In the age before Twitter, Facebook, Angry Birds and Call of Duty, surprisingly Queen Victoria and her subjects had plenty of ways of keeping themselves entertained….. and there wasn’t a single iPad in sight!
Entertainment in the Victorian era was another way of separating the rich from the poor. Many working people were poor and their working hours were incredibly long whilst their pay was terribly inadequate therefore many really didn’t have the money to spend on entertaining themselves. The answer to this problem was for the working class Victorians to make their own entertainment. Charades, dancing, singing, fireworks and piano sing songs made for a very lively night in the Victorian household. Patriotic songs like ‘Rule Britannia’ and comical songs like the ‘Policeman’ were very much enjoyed.
Grab a Book
For Victorians, the Circulating Library provided those who could afford it the opportunity to purchase a wide variety of books by a whole host of great writers who we still study today. Examples of those writers include Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Alfred Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Top of the Tunes
Many Victorians played musical instruments at home for pleasure whilst most cities, towns and villages had their own band, music society or choir. Queen Victoria herself was musically influenced as was Prince Albert – The Queen even gave concerts at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. The Queen’s Private Band was upgraded in 1840 to a string orchestra.
Care for a Dance?
Closely following the music in Victorian society was, of course, the dancing. The Waltz and the Polka were incredibly popular and Queen Victoria thought that Prince Albert danced the Waltz beautifully. For those outside the Royal Family, dancing at home, in assembly rooms, taverns or even on the village green was very popular. The Polka was especially enjoyed by the labouring classes.
Treading the Boards
The theatre wasn’t just for plays during the Victorian period. Many sites including Covent Garden and Drury Lane put on farces, melodramas, operettas, trained horse and dog acts, harlequinades, rope dancers and works of Shakespeare. What made Victorian theatres unique was that not one production consisted of one work but in fact three or four.
A Fair Circus
It was during the Victorian era that the Circus emerged as a commercialised entertainment that we know today – though the acts have changed somewhat. Acts included equestrian battle scenes, Chinese jugglers, female acrobats and even child performers. Although many of the acts showed brilliant qualities, many who witnessed their work classed them as grotesque, lewd and dangerous.
Those Other Pastimes
For those that chose not to partake in any of the entertainment above, there was plenty of activities to choose from elsewhere. Cribbage, Bridge and Patience were popular indoor games whilst tennis, shooting, rowing, cricket and fishing were enjoyed in the outdoors. Hunting, horse-riding, archery and mountaineering were also considered favourite pastimes of many. Surprisingly, roller-skating was made popular in 1863 by the elite of New York City and the advent of the bicycle in the 1880s brought about an exciting new change of hobby – the Penny Farthing was a popular choice of bicycle.
Entertainment may have separated the classes though it seems that whatever type of Victorian you were, nobody could accuse you of being boring!
Photo Credit: By Artist not credited (Argument in an Off Key.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons