I lived during the reign of Queen Victoria from the late 1830s until the early 1900s in London. Thus, this period was popularly known as the Victorian Age or Victorian Era, which was synonymous with grace, high morals, elegance, and social responsibility, among others. While the era was often referred to as the age of sophistication and style, it was also widely known as the first industrial society in the world.
During this time, we, as a society were fond of entertaining family and friends. In fact, the Victorian period was known for “extravagant entertaining for the upper middle and high classes” (“Victorian Era”). We typically served 9-course meals to delight our guests and used only the finest of spices in meals prepared by our cooks. Because of this, our generation began jotting down specific measurements and instructions on how to cook the dishes. Further adding style and charm to the Victorian era is the proliferation of afternoon tea sessions among ladies. According to history, it all began with Anna, Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), who was one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. To soothe her boredom and feelings of depression in the afternoons, she asked her maids to bring tea and small-sized cakes in her boudoir. Hearing that this is one of the ways the Duchess enjoys her afternoons, many followed her lead and soon, we were all having afternoon tea time with family members or friends (“Victorian Era”).
In the same light, middleclass people followed what high society dictated as the fashion trends of the time. For instance, women were expected to have hourglass figures, thus, corsets helped women achieve their desired waistline. Women used gloves, hats, or bonnets to accentuate their look and designed their dresses with either fitted or bell sleeves. For men, the Victorian era was more after the comfort of the wearer. While most men used shirt sleeves, they often covered themselves with sack coats, which was a “loose-fitting, single-breasted garment distinctive for its small collar, short lapels, a fastened top button close to the neck, moderately rounded hems, flap or welt pockets on the hips, a welt pocket on the chest and a slightly baggy appearance” (“Victorian Era”).
Despite the grace and elegance, it was also a period of great changes. Buildings were erected and London became heavily polluted beginning mid-19th century. With the population doubling from around 1.5 million to over 3 million, the river Thames became dirty as dirt from sewages were flushed into the river. As a result, diseases such as cholera spread quickly across the growing population.
Considering the population growth, wealth and poverty among people was very much evident. There was a great deal of poverty all over London. People worked but received very small wages. Jobs were available but were mostly seasonal or casual, thus, there was no guarantee of income for the poor unless they could find alternative sources of income or work. As a result, there was an apparent increase in the number of beggars and slum dwellers (“Social Conditions”). When people could not find any work, some resorted to crime. To make ends meet, some people turned to gambling to help augment the family income.
Because many could not afford decent accommodation, builders created homes from cheap materials and without the basic amenities such as toilets and bathrooms. At other times, two families share one house just to have room for some members of the family. The Victorian era was marked by an enormous belief about social responsibility that is why the “1890 Housing Act made it the responsibility of the local councils to provide decent accommodation for local people” (“Social Conditions”).
A great influence on me is the contrast between the wealthy and the poor. I am surprised that a country capable of producing enormous wealth was still encountering huge issues on a population besieged with poverty. In addition, I find it ironic that a society the whole world considered as the pioneer in industrial revolution is battling problems of unemployment and homelessness when they could and should easily be able to provide jobs and decent housing to the majority of the population. Because of such events, my thinking towards the poor have changed in the sense that I am trying to be open-minded and understanding when it comes to dealing with them directly. Every nation should strive to provide decent work and housing conditions to all especially when some sectors of society are able to live in a grandiose manner.
“Social Conditions in the 19th Century Port.” Port Cities London. N.d. Web. 20 April 2014. <http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/ConNarrative.78/chapterId/1871/Social-conditions-in-the-19thcentury-port.html>.
“The Victorian Era (1837-1901).” Eras of Elegance. N.d. Web. 20 April 2014. <http://www.erasofelegance.com/history/victorianlife.html>.
“Victorian Women – Social and Economic Status: Class and Occupation.” The Victorian Web. N.d. Web. 20 April 2014. <http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/gender/femeconov.html>.