How did the Victorians have fun?
During Queen Victoria's reign big changes took place in the way people spent their leisure time. Blood sports like bear baiting and cockfighting were banned. With the growth of the railways, people began to travel more and visiting the seaside became a popular pastime. But the railways also allowed local sporting teams to travel and so sports like cricket, football and rugby began to be organised with agreed rules and national competitions, such as the FA Cup. Lawn Tennis was invented in the 1830s and a new sight on the streets of Victorian Britain was the bicycle, in its various different designs.
There were still old favourites such as going to the circus or the theatre but the invention of the moving picture during the 1890s meant that a new dimension was added to theatre-going.
These photographs and posters from Victorian Britain can help us understand how leisure time was spent.
- Write a list of all the activities you take part in for fun in your spare time.
- Now write a list of the things you think you might have done if you had lived in the Victorian era.
- How are the two lists different? Is there anything on your modern list you don't think you would have done in the Victorian era? Why is this?
1. Think about the kind of things you do in your spare time.
- Do you think this would have been a popular show? Explain why.
- Look at the poster, what types of animals do you think you would have seen at this show?
- What do you think are the main differences between this show and a modern circus?
2. This is an advert for John Sanger and Sons Royal Hippodrome & Menagerie, a kind of travelling circus:
- If you had to choose to go to one of the shows, which one would you have chosen and why?
- Do you think the Barnum and Bailey circus was as large as the one shown in Source 1?
3. This is a poster for the Barnum and Bailey circus. Compare this poster to the one in Source 1:
- Look at the bicycles the ladies are riding.
- How are these different from a modern bike?
- Compare what the ladies in the crowd are wearing with the ladies on the cycles. What are the main differences?
- How easy do you think it would have been to ride these bicycles? Why?
4. This is a picture of a ladies cycle race drawn around 1891:
5. This is a photograph of people playing croquet in 1872:Look at the way the ladies are dressed in this photograph, how is it different to the image in Source 3?
- How many sports can you recognise?
- Do you notice any differences between the sports then and now?
- What kind of people do you think would have taken part in these sports?
- What kind of people would watch these sports?
- Do you think these were organised matches, or were they just local events? Why do you think that?
- Compare the photographs of these sporting events to the ones you see today, are they the same or different and how?
6. Look at these photographs of Victorian sporting pastimes:
- What type of people do you think might have gone to each of these performances?
- Look at Source 6a. What is unusual about what the people are doing?
- Look at how the people in the audience are dressed, what class of people do you think they might be?
- Look at Source 6b. How large an event do you think this would have been?
- Do you think it would have been popular? Why?
- Look at the uniforms of the people who will be involved. List all the different roles you can see.
- Look at Source 6c. How similar do you think this pantomime would have been to one you would go and see today?
- Do you think you would be interested in the story from what you can see in the poster?
- Which of the 3 events would you most like to go and see? Why?
7. These are posters from 3 different performances the Victorians might have attended:
- What kind of things would you have been able to do when you visited Blackpool?
- Do you think it was a popular resort? Why?
- Think about what you know about modern Blackpool, how does it compare with what is on this poster?
8. This is a poster advertising Blackpool from 1889.
- Did men and women take part in the same activities?
- Do we spend our leisure time doing these things today? Give reasons for your answer.
- What do these sources tell us about how Victorian men and women enjoyed themselves?
- Is there anything else we can find out about the Victorians from these sources?