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Poverty in Victorian Times

Monday, November 9th, 2015

What were poorhouses? They were government funded and run facilities where the poor, infirm, or mentally ill could live. Someone could go to the poorhouse even if they had been successful, but had later fallen on hard times and then were not able to pay their creditors or taxes and became bankrupt. Orphans and widows who could not support themselves went to the poorhouse as a last resort. These institutions were generally filthy dirty, unhygienic and packed with unwanted people. Poverty in Victorian times was seen as coming from a lack of diligence and hard work.

Many of the people who lived in the poorhouses worked very hard in order to contribute to the costs of living in the poorhouse. It was seen as the ultimate disgrace to be a Victorian poorhouse resident and was seen as a last resort. The poorhouse, or workhouse, needed to be as unattractive as possible, in order to give the poor a reason to leave as soon as possible. Applicants to enter the poorhouse were interviewed and it was decided by the authorities if the person did indeed qualify for assistance. Inmates were more like prison inmates and led an institutionalised life in the House, especially in the early years of the New Poor Law.

According to one source “Everyone except the feeble and children less than seven years of age performed the same work for the same number of hours and ate the same basic meals. Work, although it was not necessarily designed as punishment, was often gruelling and sometimes even dangerous. Inmates broke rock, ground corn by hand, picked oakum (fibers of old ropes, used for caulking ship seams), and ground animal bones for fertilizer and manufacturing”.

Workhouse conditions in Victorian times gradually improved and by around 1930 the workhouse system came to an end in England.


Victorian Pastimes

Victorian Indoor and Outdoor Pastimes

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Daily life in Victorian times was strictly regulated, with rules of etiquette that were not to be breached even during leisure time. In the mid-1800s visits to public parks, libraries and halls increased, with free access to all. However, behaviour in the park, such as picking flowers, engaging in any unbecoming conduct or public meetings was strictly forbidden. There were many indoor and outdoor activities that became ‘the rage’.

Victorian Pastimes

Victorian Pastimes

Victorian Croquet

Croquet is a outdoor game played on a lawn, where the players hit wooden balls with a mallet through hoops that are embedded into the grass. Croquet was one of the most popular of all recreational games during Victorian times and the game spread in popularity to the Americas.

Croquet is still a popular outside yard game for families and friends down to today – croquet sets are easily available to purchase these days.

Victorian Lawn Tennis

Lawn tennis was a popular sport for middle-class women in Victorian times. At first tennis entailed patting the ball gently back and forth on a well tended lawn outside the home. A score was not kept but the game became far more competitive as time went on with men soon caught up in the competitive spirit of the game, finding it an excellent method of exercise and a useful mental and physical outlet.

Rules and equipment evolved as time went on with rules of lawn tennis formalised in 1874. Today the famous, prestigious Wimbledon tennis matches in England are still played on grass courts.

Hunting and Sport in the Victorian Era

Fishing, game hunting and fox hunting in Victorian times continued largely unchanged from previous centuries. Sports such as rowing became immensely popular, the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race on the Thames began in 1829 and the tradition continues today.

Cricket, rugby and soccer and competitive track events became the norm in public schools during the first half of the nineteenth century becoming popular outside of school life as well. “The twenty-four volume Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes (1885-1895) reminds us of the sheer variety of athletic activities to be encountered during the later Victorian years: cycling, swimming, cricket, golf, mountaineering, fencing, boxing, wrestling, skating, curling, ice-hockey, boating, yachting, carriage-driving, horse-racing, steeple-chasing, archery, falconry, shooting, football, track and field, billiards, tennis, racket-ball, fishing, and hunting.

Analogously, the Ladies Field reminds us of how many women might be found involved in them, both as spectators and as participants.” Walter L. Arnstein – Victorian sports essay – Victorian Entertainments

Victorian Music and Singing

Music was a favourite form of indoor recreation in Victorian times, with many a young lady expected to perform at social gatherings and functions. The piano was an emblem of social status.

A young woman could be judged as to her training and practice by her proficiency in playing the piano before a genteel audience. Among women, the piano was one of the few areas where a woman could express and distinguish herself.

The Victorians delighted in making music themselves, thousands of songs and piano pieces in styles ranging from the highly serious classics to the popular and comic music was composed and published for the amateur market, with pianos becoming more affordable to the middle classes as time went on.

Victorian Dancing

Dancing became a tradition in Victorian and pre-Victorian times. Queen Victoria helped influence its popularity by giving evening concerts. The waltz and polka were quite popular dances at balls, there were also jigs and country dances popular during this time. Ballroom dancing today is enjoyed socially and competitively around the world and its performance and entertainment appeal is enjoyed on stage, television and film.

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Poor Children in Victorian Times

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

How did the poor fare in Victorian England?

The children who went into service at an early age to do gruelling physical work were actually considered very fortunate. Their clothes and food would be provided and a meagre, miserly wage would be paid, which was expected to be sent home in most cases.

Most children from poor households would be expected to earn their keep or contribute to household expenses from the age of 10, sometimes younger.

Factories employed young boys to crawl beneath and into machinery – to repair or clean spaces which were too large for adults. The day was as long as it would be for an adult – no time for play, leisure or learning. Children were considered a replaceable resource so conditions were often unregulated and unsafe. If a child died on the job it was not considered a huge loss.

Coal mines used children to open and close ventilating doors. Until the middle of the 1800’s, children as young as five would often work up to 12 hours a day underground, often barefoot. Young children worked as chimney sweeps or cleaners.

Street children turned to crime and were often “protected”, that is, given a bed in some hovel in exchange for pickpocketing and stealing food off carts and out of markets. Parents sometimes turned their children into the street as they were unable to take care of them. Poverty and disease took their toll.

Posted in Daily Life, Poor Victorian Children, The Victorian Poor | 3 Comments »

Shopping in Victorian England

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Street vendors abounded in Victorian Cities. Hawkers would cry out loudly to sell their wares, usually fruit and vegetables. Covered markets had stalls selling all manner of meat and poultry. Small corner shops would sell items such as flour, sugar, rice, dried split peas and sago which were contained in big sacks and dispensed into paper bags as needed. Loaves of bread could also be obtained at the corner shop. Food would be stored in a larder in the kitchen, ice blocks would be delivered daily and stored in a zinc lined insulated wooden box.

Usually the cook would sally forth to the market, perhaps accompanied by a kitchen maid and it would be her responsibility to buy the best cuts of meat or fish and fresh vegetables at the best prices.

In the Americas, a small town store was a very important part of community life.  In the early twentieth century it was the place where people from outlying villages and settlements would come to buy all manner of goods besides food, such as fabric, paint, pots and pans – even tools.  A trip to the store was considered a day out for the family.

Lady of the House at Leisure

Lady of the House at Leisure

Posted in Daily Life | No Comments »

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