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  • Introduction

The Victorian stereotype and double standard

Gender and class in victorian society, religion and science in the victorian era, government and politics in the victorian era, the victorian british empire, the victorian british economy, victorian culture and art.

Victorian era

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Queen Victoria

Victorian era , in British history, the period between approximately 1820 and 1914 , corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria ’s reign (1837–1901) and characterized by a class-based society, a growing number of people able to vote, a growing state and economy, and Britain’s status as the most powerful empire in the world.

During the Victorian period , Britain was a powerful nation with a rich culture . It had a stable government, a growing state, and an expanding franchise. It also controlled a large empire, and it was wealthy, in part because of its degree of industrialization and its imperial holdings and in spite of the fact that three-fourths or more of its population was working-class. Late in the period, Britain began to decline as a global political and economic power relative to other major powers, particularly the United States , but this decline was not acutely noticeable until after World War II .

Close-up of terracotta Soldiers in trenches, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China

Today “Victorian” connotes a prudish refusal to admit the existence of sex , hypocritically combined with constant discussions of sex, thinly veiled as a series of warnings. There is some truth to both sides of this stereotype . Some few educated Victorians did write a lot about sex, including pornography , medical treatises , and psychological studies. Most others never talked about sex; respectable middle-class women in particular were proud of how little they knew about their own bodies and childbirth . In addition, Victorians lived with a sexual double standard that few ever questioned before the end of the period. According to that double standard, men wanted and needed sex, and women were free of sexual desire and submitted to sex only to please their husbands. These standards did not mesh with the reality of a society that featured prostitution , venereal disease , women with sexual desires, and men and women who felt same-sex desire , but they were important nonetheless.

Victorian society was organized hierarchically. While race, religion, region, and occupation were all meaningful aspects of identity and status, the main organizing principles of Victorian society were gender and class . As is suggested by the sexual double standard, gender was considered to be biologically based and to be determinative of almost every aspect of an individual’s potential and character. Victorian gender ideology was premised on the “doctrine of separate spheres.” This stated that men and women were different and meant for different things. Men were physically strong, while women were weak. For men sex was central, and for women reproduction was central. Men were independent, while women were dependent. Men belonged in the public sphere , while women belonged in the private sphere. Men were meant to participate in politics and in paid work, while women were meant to run households and raise families. Women were also thought to be naturally more religious and morally finer than men (who were distracted by sexual passions by which women supposedly were untroubled). While most working-class families could not live out the doctrine of separate spheres, because they could not survive on a single male wage, the ideology was influential across all classes.

Class was both economic and cultural and encompassed income, occupation, education, family structure, sexual behaviour, politics, and leisure activities. The working class, about 70 to 80 percent of the population, got its income from wages, with family incomes usually under £100 per annum. Many middle-class observers thought that working-class people imitated middle-class people as much as they could, but they were mistaken; working-class cultures (which varied by locality and other factors) were strong, specific, and premised on their own values. The middle class, which got its income (of £100 to £1,000 per annum) from salaries and profit, grew rapidly during the 19th century, from 15 to over 25 percent of the population. During the 19th century, members of the middle class were the moral leaders of society (they also achieved some political power). The very small and very wealthy upper class got its income (of £1,000 per annum or often much more) from property, rent, and interest. The upper class had titles, wealth, land, or all three; owned most of the land in Britain; and controlled local, national, and imperial politics.

Most Victorian Britons were Christian. The Anglican churches of England , Wales , and Ireland were the state churches (of which the monarch was the nominal head) and dominated the religious landscape (even though the majority of Welsh and Irish people were members of other churches). The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian . There was some religious diversity , as Britain also was home to other non-Anglican Protestants (notably Methodists ), Roman Catholics , Jews , Muslims , Hindus , and others (at the end of the period there were even a few atheists ).

Charles Darwin

Alongside their faith, Victorians made and appreciated developments in science. The best-known Victorian scientific development is that of the theory of evolution . It is typically credited to Charles Darwin , but versions of it were developed by earlier thinkers as well, and the pseudoscience of eugenics was an ugly outgrowth of Victorian evolutionary theory. Victorians were also fascinated by the emerging discipline of psychology and by the physics of energy.

The formal political system was a constitutional monarchy . It was in practice dominated by aristocratic men. The British constitution was (and is) unwritten and consists of a combination of written laws and unwritten conventions. At the national level, government consisted of the monarch and the two houses of Parliament , the House of Lords and the House of Commons . The monarchs during this period were Queen Victoria (1837–1901), preceded by King George IV (1820–30) and King William IV (1830–37) and followed by King Edward VII (1901–10) and King George V (1910–36). During the Victorian period, the House of Commons became the centre of government, the House of Lords lost power (though it remained influential until the Parliament Act of 1911 ), and the monarchy transformed into a symbol of the nation. The House of Commons consisted of about 600 men called members of Parliament (MPs), who were elected to represent the counties and boroughs of England , Scotland , Wales , and Ireland . England had many more representatives than the other three nations, by virtue of its status as first among these four equals, the product of tradition as well as its greater political power and wealth. The upper house, the House of Lords , was populated principally by several hundred noblemen who had life tenures . Members of both houses were wealthy men. Formal national politics was dominated by two major parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative (or Tory) Party .

At the start of the period, MPs were elected by the half-million property-owning men (in a population of 21 million) who had the vote. In 1829 the vote was granted to Catholic men and in 1832, to most middle-class men; in 1867 and 1884 the franchise was extended to working-class men. Most women over age 30 got the right to vote in 1918. Full adult suffrage , with no property requirement, was achieved with the second Representation of the People Act (1928). This story of the expansion of the national electorate is important, but there is more to political participation than voting at the national level. Local politics were also important. And being denied a voice and access to institutions certainly did not render nonvoters indifferent to politics or to how power was wielded; they made their opinions on these known via demonstrations, petitions, and pamphlets.

Robert Wilson: Chartist demonstration

Important political events during this period included the abolition of slavery in the British Empire; the expansions of the franchise; working-class political activism, most notably Chartism ; the rise of liberalism as the dominant political ideology , especially of the middle class; and the nationalization of Conservative and Liberal parties (and the emergence of the British Labour Party in 1906). The growth of the state and state intervention were seen in major acts that limited hours for factory workers and miners, in public health acts, and in the provision of elementary education by the state. Political conflicts between Ireland and Britain and the rise of Irish nationalism were also hallmarks of the era, as were women’s rights activism, which resulted in the Married Women’s Property Acts , the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, and the growth of education and employment options for women.

British Empire

The Victorian British Empire dominated the globe, though its forms of rule and influence were uneven and diverse . The traffic of people and goods between Britain and its colonies was constant, complex, and multidirectional. Britain shaped the empire, the empire shaped Britain, and colonies shaped one another. British jobs abroad included civil and military service , missionary work, and infrastructure development. People from various imperial locations traveled to, studied in, and settled in Britain. Money, too, flowed both ways—the empire was a source of profit, and emigrants sent money home to Britain—as did goods such as jute , calico cotton cloth, and tea .

Dramatic expansion of the empire meant that such goods came to Britain from all over the world. Between 1820 and 1870 the empire grew, shifted its orientation eastward, and increased the number of nonwhite people over whom it exerted control. Much of this expansion involved violence, including the Indian Mutiny (1857–59), the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) in Jamaica, the Opium Wars (1839–42, 1856–60) in China, and the Taranaki War (1860–61) in New Zealand. India became central to imperial status and wealth. There was significant migration to the settler colonies of Australia and New Zealand and later to Canada and South Africa . From 1870 until 1914 continued aggressive expansion (including Britain’s participation in the so-called Scramble for Africa ) was assisted by new technologies, including railways and telegraphy . Britain took control of large parts of Africa (including Egypt , Sudan , and Kenya ), which together were home to about 30 percent of the African population. The same period also saw the start of anticolonial movements that demanded freedom from British domination in India and elsewhere. These would ultimately lead to decolonization after World War II.

Britain’s status as a world political power was bolstered by a strong economy, which grew rapidly between 1820 and 1873. This half-century of growth was followed by an economic depression and from 1896 until 1914 by a modest recovery. With the earliest phases of industrialization over by about 1840, the British economy expanded. Britain became the richest country in the world, but many people worked long hours in harsh conditions. Yet, overall, standards of living were rising. While the 1840s were a bad time for workers and the poor—they were dubbed “the hungry forties”—overall the trend was toward a less precarious life. Most families not only had a home and enough to eat but also had something leftover for alcohol , tobacco , and even vacations to the countryside or the seaside. Of course, some decades were times of plenty, others of want. Relative prosperity meant that Britain was a nation not only of shopkeepers but of shoppers (with the rise of the department store from mid-century transforming the shopping experience). Increased wealth, including higher real wages from the 1870s, meant that even working-class people could purchase discretionary items. Mass production meant that clothes, souvenirs, newspapers, and more were affordable to almost everyone.

The Wilds of London

More access made British cultural products more important. Not only did they reveal much about the society from which they emerged, but during the Victorian period Britain was the cultural capital of the English-speaking world (including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Victorian performance and print culture were rich and varied, a blend of melodrama, spectacle, and morality .

Theatre thrived. Melodrama —which featured evil villains, virtuous heroines, and intricate plots—was the most important and most popular genre early on; later, sensation drama became popular. Even more popular were music halls , which featured varied programs of singing, dancing, sketches, and more; these emerged in the 1850s, and by the 1870s there were hundreds across Britain, some seating thousands of people. Music halls attracted people of all classes.

Print culture was also large and diverse, aided by relatively high literacy rates. There were hundreds of magazines and newspapers available at ever cheaper prices. The 1880s saw the emergence of “the New Journalism,” which drew in readers with pieces on violent crimes and scandals in high society. Novels were another key feature of Victorian print culture. By mid-century, Britons of all classes could afford and read novels. Some were aimed at highly educated and well-off people, others at less-educated readers looking for appealing and exciting stories. Penny dreadfuls and sensation novels, seen at their best in the work of Wilkie Collins , thrilled their readers. Victorian novels were often quite long, with complicated plots (often centred on marriages) and many characters. Many, especially those by Charles Dickens , are still read today.

Victorian Era

From Georgian to Edwardian

Victorian Era Newspapers: Various sections, Layouts and Templates

I was tracing the growth of newspapers in the United Kingdom when I came across some interesting facts regarding the newspapers which prevailed during 1837- 1901.  Here I have summarised my findings on  Victorian newspapers other than the Illustrated London News.

There were a number of advancements in the newspaper industry during the time when Queen Victoria ruled Britain. The circulation of books has increased, there was a huge reduction in the prices of newspapers and magazines. All these factors established a link between the masses and the printed world.


Table of Contents

Victorian newspaper sections

The newspapers of the Victorian era comprised of a Front page, Advertisements page, Articles, Police Court Report, Letters to the editor, Classified Section, Situation Vacant etc.

Notable features of the newspapers of the Victorian era

The Layout of most of the newspapers was similar and the news appeared in black and white print. Information regarding the date of the newspaper, its price, the edition number was printed on the first page along with the name of the newspaper. The Manchester Chronicle had no headline news or images on the first page instead Situations vacant occupied the front page as it job was of utmost importance to the people.

Victorian Era Newspapers

We offer false tooth with 5 years guarantee!

Feather bed cleaning and purifying service our speciality…

The above statements were some of the popular advertisements printed in the newspapers of the Victorian era. For the purpose of advertisements, photographs were used very rarely in newspapers. Full page advertisements were not used until a long time.

The newspapers of the Victorian era published articles which reported news in a factual way. The articles just revealed the basic story and excluded commentaries and opinions of the reporter, unlike today. They were shorter in size as compared to the articles of 21st century. Space was used efficiently in the newspapers considering the difficulties in the typesetting process.

19th-century British newspapers

In 1855, the Victorian period saw the birth of the newspaper The Daily Telegraph which earned a name for itself in the Victorian era. In 1986 came the first colour newspaper, The Independent . The typesetting machine invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1880 and the monotype machine invented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887 paved the way for changes in the field of printing of a newspaper.

But the year 1896 gifted to Britain, The Daily mail which is one of the popular newspaper in history. The following year after its establishment Daily mail published the largest news illustration showcasing the Diamond Jubilee Procession. With Daily Express being the first paper to put the news on the front page in 1900 the story of the newspapers of Victorian era came to an end.

Victorian newspaper templates: editable in ppt

If you want to create your newspaper with Victorian look for a school project, here are some templates courtesy of “editable old newspaper templates” by presentationmagazine.com.

Victorian era newspapers editable template

Victorian era newspapers ppt template

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newspaper articles victorian era

Victorian Newspapers – who read them and where

There are many similarities between Victorian newspapers and today’s newspapers. A flick through a modern newspaper reveals national news, international news, letters pages, features, recipes, book reviews, beauty products, fashion commentary, travel articles, crosswords – the list goes on! A Victorian newspaper wasn’t much different, so let’s start at the beginning.

In 1846, when Charles Dickens became editor of the Daily News in London, there were a total of 355 newspapers running in England. By the time Charles Dickens died in 1870, there were nearly 1000 up and running newspapers. This sharp rise in the founding of newspapers was due to the abolition of stamp duty, a tax paid by all newspapers to the government. So the cover price went down, and the distribution went up. News was now big business.

Local Newspapers

  All Victorian newspapers were known as local newspapers. They covered only an area or district of a town or a city. So London had lots of separate, local newspapers each covering an area of London, not the whole. This was what people wanted because most people, especially the working class, did not travel far from home and so news of other cities was of no consequence to them. People wanted to know what was happening in their area, where they knew the road names and the people involved. This was news which had a direct impact on their lives. Most newspapers carried some international news, especially about trade and war, as these events had an impact on National wellbeing. The Times was the nearest thing to a National paper but even then, it did not carry a lot of National news. The Guardian, which today is classed as a National paper, originally started as a local Manchester paper.

As well as local news, including crime and murder, newspapers covered government activities in The House of Commons, history articles, letters from prominent people, poetry, and fiction. In fact, newspapers were the starting point for many Victorian authors including The Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskill, George Elliot, and of course, Charles Dickens. They also ran many adverts as these brought in much needed money. Common adverts included soap, medicine, corsets, and food items.


Other Newspapers

Many subject specific publications sold on a weekly or monthly basis. The medical journal, the Lancet, was a newspaper for doctors and is still going today. Alliance News was a newspaper for members of The Temperance (anti-alcohol) movement, and Athletic News, based in Manchester, wriote about football. There was also an interesting newspaper called The Illustrated Police News which reported on general scandals but specialised in London court cases and murders. It was printed on a Saturday and cost 1 penny.

olice News victorian newspaper

Who read the newspapers?

It was usual practice in the Victorian era for those who were literate to read aloud the articles and news to a group of interested listeners who couldn’t read so well. Literacy levels were not brilliant. We know this because the only historically accurate measurement of literacy levels of everyone from the Victorian era is in the church marriage records. All couples who married, and it could only be in a church because registry offices didn’t exist then, had to sign the marriage register. In the 1850s, only 69% of men and 55% of women could sign their names. Everyone else signed with an X. By 1900, 97% of both men and women could sign their name.

Children read newspapers. It helped them to retain their reading skills after they had left school. Many children read the newspaper to their parents, which is no different to my children showing me how to use social media! Many newspapers started writing a column or two aimed at children, and they were encouraged to write letters to the newspaper and send in pictures they had drawn too.

Even semi-literate people could stumble their way through the headlines and get the gist of what was being reported. But it was common for the illiterate and semi-literate to listen to others reading aloud. People were good at listening, just like in Shakespeare’s time when people went to “hear” a play. Nowadays, we have news read to us by news readers on the TV and radio.

Where were newspapers read?

Reading the news aloud took place in the home, in coffee shops, in ale houses and on the streets. It was common for the husband to read the news aloud to his wife whilst she finished off chores or did some sewing. It was equally common for men to stop off in pubs on the way home to have a pint and read the papers for free. Pubs and coffee houses saw newspapers as an investment. They attracted customers who could sit in the warmth and light with their friends and have a conversation about what was happening in the world. These were free conversations with like-minded individuals, and these opportunities were cherished by everyone.

Public libraries also stocked the latest newspapers in their reading rooms. Wealthier men read the papers at their local Gentlemen’s Club, in peace and quiet, with a nice pipe and a drink of whisky. Reading in the street was a normal, communal activity, with groups of people gathering under streetlamps to look at the latest news.

Recycle and Reuse

Once the Victorian newspaper had been read, it was discarded. With newspapers being printed every day, yesterday’s news was, well – yesterday’s news.

Many people cut out their favourite or most relevant stories and pasted them into scrap books, leaving behind an important historical record. All newspaper offices bound up past copies of newspapers into books for posterity.

Victorian newspaper scrapbook

However, the majority of old newspapers were used where paper was needed – mainly as toilet paper. Once the newspaper had been read, it was neatly torn into squares, threaded onto some string, and hung on a hook in the privy.

For more information on privies, please visit my recent post Privies – How we went to toilet in Victorian England.

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6 strange newspaper stories that shocked Victorian Britain

Think of the Victorians as straight-laced and boring? Think again – nothing captured the imagination of 19th-century readers like the strange, macabre and bizarre. In extracts taken from Strange Victoriana: Tales of the Curious, the Weird and the Uncanny from our Victorian Ancestors, Jan Bondeson highlights six of the most sensationalist, sinister and downright ridiculous Victorian newspaper stories, from fighting ghosts to scantily clad sleepwalkers…

newspaper articles victorian era

Somnambulists in peril

The Victorians in general, and readers of the weekly newspaper the Illustrated Police News ( IPN ) in particular, had a fascination with the mobile but unconscious female body. Sleepwalkers, or ‘somnambulists’ as the Victorians called them, were among the favourite subjects for the IPN’s bawdy-minded draughtsmen. Male somnambulists may have been news, but they were never Illustrated Police news, even if they performed a tap-dance on the roof of the House of Lords; the IPN’ s somnambulists were all young, female, and scantily clad.

One of the earliest IPN somnambulists was the 17-year-old Clara Dalrymple, from a small village near Glastonbury. She was well known to often go walking in her sleep, but in May 1868, she rose from her bed in her bedroom on the second floor and walked out on a plank that a workman had put between her father’s house and the one opposite. She fell, but her dress caught in a lamp-post and she was saved. Madame Broneau, a French somnambulist, was less fortunate: she fell to her death in Belfast after walking out on the roof.

In 1885, a Kidderminster police constable heard screams from the roof of a house, and he observed a young lady somnambulist, dressed only in her night-shirt, who had got through a window out onto the roof, where she awoke. Her father and the police constable threw her a rope, and she was rescued from her perilous position. Finally, in 1897, somnambulist Miss Charlton took a walk on the parapet of her family’s house in Manchester, with a lighted candle in her hand. Fortunately, she fell only four feet, onto the flat roof of a neighbouring property, and thus survived her ordeal without any permanent harm.


The Kidderminster somnambulist is saved; from the IPN, 8 August 1885. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

The ‘Plumstead Ghost’, 1897

In October 1897, many people saw a ‘ghost’ flitting about near St James’s Church and school, Plumstead. Sensitive little girls had fainted when the white spectre approached them; some were still in bed, said the Daily News , suffering from nervous exhaustion. A timid schoolmaster had been frightened out of his wits when the ‘Plumstead Ghost’ suddenly grabbed hold of him from behind and shouted ‘Boo-hah!’ at the top of its voice. An old couple visiting the churchyard received a similar shock when the ghost hailed them from a tree, making use of the same uncouth outcry.

When another schoolmaster was taking an evening walk, he heard rustling in the hedges nearby, and a shout of “Boo-hah!” He had brought with him a large Newfoundland dog, which he set on the spectre. Since the master distinctly heard the ghost give a yelp when the dog’s fangs made contact with its buttocks, he became convinced that the Plumstead Ghost was flesh and blood. He spoke to both masters and schoolboys, asking them not to be fearful, but to teach the ghost a hard lesson if they came across it.

The rowdy schoolboys decided to do just that. One evening, after scouts had reported that the ghost was at large, a troop of schoolboys, a hundred strong, stormed the churchyard. Shouting and yahooing, they pelted the ghost with stones, but without scoring any hits on the absconding spectre. Instead, their missiles broke some valuable stained glass. Pursued by the Newfoundland dog, the ghost was seen to disappear into the hedges.

The schoolboys had been so rowdy that the police arrested two of the ringleaders and brought them to Woolwich, but after the masters had explained the extraordinary circumstances of their riot, they were both discharged. The evening after, the Plumstead Ghost was seen in the grounds of Mr JR Jolly. Arrayed in white attire, and wearing some kind of grotesque mask, the spectre was sitting in a tree, shouting its usual “Boo-hah!” to frighten some female domestics. Mr Jolly was not at all amused: he sent for the police and the ghost was arrested. It turned out that the spectre’s white garb had been torn, and his buttocks badly bruised, from his two encounters with the fierce Newfoundland dog. He turned out to be a local engineer. He was placed under restraint in an asylum, and the Plumstead Ghost was laid to rest.

More like this


The 'Plumstead Ghost' is pelted by schoolboys; from the IPN, 6 November 1897. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

Andrian, the ‘Dog-Faced Man’, 1874

In 1874, the London newspapers announced that two of the greatest human curiosities of the present age had arrived at the Metropolitan Music Hall in Edgware Road: Andrian the Russian ‘Dog-faced Man’ and his son, Fedor. A reporter and a draughtsman from the IPN were present to provide a feature about them. The 55-year-old Andrian was a quiet, morose individual, who spoke only Russian. He was of medium height, strongly built, and dressed in not very clean-looking Russian garments. His eyes were a curious yellow, and his skin an unhealthy grey. Andrian reportedly resembled a man half changed into an animal, a spectacle destined to strike horror into Victorian people; his face was entirely covered with hair, like that of a Skye terrier.

A doctor was impressed to see Andrian drink a pint of undiluted vodka with relish, as he carved his beefsteak at the exhibition. The showman said that, ever since he had first put Andrian on show before the curious in St. Petersburg, Paris and Berlin the year before, he had vowed to return to his native village as soon as his tour of the European capitals was over, and to spend all the money he had earned entirely on strong drink. According to another, slightly more prepossessing version, Andrian was a devout member of the Russo-Greek Church. Since others in that faith had told him that he must surely have been cursed by the devil, poor Andrian reportedly spent all his money on the purchase of prayers from a devout community of monks near Kostroma, “hoping one day to be able to introduce his frightful countenance in the court of heaven”, as the exhibition pamphlet flippantly expressed it.

Andrian and Fedor remained in London until early April 1874, and then spent ten days in Liverpool. According to the Liverpool Mercury , the jolly young Fedor pointed at the bald head of a doctor in the audience, and suggested that it would have been an improvement if some of the hair on his own face could have been transferred to the savant’s bald pate. Andrian died later in 1874, probably from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by his excessive drinking of spirits. Fedor later enjoyed a distinguished career in the American sideshow, under the name of Jo-Jo the ‘Dog-faced Boy’, touring the world with Barnum & Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ until his death, from pneumonia, in 1912.


Andrian the ‘Dog-faced Man’ and his son: an original drawing from the IPN, 7 February 1874. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

A Welsh hermit defended by rats, 1879

In January 1879, an old man named Joseph Mason was prosecuted for failing to support his wife, and leaving her chargeable to the Aberystwyth union workhouse. It turned out that he had deserted her and become a hermit up in the mountains, miles above the lead mines of Goginan. After the workhouse had appealed to the Llanbadarn Fawr petty sessions, an officer named Jones was sent out to track down the 70-year-old Mason, described as a former shoemaker. At Goginan, the mountain men directed Jones toward Mason’s abode, far up beyond the old mines and the village. After a good deal of searching, he finally found the hermitage, which was in the most miserable condition. Although the locals had warned Jones not to approach the angry, unpredictable hermit, he bravely opened the door. Looking around the gloomy, unlit interior, he could see a heap of turf on the floor of this wretched dwelling, and also some rags that served Mason as a bed. In a corner, he could only just make out the sinister-looking, hunched old hermit glaring at him.

But there was something else – an army of large rats scurrying about. Jones stamped his foot to scare the rodents away, but instead they attacked him, leaping up and biting at his trousers. Having received the shock of his life from the furious rodents, Jones was put to headlong fright. According to the Welsh mountain men, the old hermit had “tamed and trained his strange companions during his sojourn in the mountains, and encouraged them into his house.” Since Joseph Mason was on the verge of starvation himself, the charge against him was dismissed. It does not seem to have occurred to any person that perhaps he was in need of some help himself, sitting alone in his wretched hermitage above Goginan, with only his rats for company.


Joseph Mason is defended by his army of rats; from the IPN, 11 January 1879. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

The ‘Fighting Ghost of Tondu’, 1904

In 1904, the Welsh village of Tondu acquired a sinister inhabitant. For some time, there had been talk of the disused colliery at Ynisawdre being haunted. On an early September morning, some workmen saw a tall spectre, shrouded in white, in the neighbourhood of Felinfach. When the ‘ghost’ glided towards them with a drawn-out “Booh!”, its great black sockets that took the place of eyes fixed straight ahead, all twelve sturdy Welsh miners took to their heels. When they finally dared to look back, the ghost had disappeared.

Not long after, another Welshman was taking a midnight walk down the lonely, narrow road adjoining the deserted buildings and coke ovens of the abandoned Ynisawdre colliery. At the far end of a tunnel he was astonished to see a tall, cadaverous figure waiting for him. The head resembled a skull covered with wrinkled parchment; the eyes were hollow sockets, with a cavernous glow. Suddenly, the ghost ran up to the terrified Welshman, its long arms outstretched. It grasped him with a hearty goodwill, with such a vice-like grip that he could hardly breathe. When he tried to grapple with this singular ghost, his hands met just thin air. Having toppled its opponent over, the ‘Fighting Ghost of Tondu’ glided off with a hollow laugh. “A Ghostly Reign of Terror in Glamorganshire”, exclaimed the headline of the South Wales Echo .

Village ghosts were not unknown in this part of Wales, but they used to be timid and unadventurous, behaving with becoming decorum and keeping a safe distance to human beings. Although this novel spectre was draped in white, the proper attire for any self-respecting ghost, and made use of the equally orthodox outcry “Booh!”, it seemed much more combative, putting twelve strong men to flight, and then successfully wrestling another. A servant girl had recently seen the Fighting Ghost stalking the ruins of the abandoned colliery at Ynisawdre, uttering dismal groans and waving its arms about. The women and children of Tondu were kept indoors after nightfall, and bands of stalwart men, armed with bludgeons and pitchforks, patrolled the country roads to lay the Fighting Ghost.

It would appear as if the short career of the Fighting Ghost of Tondu ended in late September 1904, after it had been immortalized in the IPN and other publications. Its likely origin is the same as other ‘suburban’ or ‘village’ spectres (ignoring the sad fate of the Hammersmith Ghost of 1814, who was shot dead by an armed ghost-hunter): some prankster amused himself through dressing up as a ghost and frightening timid and superstitious people in the neighbourhood. Although the annals of the IPN provide several instances of ‘suburban ghosts’ being caught, beaten up, or mauled by fierce dogs, the Fighting Ghost of Tondu seems to have been spared such indignities; there is no mention of its activities after September 1904.


The Fighting Ghost of Tondu on the charge; from the IPN, 17 September 1904. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

Dick Schick, the ‘female errand-boy’, 1886

In January 1886, a cheeky-looking young lad who gave his name as Dick Schick was employed as an errand-boy by Messrs Goodman & Davis, the Oxford Street tailors. Dick said that he was 15 years old, and that since his mother’s work as a furrier could not support the family, he decided to get a job himself. Dick seemed an honest and upright young lad, and although he had a fondness for drinking and smoking at various pubs, his partying habits did not differ much from those of other young London errand-boys. But worryingly, various garments started disappearing from the tailor’s shop. Another boy was dismissed on suspicion, but the thefts continued. One day, Mr Davis saw that the dapper-looking Dick Schick was wearing a pair of trousers and a waistcoat made from his own stolen material.

After being fired by Goodman & Davis in June 1886, Dick quickly secured another job as an errand-boy, this time for the respectable glover Frederick Noble Jones, of Burlington Arcade. When gloves and other garments started disappearing, Dick became a suspect. This time, the cunning Dick wrote an anonymous note blaming another boy, but after this individual had been dismissed, the thieving continued. One day in October, Mr Jones got the idea to compare the anonymous letter with some of Dick’s handwriting; they were an excellent match. The police raided the Schick lodgings and found some of the missing garments, along with 40 pawn tickets for other items of clothing. This was not the only noteworthy discovery of the day, however; when examined by a doctor, ‘Dick’ turned out to be a woman. The 20-year-old Miss Lois Schick had successfully masqueraded as a 15-year-old London errand-boy for nearly a year.

There was a good deal of writing about the ‘female errand-boy’ in the London newspapers. Motivated by a mixture of sensationalism and vague proto-feminist sentiments, the rabble-rousing editor WT Stead tried to put a spin on the ‘Dick Schick’ case: was it not a shame that young women were so discriminated against, and had young Lois Schick not been forced by poverty to don male attire? Some other newspapers followed suit, calling young Lois a brave lass, who had just wanted to get a job and support her family. In an interview, Mrs Schick praised her daughter for helping to save her younger siblings from starvation. There was even a Schick Relief Fund, organized by the solicitor Bernard Abrahams; in its first week, it collected £10.

When Lois Schick was charged with theft at the Marlborough-street police court on October 13 1886, she seemed quite undeterred by having to wear her male attire in court. The momentum was clearly against her, however: in relentless testimony, her career of dishonesty was exposed. In particular, it was considered ‘not cricket’ that this artful young woman had twice successfully framed other errand-boys for the thefts, causing them to be dismissed from their jobs. An uncharitable clergyman pointed out that the Schick family had been supported by the parish for some time, that Lois’ younger sister Mary had found employment without resorting to cross-dressing, and that Lois had actually posed as ‘a nephew’ for four years or more. At the Middlesex Sessions, Lois Schick was sentenced to eight months in prison with hard labour, for stealing articles to the value of £75.


Lois Schick and other players in the case; from the IPN, 30 October 1886. (Illustrated Police News/Jan Bondeson)

These extracts are taken from Strange Victoriana: Tales of the Curious, the Weird and the Uncanny from our Victorian Ancestors by Jan Bondeson (Amberley, 2016).

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The National Archives

COPY 1/408 Paddington, 1892

Victorian Railways

Lesson at a glance, did they create more crime, teachers' notes, connections to curriculum.

In Victorian times, Britain’s railway network grew rapidly. In the 1840s ‘Railway Mania’ saw a frenzy of investment and speculation. £3 billion was spent on building the railways from 1845 to 1900. In 1870, 423 million passengers travelled on 16,000 miles of track, and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign over 1100 million passengers were using trains.

The railway system offered new chances for travel, holidays, transporting goods, developing businesses and the growth of towns and cities. The distance between town and countryside was erased. Dairy produce and fish could be delivered easily to different parts of the country within hours. Increased communication allowed for the spread of ideas and national newspapers. A standardized time was introduced across Britain as trains were timetabled. The mobility of labour and maintenance of law and order were made easier. Of course, the railway network also stimulated the coal and iron industries but led to the decline of the canal system.

However, with more people and goods on the move, trains and railway stations arguably, offered new opportunities for crime. The first carriages were unlit and unconnected by corridors, so there were cases of lone travellers being robbed or attacked. Railway stations were often packed and busy which made theft easier. The first railway murder took place in 1864 on train travelling from Fenchurch Street towards Hackney on the North London Railway and caused a great deal of public concern about travel safety.

Use this lesson to explore sources relating to criminal activity based around railways.

Look at Source 1

Extract from a report about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, which received various reports railway business, 1867 (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Look at Source 2:

Two entries from a Home Office Criminal Register (Catalogue ref: HO 27/147)

  How have the women in Source 1 been punished?

Look at Source 3

Extract from a report about the theft of a copper tap at Leeds Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Sources 4-8

The following sources taken from police files at the time, concern the first railway murder in 1864 of a man called Thomas Briggs. Discover what the documents reveal about police methods of investigation in Victorian times.

Look at Source 4

Front page from a pamphlet sold about the murder of Thomas Briggs on the North London Line in 1864. Read the background notes for information on the crime. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76 p1.)

  What type of document is it?

Look at Source 5

Metropolitan Police Special Report Division K, 17 th September 1864. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Look at Source 6

Police report from the Division at Islington & Hackney concerning a witness who had travelled on the same train as Mr Briggs. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

Look at Source 7

A list of policemen involved in the case and their duties from the Detective Department. (Catalogue reference, MEPO 3/76)

Look at Source 8

Letter to the Commissioner of Police from the Home Office at Whitehall about rewards for certain policemen who worked on the case, 6 th February, 1865. (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Can you suggest reasons why the investigation was so intensive? [see Source 4 again]

Look at source 9

Extract from ‘The Daily Telegraph’, July 13 th 1864.

Thomas Briggs, a sixty-nine year old banker was found severely injured on the railway tracks of the North London Railway line near Hackney. He had been travelling in a first class carriage from Fenchurch Street to Hackney, and his compartment was found soaked in blood. When he was discovered and examined, it seemed that Briggs had sustained several serious blows to the head and he later died from the attack. His hat and gold watch with chain were missing and after an intensive police investigation, the prime suspect, Franz Muller was caught by British police who arrested him in New York. Muller was extradited and charged with murder. In Britain, he faced trial and was found guilty then publically hanged.

The crime revealed that in terms of safety, wealth and position made no difference, the assault on Mr. Briggs took place in an isolated first class carriage. The Daily Telegraph, dated 13th July 1864 seems to capture sense of public panic: “There is one general feeling which this dark crime has excited among the population there must be an end put to the absolute imprisonment…which railway travelers endure”

In order to improve train safety, a bill was introduced in 1866 for the use of communication cords in railway carriages to enable passengers to stop the train at any sign of danger. This was later made compulsory by the Railways Regulation Act of 1868.

This lesson is designed to introduce pupils to different historical sources to find out about crime on the railways and explore how the records can used to understand more about police methods and crime detection.

Pupils use two railway crime reports and a Home Office criminal register to find out about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station and the theft of a copper tap at Leeds station by a young boy aged 10 years. The reports were written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, which received various reports railway business and the day to day running of the railway.

The other sources included in this lesson relating to the investigation of the first railway murder in 1864 represent the tip of an iceberg. They come from two police folders on the case which contain a vast collection of hand written witness statements made in police stations all over London including Clapham Junction, Kennington and Tottenham for example, letters to the police advising them about their investigation, and how to improve rail safety, newspaper clippings collected by the police commenting on the investigation and court proceedings and so on.

Please note there are further examples of crime associated with railways in our Crime and Punishment website . In addition you could also ask students to consider what other sources they could use to find out more regarding the social context of crime. For example, census returns, newspapers, letters, criminal depositions and photographs available on this website focus on issues of 19 th poverty and social deprivation.

For this lesson, pupils can work in pairs or small groups to study each sources and report back to the whole class to discuss the answers to the questions. Alternatively, pupils can work through the tasks independently.

Source 1: Extract from a report about pickpocketing at Kings Cross Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway. All railway companies had a Board of Directors, to which groups or individuals would send reports on the business of the railway, 1867 (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Source 2: Extract of Home Office criminal register (Catalogue ref: HO 27/147)

Source 3: Extract from a report about the theft of a copper tap at Leeds Station written for the Board of the Great Northern Railway (Catalogue ref: RAIL 236/299/11)

Source 4: Front page from a pamphlet sold on the murder of Thomas Briggs on the North London Line in 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76 p1.)

Source 5: Metropolitan Police Special Report Division K, 17 th September 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Source 6: Police report from the Division at Islington & Hackney concerning a witness who had travelled on the same train as Mr Briggs (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

Source 7: A list of policemen involved in the case and their duties from the Detective Department (Catalogue reference: MEPO 3/76)

Source 8: Letter to the Commissioner of Police from the Home Office at Whitehall about rewards for certain policemen who worked on the case, 6 th February, 1865 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/76)

Source 9: Extract from The Daily Telegraph, 13 th July 1864 (Catalogue ref: MEPO 3/75)

Key Stage 4 GCSE Schools History Project thematic studies offered by Edexcel, & OCR based on Crime & Punishment.

Key Stage 2 Aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066; changes in crime and punishment from the Anglo-Saxons to the present- Teachers may wish to adapt this lesson or use some of the sources as appropriate to the needs of their pupils.

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newspaper articles victorian era

History of Britain

The Victorian Workhouse

By jessica brain.

The Victorian Workhouse was an institution that was intended to provide work and shelter for poverty stricken people who had no means to support themselves. With the advent of the Poor Law system, Victorian workhouses, designed to deal with the issue of pauperism, in fact became prison systems detaining the most vulnerable in society.

The harsh system of the workhouse became synonymous with the Victorian era, an institution which became known for its terrible conditions, forced child labour, long hours, malnutrition, beatings and neglect. It would become a blight on the social conscience of a generation leading to opposition from the likes of the Charles Dickens .

newspaper articles victorian era

This famous phrase from Charles Dickens ‘Oliver Twist’ illustrates the very grim realities of a child’s life in the workhouse in this era. Dickens was hoping through his literature to demonstrate the failings of this antiquated system of punishment, forced labour and mistreatment.

The fictional depiction of the character ‘Oliver’ in fact had very real parallels with the official workhouse regulations, with parishes legally forbidding second helpings of food. Dickens thus provided a necessary social commentary in order to shine a light on the unacceptable brutality of the Victorian workhouse.

The exact origins of the workhouse however have a much longer history. They can be traced back to the Poor Law Act of 1388. In the aftermath of the Black Death , labour shortages were a major problem. The movement of workers to other parishes in search of higher paid work was restricted. By enacting laws to deal with vagrancy and prevent social disorder, in reality the laws increased the involvement of the state in its responsibility to the poor.

By the sixteenth century, laws were becoming more distinct and made clear delineations between those who were genuinely unemployed and others who had no intention of working. Furthermore, with King Henry VIII ’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the attempts at dealing with the poor and vulnerable were made more difficult as the church had been a major source of relief.

By 1576 the law stipulated in the Poor Relief Act that if a person was able and willing, they needed to work in order to receive support. Furthermore in 1601, a further legal framework would make the parish responsible for enacting the poor relief within its geographic boundaries.

newspaper articles victorian era

This would be the foundation of the principles of the Victorian workhouse, where the state would provide relief and the legal responsibility fell on the parish. The oldest documented example of the workhouse dates back to 1652, although variations of the institution were thought to have predated it.

People who were able to work were thus given the offer of employment in a house of correction, essentially to serve as a punishment for people who were capable of working but were unwilling. This was a system designed to deal with the “persistent idlers”.

With the advent of the 1601 law, other measures included ideas about the construction of homes for the elderly or infirm. The seventeenth century was the era which witnessed an increase in state involvement in pauperism.

In the following years, further acts were brought in which would help to formalise the structure and practice of the workhouse. By 1776, a government survey was conducted on workhouses, finding that in around 1800 institutions, the total capacity numbered around 90,000 places.

Some of the acts included the 1723 Workhouses Test Act which helped to spur the growth of the system. In essence, the act would oblige anyone looking to receive poor relief to enter the workhouse and proceed to work for a set amount of time, regularly, for no pay, in a system called indoor relief.

Furthermore, in 1782 Thomas Gilbert introduced a new act called Relief of the Poor but more commonly known by his name, which was set up to allow parishes to join together to form unions in order to share the costs. These became known as Gilbert Unions and by creating larger groups it was intended to allow for the maintenance of larger workhouses. In practice, very few unions were created and the issue of funding for authorities led to cost cutting solutions.

When enacting the Poor Laws in some cases, some parishes forced horrendous family situations, for example whereby a husband would sell his wife in order to avoid them becoming a burden which would prove costly to the local authorities. The laws brought in throughout the century would only help to entrench the system of the workhouse further into society.

newspaper articles victorian era

By the 1830’s the majority of parishes had at least one workhouse which would operate with prison-like conditions. Surviving in such places proved perilous, as mortality rates were high especially with diseases such as smallpox and measles spreading like wildfire. Conditions were cramped with beds squashed together, hardly any room to move and with little light. When they were not in their sleeping corners, the inmates were expected to work. A factory-style production line which used children was both unsafe and in the age of industrialisation , focused on profit rather than solving issues of pauperism.

By 1834 the cost of providing poor relief looked set to destroy the system designed to deal with the issue and in response to this, the authorities introduced the Poor Law Amendment Act, more commonly referred to as the New Poor Law. The consensus at the time was that the system of relief was being abused and that a new approach had to be adopted.

The New Poor Law brought about the formation of Poor Law Unions which brought together individual parishes, as well as attempting to discourage the provision of relief for anyone not entering the workhouse. This new system hoped to deal with the financial crisis with some authorities hoping to use the workhouses as profitable endeavours.

Whilst many inmates were unskilled they could be used for hard manual tasks such as crushing bone to make fertiliser as well as picking oakum using a large nail called a spike, a term which would later be used as a colloquial reference to the workhouse.

newspaper articles victorian era

The 1834 Law therefore formally established the Victorian workhouse system which has become so synonymous with the era. This system contributed to the splitting up of families, with people forced to sell what little belongings they had and hoping they could see themselves through this rigorous system.

Now under the new system of Poor Law Unions, the workhouses were run by “Guardians” who were often local businessmen who, as described by Dickens, were merciless administrators who sought profit and delighted in the destitution of others. Whilst of course parishes varied – there were some in the North of England where the “guardians” were said to have adopted a more charitable approach to their guardianship – the inmates of the workhouses across the country would find themselves at the mercy of the characters of their “guardians”.

The conditions were harsh and treatment was cruel with families divided, forcing children to be separated from their parents. Once an individual had entered the workhouse they would be given a uniform to be worn for the entirety of their stay. The inmates were prohibited from talking to one another and were expected to work long hours doing manual labour such as cleaning, cooking and using machinery.

St Pancreas Workhouse

Over time, the workhouse began to evolve once more and instead of the most able-bodied carrying out labour, it became a refuge for the elderly and sick. Moreover, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, people’s attitudes were changing. More and more people were objecting to its cruelty and by 1929 new legislation was introduced which allowed local authorities to take over workhouses as hospitals. The following year, officially workhouses were closed although the volume of people caught up in the system and with no other place to go meant that it would be several years later before the system was totally dismantled.

In 1948 with the introduction of the National Assistance Act the last remnants of the Poor Laws were eradicated and with them, the workhouse institution. Whilst the buildings would be changed, taken over or knocked down, the cultural legacy of the cruel conditions and social savagery would remain an important part of understanding British history.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

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The Victorian view of same-sex desire

Simeon Solomon’s Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene (Credit: Tate)

Starting in 1861, with the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy, and ending in 1967, when the act between consenting men was decriminalised in England and Wales, the new exhibition Queer British Art  at Tate Britain in London offers just over a century of works exploring fluid gender identities and same-sex desire.

You might expect the show to display a gradual opening up, with increasingly explicit or unabashed imagery. Not so: the work of one of the first artists featured, Simeon Solomon – part of the Aesthetic movement and a youthful figure on the fringes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood – potently telegraphs homosexual desire from as early as the mid-1800s.

Solmon’s 1865 drawing The Bride, The Bridegroom and Sad Love – held in a private collection – is more explicit than other works intended for public display (Credit: Tate)

Solmon’s 1865 drawing The Bride, The Bridegroom and Sad Love – held in a private collection – is more explicit than other works intended for public display (Credit: Tate)

Witness The Bride, The Bridegroom and Sad Love, a drawing from 1865. While the bride and bridegroom canoodle, the man’s hand reaches behind him to a winged male youth, looking sad indeed. The groom may be turning away from same-sex love in favour of a respectable, heterosexual marriage, but the men’s fingers intertwine intimately in front of a naked crotch… As an image of forbidden, thwarted love and lust, today it seems pretty explicit.

But was it so for 19th Century audiences? In the case of this particular drawing, it probably was – it’s from a private collection – but Simeon was a notably fashionable, mainstream artist too, who exhibited at the Royal Academy, the institution at the centre of the Victorian art establishment. Much of his public work also carried a surprisingly bold homoerotic charge. Homosexual desire is a coded presence in many of his paintings, which in portraying classical myths, usually feature effeminate or androgynous young male nudes.

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, a watercolour from 1864, depicts the two female Greek poets in swooning embrace (Credit: Tate)

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, a watercolour from 1864, depicts the two female Greek poets in swooning embrace (Credit: Tate)

He even painted overt depictions of lesbian love, as in his watercolour Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene, from 1864. “It’s a really explicit depiction of female same-sex desire,” says Tate curator Clare Barlow. “Not explicit as in pornographic, but the passionate kiss, the swooning, the flushed cheeks… it’s all there for the reading. I think he goes further than others at the time.”

Raised eyebrows

Even if Solomon was celebrated by the Pre-Raphaelites and regularly exhibited in major galleries, critical responses were often uneasy. Barlow points out that reactions to the highly sensuous style of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic movement – all those languorously draped youthful bodies and heavy-lidded, languid expressions – were always shot through with contemporary anxieties. While critics might not have been able to come out and frame or label these works as homoerotic or deviant, they nonetheless frequently got their knickers in a twist about them.

As long as there was a degree of ambiguity, 19th Century society was prepared to turn a blind eye

“Words like decadent or feminine or sickly often come up – there are lots of suspicions,” says Barlow, speaking of not only Solomon but also artists like Frederic Leighton (who remained unmarried and whose sexuality was a subject of much speculation) and Edward Burne-Jones (who appears to have been primarily heterosexual). In 1865, the Pall Mall Gazette saw in Burne-Jones’s style “something seductive but it is not masculine”; the Spectator sniffed at a “repulsive sentiment which too frequently marks Mr Solomon’s compositions”. Of Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus, the Times fretted that the nude Icarus had the air of “a maiden rather than a youth”, noting anxiously the “soft rounded contour of a feminine breast” in his plump pecs.

The Times’ critic fretted that the nude Icarus in Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus had the air of “a maiden rather than a youth” (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Times’ critic fretted that the nude Icarus in Frederic Leighton’s Daedalus and Icarus had the air of “a maiden rather than a youth” (Credit: Wikipedia)

But as long as there was a degree of ambiguity – in both the work, and the artist’s proclivities – 19th Century society was prepared to turn a blind eye. Or, at least, confine themselves to a raised eyebrow. Even works which, to the modern viewer, look blatantly homoerotic could be respectably contained within the framework of the classical male nude, the ideal of Hellenic youthful beauty, or celebration of noble male friendship. Such narratives “veiled the potential homoeroticism of the works,” suggests Barlow. 

Notes on a scandal

In 1873, however, Solomon rather publicly confirmed all whispered suspicions: he was caught having sex with a man in a public toilet off Oxford Street. It caused a scandal, with the 32-year-old Solomon charged with “attempted buggery” and given a £100 fine; a successful career was abruptly derailed. After once more being arrested for “indecent touching” in a lavatory in Paris the following year, he spent three months in jail. Solomon was admitted to lunatic asylums, and would for rest of his life battle alcoholism, spending the latter part of it penniless and destitute. It was a very public fall from grace.

Simeon’s famous friends dropped him, and he died in a workhouse

“Artists at this time can get away with [suggesting] quite a lot providing there’s no hard proof,” points out Barlow. “It’s only when Solomon gets caught that all these rumours that have been swirling about decadence and sickliness crystallise into a specific sexual act.”

Although there is a sadness to Solomon’s story – famous friends dropped him, and he died in a workhouse in Covent Garden in 1905 – the artist did continue to produce work with impressive tenacity and creative conviction. And, later in life, he also achieved something of a cult status within gay circles. Frederick Hollyer, the great populariser of the Pre-Raphaelites, sold photographs of his work, and collectors included Oscar Wilde, essayist and critic Walter Pater, and the writer John Addington Symonds. “If you’re trying to seduce elegant young men in the 1890s, showing them your Simeon Solomon Hollyer editions is not likely to do you any harm,” says Barlow wryly.

Queer British Art is a show that, necessarily, often invites us to read (or re-read) work through the frame of the artist’s life, allowing what we know – or guess – about their sexual desires to open up fresh potential meanings.  “It’s always tempting to read the biography into the work – that’s something which can be illuminating but can also be problematic. But he does produce these incredibly agonised series of highly symbolist works at the end of his life,” says Barlow. She refers to a series of depictions of very tortured Medusa heads, cross-gendered male. They’re referred to as masculine in the Latin inscriptions, which say things like “it is the worst thing for the best to become corrupted” or given titles such as The Tormented Conscience. 

Solomon is shown in oriental costume in a photo by David Wilkie Wynfield, who convinced many great Victorian artists to play dress-up in front of his camera (Credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon is shown in oriental costume in a photo by David Wilkie Wynfield, who convinced many great Victorian artists to play dress-up in front of his camera (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Tate’s exhibition may start with Solomon, but it goes right up to David Hockney and Francis Bacon, taking in cross-dressing music hall stars, Oscar Wilde’s trial, and the Bloomsbury Group’s experiments in art and living along the way. The show aims to highlight “lots of different points of connection between the works and the queer narrative that surround them: some are autobiographical, sometimes the queerness is in the eyes of the beholder, or comes from a queer sensibility perhaps,” elaborates Barlow. 

“What we’re doing is seeing what happens when you put these readings front and foremost: does it add to our understanding, or are they distracting? That’s certainly a possibility. We’re not trying to propose that these are the only ways these works should be read, but the queer narratives often help you see things in the work you didn’t see before.”

Still, when it comes to some of Solomon’s paintings, the thing that may prove most striking to the modern viewer in how little explanation or explication they need, how readily these works from the 19th Century offer up queer readings. And how they bring a note of tragedy in: it’s hard not to feel for Solomon, rejected from society, left out in the cold.  

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The destination for history

Victorian crime.


Just as disease spread unseen, so the gaslit streets of Victorian cities hid their own dark truths. Crime was commonplace, from pickpocketing (as practised by Fagin’s boys in Oliver Twist) and house-breaking to violent affray and calculated murder. Vice was easily available from child prostitution to opium dens. Drunkenness was widespread.

In an attempt to tackle prostitution in garrison and dockyard towns, the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864-69) licensed prostitutes, imposing medical examinations. The measures were vigourously opposed by reformers such as Josephine Butler, who argued that they put innocent women’s reputations at risk, and the Acts were repealed in 1886.

Reputation meant a great deal to the average Victorian. Double-standards of morality, though not unique to their age, appeared stark when private promiscuities took place behind a curtain of prim public rectitude. Officially, sex was confined to the marital bed, and until 1857 divorce was obtainable only through a Church court and Act of Parliament. On marriage, a wife’s property became that of her husband until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 at last gave women control of what was their own.

While countrymen waged war on poachers, townspeople bolted doors and windows against urban crime. Sir Robert Peel’s police force, instituted in London in 1829, became a model for other forces in the country. Harsh punishments faced wrongdoers; forced labour, flogging, the treadmill, transportation, hanging for a range of crimes – though seldom, in practice, for any crime but murder after 1837 (the last public hanging took place on 1868). These had little effect on simmering backstreet violence, or, if fiction is to be believed, on criminal activity behind seemingly respectable household doors. 

Murder was the ultimate crime. Its means were many and various – poisoning was a favourite method, and thwarted love, or a tempting legacy, two common motives. Victorians invented the detective story, reflecting their interest in criminal creativity and in the new ‘scientific’ methods of forensic investigation, as used by the greatest of all fictional sleuths, Sherlock Holmes, who made his first appearance in 1887 in Conan Doyle’s story A Study in Scarlet . They also relished the gory contrivances of such melodramas as Sweeney Todd ,  the ‘Demon Barber’ who turned his victims into meat pies and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde .

Jack the Ripper

The most notorious Victorian murders were bloody slayings in the backstreets of London’s Whitechapel, ascribed to Jack the Ripper. These attacks typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London, whose throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge. Rumours that the murders were connected intensified in September and October 1888, and letters were received by media outlets and Scotland Yard from a writer or writers purporting to be the murderer. The ‘From Hell’ letter received by George Lusk of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee included half of a preserved human kidney, purportedly taken from one of the victims. The public came increasingly to believe in a single serial killer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’, mainly because of the extraordinarily brutal character of the murders, and because of media treatment of the events.

Extensive newspaper coverage bestowed widespread and enduring international notoriety on the Ripper, and his legend solidified. A police investigation into a series of eleven brutal killings in Whitechapel up to 1891 was unable to connect all the killings conclusively to the murders of 1888. Five victims – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – are known as the ‘canonical five’, and their murders between 31 August and 9 November 1888 are often considered the most likely to be linked. The murders were never solved, and the legends surrounding them became a combination of genuine historical research, folklore, and pseudohistory. The term ‘ripperology’ was coined to describe the study and analysis of the Ripper cases. There are now over one hundred theories about the Ripper’s identity, and the murders have inspired many works of fiction.

Unquestionably the most infamous serial killer of all time, Jack the Ripper holds a special place in British history. His identity has been the subject of endless debate, and his victims have long been profiled in the press and in books. The suspects, the murders and the motives have also long been scrutinised. Was Jack a member of the royal family, a butcher, a Freemason, a Polish emigrant, or someone else entirely?

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Press Gazette

Local newspapers in Victorian era: Early ‘rolling news’ and reading as pub activity

By Andrew Hobbs


Local newspapers were one part of the social revolution stimulated by the swift spread of literacy in the 19th century – when children became the experts, better able to use the technology of print than their parents.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when taxes made newspapers very expensive, reading the local paper was usually a communal activity.

A Lancashire mill worker on a typical wage of fifteen shillings a week could earn a penny in 20 minutes, taking just over an hour to earn 3½d, the price of a local paper or two pints of beer.

In every city, town and even village there were places dedicated to reading newspapers, called reading rooms or news rooms (not to be confused with our present-day meaning of an editorial office).

MP calls for legally binding Editors' Code with domestic abuse clause following Emma Pattison reporting

MP calls for legally binding Editors’ Code with domestic abuse clause following Emma Pattison reporting

GB News reports losses ten times greater than revenue for first year on air

GB News reports losses ten times greater than revenue for first year on air

Prince Harry to be at centre of Mirror hacking trial soon after Mail libel and privacy hearings

Prince Harry to be at centre of Mirror hacking trial soon after Mail libel and privacy hearings

Most pubs probably provided at least one newspaper for their customers.

Publicans saw newspapers as an attraction worth advertising in their windows, even setting aside valuable space for their reading, as with the “reading room” of the Boar’s Head Inn in Friargate, Preston or the “news room” of Blackburn’s Alexandra Hotel, whose landlord even advertised the titles of the papers available, most of them regional or local.

Pubs were attractive, cheap and accessible reading places for working-class people – warm, well-lit, with reading material sympathetic to their interests, unpoliced by middle-class reformers or evangelists, allowing free discussion, in a convivial atmosphere fuelled by alcohol.

In Clitheroe, Lancashire, for example, weaver John O’Neil could obtain a newspaper to read at home, but he preferred to walk a mile into town to read the news in the Castle Inn every Saturday night.

However, it was impossible to read the paper if the pub was too busy or noisy, as during Clitheroe’s fair, when the town was “throng” with people. In 1857 O’Neil wrote in his diary: “I had a few glasses of ale but Public Houses was so throng and so noisy I could not read the newspaper.”

Neither could he read if he drank too much, as on New Year’s Day 1859: “I went up to Clitheroe and got my Christmas glass. It was the best whiskey I ever got in my life, it nearly made me drunk. It made me so that I could not read the newspaper, so I had to come home without any news.”

“Ask the landlord why he takes the newspaper. He’ll tell you that it attracts people to his house, and in many cases its attractions are much stronger than those of the liquor there to be drunk,” reformer William Cobbett claimed in 1807.

In Preston, according to local historian William Pilkington, reading the paper aloud and discussing its contents had been a formalised event during the excitement of the 1830 election, at which the radical Henry Hunt defeated Lord Stanley:

“They flocked to the public-house on a Sunday evening as regularly as if it had been a place of worship, not for the set purpose of getting drunk, but to hear the newspaper read.

“The success of the landlord depended, not on the strength of his beer altogether, but on having a good reader for his paper […] it was not the general custom to drink during the reading of the paper.

“Every one was expected to drink during the discussion of any topic, or pay before leaving for the good of the house.”

These skilled public readers brought the newspaper alive in crowded pubs. One Liverpool pub landlord, John McArdle, performed the paper himself, creating a very different experience from reading silently and alone.

Irish nationalists came to his pub in Crosbie Street every Sunday night to hear him read the nationalist paper the Nation (which cost sixpence in the 1840s).

Journalist John Denvir recalled: “McArdle was a big, imposing looking man, with a voice to match, who gave the speeches of O’Connell and the other orators of Conciliation Hall with such effect that the applause was always given exactly in the right places, and with as much heartiness as if greeting the original speakers.”

The rhythms of reading the newspaper

There were daily, weekly and annual rhythms to newspaper-reading in the nineteenth century. Regional morning newspapers such as the Liverpool Daily Post or the Bristol Mercury were available to most readers in England hours before the London papers arrived by train.

From the 1880s, when halfpenny provincial evening papers appeared, these were linked to the end of the working day, sold at factory gates and read at home in front of the fire.

Weeklies were usually published on the local market day, fitting into older routines and economies. Newspaper-reading went up in the winter, down in the summer.

Wars, elections and other newsworthy events created less regular or predictable times when reading, particularly reading of news, became more important.

These stories, along with election or sporting results, attracted crowds to the newspaper offices, to read the telegrams and posters stuck on the windows or shutters, and to buy ad hoc supplements with verbatim reports of election speeches or special editions, the Victorian version of “rolling news”.

During wartime

War has always been good for the news trade. Wars prompted the creation of reading institutions, such as the Lord Street Working Men’s Reading Room in Carlisle, which began when 50 men, “anxious to read about the European revolutions of 1848, clubbed together to buy newspapers”.

A few years later the Crimean War motivated Hebden Bridge men to join a society in order to read the papers.

The Clitheroe weaver John O’Neil counted the days until he could hear more news of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, writing of how he “heard today that Delhi has been taken but I could learn no particulars, so I must wait until Saturday when I will see the newspaper”.

He was gripped by reports of the battle that ended the second War of Italian Independence in 1859; on 2 July he “got a newspaper and read the full account of the great battle of Solferino, fought on 24 June”.

The next day, he wrote: “I have never been out of the house. I have been reading nearly all day different accounts of the great battle of Solferino.”

Publishers large and small responded to this intense, avid reading of war news, such as the unemployed compositor described in the Press News   (a forerunner of UKPG) in 1868, who compiled telegrams of the Ethiopian revolt and sold 10,000 copies of his “Abyssinian Gazette Extraordinary, at a profit to him, personally, of not less than £12”.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was the first “European war on a grand scale since the recent development of the cheap press and telegraphy”, as the Printers’ Register noted, stimulating accelerated demand for war news among the mainly middle-class buyers of morning newspapers:

Families which would a few years back expend a shilling in the course of a week will now spend three; and men who were content with their favourite morning paper formerly, must now indulge themselves with an evening paper as well, and occasionally with a second or third edition.

A week later another trade paper reported that “the war has been the means of increasing the sale of newspapers immensely, both London and Provincial”.

In Preston, too, the demand for news had an impact. The Preston Guardian boasted how “a large crowd gathered on our special edition being published” to report the surrender of Emperor Napoleon III, causing “great excitement in Preston”.

In 1870-71, a gentleman’s club in Preston spent forty per cent more on newspapers than the year before, probably due to the purchase of more titles and more editions to meet demand for war news.

Even second-hand newspapers were in greater demand in 1870 – at the same club’s annual auction of second-hand papers and magazines that year, the resale value of newspapers such as the Preston Chronicle, Liverpool Mercury and Manchester Guardian rose, while those for magazines fell.

A Fleet Street in Every Town: The Provincial Press in England, 1855-1900 is out now published by Open Book Publishers.

Dr Andrew Hobbs is course leader for BA (Hons) International Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire.

newspaper articles victorian era

A Fleet Street in Every Town: The Provincial Press in England, 1855-1900 by Andrew Hobbs

Email [email protected] to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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Articles on Victorian era

Displaying 1 - 20 of 36 articles.

newspaper articles victorian era

How 19th-century Victorians’ wellness resolutions were about self-help — and playful ritual fun

Nicole Dufoe , University of Toronto

newspaper articles victorian era

How an American magazine helped launch one of Britain’s favorite Christmas carols

Maura Ives , Texas A&M University

newspaper articles victorian era

Before the Ouija board: William Rossetti’s diary gives an insight into Victorian séances

Barrie Bullen , University of Oxford

newspaper articles victorian era

Spirit photography captured love, loss and longing

Felicity T. C. Hamer , Concordia University

newspaper articles victorian era

The Prestige: the real-life warring Victorian magicians who inspired the film

Beatrice Ashton-Lelliott , University of Portsmouth

newspaper articles victorian era

Spirit photography: 19th-century innovation in bereavement rituals was likely invented by a woman

newspaper articles victorian era

Why are water companies dumping raw sewage in Britain’s rivers and coastal seas?

Peter Cruddas , University of Portsmouth and Keiron Roberts , University of Portsmouth

newspaper articles victorian era

The first bomb disposal expert: Colonel Vivian Majendie and the original ‘war on terror’

James Crossland , Liverpool John Moores University

newspaper articles victorian era

How New York’s 19th-century Jews turned Purim into an American party

Zev Eleff , Touro University

newspaper articles victorian era

Electrophone: the Victorian-era gadget that was a precursor to  live-streaming

Natasha Kitcher , Loughborough University

newspaper articles victorian era

Charles Dickens and the push for literacy in Victorian Britain

Matthew Ingleby , Queen Mary University of London

newspaper articles victorian era

Charles Dickens: how the author’s life was fictionalised after his death

Lucy Whitehead , Cardiff University

newspaper articles victorian era

Edward Colston statue toppled: how Bristol came to see the slave trader as a hero and philanthropist

James Watts , University of Bristol

newspaper articles victorian era

The fashionable history of social distancing

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox , Case Western Reserve University

newspaper articles victorian era

From cowpox to mumps: people have always had a problem with vaccination

Sally Frampton , University of Oxford

newspaper articles victorian era

How tattoos became fashionable in Victorian England

Robert Shoemaker , University of Sheffield and Zoe Alker , University of Liverpool

newspaper articles victorian era

George Eliot: 200 years on, valuable lessons for today’s millennials and baby boomers

Helen Kingstone , University of Surrey

newspaper articles victorian era

Breast or bottle feeding: the debate has its origins in Victorian times

Jessica Cox , Brunel University London

newspaper articles victorian era

In dandelions and fireflies, artists try to make sense of climate change

Kate Flint , USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

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Victorian convicts were fed a surprisingly sustaining diet

Barry Godfrey , University of Liverpool and Kim Price , University of Liverpool

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newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research at the University of Technology Sydney and Chief Investigator of ARC Centre for Excellence in Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Technology Sydney

newspaper articles victorian era

Lecturer, 19th-Century History and Digital Humanities, University of Liverpool

newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

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newspaper articles victorian era

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The Victorians

Activity - What job would you have had in the Victorian era?

Game - working in the mills.

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Overview of the Victorian period

The Victorian period (1837 - 1901) was a time of growing industrialisation , invention and empire. However, the country was divided as a large proportion of people did not share in the growth of prosperity .

Textile factories had sprung up across the country, particularly in Lancashire. They relied on cotton grown by enslaved people in the Americas, on consumers in the British Empire, and on low-paid British workers. Factory conditions were poor and working-class factory workers lived in cramped, overcrowded houses.

In contrast to this, in 1851 the Great Exhibition was held in Crystal Palace in London. It was opened by Queen Victoria and showcased new inventions, technology and exhibits from around the world. The exhibition was open for five months and attracted 6 million visitors.

When Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837, Britain already controlled Canada, large parts of India, Australia, New Zealand and the Caribbean. Together, these colonies made up the British Empire. As the Victorian period progressed, the British Empire grew, in search of wealth and in competition with other European powers, such as Germany and France. By the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the British Empire was the largest the world had ever seen, and a quarter of the world’s people were British subjects .

Game - mill owners

Play a History Detectives mission exploring the treatment of people that worked in the mills.

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Public health and everyday life

The population of towns and cities rapidly increased in the Victorian period as people moved to find work.

Working class people often lived in cramped, back-to-back terraced housing . These houses were often poor quality and families lived in overcrowded conditions, often living in one room in a house. This overcrowding led to poor public health and was a consequence of the industrial revolution. For more on the industrial revolution, read this guide .

Factories opened and people moved to towns and cities to work in them. The houses that factory workers lived in were often built quickly, and were poor in quality. A lack of proper sewers, clean running water, overcrowding, and heavily polluted air contributed to outbreaks of disease such as cholera , tuberculosis and typhus .

In 1889, a British sociologist called Charles Booth carried out a survey that found one third of people in London were living in poverty . This helped raise awareness of the poor living conditions and put pressure on the government to take action.

As the Victorian period went on, attempts were made to improve living conditions. For example:

What were Victorian schools like?

At the start of the Victorian period, very few children went to school. Wealthy children were often taught at home by a governess and wealthy boys were sometimes sent to public school when they were ten. Girls from these families stayed at home and were taught skills such as cooking, sewing and how to play musical instruments.

Children from poorer communities often worked in factories and on farms. The 1833 Factory Act made education a right for all children. But poor families often needed their children to work and earn money for the family, so they couldn't go to school.

In 1880, a law was passed that made school compulsory for all children between the ages of five and ten. In 1889, the school leaving age was extended to 12. This gave all children access to free education and also helped to end child labour in factories.

Rules in Victorian schools were strict. Corporal punishment was allowed and children could be caned if they broke the school rules. Lessons focused on three main areas: reading, writing and arithmetic .

How did introducing compulsory education change the lives of Victorian children?

It gave all children access to free education and also helped to end child labour in factories. By the end of the Victorian era, almost all children (both boys and girls) in England could read and write to a basic level.

However, the type of education a child received was very much dependent on their social class and gender. It was still very rare for girls or working-class boys to receive a secondary education.

Game - working conditions

Play a History Detectives mission exploring the dangers to children working in the mills.

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New inventions and discoveries

There was a lot of progress in the fields of science, medicine, invention, sport and leisure in the Victorian period.

Sport and leisure

Test your knowledge

Where next.

The origins of the Industrial Revolution

The origins of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution in Britain brought huge technological advances, which had a big impact on people’s lives. However, not all of these changes were positive.

Women’s struggle for the right to vote

Women’s struggle for the right to vote

By the end of the 1800s, there was growing support for the campaign for women to have the right to vote. There were two main campaign groups, the Suffragettes and the Suffragists.

The transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in history. Over two million Africans died during the journey to the Americas, a journey known as the Middle Passage.

History Detectives

History Detectives

Analyse and evaluate evidence to uncover some of history’s burning questions in this game

The Online Books Page

presents serial archive listings for

Cherokee Phoenix

Cherokee Phoenix is a newspaper published by members of the Cherokee Nation. (There is a Wikipedia article about this serial .)

Publication History

The Cherokee Phoenix began publication in Georgia in 1828, and was the first American Indian newspaper published in the United States, publishing both English and Cherokee language articles. In 1829, it was renamed "Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate". The newspaper ceased publication in 1834, a few years before the Cherokees were forcibly relocated to what is now Oklahoma. A revived Cherokee Phoenix is published today in Oklahoma.

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