Victorian Daily Life (2024)

Although the Victorian era was a period of extreme social inequality, industrialisation brought about rapid changes in everyday life that affected all classes. Family life, epitomised by the young Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children, was enthusiastically idealised.

THE MIDDLE CLASSES

The tremendous expansion of the middle classes, in both numbers and wealth, created a huge demand for goods and services. The pound was strong and labour was cheap.

Keen to display their affluence, and with the leisure to enjoy it, the newly rich required a never-ending supply of novelties from the country’s factories and workshops: new colours for ladies’ clothes (such as mauve), new toys for their children, fine cutlery from Sheffield, silverware from factories like JW Evans in Birmingham, dinner and tea services from the Staffordshire Potteries, and plate glass from Liverpool.

What in the 18th century would have been available only to aristocrats was now on show in every smart middle-class home.

The middle classes needed servants too, and in 1900 almost a third of British women aged between 15 and 20 were in service. Domestic servants represented the largest class of workers in the country, and country houses like Audley End, Essex, had large service wings to accommodate them.

LEARN ABOUT LIFE BELOW STAIRS AT AUDLEY END

POVERTY

Luxuries were not available to the millions of working poor, who toiled for long hours in mills (like Stott Park Bobbin Mill, Cumbria), mines, factories and docks. The dreadful working and living conditions of the early 19th century persisted in many areas until the end of the Victorian age. The dark shadow of the workhouse loomed over the unemployed and destitute.

By the 1880s and 1890s, however, most people were benefiting from cheaper imported food and other goods. New terraces of houses for the more prosperous working classes were increasingly connected to clean water, drains and even gas.

A series of Factory Acts from the 1830s onwards progressively limited the number of hours that women and children could be expected to work. Any attempts to organise labour, however, were banned by law until late in the century.

Diversions for all

By 1900 there were many diversions and entertainments for rich and poor alike.

Theatres, music halls, libraries, museums and art galleries were built in every major town and many minor ones, often founded by a new breed of philanthropist. Seaside towns were no longer the preserve of the rich, and places like Great Yarmouth and Blackpool developed as popular resorts for the working classes.

There were many new sports, such as lawn tennis and croquet, and old sports with newly defined rules, such as rugby, football and cricket. Games were an essential ingredient of the education provided by the public schools that multiplied during this period, designed to make gentlemen out of boys from the new middle classes.

EDUCATION AND CHILDHOOD

Education came to be regarded as a universal need, and eventually a universal right. It was made compulsory up to the age of ten in 1880. To achieve education for all, many new state or ‘board’ schools were established, together with church schools. By 1900 there was near-universal literacy, a colossal achievement considering how appalling the situation of poor children had been in the 1830s.

The Victorian age was the first in which childhood was recognised as a distinct and precious phase in life. Family life, embodied by the young queen, her beloved Albert and their nine children, was idealised.

As in so much else, the Victorians proved to be richly imaginative when it came to entertaining children. The moral tales of the start of the period were supplemented by animal stories (such as Black Beauty), stirring adventures (like Treasure Island), and the eccentric brilliance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, all of which would inspire children’s literature in the 20th century.

Victorian Daily Life (2024)

FAQs

What was daily life like in the Victorian era? ›

There was a big difference between rich and poor in Victorian times. Rich people could afford lots of treats like holidays, fancy clothes, and even telephones when they were invented. Poor people – even children – had to work hard in factories, mines or workhouses. They didn't get paid very much money.

What was the daily life of a Victorian servant? ›

Life as a Victorian servant was incredibly hard. They worked long hours with very few breaks. It was normal for servants to be given only one day off a month! Only wealthy Victorians could afford to have servants.

What did Victorians do for a living? ›

Factory work

Factories were the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution. People of all ages worked long hours in unsafe conditions. Children were often tasked with jobs like operating the spinning jenny.

What was life like for poor people in the Victorian era? ›

The homes of the poor were small, cold and damp and often infested with lice and vermin. Water would be collected from a dirty pump in the street and filthy outdoor toilets would be shared with dozens of neighbours. Stoves were new and expensive, so many homes didn't have any way of making hot meals.

What did the Victorians drink? ›

Poor Victorians drank tea, coffee and alcohol — almost anything other than plain, cold water. That might seem odd, but there's a simple explanation, which is that clean, safe drinking water was hard to come by.

How did Victorian people live? ›

The houses were cheap, most had between two and four rooms – one or two rooms downstairs, and one or two rooms upstairs, but Victorian families were big with perhaps four or five children. There was no water, and no toilet. A whole street (sometimes more) would have to share a couple of toilets and a pump.

What was life for a Victorian child? ›

Conditions were very harsh and people would only go to workhouses as a last resort. Poor children often made their own toys such as rag balls or, if they were lucky, bought cheap penny toys. Wealthier children played with dolls with wax or china faces, toy soldiers and train sets.

What kind of lifestyle did a Victorian gentleman live? ›

Wealthy victorian gentlemen had very luxurious houses. Many stories, rooms, designs, bathrooms, and flushing toilets! Wealthy Victorian gentleman while at work, had servants to do work around the house. They also had nannies to watch kids while at work.

What was family life like in Victorian times? ›

Victorian family may be viewed as a self-sufficient unit and inward looking. But there was an interplay between the public and domestic roles. Contemporary debates about the family focused attention on issues of domesticity rather than on unequal burdens of gender roles.

What did the Victorians do for fun? ›

Sporting pastimes, such as cycling, rowing and horseracing were also popular, and large crowds would often attend sailing events like the Henley Regatta and famous horse races such as the Epsom Derby. One of the largest events of the Victorian calendar was the famous Great Exhibition, held in 1851.

What did rich Victorians do? ›

Victorian Work

Rich Victorian men had jobs such as doctors, lawyers, bankers and factory owners.

What did rich Victorian children wear? ›

Boys from rich families would wear long velvet jackets often with a pair of shorts underneath, as well as stockings and lace-up shoes or boots. Rich young boys also wore Eton suits – a suit that included a jacket with a collar that stood up like wings, short trousers and a top hat.

What toys did rich Victorians have? ›

Toys such as rocking horses, dolls' houses and Noah's Arks were only for the wealthy, and many toys such as expensively dressed dolls were so expensive and precious that their young owners were never allowed to play with them.

What did poor Victorian children do? ›

What jobs did children do? Children worked on farms, in homes as servants, and in factories. Children provided a variety of skills and would do jobs that were as varied as needing to be small and work as a scavenger in a cotton mill to having to push heavy coal trucks along tunnels in coal mines.

What was typical for the Victorian era? ›

Important political events during this period included the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; the expansions of the franchise; working-class political activism, most notably Chartism; the rise of liberalism as the dominant political ideology, especially of the middle class; and the nationalization of ...

What was society like in Victorian era? ›

During this period, the roles of men and women became more sharply defined than they had ever been in history. Rather than women working alongside the men in family businesses, the 19th century saw an increase in men commuting away to their places of work, leaving the women home all day to oversee the household.

How was life different in Victorian times? ›

London's population grew rapidly during the 19th century. This lead to major problems with overcrowding and poverty. Disease and early death were common for both rich and poor people. Victorian children did not have as many toys and clothes as children do today and many of them were homemade.

What was life like for girls in the Victorian era? ›

Victorians believed that a woman's proper and only place was to be within a household environment. The women were expected to marry, have children, and keep a nice household. Those were the only acceptable roles for women during that era.

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