Victorian Food and Drink

Bewley & Draper’s Lemonade, 1894 (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/113 f260)

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: Industrial Revolution, Recreation through time, Victorians

Suggested inquiry questions: What can Victorian advertisements reveal about their changing eating habits? What was impact of the Industrial Revolution on food production? How did the Victorians sell their products? Did the Victorians enjoy similar food and drink to us?

Potential activities: Investigate the sources using the questions provided. Creative activities: Design your own advert for any of the products here for today.

What do old adverts reveal?

Advertising is everywhere today. In the nineteenth century it massively expanded from the newspaper advertisements and trade cards or notices made by people to promote their businesses in the eighteen century.

The Industrial Revolution made possible the mass production of a wide variety of different products. Manufacturers needed their goods to stand out if there was competition to sell a similar item. Improved printing techniques helped to improve the quality and look of advertising posters. The growing British Empire in the Victorian period provided a huge source of new goods and materials and wider market.

Looking at a Victorian advert is like looking through a window into the past. We have to use the evidence within it to uncover whom it is aimed at and what it reveals about that time or the values or attitudes it might contain.

Use this lesson to explore some adverts relating to food and drink in Victorian times. Find out how eating habits and foods were changing and if they differed from ours.


Tasks

Look at Source 1

Linton’s Desiccated Coconut, 1885, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/71 f11)

  • What is this advert for?
  • How can this product be used?
  • How does the advert ‘explain’ where the product comes from?
  • Why do you think the advert did this?
  • Who do you think this advert is trying to appeal to? Can you explain why?
  • Would an advert like this exist today?

Look at Source 2

The Princess Luncheon Cake, 1893, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/108 f175)

  • What is this advert for?
  • What words are used to describe the product?
  • How does the advert try to persuade people to buy ‘Luncheon cake’?
  • Are these reasons similar or different to ones we use today?
  • Would an advert like this exist today?

Look at Source 3

Poulton & Noel Limited foods, 1904, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/223 f295.) This company had been selling its potted meats in the Victorian period and continued to do so after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

  • What is the ‘motor car’ made of?
  • How does this advert suggest people should buy these products?
  • What is the ‘motor car’ trying to say about Poulton & Noel products?
  • What does this advertisement tell us about how food is made and sold?
  • Where or how could these food products be eaten? [Clue: what could the motor car be used for?]
  • Do we eat these any of these foods today? Explain your answer.
  • How convincing is this advert?

Look at Source 4

Barrett’s Stout, 1898, (COPY 1/130 f173). Stout is a type of beer.

  • What is the story shown in this advert?
  • What drink does stout replace to help this lady recover?
  • How does the advert suggest that the lady has recovered?
  • What does this show us about Victorian ideas in medicine?
  • How are these ideas different from today?

Why would this advert not be allowed today?

Look at Source 5

Bewley & Draper’s Lemonade, 1894, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/113 f260)

  • What is this advert for?
  • What do the numbers on the train carriages show?
  • What differences in dress and appearance do you notice between the people shown?
  • Why do you think this advert has shown three different carriages?
  • What other product does this company sell?
  • What does this advert tell us about railway transport in Victorian times [Clue: the three carriages and the boy selling lemonade at the station where the train has stopped].

Would an advert like this exist today? Explain your reasons.

Look at Source 6

Bovril, 1898, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/141 f215)

  • What is this poster an advert for?
  • What is Bovril?
  • Can you buy Bovril today?
  • This lady is pictured using a bathing machine. Can you describe it?
  • Do you know or can you find out what a bathing machine was used for?
  • Why is this lady advised to take Bovril?
  • What does this advert tell us about Victorian seaside holidays?
  • What does this advert show about changes in language and dress?

Look at Source 7

Graham’s Imperial French Coffee, 1901, (Catalogue ref: COPY 1/185/f26)

[Pure coffee was very expensive was so chicory was added. This is the root of a plant that is roasted and ground, then mixed with ground coffee].

  • What is this advert for?
  • How is today’s coffee different?
  • Why do you think instructions for making coffee are given in the advert?
  • How does the poster encourage people to buy this coffee?
  • What does the word ‘Imperial’ mean?
  • Why do you think this coffee has the word ‘Imperial’ in its name?
  • Who is the mother of King Edward VII shown in the poster?
  • Who do you think this product is aimed at?

All Sources 1-7

  • Which advert is the most convincing?
  • What is your favourite design? Explain your choice.
  • From looking at all of the adverts write a short summary on what can we learn about the Victorian food and drink, roles of women and men, views on health, fashion and entertainment.
  • Design your own advert for any of the products here which could be used today.

Teachers' notes

This lesson is based on seven Victorian advertisements for food and drink taken from our resource called Victorians for sale a collection of advertisements aimed at any teacher or pupil studying their locality in Victorian times. The lesson shows how the collection can be used to create your own activities. Pupils can work in pairs or small groups to study each source and report back to the whole class to discuss the answers to the questions. Alternatively, they can work through the tasks independently. Advertisements are wonderful sources to engage pupils in the primary history classroom, they be taken at face value, but also looked at more deeply.

Some of the sources show new food products and give insight into the industrialisation of food production. Preserved foods in bottles and tins were increasingly available as well as new ingredients. Developments in transport in terms of railways, steam ships and motorcars widened access to these goods too. The expansion of British Empire ensured new markets for manufacturers and meant new goods for sale at home.

It is important to note that adverts for alcohol were common despite the Temperance Movement and widespread poverty caused by alcoholism. Alcohol in this period was often considered an appropriate medicine for maintaining health as seen in the advert here for stout.

These sources can be used to help provide a sense of period and show pupils the type of source material they could find in a local archive, museum or record office. The adverts could be used alongside others to explore Victorian home life and leisure. Additional sources are also available in and our interactive Victorians website.

Finally, advertisements in terms of literacy offer an obvious opportunity for pupils to study the nature of persuasive writing. The purpose of advertising could be tackled through these lesson sources with further questions such as:

  • Do the adverts use slogans? Can you find any examples?
  • Do they use powerful words? Can you give examples?
  • Can you explain if any try to appeal to feelings or emotions?
  • Have any adverts used humour? Give examples.
  • Why do the posters use different font sizes in the same poster?
  • How do the posters use colour to help make their point? Give examples.
  • Are the posters aimed at different types of audience (men, women, children or all groups)?
  • Which do you think is the most persuasive poster? [Clue: How does the advert try to change a person’s mind or thinking- use these answers to help]
  • Do you think these Victorian adverts are different/similar to those of today? Give reasons for your answer.
  • Do we see the world differently to any of these advertisements? Explain your answer.
  • Would any of these adverts not be allowed today?

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 2, Key stage 3

Time period: Victorians 1850-1901

Curriculum topics: Industrial Revolution, Recreation through time, Victorians

Suggested inquiry questions: What can Victorian advertisements reveal about their changing eating habits? What was impact of the Industrial Revolution on food production? How did the Victorians sell their products? Did the Victorians enjoy similar food and drink to us?

Potential activities: Investigate the sources using the questions provided. Creative activities: Design your own advert for any of the products here for today.

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Victorian lives

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Past pleasures

How did the Victorians have fun?