Victorian Fashion: 1860-1901

Fashion was important in Victorian society. For the middle and upper classes, proper dress sense was essential, and clothes had to be changed for numerous occasions during the day. They dressed for leisure activities, for business, and then dressed formally at night to eat dinner.

Even the poorest people were rarely seen without a hat, and manual workers usually wore ties or scarves when working. As the fashions changed during the Victorian era, those who could afford to do so made sure to always be ‘on trend’.

This candid street scene shows just how well people dressed on a daily basis.

Visiting The Tower Of London, and listening to a Yeoman Warder speak about its history. The children wear smaller versions of the adult clothing.

A reasonably well-dressed working man.

The attire of a businessman.

Tightly-laced corsets and bodices gave ladies incredibly small waists.

Female dresses became more relaxed at the end of the era.

Dressing for activities like cycling required a certain style.

For customers who lived a long way from shops, they could order their fashions from catalogues. This an American example from the same period.
It is selling patterns, for the clothes to be made at home, or by a dressmaker.

Random Photos Of London: 1880s-1970s

A horse-drawn bus and its conductor, 1880s.

A young girl cuddling her cat. Spitalfields, 1890.

The Rotherhithe Tunnel under construction. South London, 1906.

The same tunnel in regular use, 1930.

Women chatting in a street in Spitalfields, 1935.

Small boys teasing a guardsman at the Tower of London, 1959.

An impromptu street dance, 1970s.

1960s London: Photos by Dorothy Bohm

She was born Dorothea Israelit in 1924, into an affluent German Jewish family. ‘My grandfather lived very near a main road, and there was a procession of Hitler Youth, but at nine I didn’t know what it was,’ she recalls, ‘and that stayed in my mind, seeing them march with the swastika.’ She was called a ‘Judische Kröte’ – a Jewish toad – and kicked in the street. Bohm’s father, fearing the worst, sent her to England in 1939. ‘My father was one of those who believed in anything new and so in the 1930s he was using a Leica. And when I was shipped off to England because Hitler had come, and life had become impossible, saying goodbye to me he took off his Leica and gave it to me. It was strange. He said, “It might be useful to you.”’

The Chelsea Flower Show. The lady in the foreground appears to want to be photographed.

Members of Parliament entering The Houses of Parliament.

Children playing on old gravestones in Kensington.

A busker trying his luck in Trafalgar Square.

Outside St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

A view over Westminster Bridge from the south side.

Narrow boats on the canal at Little Venice, Maida Vale.

Gay Love In Victorian England: 1885-1901

In late Victorian England, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, outlawing sexual relations between men (but not between women) is given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria. Despite the passing of that law, many gay men continued to flout it of course, and some posed for photos with their lovers and friends. Like most societal rules in Victorian times, that law was hypocritical. At a time when child prostitution (female and male) was rife, and cross-dressing was popular in upper-class society, the law was rarely enforced.

Cross-dressing aristocrats posing with their lovers.

A nobleman with his younger lovers.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, his young lover. Wilde was famously imprisoned for Sodomy, and that ruined his life.

Mature gay men, happy to record their love on a photo.

Two gay lovers having a photo taken as a memoir.

Two more doing the same.

Lesbians were not considered to actually exist in Victorian society, and the word was never used to describe them at the time. Women were presumed to have ‘companions’, or ‘close friends’. Although they could not be prosecuted, gossip could ruin them socially, and most were under great pressure from their families to marry a man. But that did not stop many of them recording their love by having photographs taken.

Some dressed as men for the photos, and perhaps did the same in private.

It would not be until 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised in England, when it was legalised between consenting adults in private.

As of July 2020, the following countries still have laws that can prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality:

Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates

Poor Children In Industrial England: 1881-1901

In the last two decades of the reign of Queen Victoria, large sections of the population of England still lived in abject poverty. This was especially true of the industrialised north of the country, where the increase in the population following people seeking work in factories caused overcrowding. This left orphaned children roaming the streets, and others left to fend for themselves by working parents.

Reformers, mostly wealthy people with social consciences, tried to do something about this and set up organised Chidren’s Homes and Care Homes For Children. They also employed photographers to document the condition of the children taken into care, and those still out on the streets. Most of the following photos were taken over a twenty-year period in and around the city of Liverpool. Some of the images are heartbreaking.

Young working girls at a cotton mill. Look at the expressions on their faces. No hope.

Three children taken into a home after being found wandering on the streets.

A girl found living alone in a loft in a deserted house. She had some kind of development issue, and had likely been abandoned.

A young girl singing and dancing on a pub table to earn money.

This child has malnutrition, and was close to death.

This boy was taken in a home after being constantly beaten by his parents.

Boys playing cricket in a main square in the city. They drew a crowd for their game.

Two brothers found living on the streets. They were taken into care.

Happier children posing on a large fountain in the city.

This girl was taken into care, and had to had her head shaved because the hair was crawling with lice.

Five children from the same family. The water in their home was unfit to drink, so they had been drinking Gin, and were all found drunk. They were taken away from their alcoholic mother and put in a home.

Children helping to sell all their family possessions in a street market.

A ‘Street Nursery’. Working women would pay the older girls to look after their children while they worked in factories. The girls had nowhere to take them, so they looked after them on the streets until their mothers collected them.

Children gather on the street to listen to a sermon from a religious missionary. They were hoping to be givem food after hearing what he had to say.

A group of children wearing the rudimentary ‘uniform’ of a Children’s Home. They had all been found alone on the streets.

Pet Meat: The Sellers In Photos 1880-1936

From 1800 until the late 1930s, the ownership of pets in London increased to huge levels. Especially cat ownership, as cats were favoured to contol the mice that invaded every home, and rats too. In the year 1861 alone, it was recorded (by Henry Mayhew) that around 300,000 cats lived in London homes.

This was an opportunity for a new trade, selling pet meat. Starting out by wandering the streets with carts or baskets, pet meat sellers soon established regular rounds. After WW1, some traders transferred to market stalls, or rented shops.

They sold horse meat, which was widely available due to the hundreds of worn-out or injured horses slaughtered each day in London. Generally considered to be unfit for human consumption, and often tainted or spoiled, this meat was cheap to buy, and readily eaten by cats and dogs.

There were so many pet meat sellers in the city, they attracted the attention of street photographers who captured this lost trade for us, and preserved the history of it.

London Street Jobs: 1920-1927

After WW1, not that much had changed in London in almost 100 years. Photographers were still keen to document life on the streets, and the jobs of ordinary working people.

A Concertina Man. This elderly man is trying to make a living as a street entertainer, playing his Concertina. His female companion carries the box for the Concertina, and a smaller one for collecting any money people give him.

The Pet Meat Man. These traders would sell meat considered to be unfit for human consumption, and people would buy the cheap cuts to feed their pets.

The Telescope Man. Sitting at the corner of Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament, this man would charge a nominal amount to look through his telescope at the surrounding views. He also sold leaflets about the history of Queen Boadicea, who is on the statue behind him, and of Big Ben, the famous bell in the tower oposite.

Gas fitters installing ‘modern’ street lighting.

The window cleaner. This man carried his ladders around on a cart, and would wash the windows of better-off Londoners. They usually had a regular ’round’ of customers. We have a version of those in Beetley, in 2022. They use vans instead of carts, but little else has changed.

The Telegram Messenger. Telegrams were run by the Post Office, and were a popular way to get a message across a long distance to impart urgent information to the recipient.

A 1920s Chimney Sweep. Sweeps were still essential, as everyone had coal fires. But they were no longer allowed by law to employ small boys as assistants.

A Gramophone Man. Pushing a wind-up gramophone in his old pram, this man would wander around the streets playing popular songs of the day. He hoped that people would give him a few pennies for the ‘entertainment’.

A female ‘knocker-upper’. Before the widespread use of alarm clocks, workers who had to start work very early in the morning would employ someone to wake them up by tapping a long pole against their bedroom window. This lady has made life easier for herself by using a pea-shooter to fire hard peas against the windows.

The Escapologist.

At one time, these street entertainers were very common on the streets of London. They would stage miraculous ‘escapes’ after being bound in heavy chains or tight ropes. They could be seen outside major tourist sights like the Tower of London, or entertaining cinema queues before the film show started. They always had an assistant who secured them first, then collected money by passing a hat around the crowd.

Telephone Cable Erector.

As home telephones became more common, these men would do the dangerous job of stringing telephone cables across street to be attached to poles. They had no safety equipment then.

The Real Wild West In Photos: 1880s

Like most people, I was shown a version of the Wild West by Hollywood films, and TV shows. Gunfights, saloon bar brawls, brave sheriffs, and cowardly bushwackers. The nice guys wore white hats and tin stars, the bad men had black hats, robbed stagecoaches, and shot people in the back. It was not until I was older, reading books and looking at actual photos from the time, that I realised just how romanticised and inaccurate all of that was.

Wyatt Earp. (Not much like Kurt Russell)

Wild Bill Hickock.

Butch Cassidy. (Nothing like Paul Newman.)

Doc Holliday. (Val Kilmer was a good choice for the role in the film ‘Tombstone’.)

Cole Younger. A member of the James Gang.

Jesse James.

Johnny Ringo, a notorious gunman killed in 1882.

Some of Wyatt Earp’s deputies.

Calamity Jane. (I had only known of her from the Doris Day musical film.)

Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon in Texas.

Gambling in a Missouri Saloon.

William Bonney, known as Billy The Kid.

Saloon-girl prostitutes.

Poverty in New York City: 1888

I have posted many photos about London in the 19th century. But I never forget that 60% of my followers are from America, and I want to post things relevant to them as well. So here is a post of photos from the famous photographer, Jacob Riiss, and his images of poverty in New York City in 1888. There are no detailed captions, but they need little explanation.

Female Fashion: Edwardian London, 1906

I found these photos by the keen amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, who was also the chief cartoonist for Punch magazine. They are early examples of candid street photography, using a hand-held camera. He was obviously interested in the fashions of the day, and as you can see, most women were still wearing corsets and very long dresses or skirts at the time.

A ‘modern’ young lady, stepping out. She appears to be full of confidence.

Described by the photographer as a ‘Common shop-girl’, this lady is reading a book as she walks along. Much like people looking at their phones today.

A ‘progressive’ lady walking with her bicycle. She would have been making something of a ‘statement’, in 1906.

This lady is carrying a ‘modern’ handbag. The forerunner of today’s familiar female handbags.

Another ‘handbag and book’ lady.

Two elegant friends walking together. They are also carrying books and one has a letter in her hand, ready to post it.

And two more doing the same.

Some ladies at the time favoured black, or dark clothing. Sometimes this was to indicate modesty, or they may have been in mourning. Here are two of them. The first lady appears to have spotted the photographer.

A well-to-do older couple exiting their carriage in Central London.

Women and children wandering in a London Park. The children were dressed in very similar clothes to the adults.

Can you imagine wearing so much clothing in high Summer?