The Victorian era is one of marvel and fascination, with much of society as we now know it having been built on the foundations that the Victorians established. When we think of Victorian London we think of – of course – Queen Victoria, the industrial revolution and the infamous Whitechapel Murders. Though these are pillars of British history, there is much more that happened in the 64 years that comprised the Victorian era.
Here are 10 interesting Victorian London facts that you might not have previously known.
It’s no secret that Victorian London was tainted with black smog from burning coal. This high level of pollution caused black stains everywhere – from buildings to clothes. To combat this, the Victorians frequently wore black clothes so that they wouldn’t show the dirt as much. Very practical! Black further came into fashion beyond its practicality following the death of Prince Albert in 1861 when Queen Victoria resigned herself to a lengthy period of mourning during which she exclusively wore black.
At the height of the industrial revolution, London underwent a massive expanse and millions of people moved to the city for work. From 1831 to 1925, London was the biggest city in the world. From 1800 to 1900, the population grew by 5.7 million people to a total of 6.7 million, although most of these lived in extreme poverty in slums. The population was dense which meant disease like cholera ran rampant and was hard to curb as the population grew.
Not many people had their photos taken in the Victorian era, but when they did, they were most likely dead. Many families would sit their deceased relatives up, open their eyes and do their makeup to make them look alive. The family would then pose alongside the corpse for a photo to honour them. The photos served as mementos that could be treasured – especially when it came to the death of a child. Epidemics were part of life in London and therefore death was never far away. If families couldn’t have photos taken when a person was alive, most would make sure to get photos taken when they died.
In 1848 the potato famine encased Ireland and resulted in hundreds of thousands of Irish families emigrating, 100,000 of whom ended up in London. This was a huge influx and no doubt contributed to the strain put on infrastructure, but it also resulted in more intense overcrowding and more disease being spread.
As the British empire thrived, London did not. Sure, the population grew and inventions were aplenty, but many of those inventions did little to clean up the dirty streets. Aside from the suffocating smog and the stinking Thames, the streets were riddled with horse waste, litter, cigarette butts, animal carcasses and urine to name but a few. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that London really started to clean its act up, literally, and turn into the loved city it is today.
If you’d like to find out more about life in Victorian London, or for more information on Jack the Ripper, contact our team today.