“Did you know that a common cause of death in the Victorian era in the home was exploding toilets?”
I HAVE just returned from a week in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rome, where every building is stunning. The Roman architectural style has had quite a strong influence over the years in many of our public buildings and in residential house design.
But this month I want to consider how the Victorian era helped evolve our homes and living today. My inspiration comes from a visit to the Royal Albert Hall; my wife kindly treated a group of us to tickets in a box. It truly is a magnificent building! An amazing memorial from Queen Victoria to her husband. Inspired by the whole romance of this memorial, my wife confessed that she planned to erect a shed on my passing. I don’t know which hurt most - the fact that my life would be commemorated by a shed or the fact that she has already planned it.
In the 1830s, it is believed that nearly 80pc of the population lived in the countryside, working in farming or the cloth industry. As the industrial revolution took shape, machinery removed many of the rural jobs and people came to the cities to work in the new factories. Towards the middle of the 19th century, it was estimated that 50pc of the population lived in cities, causing a housing crisis. Cities were not prepared for this influx and factory owners built thousands of cheap houses very close together to accommodate their workforce.
It is thought that up to 100 houses had to share a water pump and outside toilet. Disease soon spread, with more than 30,000 dying of cholera in 1832. Often up to 12 people shared a room in these new terraced houses. It wasn’t until 1875 that the Public Health Act banned open sewers, and houses started to be built further apart and rubbish collection was introduced. A big improvement in hygiene was the abolition of the soap tax, allowing the poor to be able to afford soap.
Did you know that a common cause of death in the Victorian era in the home was exploding toilets? This was often due to a build-up of gas. Anyone one who owns a Victorian terrace will know how steep their stairs are death was often caused by women tripping on their long dresses and falling down the stairs.
This period was great for confectionary: the first Jelly Babies were produced, as were chocolate Easter eggs and ice cream. So all in all, if you managed to survive the cholera, typhoid, smallpox and scarlet fever, and were happy to share your room with a couple of other families while going to work in a dangerous factory, they were generally good times. Well, at least you could buy Jelly Babies!
Above: Life in the rows of Great Yarmouth