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18 September 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Social Conditions: Go Further


Monuments and Dust (Universtity of Virginia) - A site that explores the culture of Victorian London. The comprehensive archive includes extracts from Victorian editions of The Times, and information on transportation, scandal, disease, death and fashion. You can also enjoy trip round a 3-D model of Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition.

The National Archives - Sources and links to material about conditions in Victorian towns and a newly-industrialised society.

Places to visit

Much of the new urban world created in the Victorian period still exists.

You can visit public parks provided as the 'lungs' of British cities, with their promenades and bandstands designed to provide moral recreation. One of the largest was Victoria Park in East London. Follow the specially designed walk to get the most from the experience.

You can stroll along London's Embankment, built by the Metropolitan Board of Works to improve the flow of the Thames, while beneath your feet are the great sewers designed to 'intercept' sewage before it entered the river.

Also in London you can look at the philanthropic housing built on cleared slum sites by the Peabody Trust (good examples are in Covent Garden). And you can admire the early council housing built by the London Council Council at Boundary Street in Bethnal Green (flats) and in Tottenham (cottages).

In all large towns you can see terraced bye-law housing, with its rigid grid layout. In northern mill towns such as Blackburn you can still find streets clustered around the factories. You can see the differences in standards and design within the general form.

Walk around the towns along the Tyne to see 'Tyneside flats' (two-storey terraces, with flats on each floor, with separate front doors and rear staircases). Here overcrowding was at the highest level in England.

At Leicester, overcrowding was at its lowest, and you can see larger terraced houses with their 'back extensions'. Or if you walk around the older districts of Glasgow or Edinburgh, you can see where Victorian tenements still survive.

The great reservoirs built by the major cities are splendid examples of Victorian engineering. One that you can visit is at Elan Valley in mid Wales. This one provided water for Birmingham.

Domestic interiors have been reconstructed at various museums, such as Beamish in County Durham, or St Fagans in South Glamorgan. In Glasgow, the National Trust for Scotland has renovated a Victorian tenement flat.

The National Archives Office, at Kew, London, is the major repository of Poor Law Union, Commission and Board papers. Local History libraries are a rich source of many of the records of the 19th century.

Other places that bring you close to what Victorian society was like include the Thackray Medical Museum, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7LN. Tel: 0113 245 7084 (on the St James's Hospital site). This museum is housed in the building that was once the Leeds Union Workhouse, built in 1861. A visit there opens with Robert Baker's description of Leeds in 1842, and an invitation to tour the reconstructed unhealthy and insanitary streets of the town. You are able to choose a character and follow their life expectancy, and to find out about the possible, and impossible, cures for illnesses.

Or maybe you live closer to the Ripon Workhouse Museum, St Marygate, Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 1LX . Tel: 01765 690 799. This is believed to be the only workhouse museum in the country. It is established in the Men's Casual wards of 1877, in the Workhouse buildings. The cells, dayroom and workyard have been refurbished, and with a 'Hard Times Gallery' of images, this museum gives a unique picture of the reality of the Poor Law at work.

The Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire, survives as the least altered example of a workhouse still in existence.

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