The following section doesn't deal with decorating, but rather with life during the Victorian period.
The information in this segment is primarily from a book, "London 1849,a Victorian murder story" by Michael Alpert, Prof. Emeritus of U of Westminster. He was writing a study of an infamous murder of the period, and included a lot of background information
London was foul, noisy and stinking. Its narrow streets squelched with mud and dung….Ladies delicately lifted their skirts to cross the road and gave a coin to the ragged boys employed as crossing-sweepers, who brushed away just some of the dung and dust.
A description of a Manchester slum, which could be as easily applied to London, from novelist Mrs.Gaskell’s description in MARY BARTON, 1848...
“[ The street] was unpaved; and down the middle a gutter forced its way, every now and then forming pools in the holes with which the street abounded. Never was the old Edinburgh cry of ‘Gardez l’eau!’ more necessary than in this street. As they passed, women from their doors tossed household slops of EVERY description into the gutter; they ran into the next pool, which overflowed and stagnated. Heaps of ashes were the stepping stones, on which the passer-by, who cared in the least for cleanliness, took care not to put his foot.”
The ‘slops of EVERY description’ (every was in italics in the original) and the ‘heaps of ashes’ are both euphemisms for excrement.
The time when people ate their evening meal was a marker of their social class. In the 18th c., 5:30 had been the time the upper class dined, but by mid 19th c. this had moved several hours later, to about 7:30. The “middle” middle class dined at 6:00, the lower middle class at 5:30. “Dinner” stayed at noontime for the working class. At night the men didn’t finish their work day til 8:00 or later. They had “tea” around 4:00, and when they got home, they’d have supper which could come as late as 11:00.
For most families the most important expenditure was food, and bread was the largest item in the weekly food bill.
The price of tea was kept high til 1833 because of the East India Company’s monopoly of the tea trade. Taxes on tea were also high, so in the 1840’s tea consumption remained low. Most people drank a very weak and watery brew. In 1853 the duty on tea was reduced and new sources were developing in India and Ceylon, therefore the price of it began to drop and consumption began to rise.
Milk wasn’t drunk very much, there was no way to keep it fresh and prices were high until the development of a large rail system which enabled farmers to ship large amounts of fresh milk to the city on a daily basis. People used to put a great deal of sugar in their tea, as sugar prices had dropped a great deal. A laborer’s family would consume a pound of sugar every week. A middle class family that was able to afford a servant and had 2 or 3 children would consume about 4 ½ pounds of suger a week, almost a pound per person.
The poor had few cooking facilities, barely any pots, dishes, etc. Many had no hearth to cook upon and no utensils at all. They got food whenever they could afford it. Many ate from shops and stalls, the fast food of the day.
The wife of a laborer who was making 15 shillings a week, if she was economical could buy for her husband, herself and their 3 children:
5 4lb loaves of bread
5 pounds of meat
7 pints of porter (beer)
40 pounds of potatoes
3 ounces of tea
1 pound of sugar
1 pound of butter
56 pounds of coal
The tiny bit that was left went for rent for their room, soap and candles. There was nothing left for clothing, shoes, etc.
A better paid workman could have meat every day. He could add cheese and bacon to his diet, unless he was in the building trades and it was winter and he was off work. Then meat would vanish from the table and be replaced by bread and potatoes.
At the bottom of the heap were those who lived on potatoes alone.
Food and drink was far from pure or fresh. Unscrupulous food purveyors adulterated their foods with sawdust, brick dust, chalk,alum, ashes, and powdered bones. They added toxic ingredients to beer to make it seem fresher or more flavorful. Gin could contain sulphuric acid and arsenic. Foods were colored with copper or red lead.
There were few hotel dining rooms open to the public around 1849. The word “restaurant” was still considered a foreign word and most likely pronounced in the French manner.
Of eateries, at the bottom were the “greasy spoon” places frequented by working men. Men who wore suits to work ate in “dining rooms’ at partitioned off tables, in booths. At a higher leve were unmarried men and retired officers who could dine at their “club” where they could eat cheaply and well.
In most places food wasn’t very good and service was generally quite poor, but people didn’t dare complain. Many people depended on credit to get by, and couldn’t afford to antagonize their local shopkeepers.
It was unusual for a lady to dine out alone. It wasn’t til later in the century when department stores started offering refreshment rooms and J.Lyons and the A.B.C. which provided lunches for the new class of female typists and office workers that ladies began to eat out.
Almost all sales people, or assistants, in shops were men. Prices were not listed. In the smarter shops bargaining was not allowed. You were not permitted to inspect goods at your leisure. Even in America, you'd tell the assistant what you wished to purchase and he would bring it out for you to see. It's been remarked that the London shop assistants behaved rather as if they were doing you a great favor by showing you a pair of gloves or some lace cuffs and then accepting your payment for same.
The wealthy had their clothes made for them. When they tired of them, they'd hand them down to their servants who would then wear them or sell them.The clothes continued down the line til eventually they arrived, in tatters on the backs of the poorest of the poor.It would not be unusual to see a barefoot slum dweller wearing layers of remnants of silk ballgowns.
By the 1840's women were wearing wider skirts than they did in the Regency period, however the crinoline was not yet in use.Women wore layers of petticoats to fill out the skirts to the required shape. A respecable woman would never be seen without stays or corsets. It's said that the undergarments known as drawers were invented when women started wearing hoop skirts, because on occasion a gust of wind could come up and blow women over and their skirts in the air, however they were in use before the advent of the hoopskirt. No lady went out without her bonnet. One of the reasons for this was that the poke bonnet hid her face, so that it could be seen only face-on, therefore making her less apt to receive unwanted attention from strange men. This seems to have been quite a danger in those days. Prostitutes wandered the streets of even the nicest shopping areas, waiting for customers. There were men who would annoy even respectable young women to solicit sex. The Pantheon, an arcaded bazaar of fashionable shops, used female shop assistants, unusual for the time. These young women had to leard how to handle the bolder men who made unseemly suggestions to them. "Beadles", the security cops of the time were stationed at both entrances of the arcade to keep the undesireable elements out.
Men by the 1840's had begun wearing dark colored, somber clothing. This was in part due to the soot filled air which dirtied everything. Policemen, stationmasters, other men in authority and even cabbies and grocers wore top hats, some of which were made of papier mache. By the way, in the Victorian era there was even papier mache furniture which could be quite expensive.
Wide black neckcloths hid the dirt that accumulated on a white shirt by the end of the week.
If a man could not afford to have his suits made by a tailor, he'd either buy his clothes froma second hand shop, or go to a fairly new inovation, a ready made suit shop.
Elias Moses and Son was the most widely advertised outfitter in London. He offered trousers, vests, jackets and ladies riding habits in many sizes and would alter them to fit. Moses had fixed price tags, which was considered highly vulgar by those who could afford to have their clothes made for them. His shop assistants were trained to be polite to the customers and his store was well lit and nicely decorated. This was quite a change for those who had previously had to shop for clothes in the second hand market. By 1860, Moses claimed that 80% of the population were buying ready made clothes.
In the 1840's facial hair, except for a military man's mustache, was considered to be a sign of mental imbalance, eccentricity or imbecility. Men went clean shaven til the Crimean War of 1854-56 which obliged British military men to grow beards. At this point, facial hair suddenly became fashionable.
In 1849 a French tailor spilled some turpentine on a dirty tablecloth and found that it had removed some oth the stain. Dry cleaning was born and men were no longer obliged to stick to black or near black. Gray and brown began to be worn.
In 1841 the average life expectancy in England and Wales was 41, but in London it was only 37. In 1839 half the burials in London were for children under the age of 10.
London air was foul and sooty and the very soil it stood on was decayed. Old sewers were blocked or broken. They leaked into wells and water systems, and through the walls of cellars of even the wealthiest homes. Where there were no sewers excrement and urine were thrown into the street. Drains, sewers and gutters emptied into the only source of drinking water the pooor had.
Huge numbers of animals were driven down the streets of London to slaughter houses which were often only a few blocks from fashionable shopping areas. Dung, blood, entrails and hides covered with swarming flies were in the streets of the meat markets.
Every year in the 1840's thousands of bodis were buried in London's overcrowded burial grounds. Each layer of bodies took 7 years to decompose, but the rate of dying was greater than the rate of decomposition. In cold weather the clay soil of the London graveyard didn't freeze beacause it was full of the grease of putrefying flesh. Graves weren't filled in til the piled up coffins were within a foot or two of the soil surface. When the gravedigger started digging a new grave he often inadvertedly broke an old coffin with his shovel or pick. Remains of broken coffins were to be seen scattered across the grounds of cemeteries.
Cholera epidemics killed thousand through the years.In the 1850's medical men began realizing that the disease was transmitted through dirty drinking water, and even though steps began to be taken to clean up the sewage disposal system and water sources, it wasn't til 1902 that the problem of a clean affordable water system was solved.
People rented their homes. A small builder would build a row of homes and number them 1,2,3 etc.,then sell the houses to landlords, who in turn rented them out. A person might pay rent on the same house for 30 years. The writer, Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane paid rent on their house for 31 years. In consideration for all the improvements they made on the house during this time, their landlord never raised the rent.
A woman had a hard time running a London house in 1849 without help.City kitchens were usually in the basement. If the house had an "area" in front of it, then the kitchen would get at least some light from the below street level windows. A wealthier home would have water piped to upper stories, but many homes with running water only had it in the basement level.
Bathrooms were still rare in 1849.There were public baths and wash houses. In 1849 there were about 300 baths a day taken at the George Street Baths.
Homes would have a privy or "necessary" at the end of the back garden. Excrement fell into a wooden box and wascovered with earth by a hopper or a shovel. "Night-soil men" came at night and emptied the boxes and soil the contents for fertilizer.
In 1849 ranges or "kitcheners" were just coming into use in homes. They were much more fuel efficient than cooking on a hearth, but landlords wouldn't install them without raising the rent, so many continued to make do with a hearth. A kitchen of this sort would often have a roasting spit hanging in it, and a trivet to support several pots. In winter, with the grime and fog a London kitchen would get greasy and grimy. The floor would have been damp.
London houses were heated with coal. The coal man would tip a load of coal, spreading black dust all over housewives clean laundry and washed front steps. Rooms were smoky from coal dust that came down the chimneys in downdrafts. Improperly attached chimney pots would come crashing to the ground in high winds.
Gas lighting was rare in homes before the 1850’s. Many people used whale oil or other oils in their lamps, and perhaps tallow candles in bedrooms. The poorest used rushes dipped in bacon fat for lighting.
The lower middle class consisted of small manufacturers, shopkeepers, innkeepers, master tailors, clerks, teachers, lower ranks of professional people, railway and government officials, etc. They were “in trade” or were paid for their services, as opposed to those who lived on their inheritance or investments.
Below the middle classes were the working men. The 1844 Factory Act cut the hours that their children were allowed to work down to 6 ½ hours a day, and womens’ to 12. In 1847 another act cut womens’ allowable working hours to 10, but this law was often ignored.
The infamous workhouses were for the poorest. Many were fatherless children, lunatics and impoverished elderly. If a servant lived to old age, and his employer didn’t see fit to care for him or her, they took refuge in the workhouse. Life in even the best and cleanest of them, run by well meaning folk was still harsh.
In 1834, of 130,00 couples who married, 1/3 of the grooms and ½ of the brides could not sign their names on the register. In 1851, the numbers weren’t much better. This didn’t include the many who didn’t bother to get married.
In 1851 a “religious census” was taken on Easter Sunday. The result shocked everyone. ¼ of church goers that day went to Church of England services, ¼ went to churches of other denominations and half didn’t go at all. Evangelism arose to rechristianize English society.
In the 1840’s some families spent 20% of their income on beer and other alcohol, but this was just what was spent on consumption at home.In London an outlet for alcohol could be found, on average, every 100 yards. The pub was a warm and cheerful place when your home was dark and cold. In 1849 annual beer consumption in England and Wales was 19.4 gallons a head, or about 3 pints a week per each man, woman and child. Of course, some drank much more, because the population at the time also included a great many teetotalers.
In 1840 a huge change occurred when the cost of sending a letter dropped . Before that it cost over a shilling to send a letter, a folded single sheet of paper, sealed with was, from London to Edinburgh. If you wanted to put your letter in an envelope, you paid an extra charge., as you did for each extra sheet of paper, but now you cpuld send a letter for a penny Six deliveries of mail came to the door each day, later that rose to 12. Because of the huge new influx of mail, London was divided into 12 postal districts. Before, when a postman came with a letter, he had to stand at the door and await payment. If you didn’t have the money, you didn’t get the letter. In 1849 it was advised that people cut a slit in their front doors, so that the postman could just drop your mail through the slot and be on his way. In 1853 it usually took 5 days for a letter to arrive in London from Spain. To send a letter you went to the post office, though when the penny service started a “bellman” would walk the busy parts of town ringing a bell and holding a bag with a slit in it in which you could post letters. There were no letter boxes in London til 1855.
The term “police”, as in referring to men who kept the public order, was hardly known in England before the end of the 18th c. The force begun by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 was known dor some time as “the new police”. The very word was unpopular, reminding people of the authoritarian forces in foreign countries. Many suspected Peel’s police to be a standing secret army. It took about 20 years for them to be accepted and valued.