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The Great Exhibition of 1851




HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.....................page3

QUEEN VICTORIA............................page4


POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REFORMS.......... ..... ...... ..............page6

The Corn Laws


The Great Exhibition of 1851

The Reform Acts


ART AND DESIGN.........................page15

Gardens and Gardening

The Gothic Revival

The Railways


SOCIAL ASPECTS.........................page23

Child Labour

Social Classes

The Married Woman


LATE VICTORIAN ENGLAND.................page27




The Victorian age was an age where many changes occurred socially, economically, and industrially. English literature was also something that was beginning to be developed. Historically, it began when Queen Victoria was anointed to the thrown in 1837 and brought a new prosperity to England. She held the throne for 63 years which is the longest monarch to hold the thrown ever in English history. To many people, she was a symbol of stability and prosperity as evidenced by the following feeling from her people. The Victorian age has been said to be a very diverse time. Historian T.B. Macaulay in 1838 said that the English had become "the greatest and most highly civilized people that ever the world saw." Yet, another man by the name of Benjamin Disraeli, who was a writer and a politician, disagreed with this statement and pointed out that the existence of an England of "two nations who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were ... of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws." He further says that "these two nations were the richest and poorest." It was a time when the rich were rich, and the poor people were poor. The poor or lower class of people went hungry and half naked throughout most of their lives. Life and death went hand in hand; wealth and poverty stood side by side; repletion and starvation laid them down together.

The Victorian years also brought with them the increasing efforts to achieve political, social, and economic reforms that would change the structure of the country to meet the changes created by industry. The several Reform Acts that became active throughout the years contributed very much to the



The Victorian Age, as the decades between 1830 and 1880 have been coined, is indebted for the name appropriation to Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire from 1837 to 1901. The proper Victorian Age is considered to have started in1832, when the first of the great political reform bills, marking the advance of democracy in England were passed. 1832 was a notable year in the literature field, as well. It is the year when Sir Walter Scott, the most typical Romantic died, when Goethe, the great German romantic poet passed away, and when Lord Alfred Tennyson, the most Victorian of Victorian poets, published his first volume of poems. The year 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of England, and 1901, when she died, are less significant than 1832, when the Victorian Age is considered to have started and 1880, when it is thought to have ended and paved the way to aestheticism and modernism, another two coined cultural movements.


Victoria was born at Kensington Palace, London, on 24 May 1819. She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III. Her father died shortly after her birth and she became heir to the throne because the three uncles who were ahead of her in succession - George IV, Frederick Duke of York, and William IV - had no legitimate children who survived.


Warmhearted and lively, Victoria had a gift for drawing and painting; educated by a governess at home, she was a natural diarist and kept a regular journal throughout her life. On William IV's death in 1837, she became Queen at the age of 18.

Queen Victoria is associated with Britain's great age of industrial expansion, economic progress and, especially, empire. At her death, it was said, Britain had a worldwide empire on which the sun never set.

In the early part of her reign, she was influenced by two men: her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, and her husband, Prince Albert, whom she married in 1840. Both men taught her much about how to be a ruler in a 'constitutional monarchy' where the monarch had very few powers but could use much influence.

Albert took an active interest in the arts, science, trade and industry; the project for which he is best remembered was the Great Exhibition of 1851, the profits from which helped to establish the South Kensington museums complex in London.

Her marriage to Prince Albert brought nine children between 1840 and 1857. Most of her children married into other Royal families of Europe. Edward VII (born 1841), married Alexandra, daughter of Christian IX of Denmark. Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (born 1844) married Marie of Russia. Arthur, Duke of Connaught (born 1850) married Louise Margaret of Prussia. Leopold, Duke of Albany (born 1853) married Helen of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Victoria, Princess Royal (born 1840) married Friedrich III, German Emperor. Alice (born 1843) married Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Helena (born 1846) married Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Louise (born 1848) married John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. Beatrice (born 1857) married Henry of Battenberg.

Victoria was deeply attached to her husband and she sank into depression after he died, aged 42, in 1861. She had lost a devoted husband and her principal trusted adviser in affairs of state. For the rest of her reign she wore black.

Until the late 1860s she rarely appeared in public; although she never neglected her official Correspondence, and continued to give audiences to her ministers and official visitors, she was reluctant to resume a full public life. She was persuaded to open Parliament in person in 1866 and 1867, but she was widely criticised for living in seclusion and quite a strong republican movement developed. Seven attempts were made on Victoria's life, between 1840 and 1882 - her courageous attitude towards these attacks greatly strengthened her popularity.

In her later years, she almost became the symbol of the British Empire. Both the Golden (1887) and the Diamond (1897) Jubilees, held to celebrate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the queen's accession, were marked with great displays and public ceremonies. On both occasions, Colonial Conferences attended by the Prime Ministers of the self-governing colonies were held.

Despite her advanced age, Victoria continued her duties to the end - including an official visit to Dublin in 1900. The War in South Africa overshadowed the end of her reign. As in the Crimean War nearly half a century earlier, Victoria reviewed her troops and visited hospitals; she remained undaunted by British reverses during the campaign: 'We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.'

Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, on 22 January 1901 after a reign which lasted almost 64 years, the longest in British history.

She was buried at Windsor beside Prince Albert, in the Royal Mausoleum, which she had built for their final resting place. Above the Mausoleum door are inscribed Victoria's words: 'farewell best beloved, here at last I shall rest with thee, with thee in Christ I shall rise again'.




The Corn Laws (which refer to grain of all kinds) were a series of deeds enacted between 1815 and 1846 which kept corn prices at a high level. This measure was intended to protect English farmers from cheap foreign imports of grain following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British blockaded the European continent, hoping to isolate the Napoleonic Empire and bring economic hardship to the French. One result of this blockade was that goods within the British Isles were protected against competition from outside sources. Farming became extremely lucrative, and farming land was traded at very profitable rates.

When the wars ended in 1815 the first of the Corn Laws was introduced. This law stated that no foreign corn would be allowed into Britain until domestic corn reached a price of 80 shillings per quarter. The beneficiaries of the Corn Laws were the nobility and other large landholders who owned the majority of profitable farmland. Landowners had a vested interest in seeing the Corn Laws remain in force. And since the right to vote was not universal, but rather depended on land ownership, voting members of Parliament had no interest in repealing the Corn Laws.

The artificially high corn prices encouraged by the Corn Laws meant that the urban working class had to spend the bulk of their income on corn just to survive. Since they had no income left over for other purchases, they could not afford manufactured goods. So manufacturers suffered, and had to lay off workers. These workers had difficulty in finding employment, so the economic spiral worsened for everyone involved.  The first major reform of the Corn Laws took place during the ministry of the Duke of Wellington in 1828. The price of corn was no longer fixed, but tied to a sliding scale that allowed foreign grain to be imported freely when domestic grain sold at 73 shillings per quarter or above, and at increasing tariffs the further the domestic price dropped below 73 shillings. The effect of this reform was negligible .Several groups arose during the early and mid 1800s to fight for repeal of the Corn Laws amid other social reforms. Most prominent among these movements were the Chartists and the Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL). The ACLL began in 1836 as the Anti Corn Law Association, and in 1839 adopted its more familiar name. Despite its social reform agenda, the league drew its members largely from the middle-class, merchants and manufacturers. Their aim was to loosen the restrictions on trade generally, so that they could sell more goods both at home and around the world. After constant agitation, the ACLL was successful, and in 1846 the government under Sir Robert Peel was persuaded to repeal the Corn Laws.


The Chartist Demonstration on Kennington Common in 1848


The Chartist Movement had at its core the so-called "People's Charter" of 1838. This document, created for the London Working Men's Association, was primarily the work of William Lovett. The charter was a public petition aimed at redressing omissions from the electoral Reform Act of 1832. It quickly became a rallying point for working class agitators for social reform, who saw in it a cure-all for all sorts of social ills. For these supporters the People's Charter was the first step towards a social and economic utopia. In demanding so much the supporters of the charter probably ensured its downfall, for the number of demands probably diluted support for any single demand.

The People's Charter outlined 6 major demands for reform. These were: 1. Institution of a secret ballot; 2. General elections be held annually; 3. Members of Parliament not be required to own property; 4. MPs be paid a salary; 5. Electoral districts of equal size; 6. Universal male suffrage

The first gathering of Chartist delegates gathered in London on February 4, 1839. Although 53 delegates came to London, they were aware of laws forbidding gatherings of more than 50 men, and so took care that no more than that number were present at any one time. At this gathering the nature of the divisions that were to trouble the Movement were apparent, as some delegates favoured violence if necessary, some favoured a general strike, and there was even talk of electing a "people's parliament". In other words, in common with many social movements, they could figure out what they were against, but had a harder time figuring out what to do about it.

The Convention did adopt the motto "peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must", which may have frightened of those more moderate middle-class members who might have been persuaded to support their cause. Agitation continued throughout the spring of 1839, and government troops were used to ensure order in some areas of the country, notably the north.

Proponents of the charter gathered over 1,25 million signatures in support of their aims. They presented the charter and the signatures to the Parliament when it gathered in July, 1839. Though supported by future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the charter was rejected by the House of Commons by a vote of 235 to 46. In the wake of this defeat in the Commons, the National Convention lost its importance and finally dissolved itself in September.

With the national leadership of the Movement no longer effective, local reformers took charge. The government had many leaders of the movement arrested or detained. There were outbreaks of violence in several regions, notably at Newport, where 24 protestors were killed.

The suppression of the Chartists drew further attention to their cause, but the movement in general failed to cross class lines and gain the necessary support among members of the ruling aristocracy and landed gentry. The Chartists attempted to submit their petition to Parliament twice more, in 1842, when they claimed to have gathered over 31 million signatures of support, and for a final time in 1848. After this final failure the movement died out.

The aims of the Chartists may seem mild and eminently sensible to modern readers. But to the government of Victorian England they represented a potential for upheaval and overthrow of social institutions and entrenched authority. The violent turmoil of the French Revolution was still fresh in the minds of many in positions of authority. Rather than being swayed by the sensibilities of the Chartist's demands, they reacted in fear at the possibility of violent overthrow of society - and their own positions.

Chartism failed for a number of reasons; most obviously, it failed to gather support in Parliament - not surprising when considering the threat it posed to the self-interest of those in power. Equally important, it failed to gather support from the middle-classes. The demands of Chartism were too radical for many of the middle-classes, who were comfortable enough with the status quo. The repeal of the Corn Laws helped improve the economic climate of Britain, and there was less interest in radical reform. As well, the mid-19th century spawned a variety of social-reform groups with special aims, and the Chartist movement lost many of its members to these other groups.

Although the Chartist Movement failed to directly achieve its aims, a good case can be made that the movement itself was not a failure at all, but a powerful force that resulted in an increased awareness of social issues and created a framework for future working-class organizations. Many of the demands of the Chartists were eventually answered in the electoral reform bills of 1864 and 1867. It also seems likely that the agitation for reform that the Chartist Movement helped bring to the forefront of British society was responsible for the repeal of the Corn Laws and other social reforms.


The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was the first international exhibition of manufactured goods, and it had an incalculable effect on the course of art and design throughout the Victorian Age and beyond. It was modelled on successful French national exhibitions, but it was the first to open its doors to the world.

The Exhibitions chief proponent and cheerleader was Prince Albert. The Prince Consort envisaged a self-financing event, and encouraged a reluctant government to set up a Royal Commission to oversee the exhibition, to be held in Hyde Park, London. The Commission called for architectural submissions for the exhibition hall, which was to cover an area of over 700,000 square feet. Over 200 submissions were received, but the Commission rejected them all in favour of its own plan, which was universally reviled as ugly and expensive. This latter objection proved all too true, for when the Commission called for tenders for the materials alone, they were appalled to learn it would cost up to 150,000 pounds.

Then another plan surfaced, by Joseph Paxton. Initially the Commission rejected Paxton's plan, but he took out newspaper ads to raise public support, and the Commissioners were forced to bow to public pressure. Paxton's innovative design called for a glass and steel structure, essentially a giant greenhouse, made of identical, interchangeable pieces, thus lowering materials cost considerably. Paxton's design was adopted, with the addition of a dome to allow space for some very tall trees in Hyde Park.

Rival architects claimed that the building was unsafe, and would collapse from the resonance set up by the feet of large crowds. So an experiment was set up. A model structure was built, and workmen walked back and forth in time and then haphazardly. Then they jumped up in the air together. No problem. As a final test, army troops were called in to march about. The test building passed the trial, so work proceeded on the real thing.

There are some quick facts and figures about Paxton's amazing creation: The main building was 1848 feet long and 408 wide, enclosing 772,784 square feet (19 acres), an area six times that of St. Paul's Cathedral. In addition, the structure contained 4000 tons of iron, 900,000 feet of glass, and 202 miles of sash bars to hold it all together.

Amazingly, the building, dubbed the "Crystal Palace", was ready on time and on budget. In fact, due to presale of tickets, the exhibition was ensured a profit before it even opened on May 1, 1851. There were 17,000 exhibitors from as far away as China, and over 6 million visitors viewed goods ranging from silks to clocks, and furniture to farm machinery. The French were the big winners in terms of awards, a fact which did not go unnoticed by the British press. The profit from the exhibition was used to purchase land in Kensington, where several museums were built, including the forerunner of the Victoria and Albert Museum, which carries on the spirit of the exhibition in its displays devoted to art and design. In fact, the road where several of these museums were built was called Exhibition Road .As for the Crystal Palace itself, it was dismantled at the end of the exhibition and reassembled in Sydenham, South London. There it stayed as a tourist attraction until it burned down in 1936. In spite of this fact, one could get a sense of what this amazing building was like, by visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and taking a look at the Palm House.


Between 1770 and 1830, the Tories were the dominant force in the House of Commons. The Tories were strongly opposed to increasing the number of people who could vote. However, in November, 1830, Earl Grey, a Whig, became Prime Minister. Grey explained to William IV that he wanted to introduce proposals that would get rid of some of the rotten boroughs. Grey also planned to give Britain's fast growing industrial towns such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Leeds, representation in the House of Commons.


In April 1831 Grey asked William IV to dissolve the Parliament so that the Whigs could secure a larger majority in the House of Commons. Grey explained this would help his government to carry their proposals for parliamentary reform. William agreed to Grey's request and after making his speech in the House of Lords, walked back through cheering crowds until they all arrived at the famous Buckingham Palace.
After Lord Grey's election victory, he tried again to introduce parliamentary reform. On 22nd September 1831, the House of Commons passed the Reform Bill. However, the Tories still dominated the House of Lords, and after a long debate the bill was defeated. When people heard the news, Reform Riots took place in several British towns; the most serious of these being in Bristol in October of the year 1831.
On 7th May 1832, Grey and Henry Brougham met the king and asked him to create a large number of Whig peers in order to get the Reform Bill passed in the House of Lords. William was now having doubts about the wisdom of parliamentary reform and refused.
Lord Grey's government resigned and William IV now asked the leader of the Tories, the Duke of Wellington, to form a new government. Wellington tried to do this but some Tories, including Sir Robert Peel, were unwilling to join a cabinet that was in opposition to the views of the vast majority of the people in Britain. Peel argued that if the king and Wellington went ahead with their plan there was a strong danger of a civil war in Britain.
When the Duke of Wellington failed to recruit other significant figures into his cabinet, William was forced to ask Grey to return to office. In his attempts to frustrate the will of the electorate, William IV lost the popularity he had enjoyed during the first part of his reign. Once again Lord Grey asked the king to create a large number of new Whig peers. William agreed that he would do this and when the Lords heard the news, they agreed to pass the Act.
Many people were disappointed with the 1832 Reform Bill. Voting in the boroughs was restricted to men who occupied homes with an annual value of 10. There were also property qualifications for people living in rural areas. As a result, only one in seven adult males had the vote. Nor were the constituencies of equal size. Whereas 35 constituencies had less than 300 electors, Liverpool had a constituency of over 11,000.


Late in March 1860, Lord John Russell attempted to introduce a new Parliamentary Reform Act that would reduce the qualification for the franchise to 10 in the counties and 6 in towns, and effecting a redistribution of seats. Lord Palmerston, the prime minister, didn't agree with the parliamentary reform, and as a consequence to his lack of support, the measure did not become law.


On the death of Palmerston in July 1865, Earl Russell (he had been raised to the peerage in July 1861) became prime minister. Russell, with the once again tried to persuade Parliament to accept the reforms that had been proposed in 1860. The measure received little support in Parliament and was not passed before Russell's resignation in June 1866. William Gladstone, the new leader of the Liberal Party, made it clear that like Earl Russell, he was also in favour of increasing the number of people who could vote.
Although the Conservative Party had opposed previous attempts to introduce parliamentary reform, Lord Derby's new government were now sympathetic to the idea. The Conservatives knew that if the Liberals returned to power, Gladstone was certain to try again. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the House of Commons, argued that the Conservatives were in danger of being seen as an anti-reform party. in 1867 Disraeli proposed a new Reform Act. Lord Cranborne (later Lord Salisbury) resigned in protest against this extension of democracy. In the House of Commons, Disraeli's proposals were supported by Gladstone and his many followers and, consequently, the measure was passed.
The 1867 Reform Act gave the vote to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency. Male lodgers paying 10 for unfurnished rooms were also granted the vote. This gave the vote to about 1,500,000 men which was quite remarkable for that period.
The Reform Act also dealt with constituencies and boroughs with less than 10,000 inhabitants lost one of their MPs. The forty-five seats left available were distributed by: giving fifteen to towns which had never had an MP; giving one extra seat to some larger towns - Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds; creating a seat for the University of London; giving twenty-five seats to counties whose population had increased since 1832.


The 1867 Reform Act had granted the vote to working class males in the towns but not in the counties. William Gladstone and most members of the Liberal Party argued that people living in towns and in rural areas should have equal rights. Lord Salisbury, leader of the Conservative Party, opposed any increase in the number of people who could vote in parliamentary elections. Salisbury's critics claimed that he feared that this reform would reduce the power of the Tories in many of the rural constituencies.
In 1884 Gladstone introduced his proposals that would give working class males the same voting rights as those living in the boroughs. Although the bill was passed in the House of Commons it was rejected by the Conservative dominated House of Lords. Gladstone refused to accept defeat and reintroduced the measure. This time the Conservative members of the Lords agreed to pass Gladstone's proposals in return for the promise that it would be followed by a Redistribution Bill. Gladstone accepted their terms and the 1884 Reform Act was allowed to become law. This measure gave the counties the same franchise as the boroughs - adult male householders and 10 lodgers - and added about six million to the total number who could vote in parliamentary elections.




The Victorian age, the age of industrial revolution and squalid city slums, was also the age of a popular explosion of interest in that most British of occupations, gardening. And not just as a private pastime. For the first time, a concerted effort was made by authorities to provide extensive public gardens. There was a reason for this benevolent behaviour by the well-to-do. They believed that gardens would decrease drunkenness and improve the manners of the lower classes. Intellectuals and the upper classes also encouraged gardening as means of decreasing social unrest.

In 1840 the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew passed from crown control to the government, which meant a transfer from enthusiastic amateurs to professional gardeners.

The Palm House at Kew

Kew was opened to the public in 1841, over royal opposition (the queen was fond of exercising there). In 1848 the striking Palm House was built, a result of improved glass and iron manufacturing techniques. The Palm House is a gigantic greenhouse 363 feet long, 100 feet wide and 60 feet high. As a side note, Joseph Hooker, director of Kew from 1865-85, is credited with popularizing the ubiquitous rhododendron in Britain.

The expanding British Empire opened up far-flung corners of the globe to avid gardeners, and a sort of collector-mania spread throughout Britain. Avid botanists combed the globe for new and exotic plants to bring home. One of the results of this frenzy of collecting was another craze, bedding out plants. The concept of bedding plants was Aztec in origin, but in the hands of Victorian enthusiasts it became a British passion. The bedding out craze, together with improved greenhouse design, resulted in a fashion for massed beds of vibrantly coloured plants laid out in intricate mosaic patterns.
Inevitably, this passion for exotic plants created a reaction in favour of traditional British plants and garden forms, particularly the parsonage, or vicarage garden. Strangely, the number of parsons who have had a strong influence on British garden history is quite high. The vicarage garden was a showpiece of 1-3 acres, planted, not with colourful exotics, but with a homogenous mix of traditional plants, such as wisteria.
The most influential gardener of late Victorian times was William Robinson, author of The English Flower Garden, perhaps the most influential work in British garden history. Robinson, and later Gertrude Jekyll, emphasized a natural look, with creepers and ramblers, hardy shrubs, roses under planted, herbaceous plants and bulbs. Two later examples of this natural style can be seen at Hidcote and Sissinghurst.
Another Victorian garden phenomenon was the London square. London squares were developed by 19th century property developers. Here, the houses backed onto a green space where children could play in full view of the houses. The squares were the focal point for a communal social life. This green-space garden was run by a resident's committee, funded by subscriptions from all the householders. As years went by and pollution increased, only the plants that could adapt could survive, particularly the plane tree, which "took over" many of these squares. Examples of these London squares exist at Bloomsbury, Belgravia, Pimlico, Brompton, Kensington, Notting Hill, and Cadogan Place.


In reaction to the classical style of the previous century, the Victorian age saw a return to traditional British styles in building, Tudor and mock-Gothic being the most popular. The Gothic Revival, as it was termed, was part spiritual movement, part recoil from the mass produced monotony of the Industrial Revolution. It was a romantic yearning for the traditional, comforting past. The Gothic Revival was led by John Ruskin, who, though not himself an architect, had huge influence as a successful writer and philosopher.

Most popular architectural styles were throwbacks; Tudor, medieval, Italianate. Houses were often large, and terribly inconvenient to live in. The early Victorians had a predilection for overly elaborate details and decoration. Some examples of large Victorian houses are Highclere Castle (Hampshire) and Kelham Hall(Nottinghamshire).
In late Victorian times the pendulum, predictably, swung to the other extreme and the style was simpler, using traditional vernacular (folk) models such as the English farmhouse. This period is typified by the work of Norman Shaw at 'Wispers' Midhurst, (Su).


Not just styles changed. The Industrial Revolution made possible the use of new materials such as iron and glass. The best example of the use of these new materials was the Crystal Palace built by Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

  Highclere.Castle Another name that has to be mentioned in the context of Victorian art and architecture is that of William Morris. Neither artist nor architect, he nevertheless had enormous influence in both arenas. Morris and his artist friends Rossetti and Burne-Jones were at the forefront of the movement known as 'Arts and Crafts'. Part political manifesto, part social movement, with a large dollop of nostalgia thrown in, the "Arts and Crafters" wanted a return to high quality materials and hand-made excellence in all fields of art and decoration.

The cheap, mass-produced (and artistically inferior) building and decorating materials then available horrified them. Morris himself, through his Morris and Co., designed furniture, textiles, wallpaper, decorative glass, and murals. Many of Morris' designs are still popular today.

The term "Gothic Revival" (sometimes called Victorian Gothic) usually refers to the period of mock-Gothic architecture practiced in the second half of the 19th century. That time frame can be a little deceiving, however, for the Gothic style never really died in England after the end of the medieval period. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, when classical themes ruled the fashion-conscious world of architecture, Gothic style can be seen, if intermittently. This is because many architects were asked to remodel medieval buildings in a way that blended in with the older styles.

Christopher Wren, the master of classical style, for example, added Gothic elements to several of his London churches (St. Michael, Cornhill, and St. Dustan-in-the-East). William Kent's gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace (1723) fit in flawlessly with Cardinal Wolsey's original Tudor Gothic. When Nicholas Hawksmoor remodeled the west towers at Westminster Abbey (from 1723) he did so in a sympathetic Gothic style.

A Gothic Revival church

In the late 18th century, running in parallel, as it were, with raging classicism, was a school of romanticized Gothic architecture, popularized by Batty Langley's pattern books of medieval details. This medieval style was most common in domestic building, where the classical style overwhelmingly prevailed in public buildings.

One of the prime movers of a new interest in Gothic style was Horace Walpole. Walpole's country house at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham (1750), was a fancifully romantic Gothic cottage. The style adopted by Walpole (termed, not surprisingly, "Strawberry Hill Gothic"), took many of the decorative elements of exterior medieval Gothic and moved them to the interior of the house. Thus, Walpole's rooms are adorned - some might say over-adorned - with touches like cusped ceilings and crocked arches. Little of Walpole's style is what you could call "authentic"; he merely took decorative touches and strewed them about with abandon. The controversial result is very much open to criticism; you either love it or hate it, but few people are ambivalent about it. Other architects tried their hand at Gothic style. Even Robert Adam, the master of neo-classical country house architecture, used Gothic elements, for example at Culzean Castle, where the exterior crenellation recalls a medieval fortress.

Gothic Revival cottage

James Wyatt was the most prominent 18th century architect employing Gothic style in many of his buildings. His Ashridge Park (Hertfordshire), begun in 1806, is the best surviving example of his the roof, in conscious imitation of a medieval great hall.

The Bridge of Sighs

  Into the early years of the 19th century many architects dabbled in Gothic style, but as with Walpole, it was more the decorative touches that appealed to them; little bits of carving here, a dab of pointed arch there. Most paid scant heed to authentic proportion, which is one of the most powerful moving forces of "real" Gothic style. Even when the shapes used by builders were Gothic, the structure was not. Columns and piers were made with iron cores covered over with plaster.

King's College


example, the Bridge of Sighs at St. John's College(1826)and the gateway at King's College (1822-24).

In the early 19th century Gothic was considered more suitable for church and university buildings, where classical style was thought more appropriate for public and commercial buildings. Good examples of university Gothic can be seen at Cambridge, for

Gothic window

It is really only after 1840 the Gothic Revival began to gather steam, and when it did the prime movers were not architects at all, but philosophers and social critics. This is the really curious aspect of the Victorian Gothic revival; it intertwined with deep moral and philosophical ideals in a way that may seem hard to comprehend in today's world. Men like A.W. Pugin and writer John Ruskin (The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849) sincerely believed that the Middle Ages was a watershed in human achievement and that Gothic architecture represented the perfect marriage of spiritual and artistic values. Ruskin allied himself with the Pre-Raphaelites and vocally advocated a return to the values of craftsmanship, artistic, and spiritual beauty in architecture and the arts in general. Ruskin and his brethren declared that only those materials which had been available for use in the Middle Ages should be employed in Gothic Revival buildings. Even more narrow-minded than Ruskin were followers of the "ecclesiological movement", which began in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Adherents of the ecclesiological movement believed that only the Gothic style was suitable for church architecture, but not just any Gothic style! To them, the "Middle Pointed" or Decorated style prevalent in the late 13th to mid 14th century was the only true Gothic. The "Bible" of the movement was the monthly publication, The Ecclesiologist, which was published from 1841-1868. The publication was in essence a style-guide to proper Gothic architecture and design.

Westminster Palace

But all this theory needed some practical buildings to illustrate the ideals. The greatest example of authentic Gothic Revival is the Palace of Westminster (The Houses of Parliament). The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin after a disastrous fire destroyed the old buildings in 1834. While Barry oversaw the construction, much of the design is Pugin's, a design he carried out in exacting Perpendicular Gothic style inside and out.

The period from 1855-1885 is known as High Victorian Gothic. In this period architects like William Butterfield (Keble College Chapel, Oxford) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (The Albert Memorial, London) created a profusion of buildings in varying degrees of adherence to strict Gothic style.


Keble College Chapel

High Victorian Gothic was applied to a dizzying variety of architectural projects, from hotels to railroad stations, schools to civic centres. Despite the strident voice of the Ecclesiological Society, buildings were not limited to the decorated period style, but embraced Early English, Perpendicular, and even Romanesque styles.

The Gothic Revivalists was very successful at the time because the Victorian Gothic style is easy to pick out from the original medieval. One of the reasons for this was a lack of trained craftsmen to carry out the necessary work. Original medieval building was time-consuming and labour-intensive.


The Albert Memorial

Yet there was a large pool of labourer's skilled in the necessary techniques; techniques which were handed down through the generations that it might take to finish a large architectural project

Victorian Gothic builders lacked that pool of skilled labourers to draw upon, so they were eventually forced to evolve methods of mass-producing decorative elements. These mass-produced touches, no matter how well made, were too polished, too perfect, and lacked the organic roughness of original medieval work.


There were railways of a single sort before the 19th century in Britain. Tracks made of stone and iron carried wagons from mines and quarries under horse power. The invention of the steam engine changed things dramatically.

unsuccessful for transport, but the die was cast. Just a few years later George Stephenson's Rocket became the first steam locomotive practical to use for pulling rolling stock (train cars). Stephenson applied the new technology to his Stockton and Darlington Railway in1825, although in those early years horses still did some of the work.

In 1804 Richard Trevithick first harnessed a steam engine to a wagon. His engine was

The first truly successful steam railway was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (1830). The L&M sparked a feverish boom in railway building that lasted twenty years. By 1854 every town of any size in England was connected by rail, though Wales was less well served.

One of the major problems of these early boom years was the lack of standardization (the same difficulty encountered by canal builders earlier). There were at least 5 different gauges (the distance between the rails) in use in the 1840's. This meant that trains made for one line could not use rails on another line, so goods would have to be unloaded and transferred to a new train of the proper gauge. This problem was not completely solved until the 1890's.

Rail was the most popular means of transport for goods and people throughout the Victorian era and well into the 20th century. In a sense, rail set the tone for 19th century "progress" and made possible the entrepreneurial successes and excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Some prominent Victorian railway stations are still in use, notably Paddington (the building, not the bear of the same name), St. Pancras, and York. Many rail lines that fell into disuse in the 20th century are now resurrected



The social classes of England were newly reforming, and fomenting. There was a churning upheaval of the old hierarchical order, and the middle classes were steadily growing. Added to that, the upper classes' composition was changing from simply hereditary aristocracy to a combination of nobility and an emerging wealthy commercial class. The definition of what made someone a gentleman or a lady was, therefore, changing at what some thought was an alarming rate. By the end of the century, it was silently agreed that a gentleman was someone who had a liberal public (private) school education (preferably at Eton, Rugby, or Harrow), no matter what his antecedents might be.

Rich families

  Poor families

There continued to be a large and generally disgruntled working class, wanting and slowly getting reform and change.

Conditions of the working class were still bad, though, through the century, three reform bills gradually gave the vote to most males over the age of twenty-one. Contrasting to that was the horrible reality of child labour which persisted throughout the period. When a bill was passed stipulating that children under nine could not work in the textile industry, this did not apply to other industries, nor did it in any way curb rampant teenaged prostitution.

The social changes during the Victorian age lead to questions about the role of women in society. This societal question was popularly called "The Woman Question." The extension of suffrage to a wider group of males in 1832 and 1867 made people wonder when These conditions and the new roles that these women played within society questioned the traditional roles that women were to play at this time. The voice of the middle class women also challenged time. The voice of the middle class women also challenged this expected behaviour.

women would receive equal treatment. Women in England did not receive the vote until 1918; however the idea was petitioned to Parliament as early as the 1840's. There was also an equal push to allow women to own and control their own property and money. This debate was resolved with the passing of the Married Women's Acts. The Industrial Revolution brought many lower class working women into the factories of industrial cities, and into the poor working conditions that accompanied them.


Many factory workers were children. They worked long hours and were often treated badly by the supervisors or overseers. Sometimes the children started work as young as four or five years old. Children often worked long and grueling hours in factories and had to carry out some hazardous jobs. In match factories children were employed to dip matches into a chemical called phosphorous. This phosphorous could cause their teeth to rot and some died from the effect of breathing it into their lungs. While thousands of children worked down the mine, thousands of others worked in the cotton mills. The mill owners often took in orphans to their workhouses; they lived at the mill and were worked as hard as possible. They spent most of their working hours at the machines with little time for fresh air or exercise. Even part of Sunday was spent cleaning machines. There were some serious accidents. For instance, some children were scalped when their hair was caught in the machine, hands were crushed and some children were killed when they went to sleep, and because they were so tired, fell into the machine.

The degradation of the married woman in the Victorian era existed not only in that she was stripped of all her legal rights but also that no obligations were placed in her realm. Upon marriage, Victorian brides relinquished all rights to property and personal wealth to their husbands. Women were, under the law, "legally incompetent and irresponsible."

A married woman was entitled to no legal recourse in any matter, unless it was sponsored and endorsed by her husband. Helpless in the eyes of civil authority, the married woman was in the same category with "criminals, lunatics, and minors". Eighteenth-century English jurist, William Blackstone curtly described her legal status, "in law a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person". The Victorian woman was her husband's chattel. She was completely dependent upon him and subject to him. She had no right to sue for divorce or to the custody of her children should the couple separate. She could not make a will or keep her earnings. Her area of expertise, her sphere, was in the home as mother, homemaker and devoted domestic. Clear and distinct gender boundaries were drawn: Men were ". . . competitive, assertive . . . and materialistic." Women were "pious, pure, gentle . . . and sacrificing" No greater degradation took place in the Victorian woman's life than in the bedroom.

The Victorian woman had no right to her own body, as she was not permitted to refuse conjugal duties. She was believed to be asexual: "The majority of women, happily for them, are not much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind". The inference is, if the husband did not demand the fulfilment of his marital rights, sex would not exist in marriage. Sexual relations within Victorian marriage were unilaterally based on men and male needs.

Neither a woman's desire, nor her consent was at issue. The ideal Victorian woman was pious, pure, and above all submissive. The question of her consent was rarely a matter for concern. A Philadelphia physician reinforced this distorted view of women. He asserted that their emotions and character were more "interior" than men, saying: "The house, chamber, the closet, are the centres of her social life and power".

The dress of the early Victorian era was similar to the Georgian age. Women wore corsets, balloonish sleeves and crinolines in the middle 1840's. The crinoline thrived, and expanded during the 50's and 60's, and into the 70's, until, at last, it gave way to the bustle. The bustle held its own until the 1890's, and became much smaller, going out altogether by the dawning of the twentieth century. For men, following Beau Brummell's example, stove-pipe pants were the fashion at the beginning of the century. Their ties, known then as cravats, and the various ways they might be tied could change, the styles of shirts, jackets, and hats also, but trousers have remained. Throughout the century, it was stylish for men to wear facial hair of all sizes and descriptions. The clean shaven look of the Regency was out, and moustaches, mutton-chop sideburns, Piccadilly Weepers, full beards, and Van Dykes (worn by Napoleon III) were the order of the day.




This era could be subtitled 'The Gladstone and Disraeli Show' for the two politicians who dominated it. The two men, Gladstone and Disraeli, could not have been more dissimilar. Gladstone was liberal, humanitarian, and devout. Queen Victoria found him stuffy. Disraeli, on the other had, was imperialist, nationalistic, and charming to boot. The queen enjoyed his company, for he could make her laugh.

This was also the age of the 'Irish Question', the question being whether or not the Irish should be allowed to rule themselves. Gladstone was a constant activist for increased Irish autonomy, but his views were not widely supported, and Irish extremists began a campaign of terrorism, the fruits of which are still with us today. Legal reform proceeded slowly. Education was made more accessible for the lower classes, and the Ballot Act of 1872 made voting a private affair for the first time. The Army Regulation Bill abolished the practice of purchasing commissions in the armed forces.
.In this age before TV's, computers, and Nintendo, the most common form of entertainment was reading aloud. Writers like Dickens, Tennyson, and Trollope were widely read and discussed. The advent of universal compulsory education after 1870 meant that there was now a much larger audience for literature. Disraeli himself, when he was not locking horns with Gladstone, was a very popular novelist.
Much of the attention of the country was focused abroad during this era. In 1876 Victoria was declared Empress of India and the English Empire was constantly being expanded. The prevailing attitude in Britain was that the expansion of British control all around the globe was extremely good for everyone.
On the home front the Industrial Revolution gathered steam, and accelerated the migration of the population from country to city. The result of this movement was the development of horrifying slums and cramped row housing in the overcrowded cities. By 1900 80% of the population lived in cities. These cities were 'organized' into geographical zones based on social class - the poor in the inner city, with the more fortunate living further away from the city core. This was made possible by the development of suburban rail transit. Some suburban rail companies were required by law to provide cheap trains for workers to travel into the city centre.
The growth of rail transit also gave birth to that Victorian mainstay, the seaside resort. As the Industrial Revolution progressed, working hours decreased, and the introduction of Bank Holidays meant that workers had the time to take trips away from the cities to the seaside. The seaside resorts introduced the amusement pier to entertain visitors. Some of the more famous resorts were at Blackpoll and Brighton.
The Industrial Revolution also meant that the balance of power shifted from the aristocracy, whose position and wealth was based on land, to the newly rich business leaders. The new aristocracy became one of wealth, not land, although titles, then as now, remained socially important in British society


In conclusion, the Victorian century was an era of change and confusion. England improved itself for the people and its government.


Ciugureanu, Adina, Victorian Selves (A Study in the Literature Of the Victorian Age),Constanta: The University of Ovidius, 2003

Lerner, Laurence, The Context of The Victorian Period, New York: Holmes&Meier, 1978

Vicius, Martha, Suffer and Be Still (Women in the Victorian Age), London: Methuen, 1980

Williams, Raymond, Arhitecture and Style 1780-1950, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978

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