i Swisher, Clarice, ed. Victorian England. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. pgs 248-250
- ^ 1841: A window on Victorian Britain
- ^ Illustrated London News
- ^ California Gold Rush. Robert Whaples, Wake Forest University.
- ^ Is this what Labour's next Clause four should say?
- ^ "1870 Education Act". http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Leducation70.htm. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
- ^ Dr William Green Morton (1819 - 68)
- ^ a b c History of chloroform anaesthesia
- ^ Anesthesia and Queen Victoria
- ^ a b c BBC - h2g2 - Waterloo Teeth: A History of Dentures
- ^ Waterloo Teeth
- ^ a b Joseph Lister
- ^ a b c Barbara Daniels, Poverty and Families in the Victorian Era
- ^ a b c Testimony Gathered by Ashley's Mines Commission Laura Del Col, West Virginia University
- ^ Laura Del Col, West Virginia University, The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England
- ^ a b c Child Labor David Cody, Hartwick College
- 1876 Victorian England Revisited
- Great Victorian Lives - An Era in Obituaries from The Times
- Mostly-Victorian.com A collection of primary-source documents drawn from Victorian periodicals.
- The Victorian Dictionary
- The Victorian Web
- The Twilight City An exploration of vagrancy and streetwalkers in late Victorian London
- Victorians British Library history resources about the Victorian era, featuring collection material and text by Liza Picard.
- Timelines: Sources from history - British Library interactive