15 facts about the Victorians!
Head back in time to when Britain became the most powerful empire in world history…
Let’s learn more about this fascinating period of history in our Victorian facts…
1) The Victorians were the people who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria, from the 20 June 1837 until the date of her death on the 22 January 1901. It was an era of exciting discoveries, inventions and exploration following the Industrial Revolution.
2) During the Victorian era, Britain expanded its territory throughout the world and became the largest, richest and most powerful empire in world history. A quarter of the world’s population lived in the empire and Queen Victoria was even Empress of India! Today, we look back at the British Empire differently to how it was viewed at the time. Indigenous people were often treated unfairly by the invading British and tensions ran high. Over time, the empire broke down and gradually, countries gained independence.
You can read more about the British Empire and how it changed the world, in our British Empire facts.
3) New inventions, like the telephone, motorcar, typewriter, bicycle and moving film totally changed the way that people lived, worked and travelled. In 1856, an engineer named Henry Bessemer invented a new method for turning iron into steel making it possible to build ships, bridges and other structures on a scale like never before!
4) Expansion of the railways meant that people could travel faster and further than ever before. All of Britain’s major cities, like London, Glasgow and Manchester, were now connected. Before trains, the fastest mode of transport was horses. All aboard!
5) The boom in industry saw lots of people moving to cities to find work. For the first time in world history, more people lived in cities than in the countryside, making city centres very cramped! Poor people lived in crowded slums — houses which were overcrowded, smelly and in bad repair.
6) Despite Britain’s political power, many ordinary people lead hard lives. As technology advanced, new machines left lots of people without jobs. Many resorted to workhouses, which provided basic poor relief like food, medical care and shelter in exchange for labour. Conditions were poor and sadly, families were often separated.
7) Many charities for the poor, like the Salvation Army and Barnardo’s, were established during the Victorian era. They fed the hungry in soup kitchens, and looked after the poorest children in orphanages.
8) Victorian children were expected to work long hours and for less money than adults. Seems unfair, right?! To make matters worse, the jobs were often dangerous and conditions were hard. Children were favoured because they could fit into tight spaces that adults couldn’t. Therefore, many children worked in factories, coal mines and as chimney sweeps.
9) Before the Victorian era, most of Britain’s population couldn’t read or write and had limited access to education. Queen Victoria believed that education should be for all, and by the end of her reign, going to school became compulsory for all children, rich or poor.
10) Improvements in education meant that more people could enjoy reading. Children’s books were no longer just for learning, they were fun! New titles such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Treasure Island and The Jungle Book became hugely popular. Victorian children loved an adventure story!
11) This period was a great time for the arts, too! Some of Britain’s best-known poets, thinkers and authors flourished in the Victorian era, like poet Elizabeth Browning, playwright Oscar Wilde and authors Emily Brontë and Charles Dickens. Dickens’ novels – such as Oliver Twist – often focused on poor people, and his stories helped to highlight their plight.
12) The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 introduced extra days off throughout the year. Banks and offices would close and people could take time off work. The first travel agent, a businessman named Thomas Cook, ran trips to the seaside, which were very popular amongst Victorian families — those who could afford it, that is!
13) Organised sport became popular in the Victorian era. In 1871, the first Rugby Football Union was set up. It is believed that the sport was invented when William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School in England, picked up the ball during a game of football and ran with it!
14) Believe it or not, television didn’t exist in Victorian times! Therefore, Victorians entertained themselves by going to the theatre or watching live music. Visiting the music hall was a popular British pastime for poorer people. For a penny, customers were treated to a variety show, showcasing musicians, comedians and plays.
15) Healthcare saw huge improvements under the Victorians. Medical pioneers like Florence Nightingale worked with the government to improve hospital cleanliness — which hadn’t been considered as important before!