Forever immortalised in A Christmas Carol, the Victorian era formed the foundation of modern Christmas. We've put together an incredible collection of pictures depicting life for the average working family.
Often, family is all poor Victorians had. This illustration demonstrates the typical arrangements for a family occupying one room. There is a significant lack of furniture, which is to be expected for an impoverished family..
The Victorian Household
For the Victorian poor life was in general, to quote Hobbes, 'nasty, brutish and short'. With multiple families crammed into two-up two-down houses, disease was rife and sanitation poor. This illustration from 1872 by Gustave Dore titled 'Over London by Rail' gives you an idea of the cramped and claustrophobic conditions of the working class Victorian household.
This photograph of a Glasgow slum in 1871 also shows the conditions for Victorian Scots were not much better than their English neighbours.
These close conditions lead to crimes, everything from petty theft to larceny, even to murder. One of the most famous Victorian murderers Jack the Ripper operated exclusively in the deprived and working class East End borough of Whitechapel. The claustrophobic and badly lit streets aided rather than deterred criminals. In this illustration from the Illustrated Police News, a police constable finds the body of another Ripper victim.
Authors such as Charles Dickens also wrote about the conditions experienced by the Victorian poor. In his novel Oliver Twist, he describes in quite vivid detail the lot of the ordinary Victorian living in the East End in the Victorian period. He wrote of the East End that: "The houses on either side were high and large, but very old; and tenanted by people of the poorest class. [...] A great many of the tenements […] which had become insecure from age and decay, were prevented from falling into the street by huge beams of wood which were reared against the tottering walls, and firmly planted in the road…; the very rats that here and there lay putrefying in its rottenness, were hideous with famine."
An illustration from Gustave Dore again demonstrates this.
Inside the house of the poor Victorian was not much better. This living room of a Liverpudlian dock-worker demonstrates the general state of disrepair that many landlords kept their property in.
Narrow, high sided streets were common-place in Victorian cities, with some districts quickly becoming slums of the highest order. Here, a photograph of a family outside their house gives you some idea as to the scale of the houses around them!
Victorian families would often share houses with other families, sometimes even the same room. This photograph originally captioned 'An East End Den', shows several men living in the same room together, an incredibly common occurrence in Victorian cities.
You would think, reading up to this point, that poor Victorians had utterly terrible lives devoid of any happiness or hope. You'd be wrong. Poor Victorians developed some of the tightest knit communities in modern history, with family being an important cornerstone of the poor Victorian existence.
Poorer Victorian children, although expected to work from an early age, still had time to play. Here, some Victorian children have fashioned a lamppost into a May Pole.
However, Victorian children would still be expected to work to support their families. This photograph is of a Victorian child employed in one of many cotton factories. Employers favoured using children for some of the work as they were small and could crawl into spaces adults couldn't reach to free trapped machinery or recover valuable cotton waste for re-spinning.