Blog > History of London-Victorian Age

February 12, 2013

The Victorian Age would mark a distinct new era for the History of London and the United Kingdom .  It would end the Georgian Period in British history that had lasted from 1714 – 1837.  It would be during the reign of Queen Victoria that the British Empire would reach its zenith in power. Most historians mark this period coinciding with the actual reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901). 

Others put it as early as the Reform Act of 1832 which had made representation in Parliament much more democratic and representative of the demographic changes in Britain.

The end result was that the new cities of the country would now be better represented in government. 

The Victorian Age for Britain would represent a long period of relative peace and prosperity.  The people of Britain would be instilled with a renewed self confidence as the wealth of the Industrial Age permitted the island kingdom to project power around the globe more effectively than ever before.

This period is also referred to as the Pax Britannica.

A time when the British navy maintained the freedom of the seas and helped keep the stability of the international order.

Culturally the rationalism of the Georgian Period would be replaced with a movement that would become known as Romanticism.  This would be reflected in the arts, social values and  norms.  It would include religion as well. One was expected to express restraint in social and sexual practices.

Domestically the direction of the country moved towards reform in industry and the widening of the right to vote for more citizens as well as other political reforms.

The two political giants of the period would be the Tory Prime Minister Disraeli and the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone.  The latter would attempt to speed up reforms the former to slow them down.

The population of England and Scotland would  more than double during this period reaching over 30 million in England alone. In Scotland it would pass the 4 million mark.  The population of Ireland in contrast would be nearly reduced by half as a result of the Great Famine and emigration with 4.5 million remaining in 1901.

More than 15 million people would leave the United Kingdom during the Victorian Age settling mostly in Australia, Canada and the United States.

Elsewhere this migration would help speed the internationalization of the English language.

The architectural style of Gothic Revival would become increasingly significant during the Victorian Age.  This can be best witnessed by the rebuilding of Westminster Palace in 1834 following a fire in the revived medieval style.  The new houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace would later become a major tourist attraction along the Thames.

Gothic Revival seemed to reflect a narrative of cultural continuity in opposition to the forces of revolution on the Continent spearheaded by France.  Although it can be said that Classic ideals in architecture did maintain some popularity during this time as well.

Industrialization would help increase the numbers of people that would be considered middle class.

This increase in numbers had a monumental effect on the lifestyles and values of society of 19th century life in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. 

The characteristics of the middle class home became the norm for people everywhere.  Before this time period work and residential space were in the same geographical space.

This would now change. 

It would become much more compartmentalized as the century wore on.

In addition, the home itself would become self contained and would consist more often than not with a nuclear family.  Other blood relatives were only added as circumstances warranted. The new concept of privacy became a hallmark of the middle class lifestyle.

The English home became more private. This was reflected by the use of heavy drapery and other devices to maintain seclusion.  It included the use of fences and gates in a town and village setting. 

The middle class garden would increase in importance as the century continued with more emphasis on unusual and exotic plants. 

More flowers were planted as more types and varieties became accessible  from the far reaches of the Empire. Entertainment became more important and was often done in the middle class home and garden space through formal teas and parties.  All by ceremonial invitation of course.

Life for the lower classes would improve as well when efforts were made to clean up the public water supply and to build modern sanitation facilities. A great engineering feat in the Victorian Age was the sewage system in London itself.

The rapid urbanization of England kept the growing population of skilled and unskilled people constantly looking for new employment opportunities. 

This kept wages down to a subsistence level for many of the working and urban poor. Housing was therefore expensive and quite scarce. Overcrowding became a regular problem especially in London where the population was growing at record rates.

Many large houses were turned into flats for larger and larger numbers of people.  As more landlords could or did not maintain them properly slum housing soon became a common problem.

Child labor brought about by the difficult economic conditions became scandalous. This phenomena became an important facet of the Industrial Revolution from the beginning.  The children of the poor were expected to work long hours in dangerous jobs for low wages.

Notwithstanding, more and more children would attend school with each passing decade of the era.

In London, in addition to an expanded water supply system a gas network for lighting and heating would be established in the 1880's.  It would be for both public and private use.  Of course, close to the end of the Victorian Age more and more streets in London were being lit by electric power.

Incidentally, soap became the main product shown in the new industry of public advertising. 

More towns and cities would build additional civic, recreational and educational facilities to meet the growing public demand for such things. Great advances would be made in public health and medicine during this era as well. It would be during the 19th century that science grew into the discipline that it is today.

Great advances were made in communication and transportation for all classes.  This facilitated the greater movement of people, goods and services.

The building and expansion of steam ships, railways, and canals revolutionized  the country.  Cars and aircraft at the end of the era had an impact as well.

The first postage stamp would arrive which would become standardized in price throughout the country regardless of distance.

Later inventions would follow with telegraph, telephones, and cinema helping to create a more uniform culture.

Photography would be introduced at the beginning of the period with Queen Victoria being the first English monarch ever to be photographed. By 1900 hand held cameras had now become available to a small segment of the population.

Tourism both domestically and overseas for the first time would become a viable business. 

This gives one just a glimpse of what life was like in London and the United Kingdom during the Victorian Age.   Stay tuned to the Safestay blog for more posts on the history of London!