The Victorian House
Listen to our episode on ‘Building London’ right here!
The Victorian period is named after Queen Victoria, who was on the throne from 1837 to 1901. Victoria was only 18 when she became queen but ended up being the longest reigning monarch in our history – she was on the throne for over 63 years!
So that’s a long period of house building – so what were these houses like?.
A lot of building needed to be done in Victorian times because the industrial revolution was transforming the country and overcrowding meant many poorer people lived in slums, like in Oliver Twist. The creation of railways was good for builders because it meant that materials to make houses could be transported all over the country, instead of having to use only what was available locally
The industrial revolution was changing life at a very fast rate, and this worried lots of Victorians. Because of this, it was fashionable amongst the rich to imitate lots of different styles from the past in their houses instead of using new and modern designs.
In Victorian times the fireplace was still the focus of the room because of the important warmth it gave out. You even had a bath in front of the fire!
Fun Facts about Victorian London!
- The Victorians had lots of rules and manners that seem silly today. For example, when a woman entered the room it was considered rude for a man to offer her his seat in case the cushion was still warm from where he had been sitting on it!
- They also loved their knick knacks and decorations – and so with their heavy curtains, flowery wallpaper, carpets and rugs, ornaments, furniture, paintings and plants. a Victorian room could have been quite a squash and a squeeze!
- It was in the Victorian period that the first flushing toilets were invented – finally – good news for noses!
Let’s go looking for Victorian buildings!
A lot of the London we see today was built in Victorian times. In the 1800’s the population of London went from 1 million to 6 million people!
- Outside – houses were built with brick or stone, and welsh slates were typically used on the roofs
- Exterior woodwork tended to be painted in deep shades – such as dark green and purple
- Inside – Victorian houses tended to have good-sized rooms with plenty of intricate detailing, at least in the main reception rooms and bedrooms
- Windows – one way to spot a Victorian house is that they had sash windows throughout and more glass in the doors than the similar Georgian houses – glass had become much cheaper thanks to the factories and so it didn’t matter as much if it got broken. In relation to the window shape, Victorian sash windows have either four or six panes
- Walls – dado rails were extremely fashionable, particularly in dining rooms where they protected the plastering on the walls from chair backs. Ceiling mouldings were still extremely popular, including large roses and detailed cornices.
- Flooring – floorboards were often pine, and would have been stained a dark colour to imitate expensive woods. The halls and kitchens of homes were covered in extensively patterned tiles
- Fireplaces – the centrepiece of every room, they were generally ornate and grand, made from cast iron and marble, although wood was also used
A drawing room in 1870
- This is the morning room of a middle-class house. This is the room where the lady of the house received visitors during the morning, interviewed servants, and supervised the household accounts.
- It has a light and delicate air, and many objects in the room reflect the popularity of French style in England during the 1850s and 1860s, such as the exuberant, brightly-coloured curtains and the carving on the side chairs.
- The availability of a domestic gas supply had revolutionised lighting in the home. Bold colour schemes, achieved by new chemical dyes, were a feature of carpets and furnishings.
A drawing room in 1890
- This is a small study, decorated in the aesthetic style.
- Deriving much of its influence from Japan and the Far East, the style was typified by co-ordinated furnishing schemes, with elaborate wallpapers, ebonised furniture and displays of oriental, or orientally-inspired, ceramics.
- The Aesthetic Movement was led by artists such as J.M. Whistler and designers like E.W. Godwin and Christopher Dresser.
- It was adopted at first by a small artistic section of the middle classes, as a reaction against the high-Victorian taste for increasingly elaborate decoration in a rich variety of styles.
A smell of Victorian London
- Many Victorians would say that there was something in the air about Victorian London.
- The combination of sewage, coal fires and unwashed bodies, London had a rather unpleasant smell. And everyone had to grin and bear this – even the Royal Family who, it is told, once had to cancel a water excursion due to raw sewage being dumped into the Thames!
- Famous Victorian, Joseph Bazalgette, came to London’s rescue, overseeing the building of miles of pipes to direct sewage away. Unfortunately, with so many horses on the streets, there was still a strange smell arising from a lot of horse manure lying around.
- Everything was often covered with a layer of soot, and the air that people breathed was often foggy with the smoke from coal fires.
- And to add to the confusion, until the mid 1800s, cattle were driven through the streets to and from the slaughter-houses that could be found in Smithfield.
Victorian buildings to see in London
- St Pancras Railway Station
- The Houses of Parliament
- Covent Garden