Middle class life in the Industrial Era

A middle class businessman going to work while his wife stays to run the home with help from servants.
  • Many middle-class people aspired to join the upper-classes. Wealthy middle-class businessmen would socialise with the aristocracy. Some even managed to be awarded a knighthood by performing an act of great charity. This meant they were able to join the upper-classes.
  • Many middle-class boys went to grammar schools, or second-rank public schools, where they played healthy games and sports. They also studied Latin, Greek and Ancient History. Girls increasingly went to school but they were still expected to put their effort into getting a husband and learning how to run a home.
  • Middle-class men worked for a living, but in non-manual occupations – from rich lawyers and bankers; through teachers and engineers; down to shopkeepers and clerks. Many middle-class people were 'self-made men', who had created their wealth through success in business. Very few women worked, although some supported their husbands running shops and small businesses.
  • Many lived in a house in the suburbs and commuted to work in the city. Even the poorest middle-class home would have a servant.
  • After the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832, middle-class men had the right to vote.
  • Many took a keen interest in politics and became town councillors or Poor Law guardians. Many were 'do-gooders', who believed in teetotalism and 'temperance' (not drinking alcohol). They joined the local Society for the Suppression of Vice that worked to ban dances such as the can-can.
  • As the century went on, some middle-class women sought an education at Newnham College, the first college for women at Cambridge University, was founded in 1874. Some women became involved in the women's suffrage movement.
  • By the end of the century most Victorian middle-class people took an annual holiday. The wealthier went abroad; the well-to-do went to places like Ramsgate and Scarborough.
  • Behaviour in a typical middle-class family was 'proper'. Children called their fathers 'sir' and spent most of their time with their nannies. Many middle-class people believed that a mother's job was to stay at home and be 'the angel in the house' ie tell the servants and tradesmen what to do.
  • The middle-classes held 'Victorian values' – religion, patriotism, duty, charity, modesty, cleanliness, self-improvement and hard work.

Victorian middle class entertainment

Depiction of the interior of the Savoy Theatre, London in 1881. The theatre was the home of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
Savoy Theatre, London

Victorian middle-class life wasn’t just work, study and living a strict moral life. Victorian middle-class families held musical evenings when they gathered around a piano and sang. Stamp-collecting, butterfly-collecting and photography were popular hobbies for middle-class Victorians. They also enjoyed musical theatre and attended Gilbert and Sullivan productions.

Collodion wet-plate equipment which would have been used by photographers in 1853.
Wet-plate photographers equipment

Shopping was a very popular pastime for middle-class Victorian women. Whiteley’s, the first department store, opened in West London in 1863 — it is still there today. Many of our Christmas traditions are directly from the Victorians and include Christmas cards, Christmas crackers, Christmas trees and Father Christmas.