101 Victorian Facts

  1. The first postal system called The Penny Post was introduced in 1840. Letters could be paid for using the first ever postage stamp called The Penny Black. Christmas cards were first printed in Britain in 1843 and were sent to others using this postal system. Queen Victoria was the first person shown on a stamp.
  2. Queen Victoria was born on the 24th May 1819 in Kensington Palace. She was the daughter of the Duke of Kent.
  3. The Victoria Cross was introduced in 1856 to award bravery in the army.
  4. In 1870 it became compulsory for all primary aged children to attend school. However it was not free and poor families were unable to afford it. Parents needed to wait until 1891 when school became free to all. Some families were still not happy though as this meant young workers who had been earning were now not making money for their family. Children were considered the property of their father. Some not only made them work and took all their wages but would keep them imprisoned at home. I bet your parents don’t sound quite as bad now!
  5. In 1876 Queen Victoria became Empress of India. This was to show that she was the ruler of India. India was one of the countries that Britain ruled over within the British Empire. (Other countries included New Zealand, Canada, Nigeria, Ghana, Australia, Jamaica, and South Africa.)
  6. Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of the Species’ was first published. Not everyone was convinced by Darwin’s theory (that humans evolved from apes) and there were cartoons making fun of his ideas. The majority of people in Victorian times were religious and they were angry with Darwin for suggesting that the Bible story of God creating the world was wrong. Even today there are people who refuse to accept Darwin’s theory.
  7. Queen Victoria was crowned on the 28th June 1837 in Westminster Abbey.
  8. More than a million people died between 1845 and 1849 in the Irish Potato Famine.
  9. Queen Victoria gave birth to Prince Leopold and used chloroform to assist with the birth.
  10. Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband, died of Typhoid at the age of 42 in 1861.
  11. The first steam powered fairground ride was introduced in 1865. This was at Aylsham Fair in Norfolk. The handle of the roundabout was connected to a steam engine to make the ride turn. Before this invention small boys ran around pushing the ride. They were given free rides as payment!
  12. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria refused to be seen in public and lived virtually in seclusion. She would sign state papers etc. in private. The public were not supportive of this long period of mourning and started calling for her abdication, as they no longer wanted her to act as Queen.
  13. In 1853 the vaccination against smallpox, a deadly airborne disease, was made compulsory. If parents refused to have their babies vaccinated they were fined.
  14. In 1951 the Great Exhibition took place in Hyde Park, London and was a great success. People travelled from all over Britain and Europe to see new inventions and goods from around the world.
  15. People who lived in the country were often poor compared to people living in towns. However they often lived into their 50s whereas town dwellers only made it to about 40.
  16. In 1850 towns started to build corn exchanges. These large covered buildings were for corn merchants to meet with farmers to arrange the pricing for the sale of corn crops, including wheat, barley and all cereal grains.   Towns would often compete with each other to see who could build the grandest corn exchange!
  17. In Queen Victoria’s time the population of Britain grew from sixteen to thirty seven million!
  18. The poor who lived in the slums close to the factories had to share one toilet between several households. The toilet was a hole in the ground with a shed like building over it for privacy.
  19. Fairs would often include the sale of animals. You didn’t have to be a farmer though to enjoy a day out as there were often games and competitions and the children were allowed a day off school. Animals took over the town and would be tied up outside pubs whilst their owners were having a drink inside. Sometimes the animals would escape. Once in Banbury Market a bull escaped and charged through a sweetshop window!
  20. Queen Victoria finally emerged from mourning in 1874 (thirteen years after her husband died). The public had forgiven her time away as she made appearances around the country. By the time of her death in 1901 her people mourned their much-loved monarch.
  21. Drunkenness was a problem for all ages, even the children. It was difficult to find safe drinking water. But at 1p per pint it was easier and safer to buy beer.
  22. Queen Victoria allowed certain new inventions in her home including carpet cleaners and the electric light.
  23. When Queen Victoria was first on the throne only about 20% of people lived in towns. By her death this number had risen to about 75%.
  24. In 1870 Dr Barnado opened the first home for poor boys. It was likely that these were orphaned boys who had been living on the streets. These homes would provide food and shelter.
  25. The Auctioneers Act of 1845 introduced a legal framework for auctions to take place – popular at markets and fairs. The public would bid until no one offered any more. The auctioneer would then bang the hammer to show that a sale had been made. I guess this is the earliest form of Ebay!
  26. By the end of the Victorian times, tinned food was available and items such as tea were affordable for everyone – not just the rich!
  27. One of the ways the poor could make sure they had a roof over their head and food on a daily basis was by being in service (being a servant) to the wealthy. In the year 1851 there were 20 million people in Britain and 1 million of them were servants to the rich!
  28. Before the Industrial Revolution, people would grow their own food. Since people moved to the towns to work in factories they had to buy food from their wages. This was the start of the modern consumer society we still have now.
  29. Children were expected to work in factories and mills. The children who didn’t go out to work would help with cleaning the home or making things the family could sell. They only had one day off which was Sunday, the rest day.
  30. Every town had at least one theatre to show ballet, opera or variety shows. By the 1890s there were over 350 music halls in London!
  31. The milkman would bring milk straight from the farm. People would take large churns out on the street, which the milkman would fill.
  32. It was fashionable for women to have a small waist so they would wear corsets. These were made from steel, bone or wood. They were so tight that they made breathing difficult and some women would even faint!
  33. The Brontë sisters all wrote novels using male names in the hope they would be taken seriously and have more chance of success. This was the same for George Eliot whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. When Charlotte Bronte married, it was her husband who was paid the royalties from her books!
  34. The invention of the steam train meant that families from a variety of backgrounds were able to have a day out at the seaside for the first time.
  35. Louis Pasteur was a French teacher and a chemist. He was able to prove that germs were living things that came from other living things. Before this people thought that germs just appeared out of nowhere. This discovery helped medicine move away from medieval knowledge and treatments from the middle ages. He was nicknamed ‘The Father of Germ Theory’. I bet the patients that had been prescribed another course of blood letting were pleased that scientists like him were starting to appear on the scene!
  36. Boys and girls both wore dresses until they were about 5 years old.
  37. Goose Fair in Nottingham has been in existence for hundreds of years. Hundreds of geese were taken from Lincolnshire to sell at the fair. However there were fewer geese to find by the Victorian times so the fair adapted to include food halls and sideshows. The famous fair is now one of the biggest travelling fairs in Europe.
  38. If you were to marry someone from a lower social class, your family would likely take you out of their will! If a woman gave birth without being married it’s likely she would become a social outcast. The best chance of survival then was by working in a workhouse.
  39. In 1867 a British surgeon called Joseph Lister developed an antiseptic that would kill bacteria. This greatly increased the survival rate of patients having surgery. Before his findings half of the people having surgery would die from shock, gangrene or other complications from the operation.
  40. Women were expected to marry young (about the age of 18) and the marriage was often arranged by parents rather than for love. Parents were particularly keen to marry off daughters or they remained the property of their father and were entitled to some of the wages he earned. If anything happened to the father then the daughter would have no means of an income. Women who did not marry were called spinsters.
  41. The first underground railway was opened in London in 1863.
  42. You could be imprisoned as a child or adult; they weren’t fussy about the age of the criminal. Imprisonment might be because you stole a loaf of bread or wore what was considered an indecent costume from a theatre show! Over seventy crimes were considered appropriate to result in the death sentence. This included assault and petty theft!
  43. Transporting goods became easier with the increase in steam trains. This meant that there wasn’t the same need for country fairs where people would sell things. Fairs had to adapt with the times and became more fun. They changed into the travelling funfairs that are still around today.
  44. Britain got its nickname the ‘Workshop of the World’ due to all of the inventions such as electricity, the telephone, fridges, cameras, stamps, matches and typewriters. All these things have been adapted over the years and we still use them today.
  45. It is not allowed for a man to propose to a queen so Queen Victoria had to ask for Prince Albert’s hand in marriage. This was protocol for the Royal Family but would have been very unusual for ordinary people.
  46. In 1841, Thomas Cook launched the first ever holiday trip on a train. Travellers could go from Leicester to Loughborough and back! (Loughborough is only 12 miles from Leicester!) His first overseas tour was in 1850 when holidaymakers could go from Leicester to Calais in France.
  47. In 1888 female workers who worked in a match factory in London refused to work as they campaigned for better working conditions. This was the first ever women’s strike.
  48. Life was definitely not equal in the Victorian times. Women were expected to do the same work as men for a lot less pay. If they were married their husbands owned them! Before 1882, when the Property Act became law, the property and wages of all women from all classes belonged to their husbands too. Even Queen Victoria was not helping with equality. She didn’t like the idea of having women doctors and is thought to have said “the mad, wicked folly of women’s rights”
  49. Before a proper police force was introduced, ward constables and night watchmen would help keep the streets safe from pickpockets and thieves. The only problem was that they were not given a wage to protect the people so the criminals could easily bribe them!
  50. Clocks around Britain used to be set to slightly different times. This couldn’t happen with the use of trains or no one would catch their train on time. So in 1884 everyone began to set his or her clocks by the time in Greenwich, London. This was known as Greenwich Mean Time, which we still use today.
  51. The Houses of Parliament burnt down in 1834. The building that still stands in London today was completed in 1867. The building includes the Westminster Clock Tower. Inside is the bell called Big Ben which has chimed every hour ever since. (The chimes stopped between 2017 and 2021 for maintenance.)
  52. It wasn’t until 1884 that all men over twenty one had the right to vote. Previous to this poor men from working class backgrounds were not allowed to vote. Up until 1872 people often had to vote how their employer or landlord wanted them to. This was the year that started the idea that people were free to vote how they wanted and in secret. This luckily remains today. (Women didn’t have the right to vote until after the Victorian times.)
  53. In 1856 Florence Nightingale returned from the Crimean War and campaigned for cleaner hospitals and the proper training of nurses.
  54. Outbreaks of cholera were happening in many towns and cities due to the unclean living conditions. This killed thousands of people. People would queue up to get clean water from standpipes. A standpipe in Westminster that served sixteen houses was turned on for just five minutes on a Sunday, as this was the day that most people had off work to do their washing.
  55. The first Football League season took place with the first Cup Final happening in 1872. In 1882, English cricketers played against Australia for the first time for the Ashes trophy.
  56. To give an example of the divide between the rich and poor, the Duke of Westminster earned £250,000 from renting out various properties he owned whilst a flower seller earned about sixpence a day!
  57. The Blackpool Tower opened in 1894.
  58. When Prince Albert was dying in 1861 he changed the wording of an angry letter written by the Foreign Minister, Viscount Palmerston to the USA. If he didn’t then Britain may have gone to war with the USA.
  59. The first chocolate bar in Britain was made in 1853.
  60. It was usual to have large families. Queen Victorian and Prince Albert had nine children, forty grandchildren and thirty-seven great-grandchildren.
  61. The first escalator in Britain was fitted in a shop in 1898.
  62. You have the Victorians to thank for receiving gifts at Christmas. Don’t get too excited though as they were often a few sweets and a few nuts!
  63. The British inventor George Stephenson, who invented the first passenger train, was known as the “Father of Railways”.
  64. The first goal nets were used in a British football match in 1890.
  65. Even with all of the new laws in place to help with workers’ rights it was still difficult by 1900 to get paid time off work for illness, pregnancy or getting married and there were no paid holidays.
  66. The word ‘smog’ was introduced. It means a mixture of smoke and fog and started to be used due to the thick smoke that came from the factories, polluting the air.
  67. The first hippopotamus to come to Britain arrived in 1850.
  68. Children aged between eight and twelve were still working underground in mines until the 1842 Coal Mine Act came into force. Parents would then send their children to work in other jobs within factories instead! In 1844, the Factory Act meant that children only needed to work a six and a half hour day.
  69. Many people could not afford furniture so used large stones as chairs, old boxes for tables and beds were made from straw, sometimes without any coverings.
  70. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first English female doctor. Women weren’t allowed to train in British medical schools though so she had to qualify in the USA. A law was eventually passed in 1896, allowing women to train as doctors.
  71. The very poor were known to eat oatmeal and water or flour and water and skimmed milk. Sometimes children could be seen eating rotten vegetables from the market.
  72. John Gray was a night watchman in Edinburgh. So he wasn’t lonely, he got a companion – a dog called Bobby. John died of tuberculosis in 1858. Bobby refused to leave John’s grave, guarding over his master for the following fourteen years until his own death when he was buried nearby.
  73. The poor people living in the towns often lived in tiny houses that only had one room downstairs and one upstairs. These were about 2.75 metres wide and 3.5 metres long. Families with about ten children would all squeeze in!
  74. The first children’s playground in Britain opened in 1859.
  75. Barbara Leigh Smith campaigned for the Marriage and Divorce Act, which came into place in 1857. Before this women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands in Britain even if they were being cruel to them or deserted them.
  76. Books for children started to get more popular due to more children being able to read and write. Exciting stories were written such as Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Treasure Island and The Jungle Book.
  77. London Road in Nottingham became the first road to be covered in tarmac (tarmacadam). Before this the streets were made from cobbles and were not as easy for wheels to move along them.
  78. The front wheel of a Penny Farthing was about 2 metres tall. The bikes didn’t have brakes so you would have to peddle backwards to slow down!
  79. At The Great Exhibition in 1851, the first public toilets were demonstrated. People could ‘spend a penny’ to use the toilet. For a penny you would get a clean seat, a towel, a comb and a shoeshine! When the exhibition closed it was agreed that the toilets would stay. The idea soon caught on and public toilets started appearing around the country.
  80. If you like ‘Jelly Babies’ then you have an Austrian called Herr Steinbeck to thank. He made them in Lancashire in 1864 and these became the world’s first Jelly Baby sweet.
  81. The working classes who lived in towns and cities often died between the ages of 17 and 20.
  82. The first chocolate Easter eggs were made by Fry’s in Bristol…. Thank you Mr. Fry!
  83. Museums began to open in London such as The Victoria and Albert Museum, The National Portrait Gallery (the first portrait gallery in the world) and The Science Museum. All are still popular today.
  84. There were some horrible and dangerous jobs in Victorian times. A Rat Catcher was paid to catch rats. They would rub sweet smelling oils into their hands to attract the rats and then try to catch them with their bare hands!
  85. If teachers think it’s tough teaching a class of thirty today, a Victorian class could have over sixty children in it!
  86. Let’s hope you didn’t need false teeth as the teeth were often taken from dead people!
  87. There are lots of reasons to be thankful that you weren’t born in Victorian times but I bet you never thought it would have anything to do with your name! Some parents named their children quite bizarre names. Examples include ‘One Too Many’ Gouldstone, ‘Leicester Railway’ Cope, ‘Zebra’ Lynes, ‘Time of’ Day and ‘Friendless’ Baxter!
  88. In 1858, there was The Great Stink in London. The city had become smelly due to not having proper sewerage systems. All sewerage and factory waste was dumped into the River Thames. The smell was so bad that you could smell it from miles away and it made people physically sick. When the Thames water level went down people could see lots of rotten poo, some of which were hundreds of years old!
  89. Rich holidaymakers when visiting Egypt would sometimes buy an ancient Egyptian mummy as a souvenir to take home. Once back home in Britain they would host mummy unwrapping parties to see what was underneath. This would have been a very smelly party to attend!
  90. When a family died it was quite normal to hire a photographer to take photos of the dead person with their family around them. The person who had died would be sat up or even stood up as if they were still alive. For most Victorians this would be the only time they were photographed! Some of these photos even ended up in the family album!
  91. Christmas cards sent in Victorian times were sometimes a bit weird! They could have dead birds or humanized vegetables on the front!
  92. Doctors blamed the new technology of trains for causing something called ‘railway madmen’. They thought some insanity could be due to the sound and movement of trains, which were unlike anything people would have experienced before.
  93. Oscar Wilde’s half sisters died at a Halloween party when their large full gowns made from flammable crinoline got too close to candlesticks. Thousands of women died from crinoline related fire accidents.
  94. Fashionable ladies drove some animals to extinction because they liked to wear them! Not just the furs! Some ladies would have dead birds on top of hats and beetles could replace jewels in necklaces and earrings!
  95. A delicacy for the rich was to eat turtle soup. It was difficult to bring turtles to Britain so cooks were asked to make something as close to turtle soup as possible without using turtles. This dish was known as mock turtle soup…. I bet the turtles were pleased!
  96. When you’re next on your lunch break, maybe see if anyone is selling trotters. These were fried sheep’s feet and people would suck the little bit of meat and fat off the bones…. Yum!
  97. It was not ladylike to show much skin, so modesty boards were attached to the bottom of desks so a woman’s ankle could not be seen when they sat down!
  98. If a lady went to visit a friend it was known as ‘paying calls’. However, she could only do this in the afternoon. To pay a call at any other time of day was considered bad manners!
  99. When Queen Victoria’s son, The Prince of Wales, visited Jerusalem he decided to get a tattoo. Tattoos were already happening across Britain but this really started a trend and they became very popular.
  100. Queen Victoria didn’t like the idea of wearing black at funerals. When she died, London was decorated in purple and white.
  101. Parlour games such as charades and musical chairs come from the Victorian times. Some games however were actually dangerous so you may want to give the game ‘Snapdragon’ a miss. This game involved putting a bowl of rum-soaked raisins in the middle of a table and set fire to it. The game was to try and get the raisins out of the bowl and eat them whilst they were still on fire! A game best left to the Victorian times!



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