The Victorian era
When was the Victorian era?
The time when Queen Victoria reigned is called the Victorian era. She was queen from 1837 to 1901, and a lot of things happened in Britain during that time.
During the 64 years that Queen Victoria was on the throne, Britain was also going through the Industrial Revolution. Machines for factories were invented that could make things quickly, like textiles – so, there were more textiles around to sell, and more people who wanted to buy them. With the invention of the steam train, the textiles could get to places further away than before.
Life in the Victorian era changed very quickly for a lot of people, and cities became busier and more crowded.
Top 10 facts
- The Victorian era is what we call the time that Queen Victoria reigned: 1837-1901.
- During the Victorian era, the Industrial Revolution was happening – this is when scientific inventions meant that it was easier to make things to sell, and that those things could be sent to places further away than before.
- One big reason why the Industrial Revolution happened was because of steam power – this lead to the invention of steam trains, which made it faster to travel and to send goods.
- A way to make steel from iron was also discovered, which made it easier to make machines for factories and to even build the factories themselves.
- All of these things during the Industrial Revolution meant that lots of products could be made in the same place at the same time – this is called mass production. Before this, it would have been just one tradesman making one thing at a time.
- Also during the Victorian Era, Great Britain became the British Empire. Britain governed many countries, kingdoms and colonies all over the world. Many of these places are part of the British Commonwealth today.
- Before the Victorian era, it took days – sometimes weeks – to travel places. Inventions such as the steam train and the iron steam ship meant that travel took a lot less time, so people started going to places where they wouldn’t have thought to before, like the (modern day) United States of America and India.
- It was also faster to get in touch with other people, even if you were all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. The telegraph and telephone were both invented in the Victorian era, so people didn’t always have to write letters if they had something important to say.
- People started using electricity for the first time in the Victorian Era. The first electrically-lit streetlights, public building and even village were in the UK.
- By 1901, half of all the people who lived in Britain (not including the Empire) lived in cities. This was a huge change because most people had lived in the country around the start of the Victorian era.
- 24 May 1837Victoria was crowned queen
- 1837The SS Great Britain, the first iron steam ship, was built and made the Atlantic Ocean crossing
- 1840Postage stamps were first used, and the Penny Black stamp was issued
- 1840-50About 5,000 miles of railway track were laid down and rail travel became common
- 30 June 1841The Great Western Railway from Bristol to London was completed
- 1842The Mines Act established that women and children younger than 10 years old were not allowed to work in mines
- 1843Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol and the first Christmas cards were sold
- 1845The pneumatic rubber tyre was invented
- 1845London Road in Nottingham was the first road to be paved with tarmacadam (tarmac), which meant roads didn’t have to be covered in cobblestones anymore
- 1847The Factories Act set limits on the amount of time women and children could work
- 1850The first public library opened in Manchester – anyone could borrow books for free!
- 1850Alfred Tennyson was named Poet Laureate
- 1850The first workhouses opened, giving poor people a place to live in exchange for their work
- 1851The Great Exhibition took place at Crystal Palace in London
- 1852The Victoria and Albert museum opened in London
- 1853The first post boxes were used – painted green, not red!
- 1853-54An outbreak of cholera in London killed 11,000 people
- 1853-56The Crimean War took place, and Florence Nightingale went to Scutari to work in the hospitals and care for the troops
- 1856Scientist Henry Bessemer invented a quick way to convert iron to steel, which helped mass production
- 1857The National Portrait Gallery opened in London; it was the first portrait gallery in the world
- 1857The Science Museum opened in London
- 1857A cable was laid in the Atlantic Ocean, between Ireland and Newfoundland, so telegraphs could be sent between North America and Great Britain; it took a few more years to get it working properly, though!
- 1858India started to be ruled by Britain
- 1863The London Underground opened, becoming the world’s first underground railway (steam powered)
- 1867Voting laws gave all men who paid taxes a right to vote
- 1870The Houses of Parliament in London were completed (they had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1834)
- 1870The penny-farthing bicycle was invented by James Starley
- 1873The first chocolate Easter eggs were made by Fry, Vaughan & Co. in Bristol
- 1875A drainage system in London was completed, which improved sanitation in the city
- 1876Queen Victoria was named Empress of India
- 1877The first telephones were sold through a company named after inventor Alexander Graham Bell
- 1877Thomas Edison made the first recording on a phonograph; Queen Victoria was recorded on a phonograph in 1888
- 1878The first electric streetlights were installed in London
- 1878The Salvation Army was founded by William Booth to help the poor
- 1880The Education Act decreed that all children aged 5-10 had to go to school
- 1881Godalming in Surrey was the first town in the world to have an electricity supply available for everyone to use; also that year, the Savoy Theatre was the first public building in the world to be entirely lit by electricity
- 1882Thomas Edison opened the world’s first steam-powered electricity generating station in London
- 1883The first electric railway was built in Brighton
- 1885The standard bicycle (like the ones we use today) was invented
- 1885The first motor car was built in Germany by Karl Benz
- 1887The gramophone was invented by Emile Berliner
- 1887Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee
- 1891A law was passed that established every child age 5-13 should have access to a free education
- 22 January 1901Queen Victoria died and Edward VII became king
Did you know?
- The Victorian era is named after Queen Victoria, who was queen from 1837-1901. People who lived during the Victorian era are called Victorians.
- Before the 19th century it used to take people 12 hours to travel between Birmingham and London if they were riding in a horse-drawn coach. Steam trains meant they could make the journey in under six hours!
- The police force was set up during the Victorian era by a man called Robert Peele (which is why we sometimes call the police "bobbies"!)
- So many things were invented during the Victorian era – can you pick out which ones we still use today?
- Motor cars
- Electric light bulb
- Steam and electric trains
- Rubber pneumatic tyres
- Sewing machines
- Postage stamps
- Chocolate Easter eggs
- Christmas cards
- In 1851 the Great Exhibition was a huge collection of all kinds of inventions and art from Britain as well as places like America and Russia. The money that was made from people paying to see the Great Exhibition was used later to build museums in London, like the Science Museum.
- We use electricity all the time, but it was a brand new thing to the Victorians. A lot of world firsts happened in the UK:
- the first electric street lights were in London
- the first building lit with electric lights was a theatre in London
- the first village to have its own access to electricity was Godalming in Surrey.
- At the beginning of the Victorian era in 1937, more people lived in the country than in cities. By the end of the Victorian era in 1901, half of the British population lived in cities. Find out more about life under Queen Victoria.
See if you can spot all the following in the gallery below:
- Queen Victoria
- Alexander Graham Bell
- Thomas Edison
- Joseph Wilson Swa
- Volks Electric Railway in Brighton:
- A Victorian steam engine that used to pull trains in the Lake District
- A steam engine used in a factory
- A map of the British Empire in 1897 (all the red areas)
- People riding a penny-farthing bicycle
- The SS Great Britain ship
- A poster advertising the Great Exhibition
- A Victorian electric light bulb
When the Victorian era began, Britain was going through the Industrial Revolution. Scientists had learned how to use steam to create power, and from that came a whole list of other inventions that used steam power to make machines operate.
One of these machines was the steam train, in the early 1800s. It meant that travelling was a lot faster than using a horse and carriage, and that goods could be transported much more quickly than using the canal system.
This was good because more and more goods were being made! For instance, the textile industry was growing thanks to the invention of machines that could do the spinning and weaving instead of people, meaning it took much less time to produce. This is called mass production, and it was a key factor in the Industrial Revolution. It wasn’t a case anymore of just one person making one item – machines could do the same job in a fraction of the time.
While all this was going on, Britain was becoming bigger. The British Empire was the term used to describe all of the places that were under British rule, and during the Victorian era, this got so big that one poet said ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’ (meaning that wherever the sun was shining at the time, it would be shining on something that belonged to Britain). Many countries that were part of the British Empire are now part of the Commonwealth.
The Great Exhibition in 1851 celebrated not just great accomplishments from around the world, but also within Britain and the British Empire.
Names to know:
Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) – a famous engineer who build steam ships, bridges, tunnels and even helped with the Crystal Palace used to house the Great Exhibition
James Watt (1736-1819) – a Scottish engineer who invented an improved steam engine used in factories and mines
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) – most famous for inventing the telephone
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) – an American inventor who made the phonograph and helped Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) in Britain create the first electric light bulbs.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) – Prime Minister in 1868 and again from 1874-1880
William Gladstone (1809-1898) – Prime Minister four different times between 1868 and 1894, which is more than any other prime minister; he supported laws that allowed more people to vote
W. H. Fox-Talbot – an inventor who found ways to take photographs using negatives
Robert Peel (1788-1850) – Prime Minister from 1834-1835 and 1841-1846, who set up the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.
Just for fun...
- Can you complete a Victorian wordsearch (with answers) and a Victorian quiz (with answers)?
- Build a steam engine online
- Could you make it as a Victorian entrepreneur?
- Try out life as a Victorian!
- A Victorian timeline to download, print out and fill in
- Travel back in time to a Victorian house
- Print out some Victorian scenes to colour in
- Play a game to establish if life improved in Victorian times
- Step back in time to 1899 and explore 18 Stafford Terrace, a London home
- Taste Victorian recipes
- Run a city during the Industrial Revolution in an online game
- Survive life in Dickens' Victorian London
- Listen to a radio play about Prisoner 4099, 12-year-old William Towers who was caught stealing two rabbits (possibly for food for his family) in 1872 and sent to Wandsworth prison
- Play an online game about Victorian crime
- Analyse a Victorian painting
- Match eight famous Victorian people with their environments
Best children's books about the Victorians
Find out more:
- A children's guide to Victoria's reign, with information about the Queen Victoria's family, the British Empire, Victorian architecture and Victorian cities
- Watch BBC Bitesize clips about the Victorian era, describing significant inventions and what life was like
- A guide to great Victorians and their lives
- See a BBC Bitesize video introduction to the British Empire
- Read fiction books set in Victorian times
- Victorian Britain information and links from the National Archives
- Understand the impact of the steam engine on Victorian life
- Life in the workhouse, including a guided tour
- Read about workhouses in Victorian Wales
- Find out about crime and punishment in Victorian times
- Information about Victorian prisons and
- Meet famous Victorian author, Charles Dickens
- Read about the Great Exhibition, which embodied Prince Albert's desire to showcase the wonders of industry from around the world
- Look closely at William Powell Frith's painting Ramsgate Sands (Life at the Seaside), 1852-4, to see an image of Victorian life
- Consult a Victorian inventions timeline (1837 to 1901)
- Read about Victorian transport in Preston, including trams and stem engines
See for yourself
- Look at an online collection of Victorian objects, including carbolic soap, candle snuffers, clothes wringers and oil lamps
- See posters, British Exhibition tickets and other items from the height of the British Empire at the Museum of London
- Learn more about the amazing inventions around the Victorian Era at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
- Walk around Buckingham Palace in London to see evidence of Victorian life: a route map highlights all the places of interest
- At York Castle Museum, Kirkgate is a recreated Victorian cobbled street with a schoolroom, police cell and Hansom cab
- At Blists recreated Victorian Town you can meet some "real" Victorians in their authentic shops and cottages, buy Victorian goods and watch tradespeople in action