Alexandrina Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20th June 1837 until she died in 1901. Known as the Victorian era, her reign of 63 years and seven months was longer than any previous British monarch. It was a period of industrial, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom and was marked by an unprecedented expansion of the British Empire. The period of her reign saw the British Empire grow to become the first global industrial power, producing much of the world’s coal, iron, steel and textiles. The Victorian era saw revolutionary breakthroughs in the arts and sciences, which shaped the world as we know it today. In 1876, the British Parliament voted to grant Queen Victoria the additional title of Empress of India.
Queen Victoria inherited the throne aged 18 after her father’s three elder brothers died without surviving legitimate issue. Though a constitutional monarch, Victoria privately attempted to influence government policy and ministerial appointments; publicly, she became a national icon and was identified with strict standards of personal morality.
Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. Their children married into royal and noble families across the continent, earning Victoria the sobriquet “the grandmother of Europe”. After Prince Albert died in 1861, Victoria plunged into deep mourning and avoided public appearances. As a result of her seclusion, British republicanism temporarily gained strength, but in the latter half of her reign, her popularity recovered. Her Golden and Diamond jubilees were times of public celebration. She died on the Isle of Wight in 1901. The last British monarch of the House of Hanover, she was succeeded by her son Edward VII of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Internationally, Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the improvement of relations between France and Britain. She made and hosted several visits between the British royal family and the House of Orleans, who were related by marriage through the Coburgs. In 1843 and 1845, she and Albert stayed with King Louis Philippe I at Château d’Eu in Normandy; she was the first British or English monarch to visit a French monarch since the meeting of Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. When Louis Philippe made a reciprocal trip in 1844, he became the first French King to visit a British sovereign.
Picture Credit/Attribution: Queen Victoria, 1819–1901, by Alexandro Bassano, 1882. Glass copy negative, half-plate. Scanned from the book ‘The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England’ by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287, page 153. See here for the 1901 publication. National Portrait Gallery: NPG x95802
As the Queen of England during Britain’s imperial height, Queen Victoria inspired the title of everything from lakes and mountains to cities across what was then the empire. From the 33 Victoria Roads in the United Kingdom to Victoria Park in Bhavnagar, India and two Mount Victorias in New Zealand, her name lives on all over the world.
These transformations led to many social changes with the birth and spread of political movements, notably socialism, liberalism and organised feminism. This paper looks at the changes during Victorian Times: in sport, daily life, cooking, reading, piers and crime.
Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20th June 1837 until she died on 22nd January 1901, and the Victorian age/era spans that period. Then, as before, those minded to do so participated in many of the sports that are still played today. Some of the most popular sports in the Victorian period were croquet, cricket, golf, football, rugby and tennis, but comparatively new ones came to the fore too – such as ice-skating, figure skating, curling, tobogganing and bandy (something between ice hockey and field hockey).
During Queen Victoria’s reign, big changes took place in how people spent their leisure time. Blood sports like bear baiting and cockfighting were banned. With the growth of the railways, people began to travel more and visiting the seaside became a popular pastime.
The advent of the railways (from around 1840) also allowed local sporting teams to travel, and so sports like cricket, football and rugby began to be organised with agreed rules and national competitions, such as the FA Cup. Lawn Tennis was invented in the 1830s, and a new sight on the streets of Victorian Britain was the bicycle, in its various designs.
A sporting culture already existed before Victoria became Queen, but it was during the final three decades of the 19th century that sport underwent what has been described as a ‘sporting revolution’.
What had largely been recreation pastimes organised on an informal basis with few written rules was transformed into a hugely popular, mass spectator entertainment industry that was national (and at times international) on a geographical scale. Sport became codified, commercialised and institutionalised with a significant increase in the number of sports clubs, competitions, governing bodies and spectators attending events. A key component of this ‘sporting revolution was the role played by papers and journals. Sport and the press were mutually beneficial, and the two became inextricably linked as the Victorian period progressed, with both experiencing a significant expansion in their scale, scope and influence. In public schools, cricket, rugby, soccer and competitive athletic track event took off in the Victorian age. They were also popular outside of schools. Fishing and mountaineering also became popular during this time.
The 33-volume Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes was a sporting and publishing project conceived by Longmans Green & Co. and edited by Henry Somerset, the 8th Duke of Beaufort. Between 1885 and 1902, it developed into a series of sporting books which aimed to cover all major sports and pastimes comprehensively.
The Badminton Library was originally published in 28 volumes between 1885 and 1896. To these was later added Rowing & Punting (1898), (superseding Boating (1888)). New volumes for Athletics (1898) and Football (1899) replaced the original Athletics and Football (1887). In 1902, an entirely new volume, Motors and Motor-Driving covered a new sport, and lastly, there was a new edition of cricket in 1920.
The original volume on cricket (1888) had sixteen chapters on topics such as ‘Batting’, ‘Bowling’, ‘Fielding’, and ‘Umpires’. It defined the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) as “The Parliament of Cricket” and describes the sport as “Our National Game”. Allan Gibson Steel wrote the chapter on bowling.
The volume on Cycling (1887), by Viscount Bury, notes that riding the tricycle and bicycle, whether by women or by men, “is by far the most recent of all sports in the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes. There is none which has developed more rapidly in the last few years.” It considers that “England may be looked upon as the Home of Cycling” and quotes Thomas Huxley’s words to the Royal Society: “Since the time of Achilles, no improvement had added anything to the speed or strength attainable by the unassisted powers of man”, commenting that a bicyclist had recently raced 146 miles in only ten hours.
ATTRIBUTION: George Beldam, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Another volume, Skating (1892), deals first with ‘Origins and Development’, ‘Figure skating’, and ‘Recreation and Racing’, noting that Holland was “the Skater’s Paradise” and giving a list of racing records since the 1820s, then continues with chapters on Curling, Tobogganing, Ice-Sailing and Bandy.
William Gilbert Grace (1848 – 1915) was an English amateur player who was important in the development of the sport of cricket and is widely considered one of its greatest players. He played first-class cricket for a record-equalling 44 seasons, during which he captained England, Gloucestershire, the Gentlemen, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), United South of England Eleven (USEE) and several other teams. Right-handed as both a batsman and bowler, Grace dominated the sport during his career.
The full list of sports covered in the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes by volume is:
- Hunting (1885)
- Fishing: Salmon & Trout (1885)
- Fishing: Pike & Coarse Fish (1885)
- Racing & Steeple-Chasing (1886)
- Shooting: Field & Covert (1886)
- Shooting: Moor & Marsh (1886)
- Cycling (1887)
- Athletics & Football (1887)
- Boating (1888)
- Cricket (1888, by Allan Gibson Steel)
- Driving (1889)
- Fencing, Boxing & Wrestling (1889)
- Golf (1890)
- Tennis, Lawn Tennis, Rackets & Fives (1890)
- Riding & Polo (1891)
- Mountaineering (1892)
- Coursing & Falconry (1892)
- Skating & Figure Skating (1892)
- Swimming (1893)
- Big Game Shooting I (1894)
- Big Game Shooting II (1894)
- Yachting I (1894)
- Yachting II (1894)
- Archery (1894)
- Sea Fishing (1895)
- Dancing (1895)
- Billiards (1896)
- The Poetry of Sport (1896)
- Motors & Motor-Driving (1902)
- Rowing & Punting (1898)
- Athletics (1898)
- Football (1899)
- Cricket (1920)
Print. Chromolithograph, ‘The British Nave’, Plate 3 (Proof) of a set of four large prints commemorating the opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851, [after paintings by Joseph Nash].
Picture Credit: “‘The British Nave’ at the Great Exhibition of 1851 (print)” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Life in the Victorian era was exciting because of all the new inventions and the growth of the British Empire. But times were tough if you were short of money as even young children had to work to contribute to the finances of poor households.
But things gradually improved so that by the end of the Victorian era at the dawn of the 20th century, new laws improved working conditions for workers in factories and mines. Young children had to go to school (which was free) rather than working, but woe betides any intransigence from school rules – Victorian teachers were very strict, and many were cruel too.
These words sum up the time perfectly:
“At the beginning of the Victorian period, people relied on the foods that were in season and available locally or those which had been pickled or preserved. Later, when the railways were built, many new and fresh foods came to the towns and cities. The invention of the steamship and transport refrigeration meant that meat, fish and fruit could be imported from overseas quite cheaply. There were no fridges and freezers in the homes to keep food for a long time, so meals were limited by the available local food supply or food which had been pickled or preserved. People did not buy their food in a supermarket – instead, they went to several small shops, all selling different types of food. Grocers’ shops sold dried goods such as tea, coffee, sugar and rice; butchers’ shops sold meat; and dairy shops sold milk, cream, eggs, butter and cheese. Basic foods were: beef, mutton, pork, bacon, cheese, eggs, bread, potatoes, rice, oatmeal, milk, vegetables in season, flour, sugar, treacle, jam and tea.”
It sounds like an interesting time – and worthy of further investigation. This is what I found:
The expansion of the middle classes, in both numbers and wealth, caused a huge demand for goods and services, especially as the pound sterling was strong and labour was cheap. The so-called middle-class could now show off their affluence in a way that only aristocrats and the rest of the upper-class society could do in the previous century. The new demand in middle-class households for servants meant that as Queen Victoria’s reign ended, nearly a third of women in Britain were in service.
Yet it was not all milk and honey. The early 19th century still had terrible working and living conditions. The dark shadow of the workhouse loomed ominously over the unemployed and destitute. Towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, things were looking up – most Britons were enjoying cheaper foods and other imports from overseas. The more prosperous working-class people were able to live in houses that were connected to fresh, clean water, drains and even gas.
With almost everyone having more spare leisure time on their hands, it meant that theatres, music halls, libraries, museums, and art galleries were popping up everywhere to entertain and educate Victorians.
The coming of the railways, seemingly crisscrossing every part of Britain, made the seaside at places like Blackpool and Brighton more accessible to everyone. New sports were always emerging, and the old ones benefitted from new and consistent rules and regulations.
In the middle of the 19th century, England was the leading industrial country in the world. The period of supremacy had begun. Yet, England lost its supremacy in the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
During the 19th century, the population mushroomed from 8.9 million in 1801 to 17.2 million in 1851, then rose to around 26 million people just 30 years later. Before the Victorian era, most people:
“… lived in the countryside, foods and messages were transported by horses, people cooked over an open fireplace, little more than half of the population could read and write, and children had to work hard and long in coal mines and factories and the political and legal power was in the hands of those who held the property; that was, in fact, a small minority”.
In the reign of Victoria, many things changed: a shift to city living, subway trains, the railways, electric streetlights in London, telegraph messages, steamships, busy transatlantic trade, compulsory education, improved legal and political status of women and much more.
Although the Victorian era was a peaceful and prosperous time, there were still issues within the social structure. The social classes of this time included the Upper-class, Middle-class, Lower-class and perhaps even an Under-class. The Upper Class were probably the most fortunate since they didn’t have to do manual labour. Instead, many were landowners and hired lower-class workers to work for them or made investments to create a profit.
During the Victorian era, there was an early baby boom, which led to an increase in population, but also major industrialisation. Even so, some children were forced to become railway workers after the railways came to Britain in the mid-1800s.
Well, there you have it. It was an interesting and, for most people, exciting time, wasn’t it? It’s a pity that Queen Victoria didn’t seem very happy with how things worked out for her after losing her husband at such an early age.
Cooking and Food
After Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, politics, religion, and family life were reformed during her 63-year reign. And as the times changed, so did the food that was put on plates. Although progress was made within society, the class system was still firmly in place, and those classes were reflected in Victorian food.
As Nene Adams on ListVerse wrote in 2012, the Victorians didn’t just carve off steaks and chops from cows, pigs, sheep, etc., and dump what was left of the carcasses into a sausage grinder. Embracing the whole animal from snout to tail, they enjoyed offal and other bits that normally go into hot dogs. Brains, tripe, tongue, head, feet, tail, ears… you name it; a Victorian cook knew what to do with it.
Cooking as an Art
There were two seemingly conflicting ideas about the role of women in Victorian society: the “New Women” who clamoured for greater participation in public life seemed at odds with the traditional ideal of femininity, the “Angel of the House”, that limited women’s role in society to matters concerning the household.
Despite the restrictiveness of traditional conceptions of femininity, not all women welcomed the “New Women” philosophies, as some saw the pursuit of political causes as vulgar and preferred to pave other paths for women to seek their own goals.
Perhaps Elizabeth Pennell summed this up when she wrote:
“Why clamour for the suffrage, why labour for the redemption of brutal man, why wear, with noisy advertisement, ribbons white or blue, when three times a day there is a work of art, easily within her reach, to be created?”
Guiding women writers like Pennell was a belief that women ought not to abandon their traditional role in the kitchen. She strove to recast the domestic cult of femininity, duly elevating cooking from the drudgery of bodily labour as a creative pursuit worthy of genius, admiration, and respect:
“The ambitious will trust to her kitchen to win her reputation; the poet will offer lyrics and pastorals with every course; the painter will present in every dish a lovely scheme of colour.”
Factors that encouraged innovation in cooking were improvements in kitchen safety, availability of ingredients, and the influence of the female aesthetic. With the new, positive view that “cooking was a high art practised by geniuses”, middle- and upper-class Victorian women began to express their culinary creativity for the first time, much as male artists had always been able to do.
Hosting fancy dinner parties was a new way to elevate social class in Victorian England artistically. Instead of cooks and servants, middle- and upper-class women began to make complicated dishes to impress family members and guests. This ultimately transformed the once-mundane task of cooking and eating into artful experiences. With this trend, meals split into multiple courses.
Cooking at home
Many Victorian meals were served at home as a family. Middle- and upper-class breakfasts typically consisted of porridge, eggs, fish, and bacon. They were eaten together as a family. Sunday lunches included meat, potatoes, vegetables, and gravy. Family meals became common events that linked the comforts of home with this newly recognised art form. But Victorian cuisine did not appeal to everyone. Victorian England became known throughout Europe for its bland and unappetising food. British chefs like Mrs A. B. Marshall encouraged boiling and mutating food until it no longer tasted or resembled its original form. Many housewives started cooking in this fashion since it was the only ‘safe’ way to encounter food. By contrast, Elizabeth Pennell was an evocative figure who promoted originality by encouraging women to become creative in the kitchen and by stating that “cooking is the ultimate form of art.”
Weird or Unusual Victorian Food
The SoYummy website (here) provides information about Victorian food, some of which you may not be aware – including a few you wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Remember that the Victorian era was a time when most people didn’t brush their teeth:
- Marrow toast was supposedly a favourite of Queen Victoria, according to her former cook Charles Francatelli, who included the recipe in his 1861 book, The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant
- Broxy – Broxy was an umbrella term for any meat the butcher had for sale that had dropped dead from disease. Sheep, which at the time were incredibly susceptible to communicable diseases like tetanus, salmonella, and ringworm, were most often sold as broxy meats.
- Jellied Eels – Working-class Londoners of the Victorian era snacked on jellied eels, originally sold from street carts in the East End.
- Kedgeree – Apparently, the Victorians loved kedgeree for breakfast. It was on the menu on the Titanic and most other Ocean Liners of the era.
- Brown Windsor Soup was everyone’s favourite dish during the Victorian era in England. Royalty, middle and lower classes alike slurped this soup down in gay abundance. According to The Foods of England Project, Brown Windsor Soup was known as “the very soup reputed to have built the British Empire.”
- Boiled Calf’s Head – The Book of Household Management from 1861, edited by Isabella Beeton, details how one would prepare a boiled calf’s head. It sounds awful – ugh!
- Sheep’s Trotter – Victorians also loved a good sheep trotter (aka boiled sheep’s foot). They were popular among the lower classes because they were an affordable alternative to meat.
- Pickled Oysters – The Victorians liked to pickle oysters to have a source of protein that would last them a few days, weeks, or even months.
- Saloop or Rice Milk– Saloop was the preferred morning or evening hot drink of many working-class Victorians. It was made with sassafras bark flour and flavoured with milk and sugar. Victorians also commonly drank a hot cup of rice milk – basically, a watered-down rice pudding made by boiling rice in skimmed milk.
- Flour Soup – the Victorians ate something called flour soup, made from water, butter, flour, salt, and caraway seeds boiled and mixed until smooth.
1880s recipes from a Victorian cook
Mrs Avis Crocombe was head cook at Audley End House in Essex in the 1880s. Her recipe book was later found, and English Heritage has brought her creations back to life with a historical interpreter – the video recreations of recipes by Mrs Crocombe have been watched more than 12 million times online. Click here to watch. Now also available as a cookery book, which you can buy from here, The Victorian Way video series provides an interesting gastronomic connection between the past and present of our nation’s food tastes. From cucumber ice cream and Christmas cake, to turkey and pigeon pie, you can discover what life was like in Victorian England and treat yourself to a delicious taste of the past.
What did the Victorians read?
The list of the ten classic Victorian novels everyone should read because they stand as classics of the period when Queen Victoria was on the throne, is provided by Interesting Literature (here). If you haven’t the time or inclination to go online, here are the novels:
- Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1855). This was Trollope‘s first real success, although when he wrote it, he was already the author of a handful of novels.
- Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (1855).
Although it had been the hugely successful Mary Barton (1848) that kick-started Gaskell’s literary career and brought her to the world’s attention, North and South is often seen as her masterpiece.
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847). This novel is about Jane Eyre’s relationship with Mr Rochester, whose first wife, Bertha, has been concealed in a room in his house.
- Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). An under-appreciated Brontë novel, this book was Anne’s second (and last) and was disowned by her sister, Charlotte, who thought it was a mistake to publish it.
- Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868). Often called the first detective novel in English (by T. S. Eliot, among others), it was, in fact, not the first of its genre but is an unusual and atypical detective novel in many ways.
- William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1848). This novel, which is now the only one by Thackeray, that is still widely read, took its name from the fair in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
- Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847). Emily Brontë’s novel is told through a multi-layered narrative back to the time when Heathcliff, a waif from Liverpool, was brought to live at Wuthering Heights by Catherine Linton’s father. The destructive and all-consuming love story between Heathcliff and Cathy forms the main part of the novel.
- Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). Probably, Thomas Hardy’s tragic masterpiece.
- Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853). This book is often chosen as the ‘best’ Dickens novel. Dickens offers a biting and hilarious satire on the farcical nature of the British legal system in the ongoing Jarndyce v Jarndyce case (which may have been based on a real-life legal case that lasted for over a century).
- George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872). Virginia Woolf called Middlemarch ‘one of the few English books written for grown-up people’.
Many say that Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 – 1870) was the greatest author of the Victorian era. His many volumes include such works as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend. English writing from the Victorian era reflected the major transformation in most aspects of English life, such as significant scientific, economic, and technological advances to changes in class structures and the role of religion in society.
During the Victorian era, authors from the UK wrote novels that challenged class systems, drew greater attention to the deplorable living conditions of the working class, gave us some of the earliest works of feminist literature, and invented many of the tropes used and reused in modern literature.
Towards the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign, the ubiquitous availability of gas and electric lighting meant that reading after dark didn’t have to be by candlelight or messy oil lamps. Novels became a pleasurable pursuit with the freedom to read anywhere and at any time. Victorians became great readers of novels, and the number of books available for them to read (without Amazon or Waterstones existing) increased enormously during Queen Victoria’s reign. Reading also benefited from wider schooling and increased literacy rates.
Novels were often serialised in monthly or even weekly parts. It meant they were more easily accessible and widely shared through many outlets. Weekly or monthly segments often ended in suspense on a “cliff-hanger” to keep readers hooked (or hanging on), eager to buy and read the next instalment. They might have advertisements at either end: many of Dickens’s novels were first published in this form, as was George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
Perhaps the best-known serialised novels were the “Penny Dreadfuls”. Costing just one old penny, they focused on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities. Until the early 1890s, books were most often published in three volumes. As a new novel was priced at around 31s 6d in old money (£138 in today’s money), they were almost always borrowed from a circulating library. Some libraries were locally owned businesses, but the best known was Mudie’s Circulating Library (founded in 1842), which sent boxes of books all over the country to its subscribers. Other borrowing facilities were found at railway station bookstalls, selling other reading material for rail journeys. 
Mudie’s Circulating Library
George Mudie (1818–1890) catered for the aspirational and self-improvement market. In 1842, he charged students at the University of London an annual subscription to borrow books. Proving successful, he expanded, founding Mudie’s Lending Library and Mudie’s Subscription Library to enable members of the public to do the same. Over the ensuing years, Mudie expanded into other cities such as York, Birmingham and Manchester, and it carried on into the early 1900s when, with the advent of free public libraries, it made paid-for book-borrowing unattractive.
Books for Victorian Children
A selection (perhaps for your grandchildren) from the 60 favourite books for children from the Victorian period (1837-1901) listed by Goodreads (here) are:
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.
- A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
- The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling.
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
- The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm.
- Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman.
- Little Men by Louisa May Alcott.
- The Complete Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen.
- The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.
- The Light Princess by George MacDonald.
- Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott.
- The Complete Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde.
- A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear.
- At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald.
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning.
The first seaside piers were built in England in the early 19th century during Queen Victoria’s reign, presumably because the railways made visiting the seaside easier for people. Originally constructed as simple wooden landing stages for boat trips, the piers were later developed into complex entertainment venues with ornate pavilions, delicate ironwork, and exotic lighting.
Brighton’s Piers, East Sussex
- Construction of Brighton’s first pier, the Royal Suspension Chain Pier, began in September 1822, and it was opened on 25th November 1823. It was designed and built by a Brighton resident – Captain Samuel Brown, a Royal Navy Engineer.
- The 1,115 ft long West Pier was designed by Eugenius Birch in 1866. It was designed specifically as a pleasure pier and was immediately popular with visitors and locals. This was the final nail in the coffin for the Royal Suspension Chain Pier, which was virtually abandoned and fell into disrepair. During a huge storm in 1896, it was finally washed away by the sea. The storm also caused considerable damage to and delayed the completion of the under-construction Palace Pier.
- The West Pier was successful for over 100 years, finally closing in 1975. It then went from bad to worse: in the great storm of 1987, it suffered structural damage. In 1991, access from the shore was removed for safety reasons. In December 2002, another storm seriously damaged the concert hall. In 2003, arson attacks caused further damage. Today, a ghostly ‘skeleton’ is all that remains of Brighton’s second pier.
- The Palace Pier was designed and constructed by R. St. George Moore. It quickly became popular and had become a frequently-visited theatre and entertainment venue by 1911. Apart from closures owing to war, it continued to hold regular entertainment until the 1970s. The pier regained its popularity after the war and continued to run regular summer shows, including Tommy Trinder, Doris and Elsie Waters and Dick Emery.
The theatre at the end of the Palace Pier suffered damage in 1973 and was demolished in 1986, changing the pier’s character from seaside entertainment to an amusement park, with various fairground rides and roller coasters. The pier was renamed as “Brighton Pier” in 2000, although this legal change was not recognised by the National Piers Society nor some local residents. The local newspaper, The [Evening] Argus, continued to refer to the structure as the Palace Pier. In 2016, the pier was sold to the Eclectic Bar Group, headed by former PizzaExpress owner Luke Johnson, who renamed the pier back to Brighton Palace Pier.
The pier remains popular with the public, with over four million visitors in 2016, and has been featured in many works of British culture, including the gangster thriller Brighton Rock, the comedy Carry On at Your Convenience and the Who’s concept album and film Quadrophenia. In 2015, VisitEngland released figures showing that Brighton Palace Pier was the fifth most visited free attraction in the UK, having had 4.5 million visitors the previous year. And in early 2017, National Express named it the country’s fourth most popular free attraction.
- Eastbourne Pier was first mooted at the end of 1863, but the project was delayed and finally abandoned in favour of the present site at the junction of Grand and Marine Parades. In April 1866, work to a design by Eugenius Birch began on construction which was completed two years later.
On New Year’s Day 1877, the landward half was swept away in a storm. It was rebuilt at a higher level, creating a drop towards the end of the pier. The pier is effectively built on stilts that rest in cups on the seabed allowing the whole structure to move during rough weather. It is roughly 1000 ft long. A domed 400-seater pavilion was constructed at the seaward end in 1888. A 1000-seater theatre, bar, camera obscura and office suite replaced this in 1899/1901. At the same time, two saloons were built midway along the pier. The camera obscura fell into disuse in the 1960s but was restored in 2003 with a new stairway built to provide access.
Paddle steamers (such as the PS Brighton Queen and the PS Devonia) operated by P & A Campbell ran trips from the pier along the south coast and across the Channel to Boulogne from 1906 until the outbreak of World War II. These were resumed after the war, but the paddle steamers were gradually withdrawn from service. In 1957, the final season was operated by a motor vessel.
During World War II, part of the decking was removed, machine guns were installed in the theatre, providing a useful point from which to repel any attempted enemy landings, and a Bofors anti-aircraft gun was placed on the pier. Various traditional pier theatres were built over the years, but after the last one was destroyed by fire in 1970, it was replaced by a nightclub and bar, which remain to this day.
The tower at the end of the pier is often used as a viewing point during the annual air show. The pier is featured in the 2001 film Last Orders and the 2008 film Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. In May 2009, the listed building status of the pier was upgraded from Grade II to Grade II*.
- Worthing Pier was designed by Sir Robert Rawlinson and was opened in April 1862. It remains open to the public. Originally, the pier was a simple promenade deck 960 ft long and 15 ft wide. In 1888, the pier was upgraded with the width increased to 30 ft and the pier head increased to 105 ft for a 650-seat pavilion to be built. In 1894, a steamship operation began between Worthing Pier and the Royal Suspension Chain Pier in Brighton, twelve miles to the east. In March 1913, the pier suffered serious storm damage. Only the southern end remained but was completely separated from the land.
A rebuilt pier was opened on 29th May 1914. In 1933, the pier and all but the northern pavilion were destroyed by fire. In 1935, the remodelled Streamline Moderne pier was opened, and it is this that remains today. In World War II, Worthing Pier was sectioned in 1940 for fear of German invasion after the British retreat at Dunkirk. Army engineers used explosives to blow a 120ft. hole in the pier to prevent it from being used as a possible landing stage in the event of an invasion.
Worthing Pier has been named Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society on two occasions – first in 2006 and again in 2019. It is a Grade II listed building structure and is owned by Worthing Borough Council.
In Victorian times, if you owed money and didn’t pay, you were sent to a debtors’ prison for your crime. Of the high-profile individuals imprisoned for debt, perhaps the most notable was John Dickens – father of the author Charles Dickens. Owing a local baker £40, John Dickens was incarcerated in Marshalsea in February 1824 when Charles was only 12 years old. It clearly had a profound effect on Charles Dickens, who became a keen advocate for debtors’ prison reform. The whole issue of debt and social injustice is a recurrent theme in his work. Little Dorrit is a story about a debtor imprisoned in Marshalsea over such a long term that his three children grow up there.
Dickens also wrote about Marshalsea in David Copperfield and The Pickwick Papers. Over half of England’s prisoners were in jail because they owed money they either could not or would not pay. One such prison was Marshalsea – a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames in London. It operated from 1373 to 1842. Although it housed various prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known for incarcerating the poorest of London’s debtors.
Marshalsea Prison, London, 18th century
Picture Credit: Public Domain. This is the Marshalsea in the 18th century, which would make it the first Marshalsea (14th century – 1811). The second existed from 1811–to 1842. The image was published in England in 1878.
Just as disease spread unseen, so the gaslit streets of Victorian cities and towns hid their own dark truths. Crime was ubiquitous, from pickpocketing (as practised by Fagin’s boys in Oliver Twist) and house-breaking to violent affray and pre-meditated murder. Vice was easily available, from child prostitution to opium dens. Alcohol was available in abundance, and drunkenness was widespread. Women were most likely to be convicted of crimes such as prostitution and soliciting. Both men and women were frequently convicted of being drunk and disorderly, along with other ‘victimless crimes’ such as vagrancy and general drunkenness.
Attempting to tackle prostitution in garrison and dockyard towns, the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864-69) required prostitutes to be licensed and imposed medical examinations. The measures were vigorously opposed by reformers such as Josephine Butler, who argued that they put innocent women’s reputations at risk, and the Acts were repealed in 1886.
The Victorians had faith in progress. One element of this faith was the conviction that crime could be beaten. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the annual publication of Judicial Statistics for England and Wales seemed to underpin their faith; almost all forms of crime appeared to be falling. Many in the poorer sections of the Victorian community, who had little confidence in, or respect for, the police, probably did not bother to report offences. Nevertheless, unreliable as they may be, the statistics provide historians with a starting point for the pattern of crime in the same way that they provided a starting point for the Victorian’s own assessments of crime.
Violent crime accounted for only 10% of all crimes in Victorian London. Around 75% of crimes were petty, with pickpocketing at the top of the list. In the 19th century, poverty was rife, and the class divide in England was distinct. The working class were often desperate for money and food, which saw them resort to opportunistic crimes like theft. London was becoming greatly overcrowded, which gave thieves ample targets.
Most thieves were young males, and the contents they stole were usually so small that the crimes were rarely reported, and for the most part, the police ignored such small discrepancies. Larger and higher value thefts were taken note of, and repeat offenders were reprimanded, but pickpocketing was as much a part of London life as the rats and the workhouses. In rare instances, pickpocketing evolved into garrotting for those looking for more fruitful pickings. Garrotting involved partially strangling the victim to make them easier to rob. Like most petty crimes and theft, this was largely ignored by the police until MP Hugh Pilkington was garrotted and robbed in 1862. This made national news and saw an increased focus on the crime, but it also ignited a separate issue: moral panic.
Nowadays, a thief would be more likely to go for a cellphone or a laptop, but in the 1800s, clothes might have been the most valuable items many people owned. There were street markets given over to selling used garments, often still filthy from their last owners, and the courts were full of people being prosecuted for stealing an overcoat, a pair of boots, or a pair of stockings.
When one thinks of dangers associated with early railways, one thinks of derailments and train crashes. Many of the people who came to see George Stephenson’s first train on the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 expected to see a disaster, and disasters were not long in coming: In 1830, William Huskisson, a Member of Parliament, died when struck by a passing train. Nonetheless, extortion and outright robbery proved more common dangers for most passengers than train crashes.
Jack the Ripper was an unidentified serial killer active in the impoverished districts in and around Whitechapel in the East End of London in 1888 (where I was born a mere 50 years later). In both criminal case files and accounts in newspapers etc., the killer was called the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron. Attacks ascribed to Jack the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London. Their throats were cut before abdominal mutilations. Removing internal organs from at least three victims led to the notion that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge. The identity of Jack the Ripper was never solved.
Sources and Further Reading
- Book: The Victorians, by AN Wilson, 5th September 2002, published by Hutchinson, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Victorians-N-Wilson/dp/0091794218/
- Book: A Brief History of Life in Victorian Britain, by Michael Paterson, 6th November 2008, published by Robinson, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brief-History-Life-Victorian-Britain/dp/1845297075/
- Book: The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed, 4th August 2003, by Judith Flanders, published by Harper Collins, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Victorian-House-Domestic-Childbirth-Deathbed/dp/0007131887/
- YouTube Video: The National Archives: Local history: what was your area like in Victorian times? at: https://youtu.be/4AjmxETKkNk
- Source: Principally excerpted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Victoria ↑
- Source: St Aubyn, p. 238 ↑
- Source: Longford, pp. 175, 187; St Aubyn, pp. 238, 241; Woodham-Smith, pp. 242, 250 ↑
- Source: Woodham-Smith, p. 248 ↑
- Source: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a14510744/queen-victoria-facts/ ↑
- Source: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/past-pleasures/ ↑
- Source: https://www.playingpasts.co.uk/articles/general/sport-and-the-press-during-the-victorian-era/ ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badminton_Library ↑
- Source: http://www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/victorians/life.htm ↑
- Source: https://www.grin.com/document/11739 ↑
- Except the two major wars of the period: the Crimean War of 1854–6 and the Indian Mutiny of 1857–9. ↑
- At https://listverse.com/2012/12/18/10-bizarre-dishes-on-victorian-dinner-tables/ ↑
- Elizabeth Robins Pennell (1855 –1936) was an American writer who made her home in London for most of her adult life. ↑
- Agnes Bertha Marshall (1855 –1905) was an English culinary entrepreneur. She became a leading cookery writer in the Victorian period and was dubbed the “Queen of Ices” for her works on ice cream and other frozen desserts. ↑
- Source: https://www.flavorwire.com/442262/the-50-greatest-british-novels-of-the-19th-century ↑
- Source: British Library at: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/victorian-readers © Copyright acknowledged ↑
- Source: British Library at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/catalogue-of-books-from-mudies-circulating-library © Copyright acknowledged ↑
- Source: https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/the-victorians/victorian-crime/ ↑
- Ibid ↑
- One reason for lower crime statistics is that it was practice in the Metropolitan Police until the 1930s to list many reported thefts as lost property. Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/crime_01.shtml ↑
- Ibid ↑
- Source: https://thejacktherippertour.com/blog/victorian-crime-and-punishment-crime-in-the-19th-century/ ↑
- Source: https://crimereads.com/the-victorian-underworlds-most-unusual-crimes/ ↑
- Source: https://victorianweb.org/victorian/technology/railways/danger.html ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_the_Ripper ↑