Though it ended just over a century ago, much of Victorian culture seems both oddly familiar and strangely distinct. For those history lovers, let’s turn on our time machines and go through some photos taken capturing the highlights and fascinating features of the Victorian period.
Even the Victorians needed to be entertained. And here we have a photo of a star from that era. This photo is of the English actress, Dorothy Frostick. The English actress’s career started as a child when she took up singing, dancing, and performing on stage. In 1901, Frostick made her debut appearance starring in the production, “Bluebell in Fairyland,” at the Vaudeville Theatre in London.
Throughout the early 20th century, Frostick performed in various productions in Great Britain including a production at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. This photo was taken of the actress as her career was starting off, but it gives us an idea of what entertainment looked like back then.
Children in a Meadow
Here were see children in typical Victorian fashion in a meadow in Keswick, Cumbria. From their sense of fashion, which is unmistakably Victorian, these children are as Victorian as they come. Girls were expected to wear hats when leaving the house. Even though the girls in the meadow are young, they followed this custom. The fashion for girls in those times was full-length dresses, long sleeves, and no exposing necklines.
While V-necks or round-necks are somewhat conservative by today’s standards, you wouldn’t see a Victorian woman showing even an inch of her neck. As we can tell from this photo, even a day out in a meadow meant wearing a hat, a full-length dress (or one almost as long), and not showing wrists or necks.
The Royal Albert Hall
This concert hall has been a long-standing monument central to British entertainment. This iconic theater has hosted everyone from Adele to Eric Clapton and famous figures like Albert Einstein and Muhammed Ali have passed through its doors. But did you know that this hall was constructed in 1867 and was opened in 1871 during the Victorian Era? Did you also know that Queen Victoria personally opened it in 1871?
Interestingly, the original name for the hall was “The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences” but after Prince Albert’s passing, Queen Victoria had it dedicated to him. And thanks to this hall’s longevity and feature of British entertainment, we’re unlikely to forget Prince Albert any time soon.
Men in Highland Dress in Front of the Forth Bridge Scotland
You can definitely say that they don’t make them like they used to. This photo captures a rare moment as three men in Highland dress are standing in front of the Forth Bridge. What is impressive about this photo is that it shows the Forth Bridge in a photo of the 19th century. The Bridge, which now, spans the Forth Estuary in Scotland was completed in 1890 – and it’s still going strong.
Cantilever bridges were common in Victorian times, but now they’re not only valued for their function but their aesthetics. Though the Forth Bridge is currently protected for its historical value, this photo shows that it wasn’t always historical but just part of daily Victorian life – and a great hang-out spot for three men in their highland gear.
Toy Shopping – Retro Style
And when we say retro style, we’re not kidding. Here is a photo of children shopping during the Edwardian or Victorian period. These two cute kids are dazzled by the toys on sale which include money boxes, dolls, tea sets, and cookie tins. They might not seem that impressive by today’s standards, but these two kids were clearly sold by the toys in this store.
We’re not exactly sure when this photo was taken, possibly in the 1890s. The coins display Queen Victoria on them, suggesting that the photo was taken during her reign. What’s more, this is a glass negative photo used from the 1870s to 1920s so it's more than possible that this image is a relic from the Queen’s time.
A Day at the Docks
We wouldn’t exactly say these Victorian boys are hard at work. Perhaps, this lot is just taking a break to strike a pose for the photo. Here we have Victorian kids and men at Plymouth docks. We’re not exactly sure of the exact year of the photo, but it was taken during the Victorian era. Back then, photos were rare.
And for such an occasion as this, this bunch took a moment to strike the perfect pose. Speaking of the perfect pose, we have to give it to the kids. While the Victorian gents look dashing, the kids are using the barrel as a prop. And the one lying down in the barrel looks perfectly at home. Victorian finesse at its finest.
A Hospital Scene
The Victorian Era was a period of great innovation especially in the medical sphere. Here we have a photo dating back to this period. While we’re not completely sure of the exact date, it shows just how a Victorian hospital looked then. Here we have quite the lively scene.
While the location of the hospital is unknown, we see a ward where most patients are men, but with some child and female patients. One nurse is caring for a child, so the ward seemingly served all patients including infants. There are a handful of nurses and a couple of doctors. Though we’re sure none of us would like to be patients in this ward, this photo shows the strides taken in medical technology.
Children at Play
Those times were simpler. The toys were simpler. The children were simpler. And photos were a big thing. These children all had to stop what they were doing and get ready for the photo. Though they’re completely oblivious to the fact, almost two centuries later we’re looking at them trying to learn about the Victorian times. This photo was taken right at the end of the period, in the early 1900s.
Though these children have much simpler toys – like a babydoll and pram, a rocking horse, and a retro wheel cart – they came from wealthy homes. They are dressed in typical Victorian attire. The girls are in hats, full-length dresses, and boots, while the boy is sporting a hat and pants and a buttoned-up pullover.
The rules of Victorian fashion were pretty much established. When it came to what women wore, most Victorians knew what was acceptable and what was a complete no-go. Women were expected in full-length dresses that were to be accompanied by hats and boots in outdoor settings. Taken in 1890, we have a photo of three women who not only broke the rules of fashion but also the rules of love.
They didn’t allow the laws to dictate to them who they were allowed to love. And of course, they made their statement with their clothing showing their willingness to defy the rules. Two of the women are posing wearing pants while the third is wearing a dress. Though they’re all donning their hats, these former sisters did things differently back then.
A Classroom of Eager Learners
Did you know that during the Victorian period, school become mandatory for kids between 5 and 13? That’s right – if it weren’t for laws passed in 1870, we wouldn’t have to wake up early, do homework, and pass exams. We’re pretty sure that the kids in this photo had different things on their minds.
We see a classroom of boys and girls all sitting in neat rows in a Victorian classroom. They’re all looking in the direction of their teacher. Though the exact year of this photo is not known, from the look of the classroom and the young age of the kids, we believe it hails from the Victorian era. The photo is also an original glass negative – photography typical during this time.
When we think about past periods, we often wonder how people with disabilities coped during times when medicine and engineering were less developed. For individuals who were handicapped, here we have a photo of what kind of wheelchair was used during the Victorian Era. Since this more basic model has three wheels (two larger ones at the back and a smaller one at the front) it bears much resemblance to the current models we use.
And while it is more basic, it doesn’t look that uncomfortable. The handicapped individual also looks dashing in his hat and suit. And with the three all striking a pose, the photo makes a very dignified affair. Not too bad for more than a century ago.
A Mother, Child, and Bicycle
Back in 1878, the British Engineer, Thomas Humber, advanced the already-existing bicycle models and created Humber cycles. In fact, Humber’s bicycle models were such a hit in Victorian times, they became known as “the aristocrat among bicycles.” And from this picture, we’d definitely say so. Though we don’t know the year this photo was taken, we do know that the mother in the photo is Mrs. Hicks.
Posing with her Humber bicycle, Mrs. Hicks and her young daughter are members of the upper class. And it’s not only because Mrs. Hicks owns a Humber Beeson bicycle, but she and her daughter’s wardrobe suggests they are aristocrats. Guess, it is perfectly fitting that the aristocrats would be pedaling about on this fancy bicycle.
A Parker Electric Omnibus
If you met a typical Victorian – like one of the men photographed here – and you spoke about an omnibus, they’d think you were referring to the big vehicle they were posing with. That’s right a Victorian “omnibus” had nothing to do with TV or books. In fact, the word ‘bus’ which we use to speak about a large and rather noisy mode of transport originates from the word ‘omnibus.’
In this photo, we see a group of Victorian men posing with an electric omnibus. Back in 1891 (the date of this photo), an electric omnibus would have been quite a big deal as earlier models relied on horsepower i.e., real horses. This timeless snapshot with all these Victorian men in their variety of hats captures an important moment in time.
Why the Long Face?
We’re pretty sure that plenty of horses had long faces in Victorian times as they had plenty of work to do. Here we have a scene from Tottenham Road, Camden from back in 1897, where delivery staff are posing with their horses and their cargo. The cargo in question is several layers of rolled-up mattresses all stashed into the carriages of these horse-drawn cars.
This historical scene shows us exactly how the mattress-delivery system worked just before the turn century – it literally involved a lot of horsepower. But back then, everyone took photos seriously. Even the horses are putting their best foot forward for the camera lens.
A Truly Vintage Car
Vintage cars are all the rage now, but you’re unlikely to see the one in this photo around. This photo was taken in 1897 and it shows the French inventor, Léon Bollée, driving around in one of his inventions – the cyclecar. Interestingly, the cyclecar was one of the first models of an automobile (of course, long before Henry Ford took over).
Not only does this photo give us an idea of how one of the first motorcars looked, but it also showed a very stylish couple riding about. The car may not look very fashionable, but Léon Bollée and his companion are both decked out in trim suits with the ever-present Victorian hats.
It Can’t Hurt(u) to Learn from the Best
The German luxury car brand, Mercedes-Benz, is synonymous with great engineering. One of the reasons this German brand is such a distinguished automobile manufacturer is because of its lengthy history, going back to the late 19th century. However, if you think that what you’re looking at in this photo is a classic Mercedes-Benz, you’d be wrong. Some other manufacturers in that period were not afraid to learn from the best.
In fact, in 1897, the French company, Hurtu, modeled its automobile closely on the Mercedes-Benz of the time. That means this photo with the dashing gentleman in a bowler hat and coat was taken somewhere around 1897. This photo shows us that even back then, Mercedes-Benz has always been at the top of its game.
An Almost Perfect Victorian Family Photo
Even though the family will go traipsing through a forest, this photo shows how the Victorian family went about such activities. The women are decked out in full-length skirts and elaborate hats for modesty. The younger girls are dressed in skirts and wide-brimmed hats while the two male family members are in pants, boots, and more modest-sized hats.
Even if the family is gallivanting and exploring the countryside, the family is still dressed in their Sunday finest. Another point this photo makes is that if you were a Victorian child, you’d take photos seriously because more than 100 years later, people would see your photo and wonder why is there a strange blur where a face should be?
This kind of behavior would seem very strange in today’s world especially since we’ve learned about sanitation and the world of microorganisms. But drinking directly from a drinking fountain back in the Victoria era was pretty common stuff – actually, it was iconic of this period. After mass urbanization began, cities like London, Liverpool, and Plymouth grew dramatically in size and so did the demand for fresh drinking water.
Many city planners and philanthropists took the initiative to build public drinking fountains. Here, we see two young children at a public fountain in Plymouth. Incredibly, one of the children is drinking directly from the mouthpiece. Naturally, what we see is nowhere close to today’s standards of hygiene, but it shows us how Victorians got fresh water.
Two Prolific Victorian Women
Here we have a snapshot of one of the most prolific and important contributors of the Victorian period, the botanist and biologist, Marianne North. As seen, North was not simply a botanist and biologist, but also a talented artist. Here she is painting a scene in Julia Margaret’s house in Ceylon.
If you know the name, Julia Margaret, then you’d know, that behind the scenes, there was another prolific Victorian in the house – the famed and gift Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret. While Margaret was known for taking photos of some celebrated Victorians like Charles Darwin and Virginia Woolf, this photo shows the eloquence of Margaret’s work and just how far back artistic photography goes.
After seeing this photo, it’s hard not to believe that Rapunzel was just a fairy tale. Rapunzel must have just been a princess during the 19th century because Victorian women didn’t seem all that fond of cutting their tresses. In fact, the longer the hair, the better. It was all the rage back then.
This photo is proof that the Victorian ladies had mega affinity with their hair so much so that they never cut it. But it does make us wonder, how did these women deal with bad hair days? These women must have really had terrible hair days. We certainly take our hats off to our Victorian ancestors – we’re guessing they couldn’t wait to take off their hats and show off their really long tresses.
No More Summer Bod Blues
There were definitely some perks to being a Victorian woman. You could have plenty of sun, sand, and waves without worrying about having the perfect beach bod. And judging from the photo, you could say these two early-20th-century women were having a blast at the beach – especially the one who’s being pulled about in the metal cart. The other is a million miles away, staring off into the distance.
While this photo was taken in 1905 and some years after the Victorian era ended, it still reflected the fashion of that period. Forget your two-piece bikini or flattering full-piece swimsuit, vintage Victorian bathing suits were just as you see in the photo – they covered the knees and necklines and weren’t in any sense revealing.
Classic Tower Bridge
Like Big Ben and the Tower of London, Tower Bridge is one of those impressive structures that is simply associated with the mega city. If you think of Big Ben or Tower Bridge, you think of London. But did you know that during the twilight of the Victorian era, this marvelous structure was finally completed?
That’s right. Right as the sun was setting on Victoria’s reign, the engineers finished Tower Bridge, allowing easy access to the East of London via the River Thames. This photo commemorates one of those early moments when Tower Bridge joined the London landscape – which it now has been forever eternalized with.
Now, our mobile camera booths are pretty neat. Not only are they convenient, but they’re automatic and come with plenty of features. But this photo shows that mobile photo booths are not something just available in our time but were also present in the Victorian period. Here we see a street photographer working in Clapham Common in London and snapping a Victorian family while they enjoy their day out and about.
This photo was added to the collection of the Victorian photographer, John Thompson. It’s not clear if the photographer in the image is the famed artist. Taken in about 1877, what we see is not only more archaic ways of photography but also that back then, mobile photo booths were a thing.
Even Street Music
Even when it came to playing music on the streets, the Victorians did things differently. The most obvious difference – as clearly demonstrated in this photo – is the choice of instrument. While we have plenty of ambitious street musicians, this Victorian musician is playing the harp – which happens to be the same height as him. Now, that’s ambition.
We definitely don’t see many contemporary street musicians playing the harp – and we understand why. What else is evident in this photo is that even if you’re playing your harp on the street to a small crowd, you better be kitted out for it. The harp player is looking sharp, but his only concern is clearly getting his harp to speak to the crowd.
A Family Photo
Compared to a contemporary family photo, this one is pretty odd – for one thing, about a third of the family members’ eyes are veering to the side. With modern inventions like smartphones, we can retake the photo several times to make sure everyone is focusing on the camera when we say the vital word “cheers.” But such was not the case with this Victorian family.
Though they’re clearly upper class, they only had one opportunity to get the family picture. And even though the family – housekeeper included – are dressed in their finest in ties, bowties, and two-piece suits, only two-thirds managed to look in the right direction at the right time. At least, they showed the photographer proper respect to take off their hats.
Dogs Pulling Women on a Cart
Modern dogs have much easier lives compared to their 19th-century canine counterparts. This photo was snapped in 1898 by the artist James Batkin. The photographer, Batkin, captured moments of the everyday lives of Victorian people in Belgium and the Netherlands. The photo we see here is part of that collection and it shows a scene from Antwerp in the late 19th century.
We see two dark-haired women on a cart that looks like it was simply thrown together. Instead of donkeys or horses pulling the cart, there are three dogs. While the women are posing and smiling for the photo, the dogs are simply getting on with their tedious task.
The Lady with the Lawnmower
This photo was taken at the turn of the century, and it features the actress, Marie Studholme, who had one foot in the Victorian era and the other in the Edwardian era. Here we see the actress with two feet in a garden while she is posing with a lawnmower. There are two things that make it obvious that this was taken during Victorian times.
First, Studholme is a full-length white gown and hat with an elaborate design. Second, she’s posing with a lawnmower as if she’s about to mow the lawn. In her elegant gown and hat, it’s absurd. And it's not like that vintage lawnmower will offer much help. Lawnmowing back in the Victorian Days looked plenty difficult – but it was certainly fashionable.
A British Soldier in Pakistan
From 1876 to 1946, the kings and queens of England were also called the emperors or empresses of India. Naturally, this included Queen Victoria. It’s only expected that there would be some relics of the British during their time in the Indian subcontinent. Taken in 1880, we have a photo of a British soldier with his dogs in what is now Karachi in modern-day Pakistan.
The soldier’s uniform is made up of a two-piece button-up jacket with pants and a matching material hat. Interestingly, this relic of the British exploration/colonization in the Indian subcontinent was taken with a vintage image projector called Magic Lantern. Plenty of early films and photos were taken with this invention.
Affection Among Friends
If anyone knows anything about the Victorians, it was that they were super conservative and intimacy was a big no-no. Except, apparently, in photos. This photo, taken sometime between the 1870s and 1880s, paints a very different picture of the ultra-conservative Victorians. Here we see two young men posing for a photo.
Both are dressed up for the occasion. The two men are in suits and ties, topped off with overcoats. One is sitting down in a chair while the other is standing behind him and embracing him. It’s an intimate shot – and one that will surprise many of us contemporary viewers. Victorian men may have been more affectionate than we thought. At least, that’s what the photos tell us.
Men Holding Hands
As surprising as it can be, Victorian men could display their intimacy and affection for one another in front of the camera lens. Here we have a photo taken during the 1880s that shows two men holding hands. In fact, these two Victorian men took handholding very seriously, as both hands are holding a hand.
Compared to these two men, we could really have a lesson on handholding because they do it on another level completely. The two men are also posed with cigars in their mouths (customary for the time), hats (even more customary for the time), and crossed legs. It is a very touching, but surprising photo for the Victorians.
A Soccer Player from Back in the Day
Did you know that association football – league soccer – goes back to Victorian times? That’s right. Some mega-famous soccer clubs like Manchester United F.C. and Liverpool F.C. formed at the tail end of the 19th century. The photo here is of a soccer player during the Victorian period. The uniform of this soccer player in 1896 bears some resemblance to current uniforms.
His long socks are the same color as his shirt, while his shorts are a contrasting color. He also is wearing soccer boots, although we imagine that no one could play soccer comfortably in this pair. The soccer ball itself has seen the most change. It is a much smaller, heavier, and darker ball than the one we currently play with.
An Office Scene
If you zoom in, you will see the calendar is dated “March 1899.” This picture hails right back to 1899, inches before the new century began. Interestingly, this photo doesn’t really show a real Victorian office setting. In fact, it was a stereoscope card called “flirtation.” However, it does give us a clue about the expectations of the typical Victorian office.
We see a woman seated behind a typewriter in full Victorian garb. Her full-length dress is not only full in terms of length but width too. It balloons around her in crinoline hoops. The dress covers the woman up to her neck and wrists. Interestingly, the typewriter became quite commonplace from the 1870s onwards meaning women working in Victorian offices was not uncommon during this time.
The Infamous Mistletoe
When we think of Victorians, we generally think of a conservative culture that didn’t encourage intimacy. However, mistletoes were a whole other story. The Victorians were absolutely in love with mistletoes – and took the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe to heart. Interestingly, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe began during the 18th century but grew in popularity during Victorian times.
Here, we see how popular the tradition was. We have two couples and some uncoupled ladies at a chic rendezvous in full-on Victorian garb. One of the couples is having a tender moment under the mistletoe. For what seems like an ultra-conservative period, we must compliment the Victorians on their romance.
A Victorian Christmas
We’re not the only ones who eagerly look forward to Christmas. From this photo, we see that the Victorians also made a big deal about Christmas. We see a Victorian family posing with their Christmas tree. What’s interesting is that we aren’t so different from our 19th-century counterparts. They too have decorated their big tree with bright, shiny decorations.
The Christmas decorations also extend beyond the tree so the whole living room has the Christmas spirit. What is different is the family’s wardrobe. No one is exempt from wearing a high collar. Even the two younger boys have their coats buttoned to the very last button. The women in the family too wear high collars accompanied by flared sleeves.
A Victorian Christmas Tree
Despite our love for period films, we had to admit that living during the Victorian period must of being really difficult. And from this picture, which was taken during the 1900s, it wasn’t difficult only for us, but for Christmas trees too. This Christmas tree is doing a lot of work. It is burdened by loads of heavy Christmas decorations. There are plenty of bulbs and the tree is wrapped in layers upon layers of heavy tinsel.
In fact, there are more decorations than there is tree. Not only does this photo show us that the Victorian Christmas trees did a lot of heavy lifting, but that Victorians went all out for this festival. Fortunately for the tree, Christmas only comes around once a year.
Street Life in London
We can’t imagine that living during the Victorian period was easier than living now. And living or making a living on a street in London in this period must have been that much harder. One photographer, John Thompson, dedicated his life to capturing moments of street life in London during this age. This photo is one of Thompson’s works.
On the store’s windows, you can see the restaurant or soup kitchen selling “Leg of Beef soup.” We’re not sure about the interaction between the restaurant owner and the man wearing a hat, but we imagine that the people on the outside are in need of a meal. This photo shows us the hardship street dwellers suffered during this period.
Christmas Tree Shopping
If there is one thing, we have to admit to ourselves after seeing this photo, it is that Christmas tree shopping is much easier these days than it was during the Victorian era. Even if we are buying a real tree, we still have vehicles to help with transportation. All the woman has is a wooden cart. And she has to pull it for miles.
And to add to her burden, her Victorian wardrobe doesn’t make her task any easier. The woman is dressed in a very full and heavy black dress, an overcoat, and a scarf wrapped around her head. Of course, we imagine that it's pretty cold out as this photo was taken midwinter, so the heavy clothes make sense.
Retro Piccadilly Circus
It seems like even back in the Victorian era Piccadilly Circus was also an important shopping hub. Here we see a photo of the famous London Road junction/shopping district from 1901. It shows a somewhat bustling scene with flower sellers perched on the steps displaying their wares.
In the background, we see a popular tea merchant – one that still sells tea today – selling goods from a coach drawn by two horses. And in the distance, Londoners are walking around the bustling district. Piccadilly Circus is much older than we think. It was built in 1816, so even by the time of this photo, it wasn’t a novelty for the Victorians.
Woman and Cigar
First, to be clear, this isn’t just any Victorian woman smoking. It’s the American actress, Lotta Crabtree. And though the Victorian period is most associated with Great Britain –where Queen Victoria reigned – much of its culture and customs spread to the rest of the world like to the USA.
What we know about Crabtree was that she was an American entertainer. We don’t know whether she ever went to Great Britain during her time. It’s unclear whether smoking the cigar in the photo has been staged, but there are plenty of photos of Victorian women smoking cigars. Women smoking cigars was an acceptable practice among the Victorians.
When we say old-school sleighing, we aren’t kidding. In this photo, we see really old-school sleighing – Victorian sleighing. We’re sure that Victorian winters were no walks in the park, but as this man demonstrates clearly in this photo, you wouldn’t have to walk through the park. You could sleigh through it – and have plenty of fun in the process.
This photo was taken in St. Moritz in Switzerland sometime during the Victorian period and it shows us a man doing old-school sleighing or tobogganing. Certainly, sleighing has evolved since this man’s day, but this photo shows that even Victorians enjoyed a bit of fun out and about in the snow.
Considering that gymnastics started back in ancient Sparta and Athens, it’s not surprising to see a photo of English gymnasts in the Victorian day. Interestingly, the word Greek word “gymnos” means “to train or exercise without clothes on.” Of course, gymnastics in the Victorian era was a bit different –this is the Victorians we’re speaking about after all. By the time the sport had arrived in Victorian England, the athletes had put some clothes on.
As seen, the English gymnasts are in bleached white training uniforms with the “CG” pinned onto their shirts. The group of boys are standing around their coaches or managers who are seated in suits. The occasion for the photo was winning the trophy shield as the manager in the middle is holding the coveted shield.
A Day Out in the Snow
Even when it’s snowing, keep your chin up. This must have been the motto for Victorian families because if you failed to head held high, your hat would fall off. Thus, there is a perfectly rational explanation for these words of encouragement. Keeping your head held up high was especially important when sleighing. Here we see a family in St. Moritz, Switzerland having plenty of fun sleighing out in the snow.
In fact, the family is having such a good time that they’re zooming between houses and a walking path. Or what was a walking path, in the photo, it’s become a sleigh path. What truly indicates that this is a family from Victorian times is that the two men and children are all wearing their hats – while sleighing.
A Game of Croquet
Playing a bit of croquet seems like the typical pastime for a Victorian family. And this photo shows us how it was done. Taken in 1865, we see a family on the croquet green in the Gisburne Croquet Ground, Lancashire. From the youngest family member to the oldest, everyone is in their Sunday finest.
Apart from the younger girl, the two women are dressed in very full dresses and are covered from neck to toe. The men look astute in their neat suits, boots, and hats. Earlier versions of croquet or similar games existed back in the late Middle Ages, so it’s not a stretch of the imagination to conceive of Victorians playing the sport. They did. And this photo shows, they did it in their own Victorian fashion.
Good Ole Croquet
If we looked at this photo and weren’t told its date, we’d probably guess that it was taken during the Victorian Age. And we wouldn’t be wrong. Croquet on the lawns seemed like the typical pastime of Victorian aristocrats. Taken in 1864, we see a group of four women who are getting out for a spot of sunshine and croquet at Goodwood House in West Sussex.
Their sense of fashion – even when they’re out on the croquet lawns – speaks of Victorian times as they’re wearing full bell-shaped dresses which fall almost to their feet. As to be expected, they’d never be out if they weren’t accompanied by the ever-present Victorian hat.
Bathing at Colwyn Bay
Situated at one of the most northern points of Wales, we have a photo of Colwyn Bay taken during the 1880s. Interestingly, this snapshot was taken by the prolific landscape photographer, Francis Bedford. The perspective we have of Colwyn Bay is from the railroad overlooking the shoreline and the sea goers.
This photo clearly is a relic from the Victorian age and it’s not simply its vintage sepia hues that give this away, but also because you can see bathing machines on the shoreline. These interesting contraptions were used so that men and women did not catch a glimpse of the others in immodest clothing i.e., swimwear. The tides have certainly changed now, but this photo shows us that sun and sand meant something completely different for our Victorian ancestors.
A Love for Drama
And no, we don’t mean that kind of drama. Here we’re referring to a love of theater, role-playing, and dressing up in costumes. It is well-known that the Brits love their theater, but this love for the stage was all present in the Victorian age. As seen, the love for drama started young with the Victorians. Here we have three children dressed up in different costumes.
The girl is wearing a dress of white muslin and tartan trimmings with an elaborate hat. Her outfit is finished off with a staff. The two boys are also dressed up. One has the look of an extravagant Italian prince – mustache and all – while the other is sporting a caveat, hat, and three-piece suit.
Before the Obstacle Course
Who’d have known that the Victorians had their very own obstacle courses? Naturally, they’d be a much more basic version of our own obstacle courses. That said, the Victorians still had them. This photo is evidence that even during the Victorian age, there were those individuals who had a thirst for competition and for getting down and dirty.
Speaking of getting down and dirty, the men pictured here are getting on their stomachs and wriggling through empty barrels for their obstacle course. Some of them have abandoned formal clothes, but there are one or two who can still be spotted in shirts and waistcoats. However, it seems like the men who opted to be casual made their best choices as they were making the most progress.
Some Tennis Fun
We’re not quite sure that’s how the sport’s played, but these two Victorian women look like they’re having plenty of fun. Interestingly, lawn tennis was invented during Victorian times. Of course, we’re pretty sure humans have hit round balls with some type of club or racket-like object on lawns at earlier times. However, in 1860, Major Walter Clopton Wingfield patented lawn tennis and it soon became popular among women.
Here we see two women sporting two rackets. Though they seem to be amusing themselves with the rackets, this photo reveals the popularity of tennis, especially lawn tennis, with the Victorians. Interestingly, the two women in the full dresses and gloves are completely covered up even if they’re playing tennis.
A Blast from the Past
It’s certainly impressive that billiards has been around for this long. And what is even more impressive is that the sport hosted a world championship even back in the Victorian age. In this photo, a match is played between one Charles Dawson (the reigning champion of that year) and one Edward Diggle.
Though they’re not competing for the title of world champion, billiards was clearly taken very seriously. Between 40 to 50 men are watching the game and every pair of eyes is on the match. Usurpingly, every man present in the room has shown up in a three-piece or two-piece suit, tie, and hat. We’re guessing that billiards was rather an upper-class affair.
A Physician with His Friend
And no, we didn’t mean one of the skeletons. You might not recognize the name Reginald Southey, but he was a physician during the Victorian age. You might not be familiar with Southey, but you certainly have heard of his lifelong friend and the photographer of this interesting shot. The photographer behind the lens was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson a.k.a. Lewis Carroll.
While Lewis Carroll was best known as an author (the writer of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”) he was also a photographer, something Southey had encouraged. While Carroll’s photo which poses Southey with skeletons might seem a bit morbid, this fascination with death and skeletons was common among Victorians. Carroll’s photo would have been nothing new under the sun back then.
An Operating Theater
There are some of us who love period films. We simply love the past ages and would love to travel back in time. But our daydreaming stops at sickness, disease, and hospitals. If we’re truly honest with ourselves, hospitals are not places for the faint-hearted – and that applies even more so to any historical medicine and medical treatment.
Here, we have a scene from the operating theater of the Royal Free Hospital in London. We know that this photo was taken in the 19th century, but we don’t know the exact year. The Royal Free Hospital was the first to allow women in the surgical theater.
Ramses II in Great Britain
One of the ancient cultures that the British Victorians became obsessed with was that of Ancient Egypt. And this photo is proof that they were completely enthralled with the Egyptians. While some objects like the Rosetta stone were actually removed from Egypt, this statue of Ramses II was simply a replica of the original relief carving in Abu Simbel in Egypt.
From 1851 to 1936, there was a great and well-known exhibition hall called the Crystal Palace. These twin statues of Ramses II were housed here from 1854 to 1866. This popular exhibition hall had an Egyptian Court, which showcased Egyptian-styled artifacts. Naturally, it was the most popular section of the Crystal Palace. The Victorians just couldn’t get enough of Ancient Egypt.
The French Rugby Team
Sometime in the Victorian era, rugby was closely associated with soccer. In fact, a dispute over many rules resulted in the two sports being created – soccer and rugby. This photo of 1893 shows the final selection of the national French team that was due to play in England that year.
Of course, rugby has come a long way since 1893. The uniform, and even the selection of rugby players, is very much something of that time. While the white shirt with what seemingly looks like two Olympic rings is standard among the rugby players, some of the players are wearing shorts and others long exercise pants. A rather odd part of their uniform is the players’ shoes. Apparently, it was acceptable to play in formal shoes.
It’s not all that surprising to discover that the Victorians engaged in quite a bit of archery. After all, the English were always known to be superb bowmen. The English longbowmen were an almost unbeatable class of archers during the medieval period. This photo was taken sometime during the Victorian age.
It shows a young woman ready to take a shot at the archery target. Though Victorian women wore hats whenever they left the house, here we see the archer without her hat. Of course, it’s likely that when doing archery, women were exempt from having to wear a hat – unless you’re a spectator. As we see here, the woman who’s watching from the bench is wearing the always-present Victorian hat.
A Lady, A Letter and A Friend
No matter which period, this type of scene strangely looks like one we’d expect to see among young women. Nowadays, the two young women would be looking intently at an exchange on a smartphone, but in the Victorian age, it was a letter. The reactions are the same. The one on the left is clearly enraptured by the contents of the letter while the other is observing her friend’s reaction.
While this kind of situation is familiar no matter the period, what is considerably different is the young women’s wardrobe and the décor of the young woman’s bedroom. This is clearly the bedroom of an upper-class individual. Like the material of women’s dresses, the curtains are thick and heavy and have a very striking and bold pattern.
In the late 19th century, a kind of religious movement called spiritism became popular and had quite the following among Europeans and Americans. The founder and leader of Spiritism was the French writer, Allan Kardec. Victorians became quite obsessed with death and connecting with those who had passed on.
One of the offshoots of this interest in spiritism was spirit or ghost photography, where Victorian stereoscopic photographers would use double exposure and other tricks to capture photos of people’s deceased loved ones. In this photo, we see a young girl kneeling to pray as “a ghost” is standing over her. People used to pay for this. The London Stereoscopic Company made quite a killing – pun certainly intended – with it.
Krao the Thai Child
It is no secret that the Victorians were avid explorers. They also were rather keen on freakshows. And on many occasions, these two obsessions coincided. One of the major reasons for this was thanks to a man called Charles Darwin. In 1859, Darwin published his book “On the Origin of Species” and to say that it was a hit would be an understatement.
It completely revolutionized the world. And it spurred many great voyages for Victorians to discover as much as they could about evolution and find the “missing link” in the chain of human evolution. This would often result in their “discoveries” being used in exhibitions or “freakshows.” This photo taken in 1885 shows a hairy Thai child that was inaccurately assumed to be the “missing link.”
Four Generations & A Christening
It is well-known that the royals are christened typically a month after their birth. From this photo, we see that this tradition occurred even during Victorian times. This photo was taken on July 16, 1894, at the White Lodge in Richmond Park, London roughly three weeks after Edward VIII’s birth. As the oldest son of the oldest son of Queen Victoria’s oldest son, Edward VIII was in line to inherit the throne from his father, George V.
What is interesting about this photo is that we have the current ruler of the throne, Queen Victoria, seated and baptizing Edward VIII, and on the Queen’s left, Edward VII, first in line for the throne, and on the Queen’s right, George V, second in line, and finally, baby Edward, fourth in line.
Girls of the Jewish Free School
In 1732, the Jews’ Free School (JFS) was founded for orphans by the Talmud Torah of the Great Synagogue of London. Later, in 1822, the school moved its location to Bell Lane in Whitechapel. It was at this location that this photo was taken more than 70 years afterward. After its relocation, it became the biggest Jewish school in all of Europe.
The school was open to both boys and girls, hence the name The Jewish Free School. As seen, girls and boys were separated, and the two groups attended different classes. Some of the subjects on the girls’ curriculum included laundry class and exercise. Here we have a picture of the girls exercising in a quad. We’re guessing it probably was way more popular than laundry class.
At one stage a myth did the rounds saying that the Victorians were so straight-laced and so offended at the sight of ankles and legs that they covered up the legs of their furniture. It turns out this was simply a myth, and all the Victorians were really doing was protecting their valuables. The same wasn’t the case for human legs, especially female legs.
Thus, what you’re looking at here is quite a rare sighting. In Victorian times, women simply didn’t show their ankles. They always wore full-length dresses. Here we have a young woman who’s hitched up her dress to put her legs on the chair so that she can relax while reading. But though she’s showing her legs, she’s wearing stockings after all.
Learning to Cook Among Others
In 1870, the Elementary Education Act was passed meaning that education became mandatory for children between the ages of five and 13. This photo was taken in 1901, more than 30 years after the law had been passed. From this photo, it appears that the law was effective since here we see a classroom full of girls attending a cooking class.
The class is divided into two. In the forefront, we see half the girls cooking away at the stoves. In the bottom right corner, we see the other half of the girls’ taking notes while they watch their peers cook. Perhaps, this is how Victorian cooking classes were done – half the class demonstrates while the half observes.
Not for the Faint-hearted
Here we have a father posing with his three daughters. Though we don’t know the exact year this photo was taken, there are three things that tell us it’s definitely Victorian memorabilia. First, its vintage sepia tone. Second, the wardrobe of the father and his three daughters. It’s all hats and formal clothes. The third reason is a very macabre one.
If you look closely at the youngest daughter, her facial expression seems a bit chilling. Sadly, the infant daughter might be deceased. While it might seem bizarre that the family is posing with a deceased daughter, this was a pretty common trend among Victorians. After all, the Victorians were a little morbid – well, very morbid.
The London Tube
The London Underground is one of the standout features of the city. It’s also a historical feature of the city which was constructed thanks to Victorian inspiration and ingenuity. This photo was taken in 1862 during its construction. When it opened, it became the first underground in the world.
Here we see a group of construction workers posing for the photo while a steam engine powering machine is seen in the background. A lot of work went into building the first underground. A vast network of trenches had to be dug and tunnels inserted. In this classic pic, we see rows of houses being demolished for the Tube. Interestingly, in 2013, the Tube celebrated its 150th anniversary. Happy birthday, Tube.
An Operation at Charing Cross
We’d certainly not like to be the patient who’s being operated on in this picture. Imagine having all those eyes on you while a team of surgeons is performing a medical incision. However, Victorian surgeons had only one real way to learn. Medicine and hospitals have a pretty lengthy history but only during the 19th century did it become customary to build operating theaters in hospitals.
Surgery was pretty much in its infancy during this time. Here we see a photo taken in 1901 that shows a team of surgeons operating on a patient, while nurses wait in the background and men in the gallery observe the surgery. During the Victorian age, demonstration was the best method of teaching surgery.
A Victorian Asylum
In 1997, the Royal Earlswood Hospital finally closed its doors. The asylum had been open to treat and care for patients for 176 years. Here we see a photo of the hospital taken in 1904. However, back in 1904, it didn’t run under the name the Royal Earlswood Hospital. Then, it was called The Asylum for Idiots and The Royal Earlswood Institution for Mental Defectives.
It’s rather clear why the hospital had to undergo a name change. Back in 1904, Earlswood Asylum cared for patients with learning disabilities, who we rather rudely referred to as “idiots.” Patients at the asylum were taught different practical skills and manual trades. In this photo, patients are busy with cobbling.
The Water Cure
During the 19th century, hydrotherapy became a prevailing trend in the medical field. It gained popularity as a seemingly miraculous solution for a wide range of ailments, from hair loss in men to the treatment of female "hysteria." The practice involved immersing oneself in hot or cold water with the belief that it could bring about healing and rejuvenation. Hydrotherapy clinics catered to the wealthy who sought these therapeutic experiences.
People flocked to these establishments, eagerly indulging in the treatments, hoping for a cure. While the effectiveness of hydrotherapy remains dubious, it undoubtedly provided a lucrative business opportunity for enterprising physicians. Whether it was the placebo effect or genuine belief in the healing powers of water, hydrotherapy served as a symbol of the era's fascination with medical advancements and the pursuit of well-being.
The Modesty Boards
While certain fashions were quite daring back then, modesty was the name of the game - especially for women. Revealing flesh was highly taboo, and that rule went for even the juiciest part of the woman's body - the ankle. To curb all and any of these monstrous fashion transgressions, Victorian society invented the modesty board.
These boards were propped up or nailed to the ground in order to ensure that a woman's ankles were not exposed while seated. Heaven forbid a gentleman caught a glimpse of that sensual little bone. The whole tea room would be aghast in horror, and hot tea would be everywhere.
There's a reason why the English love their beer so much; their water (at least for so many years) was undrinkable. Clean and unpolluted water was hard to come by, and beer was considered a safer option, even by pregnant women and children. Kids, after a hard day's work in the mines, would love a cup of warm, frothy beer, too. What a time to be alive!
Beer was considered a safer alternative to water due to the brewing process, which involved boiling the water and adding hops, which helped kill bacteria and make it drinkable. The low-alcohol "small beer" was commonly consumed by children, who worked long hours in labor-intensive jobs such as mining. It provided them with hydration and some nourishment in a time when clean water was scarce.
Back in the good old days, education wasn't exactly a top concern. Kids had more important things to do, like earning a living! Who needs to know how to read and write when you can be a pint-sized chimney sweep, right? Sure, there were some fancy-pants church schools that were supposedly "free," but let's be real, most poor families needed every penny they could scrape together.
Meanwhile, the rich folks were sending their snobby offspring to prestigious institutions where they learned fancy stuff like Latin and Greek. Talk about priorities! Thankfully, someone in the government finally woke up from their afternoon tea-induced slumber and decided to make education compulsory for all kids under 13.
The Tattoo Craze
Tattoos!? One might never guess we're talking about the 1800s. But don't let those prim and proper ladies and gentlemen fool you. Tattoos were rather trendy throughout the Victorian era, especially among nobility and royals. Though the late Queen Elizabeth and the gang wouldn't be caught dead tatted up, back then, they felt rather differently.
It all started when Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales, visited Jerusalem and spotted the inky trend on his travels. He loved it so much that he decided to get one of his own. On his return, he sparked a trend. If the Prince of Wales had Instagram, he would be one heck of a social media influencer.
While the 19th century was filled with decadence for some, it was less so for others. Many families could barely scrape a few pennies together for a meal. With growing industries and a struggling working class, the nation sadly turned to its children for help, sending countless poor kids down to coal mines and chimneys.
Their small bodies could easily maneuver around tight spaces, but of course, this was extremely dangerous, and kids would be slogging away in coal and soot-saturated air for 12 to 18 hours a day. Thankfully in 1891, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed, offering some protection to child laborers, but society had a long way to go.
Gender Nonconforming Babies
Ah, the fashion rules of yesteryear! The Victorians had their own unique way of determining what babies should wear, and it was quite a sight to behold. Forget about pink and blue; it was all about the frills and lace. Little boys and girls alike were decked out in delicate dresses, complete with ruffles and bows that could rival even the most extravagant wedding gown. The wealthier the family, the more lavish the dress, as if they were competing in a baby fashion show.
And let's not forget the crowning glory of the ensemble – the bonnet. Those adorable bonnets perched atop tiny heads adding an extra layer of cuteness to an already over-the-top outfit. It was a time when even the tiniest tots were dressed to impress, leaving no doubt in anyone's mind that they were indeed the most precious little darlings around.
In the grimy and densely populated world of Angel Meadow, survival was a daily battle for the struggling poor. This Manchester slum, with its approximately 30,000 inhabitants crammed into a mere square mile, was far from heavenly. The stories from this place painted a picture of hardship and despair. In the relentless pursuit of sustenance, residents, including children, resorted to scavenging for food, sometimes even hunting down stray cats as a means of survival.
With squalid living conditions and little support from welfare programs, the residents of Angel Meadow endured a tough existence devoid of the comforts and assistance that we often take for granted today. It's a stark reminder of the challenging realities faced by the impoverished during Queen Victoria's reign and a testament to the urgent need for social progress and compassionate policies.
Bizarre Street Food
In the past, before the era of hotdogs and pizzas on street corners, the English had their own peculiar street foods that were surprisingly popular. One of these curious delicacies was none other than sheep's feet, commonly known as "trotters." Street vendors would meticulously prepare these trotters by skinning and parboiling them, resulting in a savory treat (for those with adventurous palates, at least).
Hungry workers would eagerly flock to these street vendors, indulging in the unique experience of sucking the tender meat and flavorful fat off the bones. It may sound unusual to us now, but back then, sheep's feet were a hearty and affordable option that satisfied the hunger and taste buds of many Englishmen and women on the go.
The Victorians were indeed a peculiar bunch with a fervent fascination for the supernatural. The 19th century gave birth to many ghostly tales and stories involving spirits. Perhaps this fascination was fueled by the emergence of the newly invented camera, which could produce photographic tricks and illusions, sparking intrigue and mystery. Moreover, one cannot dismiss the possibility that the affluent Victorians sought amusement and excitement through the exploration of the paranormal.
It was not uncommon for Lords and Ladies to dabble in hypnotism for sheer entertainment or attend séances in hopes of contacting departed relatives or enigmatic spirits from the ethereal realm. Palm readers, capitalizing on this fascination, thrived and earned substantial wealth from the curious socialites who sought insights into their future.
Hysterical Women Everywhere
Throughout the 19th century and beyond, numerous women found themselves burdened by a perplexing affliction known as Hysteria. This enigmatic condition seemed to encompass a wide range of symptoms, afflicting women who expressed sadness, spoke up, and felt anger, anxiety, or dissatisfaction. This became the scapegoat for various emotional and psychological struggles faced by women. In their quest for a remedy, physicians grappled with finding a suitable cure, often resorting to ineffective treatments.
Tragically, women suffering from Hysteria were frequently misunderstood and marginalized, banished to institutions where their days would be spent in perpetual misunderstanding. These institutions, lacking the necessary understanding and empathy, perpetuated a cycle of misdiagnosis and mistreatment, leaving countless women trapped in a perpetual state of misfortune.
Smoggy Foggy London
During the Victorian era, the rapid proliferation of factories in towns led to a significant surge in smog and air pollution. Coal combustion emitted copious amounts of pollutants that permeated the atmosphere, engulfing the cityscape in a thick haze. Compounding this issue was the presence of the Thames River, which added moisture to the air and exacerbated the effects of pollution.
As a result, venturing through the city streets meant inevitable contact with the pervasive grime and soot that coated surfaces. It was a far cry from a pleasant experience, as individuals would find themselves returning home with their skin and clothes stained by the ubiquitous residue.
No Kids Allowed
We've all heard the saying, "Children should be seen and not heard." Can you guess where it came from? Yep, you got it— the Victorian era! Back then, wealthy toddlers didn't spend much time with their parents; nannies were in charge. Kids had to follow strict rules and be on their best behavior all the time. Being well-mannered was a big deal, and staying quiet was super important.
Luckily, people soon realized that children have important things to say too, and things changed for the better! Now, we understand the value of letting children express themselves and be active participants in conversations and decision-making processes. It's a more inclusive and empowering approach that recognizes the unique perspectives and insights that children bring to the table.
Tragic Family Portraits
In an era marked by limited healthcare and tragically low life expectancy, parents often found themselves grieving the loss of their children far too soon. This was one of the greatest heartaches of the 19th century. Fortunately, healthcare and understanding have improved over time, but families resorted to rather peculiar methods of preserving memories back then.
It was not uncommon for grieving families, especially those who lost young children, to dress up their departed loved ones and have photographs taken with them. It may seem strange to us today, but for those families, it was a way to hold onto cherished memories and pay tribute to their dearly departed. It serves as a poignant reminder of the lengths people went to keep their loved ones close, even in the face of such heartbreaking loss.
Lethal Food Additives
Move over MSG and food coloring because Victorian food additives were in a league of their own. In an attempt to achieve that coveted whiteness, bakers would sometimes incorporate chalk and alum into their dough, while more unconventional ingredients like pipeclay, plaster of Paris, or even sawdust found their way into the mix.
If you thought that was concerning, wait until you hear about brewers who, when low on hops, resorted to adding strychnine—a toxic pesticide—to their beer. And let's not forget about the ever-present lead, which seemed to be everywhere. From red lead used to color Gloucester cheese to copper sulfates employed in preserving fruit, jams, and wine, the Victorians certainly had a knack for unwittingly inviting danger into their diets. Yikes indeed!
The United Kingdom was overwhelmed with orphans at the time. According to writer and historian Sarah Wise (via Spitalfields Life), 30,000 children were living on London streets in 1869. Moneyed philanthropists set up some schools to teach the kids practical skills, but it was simply too hard to teach and 'employ' all of these children.
One woman named Annie Parlane MacPherson started an emigration program. She founded the Home Children scheme, sending poor and orphaned children to other colonies of the British Empire. Thousands upon thousands of these kids were sent to farms or homes around the world to be laborers or domestic servants.
We all grew up with Kellogg's cornflake cereal in our breakfast bowls. Besides being a great start to the day, the cereal had another strange purpose during the Victorian Era. John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal creator, suggested that the cereal could be used to douse any inappropriate thoughts. In his belief, a plain and bland diet, including cornflakes, would help suppress desires and promote a more chaste lifestyle. Kellogg even went as far as advocating for circumcision without anesthesia to discourage being physically intimate with oneself.
While his ideas may seem peculiar and extreme by today's standards, they reflect the prevailing moral attitudes and beliefs about intimacy during the Victorian era. Thankfully, our modern understanding of human natural ways has evolved significantly since then.
If you were seeking amusement and entertainment during the Victorian era, a visit to a local fair would offer an entirely different experience compared to today. Unfortunately, one dark aspect of that time involved the exploitation of individuals who looked different as human attractions. Among them was "The Dog-Faced Boy," a child who suffered from a rare condition that caused excessive hair growth on his face and body.
Rather than understanding and supporting individuals with such conditions, they were put on display for public curiosity and amusement. It is a grim reminder of how society's perception of differences and the treatment of those who deviate from societal norms has evolved over time.
The Convenient Bathing Machines
In Victorian times, it was greatly frowned upon for women to be enjoying a day at the beach in their swimsuits next to a male companion. (Good heavens, think of the disgrace!) But it seems that rules to keep men and women 60 feet apart at beaches wasn’t enough.
And so the famous ‘bathing machine’ came to be – it was basically a large wooden hut on wheels that was dragged by horses or humans into the water so women could go straight from changing into their bathing suits to jumping in the water without anyone having to see them.
The Killer Shoe Polish
Their fabrics had arsenic, and their hats had mercury, but you’d think at least their shoes were safe, right? Wrong. And how could your shoes poison you anyway? Well, never doubt a Victorian's ability to take something innocent and turn it into an elegant death trap. Shoe polish from the 19th century had high amounts of nitrobenzene, a toxic chemical that caused men to pass out if they touched the wet polish.
Shoe shiners were doomed, and so was any impatient man that didn’t allow the polish to dry properly. The chemical caused nausea, vomiting, asphyxiation, and even death. And combined with alcohol, it was a sure ending.