The Victorians were particularly good at being entertained and at entertaining
others or themselves. Their performances at home were amateur, but they entered the spirit of
do it yourself family parties with elaborately organised entertainments. The hosts and guests joined
in charades, dancing, games, fireworks, magic lantern shows and piano sing songs making
their own lively entertainment.
Music was one of the greatest pleasures with thousands of people playing
musical instruments at home for pleasure. Even today people pick up the
best student flutes
and instruments so they too can entertain others and themselves.
Most cities, towns and villages had a Glee club, village band, music society
or choir. The Church orchestra came in useful for
more than just hymn playing and in Thomas Hardy's 'Under The Greenwood Tree' you can read about
how music was the common connection to bring courting couples together.
Music groups sprang up everywhere and by 1857 'The
Halle Orchestra' of Manchester was compared to 'The London Philharmonic Society'.
Right - Accomplished young ladies at the piano circa
Music helped to pass winter evenings and all governesses
were supposed to teach this refinement to young ladies.
Dancing was closely associated with musical ability.
Dancing was a living tradition with local variations. Both Victoria
and Albert were musical and they influenced the popularity of music and dancing in Victorian
homelife and society. The Queen gave evening concerts at Buckingham
Windsor Castle. In 1840, the Prince upgraded the Queen's
Private Band into a good string orchestra. Mendelssohn often performed for them.
Mendelssohn had a high opinion of the Prince's musical
The Victorians loved dancing. Johann Strauss the elder (1804-49), as part of the coronation festivities had brought the new Viennese waltz to England. Queen Victoria thought Prince Albert
waltzed beautifully. Newer square dances were popular as were older dances such as the Sir Roger De
Coverley, jigs, hornpipes, country dances, flash jigs. Then in 1840 everyone started
to do the Polka which was sweeping Europe among rich and poor.
Well bred men also enjoyed haunting Vauxhall and Cremorne Pleasure Gardens.
They were never frequented by well bred young women. Vauxhall in London first opened
in 1661 and after a fashionable existence in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries lost any respectability it ever had by the Victorian era.
Young men still ate, drank, danced, listened to music and
chased women down the Dark Walk. They still watched firework displays, pantomimes
ascents, but once the gentry stopped visiting Vauxhall, it soon lost ground and was closed
Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea were new. They had been transformed from a farm
into a pleasure garden in 1843. It had a monster dancing stage and landscaped
attractions with discrete pavilions in dark
corners. It also had magnificent gas lighting in public parts. Any women seen in illustrations after 1850 was very likely wearing the
colourful gaudy dress of the prostitute and was likely accompanied by middle or upper class gents who could afford their services.
Right -The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens
by Phoebus Levin 1864 and held at the London Museum, UK.
Fairs were held all over Britain from city to village green, but the
first special fair of the Queen's new reign was held in Hyde Park.
Every kind of article from ribbons to pies was sold. The Victorians loved the macabre
and looking at freaks from fat men, fat women
to the contrast of living skeletons, two headed ladies and for a time the so
called Elephant man to mind reading dogs and performing
horses. The crowds loved them all.
To stay solvent the two oldest theatres, Covent Garden and Drury Lane
presented all sorts of concoctions as well as regular drama.
They put on farces, melodramas, operettas, trained horse and dog acts, harlequinades,
rope dancers, bits of Shakespeare livened up with music, all items that could be as likely seen at a fair too.
No theatrical production consisted of one work, but of various three or four hour acts.
Actresses were often fashion leaders and it was notoriously difficult to get actresses to appear in
Victorian prudery inhibited many Playwrights because of the outwardly
respectable ideas that were common. In contrast the Music Hall with its double entendres
drew the less attractive violent fringe of theatre audiences.
This Victorian institution catered chiefly for the working man and lasted
to the end of World War I when it was replaced by the cinema.
The society novel existed for new middle classes who might have mingled with
the aristocracy. It went into exhaustive detail on dress, food, furniture, stately homes, conversation and behaviour in every situation.
It created innocent heroines where evil must be punished and
Singing especially of the romantic ballad was popular enough for 700 publishers
to make a living printing ballad broadsheets. Patriotic songs like Rule Britannia and comic songs like the Policeman
were enjoyed too. Songs from poems like 'Come Into the Garden Maud', 'Sally in our Alley' and 'Cherry Ripe'
all gave pleasure.
All classes mixed at Derby week which was both a fair and a race week. Sellers
of food and drink with
trays slung round necks catered for the masses. Derby Day was
held at Epsom racecourse and was a wonderful holiday in May or sometimes June.
Weather could be fine and sunny or wet and if not too bad the races went ahead. Then in
1859 to amazement snow fell before and during the
race. This has been the only time in history snow has fallen during the
Left - Derby Day by William Frith Powell the master of the
panoramic Victorian scene and held at the Tate Gallery London, UK. 1856-8
In the early period indoor games ranged
from whist, cribbage, bridge and
patience. Men could
enjoy more outdoor sports than women especially real tennis, shooting, rowing,
billiards, cricket, fishing, and deer stalking. Later women joined some of
Right - Late Victorian sportswoman.
gentlewomen were more
limited and played
croquet and skated.
walked and promenaded. They were graceful walkers with good deportment. They hunted, rode horses and mastered archery.
A few would mountaineer despite the cumbersome nature of wearing crinolines or
Left - Gentleman on a Penny Farthing.
Between 1870 and 1900 sporting activities for both sexes grew rapidly. Women
soon played golf and
cricket, sailed, swam and bathed publicly. Once the bicycle arrived in 1881 cycle
clubs for enthusiasts formed and it was a wonderful way for young couples to
socialise with limited supervision. The special clothing that women needed for
these sports evolved from reform dress first initiated by Amelia Bloomer around
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