15 Alarming Facts About The Victorian Era That’ll Make You Glad You Were Born In A Different Time Period

15 Alarming Facts About The Victorian Era That’ll Make You Glad You Were Born In A Different Time Period

Do you ever look at old photos of yourself and think I can’t believe I left the house looking like that” or… How did I ever think that was trendy!?

We’ve all been horrified by our former selves. They say time heals all and that’s pretty accurate when it comes to letting go of painful personal experiences. But, there are some things you’ll never forget… (like that mullet you rocked back in the 70’s).

Fortunately, through the complexity of science and the beauty of perspective, we as a human race are able to look back on the ‘mistakes’ we’ve made in the past and feel thankful that we learned our lesson and changed some things. 

Take the Victorian era in the UK for example, plenty of freakin’ blunders there and after reading this list, you’ll be pretty grateful you were born in a different time period! 


1. The river Thames looked a bit different

In certain parts, the famous British waterway was basically a concoction of sewage and dead animals. Lovely! It actually got to the point that by the year 1860, thousands and thousands of tonnes of fecal matter was being dumped straight into the river every single day. That’s not even the worst of it either… Not only did the Thames provide the main repository for waste matter, but it was also the main source of drinking water for the capital.

So, whilst huge amounts of people were dying from dysentery, cholera and typhoid provided by using infected water, the public somehow thought it was the polluted air causing such illnesses instead. It really makes you think that we’re lucky to have a greater knowledge of sustainable living these days.

DID YOU KNOW: It’s claimed that the river became so dense with waste and animal corpses, that you could actually walk across it in some places. Something to do on your weekend I suppose!


2. The streets weren’t much better

To be honest, public areas were just not very hygienic in general. If there’s poop floating down the river alongside dead cats and rats, it’s unlikely the streets are going to be an image of perfect cleanliness. People just weren’t as concerned about the environment back then, nor were they as aware of the consequences of their actions.

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So, when taking a short walk through the streets of London you might come across anything from piles of burnt out cigarettes, to human faeces.


3. Food was equally as grim

You couldn’t really trust anything edible back in the Victorian era. Well, apart from… nope, nothing. Back in the 1800’s, things like pasteurisation hadn’t been invented. So, you could get tuberculosis just by having a glass of milk.

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This sort of thing wasn’t really helped by the dishonesty of certain shopkeepers, traders, butchers etc. There wasn’t exactly a long list of food hygiene regulations being imposed at the time, so people would try and sell rotten meat dressed with the fat from fresh meat or use chalk to make loaves of bread look whiter than they really were. Sneaky and quite frankly incredibly dangerous. Shame on them!


4. Raw meat supposedly had anti-aging qualities

Ever looked in the mirror and thought that perhaps you don’t quite look as fresh-faced as you once did?

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Well, in a time period when wrinkle cream wasn’t exactly a thing, women would place raw slabs of meat on their face on the instruction of a beauty advice writer who had stated it would “keep the skin from wrinkles and give a youthful freshness to the complexion“. If you say so…


5. You were lucky if you made adulthood at all

That’s right, as if growing up wasn’t enough of a challenge already with the struggle through puberty and all, mortality rates were so bad that roughly 50% of children never even made their fifth birthday.  Slums boasted the worst figures, as the living conditions were often unimaginably revolting. One particular area in Manchester called Angel Meadow was given the name “hell on earth“… catchy. More than 300,000 people consisting of mostly Irish immigrants lived in a space no bigger than one square mile.

People were driven to extreme lengths in order to survive too, going as far as eating stray animals like cats.



6. Pea-soupers

What on earth is a pea-souper?!” I hear you ask. Pea-soupers were clouds of fog so thick you could barely even see through them. They were a result of huge amounts of fog coming from the River Thames combined with the smoke pouring out of the coal fires. Obviously that amount of smoke making its way through the streets of London caused plenty of problems, including death.

Thousands of people died from breathing in too much of the stuff over the course of a number of centuries, which forced the governments hand into passing clean air laws… eventually. The smog created an eery atmosphere at night time and made it easier for lawbreakers to get away or sneak up on people, just like this next guy…


7. Jack the Ripper was around

Towards the end of the Victorian era, a notorious and violent killer was sending the public into panic. Using pea-soupers as cover, Jack the Ripper killed at least 5 prostitutes working in the East End at the time.

The scariest thing about the mass murderer was the fact that nobody ever found out who he/she was, despite the police’s best intentions. There are plenty of historians with theories and ideas as to who he/she was, but the ‘legend’ of the killer has gone on for so long that it’s unlikely an identity will ever be proven. Still, it makes for interesting reading.


8. Families would get photographs of their dead children posed as if they were still alive

Yes, you did read that correctly. Mortality rates were so freakin’ high that parents would often sadly lose their own children at a young age. The richer folk would then hire a photographer to capture pictures of their deceased offspring sat in a chair or posing in such a way that it would look as if they were still with the living. Which, isn’t weird at all…

If you weren’t quite as wealthy, you’d have to rely on a sketch artist. Now baring in mind photography wasn’t exactly a common household pastime at this stage in the UK and was bloomin’ expensive, the pictures of their dead children would likely be the only one they’d ever own. So, not so weird after all i guess…


9. Women were as hairy as men

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, why shouldn’t women be allowed to let their body hair grow naturally without constantly having to shave and groom themselves? But, having said that, it’d be a pretty big freakin’ shock if you saw a woman walking down the street these days with arms and legs hairier than your husbands.

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Of course, razors weren’t around back in the Victorian era, so ladies made sure they kept the bits on show well presented i.e. face and hands. But, as for the rest, well it was covered the majority of the time by several layers under a dress, so no need really. Plus, removing hair was a far more painful process back then.


10. Women’s dresses were verging on the ridiculous

Fashion is a fickle social construct. You only have to look back a couple of decades to cringe at the state of everyones ‘threads’ (that’s hip, young speak). The ‘Crinoline Period’ which ran from 1850-1870 involved females wearing large wooden hoops underneath several layers of material to create enormous outfits.

They were so big that getting stuck in doorways, knocking things over, accidentally setting themselves on fire and just generally causing havoc wasn’t uncommon for the women that wore them. So, as you can probably imagine, trends quickly moved on.


11. There were some strange things on the menu

Some people just love experimenting, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. Well, back in the 1800’s, eating certain foods was a result of either wealth or necessity. A lot of people couldn’t afford to waste anything and those that could were strangely frugal anyway.

Let me give you an example: if you owned a herd of cows and decided to have one for dinner, you’d probably take the most tender cuts of meat like the fillet and rump and dispose of the rest, right? Well, not in the Victoria era, back then they would take an entire calves’ head and boil it, eating the brains and all. The ears would be shaved and boiled/fried and lets not get started on the rest.

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12. Charles Darwin wasn’t a controversial figure just for the things he said

In a time when religion ruled the roost, Charles Darwin wasn’t what you would call a popular figure for much of his life. After sharing his theory of evolution, people slated him for his blasphemies but we’re not going to get into all of that. The naturalist/geologist/biologist travelled the globe whilst conducting his research and took a liking for adding foreign exotic meats to his personal menu.


He joined a Cambridge society called the ‘Glutton Club’ in which he along with his friends, ate some slightly unorthodox creatures. We’re talking Hawks, maggots, Owls, squirrels etc. Then whilst away at sea, he tried everything from iguanas and giant tortoises to armadillos and even a puma! The man could grow a good beard though…


13. Children would wear dresses until they were 5… no matter the gender

This seems like a pretty good idea on the face of it, so I suppose it probably has no place on this list. But, it was too interesting to ignore. It’s inclusive and encourages equal treatment of the sexes. Rich families would dress their infant children in frilly, white dresses along with bonnets and ribbons too.

It’s just a shame that despite being so open to a young boy wearing what would now be stereotypically seen as girls clothing… people were still so unaccepting of homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality at the time.


14. Women wore crotchless underwear

I think it’s safe to say that women’s clothing isn’t always designed with the toilet in mind. Look at jump suits for example, you have to basically get fully undressed just to take a quick pee. Well, back in the days when bloomers were the base layer of a woman’s outfit and not thongs, things were at least a little easier.

They were designed only to cover the legs and not the y’know, other bit… so, going to the toilet was a doddle if you ignore the fact that there were still the other 117 layers to lift up. Plus, if you happened to have some sort of ‘accident’, there was no hiding it.


15. Freak shows were a thing

Unfortunately, the world was a less forgiving time back in those days, especially if you were unfortunate enough to be born with some sort of abnormality to your make up. These “exhibitions of rarities” were common in major cities and were produced to shock the viewers.

One of the most famous freak show members back in the 19th century was the Elephant Man. Joseph Merrick, was an Englishman who become notorious due to his congenital disorder that gave him a unique physical appearance. His left side was overgrown and distorted which meant he had to wear a mask. The poor guy was pointed at, mocked and found scary by thousands of people over the course of his life.


So, the victorian era was a pretty freakin’ different time in a lot of ways. Thankfully, plenty of laws have passed since that dictate butchers can’t sell us meat that’s rotten and women have moved on from wearing dresses that verge on the ridiculous. Well, most have… ignoring Lady GaGa. 

What did you make of the list, were you shocked by anything? Let me know in the comments Acidheads!