The Victorians were no doubt an exceptional group to create a very odd society to save the least. Much of their inspiration came from Queen Victoria, who was in mourning during most of her time on the throne following the death of her husband, Prince Albert. This created the trend of wearing black garb for decades on end and created dozens of mourning items. The Victorians indeed seemed to be obsessed with death and were fascinated with anything morbid.
This was a time period of change where inventions were in the making and people could begin to afford a comfortable living. But what else did the Victorians get up to? Here are the most peculiar trends that will make you question their sanity. Even their favorite foods are bound to shock you, as they ate every part of their favorite animals. Click next to see just how awful it got.
Unlike the middle class, life was rather miserable for the working class. Many families were forced to live in cramped, dank tenements with poor ventilation and no fireplaces. It really only provided sleeping quarters and a communal bathroom. With no kitchen, what did the Victorians do for food? All meals were eaten out of the house, a trend which popularized street vendors, so families could buy a hot meal in the evening. Here were the top choices for eating a dinner on the smog-filled streets of London.
Eels were cut up in pieces, boiled and served with broth in a cup, which were reused and seldom washed. Bloaters were another popular choice, salty smoked herring heated over a flame and consumed whole. If you were lucky, you could buy meat pies filled with offal, the leftover scraps of meat. For a shocking lifestyle trend, click next to reveal modern art.
Believe it or not, the Victorians were one of the first modern societies to catch onto tattooing for body art. Previously, tattoos were only associated with sailors and criminals, but in 1862 the future King Edward VII got a tattoo of the Jerusalem Cross while on a trip to the Promised Land. This largely popularized tattooing among the aristocrats before going mainstream. By the end of the century, it was estimated that over 100,000 Britons had tattoos.
Although not mandatory, Field Marshall Earl Roberts encouraged soldiers in the British Army to get a tattoo of their regimental crest to aid in body recovery after combat. The symbolic tattoo of course helped lift spirits and solidify their identity as soldiers serving their country. A handful of women couldn’t resist the craze to get inked in the name of self-expression. Instead of inking up their bodies, click next for more common trends among women.
Swooning and Fasting from Corsets
Corsets created a deadly problem to give women a figure in their heavy-clothed dresses: tight lacing. Long term corset wear and tight lacing cinched waistlines, leading to organ damage, broken ribs and breathing problems. Extreme tight lacing literally took young ladies’ breath away, which incidentally also became a trend. Otherwise known as swooning, it was considered desirable for women to drop to the ground in public, to give a delicate impression.
Why was not being able to breath so glamorous? Even if women didn’t practice tight lacing, swooning was one of the few ways they were encouraged to express their emotions. An even deadlier fad was fasting – women were encouraged to appear as if they never ate, while in reality they may have been scarfing down meals in private. If these trends actually led to their demise, click next to see how their families would commemorate their deaths.
Memento Mori: Postmortem Portraits
Meaning “Remember you shall die”, Memento Mori were photographs the family took with their loved ones after they died. Many people couldn’t afford pricey photographs, so the only picture they ever took was after they already died. If this isn’t morbid enough, family members would dress the corpses of the deceased and go through hair and make-up before propping them up and prying their eyes open to make them look more “lively”.
Some photographers even went so far to develop the picture with the living family members slightly out focus so the corpse image looked sharper. In the tragic, yet highly common, instance of a child’s memento mori, they were posed with their toys, as if all is well and they were just resting during play. If they had surviving siblings, they were forced to posed with their deceased brother or sister, which wasn’t at all traumatizing or creepy. Click next to reveal a livelier past time.
In the age of technology, we have endless hours of entertainment right at our fingertips, tanks to touch screen computers of all sorts and wireless internet. But what did people do for entertainment long before radio and television? The Victorians enjoyed performing vignettes when company came over. Predating vaudeville, vignettes were short comedy sketches and simple props and costume changes were used during the performance. This may seem like a fun way to entertain guests, but the Victorians of course found a way to make it incredibly creepy and bizarre.
In the age of gothic novels, the Victorians loved anything that was a cross between the macabre and Shakespearian fantasy characters to bring to life. The imagery that comes from their vignettes were likely something straight out of nightmares, to say the least. For something even scarier, click next to uncover a commonplace killer hidden in plain sight.
Victorians were sold on showcasing their standard of living by decorating their homes and displaying objects. Home guides highlighted the latest color palates and trends so housewives could keep their homes up-to-date. This unfortunately brought about a surprisingly dangerous craze: wallpaper. Sheele’s green was the most popular color of wallpaper to be sold, which contained the highest concentration of arsenic. Ingesting scraps of wallpaper was not the only way to keel over; simply living in the home would be enough to kill.
Arsenic fumes polluted the air and gas lighting only exacerbated the problem. Even though authorities suspected there was a problem with arsenic-laden products, they were never formally banned or recalled. The arsenic controversy became more openly publicized after Queen Victoria had rooms in her palace redecorated and a guest passed away in the night from arsenic poisoning. Click next to see what became of people who fell ill.
Nowadays, horror fanatics enjoy binge-watching scream fests while munching on snacks with friends. In the Victorian times, the entertainment value morbidly represented a snuff film performed right before your eyes. For a gruesome experience, the public along with medical students could watch a live surgery be performed in the operating theatre. Patients were strapped down while a surgeon used his dirty hands to operate on them with dirty instruments. The patients were completely conscious and there was no kind of anesthesia available.
Meanwhile, spectators found the shrill screams entertaining as the patients were cut open. If patients survived through the pain of the operation, hundreds would later die from infections. Yet at the time, they only cared about getting a surgeon that worked fast so the operation only lasted minutes, unlike the hours-long operations we know today. There were some rare cases where operations were impossible –click next to see what became of those people.
Unfortunately, people who were born with rare conditions, birth defects or other deformations were treated as “freaks of nature”. It didn’t help any that even the best doctors and surgeons had little understanding of conditions that are now treatable today. If sufferers survived childhood, they were left with grim prospects for living a good life. Some ended up earning a living with a troupe of sideshow performers.
These so-called freak shows allowed the curiously cruel public to gawk at the performers, many of whom had congenital disorders, such as dwarfism or tumors. Harvey Midges cashed in on the shock factor, since the public thrived on demonizing people deemed “beastly hideous”. Midges’ performers included little people, so-called giants, conjoined twins and people of African descent. Victorian trends didn’t only victimize people. Click next to see an unlikely animal that nearly went extinct for a truly bizarre reason.
Along with eels and offal, turtles became a very popular delicacy in Victorian England. Turtles were first introduced to the English palate in the mid 1700’s, and quickly became associated with status of the upper class. While turtles were established as an important food staple in the Atlantic, the demand for the reptiles grew out of hand and soon ships were bringing back tanks full of turtles from the West Indies.
Turtle soup remained a sign of opulence in rich Victorian households, who had a strong hold on the price, nearly making it impossible for the working class to purchase the expensive, and increasingly rare turtle meat. At its peak, 15,000 turtles were shipped back to England, which nearly drove turtles to extinction. Shortly after the Victorians realized the turtle craze was dwindling resources, they begrudgingly ate the new soup of the lower classes: mock turtle soup made from different cuts of meat.