Vic­to­rian legacy

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“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!Š

Above: Life in the rows of Great Yar­mouth

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