Primary History

Victorian Britain: Victorian Scotland

  • The Queen and Scotland

    Queen Victoria liked the Scottish Highlands so much that she and her husband Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle in 1848. They spent summers there, and this made Highland Scotland fashionable.

    Travel companies ran trips to the Highlands. What attracted these first tourists were the 'unspoilt' mountains, glens and lochs. There were no smoky factory towns to spoil the view.

    The reason the Highlands looked unspoilt and empty was that most people who once lived there had been forced out by the Highland Clearances.

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  • Shooting and fishing

    Some rich landowners used their Highland estates for hunting. They invited friends to 'stalk' deer and to shoot 'game birds' such as pheasant and grouse.

    Gamekeepers chased away poachers, and killed 'vermin' such as foxes, hawks and eagles. Parties of rich people stayed in big country houses for shooting holidays, Fishing for trout and salmon also became a popular sport.

    Highland ghillies were men with expert knowledge of the countryside. Their job was to guide visitors who came to shoot and fish.

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  • Shipbuilding

    In Victorian times, Britain was the world's leading shipbuilder and had the biggest fleet of ships. Scotland played an important part in this industry. As early as 1812 the steamship Comet was built at Port Glasgow. In 1841 Robert Napier started the Fairfield shipyard at Govan on the River Clyde. It grew to be the biggest shipyard in Scotland.

    By 1850, Glasgow and Dumbarton made half of all the iron steamships made in Britain. By the 1880s, steel was replacing iron, just as iron ships had replaced wooden ships. Thousands of men worked in the shipyards of the Clyde, and also at Dundee, Leith and Aberdeen.

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  • Coal Mining in Scotland

    Mining for coal was an important industry in Victorian Scotland. Britain's factories used coal to drive steam engines. Steam trains and house fires also burned coal. British coal production rose from about 10 million tonnes in 1800 to about 225 million tonnes in 1900.

    Scotland's main coal mining regions were Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Fife and Lothian. The worst Scottish mine disaster was in 1877, when more than 230 miners at Blantyre Colliery were killed by an underground gas explosion.

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Fun Facts
  • Prince Albert helped to set the fashion for wearing tartan.

  • The Forth Rail Bridge of 1890 was a triumph of Scottish engineering.

  • Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, left Scotland for North America in 1870.

  • The capercaillie bird, extinct in Scotland since the 1700s, was re-introduced to the Highlands in 1837.

  • In 1868 'Young' Tom Morris won the Open golf championship aged 17. He was the youngest winner ever.

  • Scotland's population doubled in the Victorian age, to 4 million people in 1901 (today it's just over 5 million).

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

abacus
This was a wooden frame with beads on it. It was used to help children with counting sums.
agricultural gang
This was a group of workers in the countryside, doing jobs like weeding, sowing seeds, and harvesting crops. Often these gangs would include young children.
barrel organ
A musical instrument which was taken round the streets. It played music when the handle was turned. Often the owners of barrel organs had tame monkeys.
Band of Hope
Temperance organization which tried to stop people, especially children, from drinking alcohol.
boarding school
A school where children live during term time, coming home for the holidays.
Boys' Brigade
Youth organization started in 1883 in Glasgow.
British Empire
Countries ruled by Britain; later became the Commonwealth.
cane
Thin stick used by teachers to beat children who misbehaved.
census
This is the record of people living at a certain time. It records how many people there are, where people live, their age and what they do.
Charities
Organizations that help people in need and raise money for good causes.
cholera
A disease spread by dirty water.
clans
Highlanders linked by family ties, usually sharing the same name, and following a leader or chief.
coal mine
A place where coal is dug from under the ground.
coal
Remains of prehistoric trees, burned in fires. In Victorian times, coal heated homes and provided steam power for machines, trains and ships.
contraception
Another term for birth control, or stopping unwanted pregnancies.
cotton
Comes from a plant. It is spun into thread then woven to make cloth.
dame school
A school run in her home by an elderly woman, known as a dame, where children were taught basic reading and writing.
diphtheria
Infectious throat disease that killed many children.

E to G

emigrated
To emigrate is to leave your own country to go and live in another.
empress
The female ruler of an empire, or the wife of an emperor.
factory
Building with machines for producing goods in large numbers.
factory commission
A group of men who travelled around Britain to investigate the working conditions of children in both factories and mines.
famine
When crops fail and people go without food.
fire grate
The metal part of a fire and fireplace.
globe
A map of the world drawn on a sphere, useful in geography lessons.
governess
A woman who taught rich girls and young boys in their homes, as a paid, live-in servant.
grammar school
Boys' schools, started in the Middle Ages as an alternative to Church schools and giving free education to some boys.

H to L

hokey-pokey man
Icecream-seller, originally usually Italian.
hopscotch
A hopping game played in the street or playground.
hurdy-gurdy
A mechanical violin, played by a street musician.
industrial Revolution
The era of rapid and great change in industry and manufacturing with the growth of factories, beginning in the late 1700s.
ink well
A small pot for ink, used by school children.
logbook
Diary or record book of events.
landlords
A person who rents parts of his or her land to other people.

M to O

magic lantern
A slide projector for showing pictures on a screen.
maypole
Tall pole with long ribbons, for dancing around on May Day.
migrant
A person who emigrates (goes to live in a new land).
moral
A lesson often in a story, about right and wrong.
music hall
Popular Victorian theatre with variety acts such as singers, dancers and comedians.
nanny
servant who cared for rich young children in their nursery at home.
nursery
A room or several rooms where rich children would play and sleep.
orphan
Child with no living parents.

P to S

parliament
Law-making body made up of elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and non-elected Lords.
piecer
A child who worked in a mill joining pieces of thread together.
poachers
A person who hunts animals belonging to someone else.
population
The number of people in a country or city.
public schools
Fee-charging schools for children from richer families.
Punch and Judy show
A hand-puppet show which features Mr Punch and his wife Judy. Common at the seaside in Victorian times.
ragged school
A school for poor children in the early 19th century.
reformer
Person who seeks change for the better, to help others.
reign
The length of time a king or queen rules.
school board
A group of people who were responsible for the running of their local school after 1870.
scullery
Small room with a sink, for washing up.
shaft
Deep vertical hole leading down to the tunnels and underground workings of a coal mine.
shipyard
A place where workers build and repair ships.
slates
These were pieces of slate (like a flat stone), sometimes set inside a wooden frame, used for writing - with a special slate pencil. At the end of the lesson the slates were wiped clean with an old cloth.
smallpox
Disease causing fever and, in those who did not die from it, leaving 'pockmarks' on the skin.
steam engine
Engine driven by steam from water heated in a boiler, used to drive machinery.
slum
An area of bad housing, with poor hygiene and sanitation.
Sunday School
School to teach Christianity: the National Sunday School Union was founded in 1803.

T to Z

wages
A journey in a ship across the sea.
wages
Workers' pay.
wool
Comes from sheep. It is spun into thread then woven to make cloth.
workhouses
Places where people without means of support (usually the very poor, young and elderly) were sent to live; they got food and a bed in return for work. Most Victorian towns had a workhouse.