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.
During the Victorian era there were many changes to how people lived, and the ways they spent their spare time. The Victorians enjoyed listening to brass bands and attending ‘spectacles’. These shows included hypnotism or even communication with the dead using mediums! Circuses and performing menageries were also popular, with Britain being visited by some of the most famous of the time including the Barnam and Bailey Circus who frequently came over from America.
The rise in photography and moving pictures meant that people started going to the theatre, not only to enjoy plays and spectacles, but also to watch recordings of sporting events as you can see from the sources here. Sporting pastimes, such as cycling, rowing and horseracing were also popular, and large crowds would often attend sailing events like the Henley Regatta and famous horse races such as the Epsom Derby.
One of the largest events of the Victorian calendar was the famous Great Exhibition, held in 1851. This huge event was organised by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victora, and was held in Hyde Park in London. At the centre of the exhibition was the famous ‘Crystal Palace’ which was built to house the exhibitions of culture and industry from around the Empire.
This lesson is designed to support History KS 1-2, units 11 and 12. Teachers may wish to download the images, and use them to make a series of cards and allow the pupils to physically sort the images as they work their way through the task. These images can be used for extension work beyond the basic questions asked in the lesson. The design and images used in the adverts reveals much about Victorian attitudes. The images also lend themselves to individual investigation.
- How did the bike shown in Source 3 get its nickname, the ‘Penny Farthing’?
- Which sources suggest that:
Mass spectator sports such as football, had become more common?
Improvements in transport had changed some leisure activities?
Some sports were organised on a national basis?
Advances in technology had created new leisure activities?
Source 1: COPY 1/108 f.220 – Cycle race Liffe & Son, Coventry 1893
Source 2 : COPY 1/89 f.104 – John Sanger and Sons Royal Hippodrome & Menagerie 1890
Source 3 : RAIL 1014/51 – Great Western Railway Collection Posters Taff Vale Railway Barnum & Bailey Circus at Cardiff 21 June 1893 Source 4 : COPY 1/95 f.294 – Cyclists 1891
Source 5a : COPY 1/450 – Tottenham Hotspur 1901
Source 5b : COPY 1/392 Boxer Ching Hock
Source 5c : COPY 1/50 – Gloucestershire Cricket Club W G Grace seated at centre 1880
Source 5d : COPY 1/18 f.365 – Croquet on the lawn 1872 Source
6a : COPY 1.49 f.267 – Filmed boxing match presented in theatre 1899 Source
6b : COPY 1/128 f.84 – Grand Volunteer Tournament and Military Fete August 189
Source 6c : COPY 1/76 f.133 – Robinson Crusoe 1886
Source 7 : COPY 1/88 f.593 – Blackpool Health & pleasure resort 1889
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