Victorian dress

The mysterious Victorian era

The Victorian Era

Great Britain’s Victorian era is the period of Queen Victoria’s reign which was from 20th June 1837 to her death on 22 January 1901. It was a period of great change in Britain across every sphere including science, technology, travel, population growth, religion, politics, education and more.

Under the Reign of Victoria, the world began a set of rapid advances that changed the shape of the world forever. It was an era of sanitation, exploration and innovation. Naturally, as with everything in technological and scientific worlds, many of these advances have since been advanced upon. In hindsight, we can laugh at passing sciences such as phrenology (practiced by those who theorized about the brain ( hypnotism, spiritualism, and divination were quite the thing then!  As was taxidermy!).  However, these strange phases were the stepping stones to many of the scientific fields, which are now considered just as credible as Victorian studies were. It is important to also consider what massive advances they were for their time.

Great and unusual

Penny Farthing

A Penny Farthing from Abbey Museum collection

It was during this time that Britain’s Crystal Palace was built for a great exhibition in 1851 to display examples of technology developed during the industrial revolution.  This was in fact a favourite venue for John Ward (the founder of the original Abbey Musuem) and his family to visit. Museums and collections fed people’s curiosity.   In addition, the Victorian Era has become synonymous with the strange and unusual. This was the era of the curiosity cabinet. A glass case in the living room, stocked with mummified hands, artefacts from the Ancient world, stuffed animals from exotic countries like Australia, and evidence of the paranormal. Phrenologists added heads of criminals to this collection, as well as ‘natives’ from different countries across the world. Experimentation with the dead was not unusual, as legal and illegal autopsies were carried out, inspiring such Gothic fantasies as ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.  The public’s curiosity for the strange and unusual inspired circuses and sideshows, entertaining the public by ridiculing ‘mutants’ or ‘freaks’.  Museums, in the same way, served to nurture the public’s curiosity with collections to inspire awe, amazement and creativity.

Within our own lifetimes, we have witnessed the camera’s advance from film, to digital, to being made obsolete by the creation of the smart phone. Imagine the awe inspired by the introduction of the camera in the mid 1800s. People would wait for hours with their relatives, both dead and alive, to have their image captured with film. That wasn’t waiting in a queue; the first photos took at least half an hour to capture. Thankfully, most studios provided a neck brace for you or your dead relatives so no-one moved.

Abbey Open Day  – Victorian themed activities!

Hence, the Victorian era holds a great fascination for many people and we would like to indulge that fascination. And yes, the fashion was something special too! Do you dare try it?! The colour black became associated with Queen Victoria as it was very popular, but mostly due to the amount of pollution in the air!    Come to the Abbey Open Day on 8th December, visit the museum and Abbey Church and try some Christmas shopping at our unique stalls.  See if you can spot an emerging Victorian theme!  If you’re interested, sign up here!

(Blog by Felicity Miller)