The Victorian era is distinct from previous eras because of its relative peace and consistency. The era brought the end of the focus on rationalism, and a renewed focus on romanticism. Buildings and apartments are lavish and accessorized, and general architecture is significantly more extreme. Take a look at the Prince Albert Memorial, it was created by Queen Victoria after her husband died:
The memorial sits alone in right across the street from Royal Albert Hall. It is a whopping 54 meters or 177 feet tall. It is ridiculously ornate and detailed. It also showcases the neo-gothic styling of the time period. The 19th century was also the first time glass was used as a building material, and alongside steel, became a hallmark of Victorian tube stations and Leadenhall Market:
The Victorian era also was right in the middle of the industrial revolution. Massive buildings could be created faster and more uniquely than ever before. The relative peace of the time allowed for architects and engineers to be as creative as technology allowed. Towards the end of the Victorian era, electricity was being used to light up buildings and streets. Population was booming. Right where we live, in Earl’s Court, is a wonderful example of a posh Victorian neighborhood. Here are some pictures of the area:
Plenty of businesses that began during this period still exist today, and some in the original buildings. The introduction of steel added to the styling of signs and outdoor facades:
The Victorians are also the people that painted almost all of the remaining Tudor buildings the black and white we associate with the time period today. The Victorians were powerful, lavish, and aimed for romantic beauty in everything. Many old monuments or buildings have updates from the Victorian era. Often they are faithful reconstructions with Victorian flair. A great example of this is in Bath, where the bath houses were reconstructed to be more pleasurable to the Victorians.
Archaeology and colonialism also dominated certain fashion styles of the times. The Victorians loved preserving history, but only if they could bring it back home. Hearing of colonial exploits helps people living at home understand the power of the English empire. And it really was powerful. The saying “the sun never sets on the English empire” comes from this period.
In art, cameras were just beginning to exist, this meant that paintings started to have a different meaning. Early absurdism and surrealism comes from industrialization, and in late Victorian artwork the creativity in color and style show. Painters are beginning to do what pictures can’t at this time. Here are some paintings from the period:
Theatre and novels became really popular during this period. The 19th century was the climax of British naval superiority as well as cultural dominance. Some of this is reflected in the coinage and currency of the era.
Science also expanded dramatically during this time period. Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution during this period. Germs and microbes were understood better, and the expansion of antiseptics made hospitals cleaner and safer. Anaesthetics were also being widely used during this time frame. Engineers had also began making commercially feasible railroads. And railroads across the world made expansion and maintenance possible over massive distances.
Political stability almost directly corresponds to stability in coins and currency. I’m beginning to add currency to my discussion because bank notes are introduce and widely used during this period. The Great Recoinage of 1816 did its job. Very few new coins were introduced during Queen Victoria’s reign. However, that did not stop the styles of the time from being reflected in the coins struck during the period.
One of the main changes in the Victorian era was the resistance to Rationalism. Early Victorians and Late Georgians were interested in decimalizing the currency of Britain, basically instead of pounds being worth 20 shillings and 240 pence, a pound would be 100 pence, which would help make global trading more intuitive. Decimalization was first introduced to parliament in 1824, but the issue didn’t gain any headway until 1848, when the florin, valued at one-tenth of a pound, was introduced. In the 1850’s the issue was under serious consideration by the Royal bank, but was eventually quashed due to two important people in the process. In 1874, the halfcrown was re-introduced into circulation after it had been supplanted by the decimal coin, the florin. The two coins ran side by side until 1969.
1860 marked the beginning of the use of bronze instead of copper in small coins, leading to smaller, lighter coins. The tradition of the ‘bun penny’ in design and material was consistent until decimalization in 1970. Silver coins received a 40 year gap in minting, from 1847 until the queen’s jubilee in 1887. Pre-1847 crowns were called ‘gothic’ crowns, and are considered some of the most beautiful coins ever made:
Their ornate design and traditional styling is the epitome of classic Victorian art.
The gold standard became widely adopted around the globe. This allowed for easier trading among all world economies as exchange rates were constant.
Bank notes were beginning to be used during this period. Up until 1844, bank notes were created by pretty much anyone who wanted to start a bank and make money. In 1844, the government gave a monopoly to the Royal Bank to be the only place allowed to make bank notes in England. The bank notes of the period looked like this:
The design is simple, but the font is elegant and pretty. Bank notes became significantly more ornate and difficult to replicate as the years moved on.
Victorian styling is that of a strong, stable empire. Unfortunately, the stability didn’t last much after Queen Victoria died. Two world wars, globalization, and rapidly expanding technology defines the England of the next 100 years.