Life in Victorian Times

Ordinary Life

Photograph of hop-pickers at Tice's hop ground, Runfold Farm. SHC ref 7146/3/10

Photograph of hop-pickers at Tice’s hop ground, Runfold Farm.
SHC ref 7146/3/10.

For hundreds of years most people had worked on farms in rural areas. They lived in small towns or villages and rarely travelled far. Farm workers were paid very low wages so farmers could sell their crops cheaply.

During the 1800s many people moved from the countryside into the towns as more and more jobs were created in the new factories. Living conditions in towns and cities were very unhealthy for workers. By 1901 three out of every four people in England lived in a town or city. This movement was known as urbanisation.

If you were poor….

People in the cities worked for very low wages. If a factory worker lost his job he might lose his house as well if he couldn’t pay the rent.

The homes of poor people were often cramped and filthy and it was common for a whole family to live in one room. Some ordinary houses homed up to 40 people. There were no clean water supplies until after 1848. Houses were often polluted by the fumes and smoke from factories.

Standards of hygiene and sanitation were very bad in early Victorian England. Poor Victorians could not afford indoor toilets. Many had to use open cesspits in their back gardens. A law was introduced in 1874 to ensure all houses had a toilet.

Sewage and industrial waste flowed into the River Thames. Poor people in London often did their cooking and cleaning with dirty water from the River Thames. Unsurprisingly, thousands of people died of diseases such as cholera and typhoid from this water.

In 1858 the smell from the Thames became so bad that Parliament had to be dismissed so that M.P.s could leave London. Parliament eventually solved the problem by commissioning the engineer Joseph Bazalgette to build London’s first sewage system.

If you lived in a town you were unlikely to live past 40, but in the countryside life expectancy was 50.

By the end of the 1800s mass-produced goods became cheaper because they were made on a large scale. People who had previously been working class became the more prosperous middle class. Poor quality housing (slums) began to be replaced by rows of neat houses. The government introduced laws to improve workers’ rights.

As standards of medicine and hygiene improved death rates fell and the population grew enormously. The population doubled during Victoria’s reign rising from 20 million in 1837 to over 42 million in 1901.

The Dairy Yard, at Unstead Farm, Godalming, and Bowbrick, the elderly labourer by Gertrude Jekyll. SHC ref 6521

The Dairy Yard, at Unstead Farm, Godalming, and Bowbrick, the elderly labourer by Gertrude Jekyll. SHC ref 6521.

If you were rich…

Wealthy Victorians who lived in large town houses employed servants to do their cooking, cleaning and sewing for them. They lived in homes that were lit by gas lamps rather than candles. The homes of rich Victorians were lavishly decorated to show off their wealth.

Links to related pages

Link to the Victorians page
Link to the Victorian Activities page
Link to the A Few Famous and Interesting People in Victorian Surrey page
Link to the Victorian Childhood page
Link to the Victorian Industry and Technology page
Link to the Victorian Crime and Punishment page

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