Brighton East Pier [Click on thumbnail for larger image]

Technology changed leisure in Victorian Britain. Although the railway created steel barriers by increasing separating the classes, it also encouraged the popularity of the excursion. Work holidays also added to the establishment of the seaside resort until the cost of rail travel was increased specifically to restrict the more rowdy elements of the working class from travelling to the seaside. A text about Brighton explains:

The railway company was eventually persuaded in the late 1860s, after pressure from the respectable residents, to effect a discrete revision of the excursion traffic. The price of the day return ticket was raised which together with the growth of attractive alternative destinations on the coast improved greatly the class of people who patronised the town in the summer months.

The demand for seaside resorts after 1850 either increased the size of or developed new coastal towns. Workers in Yorkshire textile industries motivated the development of Blackpool as popular seaside facilities with evident commercial potential.

New technology like the steam press caused an increase in the consumption of pulp fiction, mainly purchased by the working classes, and cheap newspaper further advanced leisure publicity. Similarly, the invention of the bicycle not only enabled excursions and cheap modes of transport, it had a great effect upon women. Their use of the bicycle as an accepted leisure practice freed many women from restrictive clothing. The bicycle also led to calls for the improvement and building of better roads, which in turn affected the Victorian Town.

A Tight-rope Walker and Music Hall from Jerrold and Doré's London

[Click on thumbnails for larger images.]

Commercialisation of leisure by the latter quarter of the nineteenth century became an increasingly influential factor. Music Halls roots in the crude localised "free and easies" were often commented upon by moral reformers (usually in the press), for to them it represented all the worst accesses of leisure — namely, drunkenness, obscenity and sensuality. George Morgan's Canterbury Hall was the first large-scale music hall, and halls grew in splendour and sought to attract a more prosperous class. With the eventual patronage of a better clientele the music hall invaded the suburbs, and the businessmen Moss and Stoll greatly advanced this trend. Here the press again was used to attract potential customers, the hegemony of acts began to develop and the concept of the star was born. Charles Chaplain and Gracie Fields are both examples of this new star phenomena, soon to be projected to new highest by the cinema, which in turn developed from the music hall. The publication of popular songs became big business, employing many lower-middle-class song writers. By the 1880s the music hall had become so respectable that in many towns it rivaled the town hall and other civic buildings. Another sign of the increasing the respectabilty of music hall and theatre appears in the fact that that churches often built extensions to hold amateur dramatics.

The latter nineteenth century commercialisation and mass production produced many familiar commodities: the post card, fish and chips, ice-cream, cigarettes, mineral water and the teacup. The Victorian town was the mould which contained all these fermenting elements, both reshaping leisure and being reshaped by this process of leisure revolution.


Bailey, P.C. Music Hall The Business of Pleasure. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 1986.

Bailey, P.C. Leisure, Culture and the Historian. Leisure Studies 8 E.& F.N. Spon Ltd. 1989. Pp. 109-122.

Cunningham, H. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution c1780-c1880. London: Croom Helm. 1980.

Cunningham, H. Leisure, in The Working Class England, 1875-1914. London: Croom Helm. 1985.

Leader, A. Culture Theory and Popular Culture. Brighton: Harvester/Wheatshed. 1974.

Lowerson, J.& Myerscough, J. Time to Spare in Victorian England. Harvester Press. 1977.

Robbinson, K. Nineteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1988.

Thompson, E.P. Customs in Common. Chapter 8 "Rough Music." Pp. 497-531.

Walton, J.K. The English Seaside Resort. London: St. Martins Press. 1983.

Victorianism Overview Victorian History

Last modified 1996