top of page
  • Writer's pictureErin

Victorian London 1837 - 1901

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

Victorian London was a city of great contrasts - on the one hand a thriving rich community, with great developments and mass construction, but on the other hand an ever growing poor population in rundown overcrowded slums, living in impossible to imagine conditions. This was mainly down to an uncontrollable population surge during the 19th century from 1 million in 1800 to over 6 million a century later, and London just couldn't cope.

Poor sanitation, coal fires and raw sewage running into the Thames were the main problems experienced but even Queen Victoria was effected, and is said to have struggled with the sewage ventilating into Buckingham Palace! A fact that only came to light some 40 years later.

Engineer Joseph Bazalgette came to the rescue, with the construction of over 2000 km of tunnels directing the sewage out of the city; cholera outbreaks decreased and the death rate declined drastically. He later went on to design the bridges Embankment, Hammersmith and Albert.

John Nash was also still at work in this period, after a very successful career in the Georgian period. He developed Piccaddily Circus, Oxford Circus and worked on the ongoing changed to Buckingham Palace.

London "Bobbies" were also founded at this time. Sir Robert Peel started the Metropolitan Police to handle law and order outside the city centre, the police became known as "Bobbies" after their founder.

The early 19th century was the golden age of steam, starting off with the first railway in London being built connected London Bridge and Greenwich in 1836. A railway boom followed with Euston (1837), Paddington (1838), Fenchurch Street (1841), Waterloo (1848) and Kings Cross (1850) following in quick succession.

1834 saw the Houses of Parliament burn down, but it was gradually replaced by the mock Gothic style we know and love today (designed by Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin).

The 1848 potato famine in Ireland and actually had a big impact on London, 1000,000 Irish fled to the capital and at one time made up 20% of the population!

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a high point for the era, organised by Prince Albert. It was held in Hyde Park and aimed to show the industrial and cultural products of the world - with Britain at the forefront. Visitors and exhibitors came from all over the world, with over 200,000 attendees, and was labeled a great success. The centrepiece was an iron and glass hall by Joseph Paxton - the Crystal Palace, which was later moved to Sydenham Park until it burnt down in 1936. The proceeds went towards the construction of the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The first underground train line in London opened in 1863, with the Metropolitan Line connecting London Paddington to Farringdon Road, other lines quickly followed.

And as all this was taking place, Londons living conditions for the poor was unimaginable - and either unknown or ignored by the wealthier upper class. Young children were working on the streets or as chimney streets as young as 5, and many people were forced to work in the infamous workhouses. Campaigners such as Charles Dickens did his best to bring to light the problems, such as publishing Oliver Twist - aiming to bring to light the problems to the literate. The problem was at least acknowledged in 1870 when it was made compulsory for children aged 5-12 to attend school, but there was still a long way to go.

Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and seven months, which made her the longest serving monarch until she was overtaken by our very own Queen Elizabeth.

What to see of Victorian London? - Piccadilly Circus - Oxford Circus - House of Parliament - Victoria & Albert Museum - Science Museum - Trafalgar Square - National Gallery


bottom of page