The period between 1837 and 1901 is called the Victorian Era in Great Britain and it spans the reign of Queen Victoria. The period was one of prosperity because of the riches gained from the British colonies and from the Industrial Revolution that brought many new inventions to England. Many Victorian leisure activities are enjoyed today, not only in Europe, but in America and Australia, too.
Wealthy people had both the time and the means for leisure activities. Fox hunting was one such activity in which men took much pride. Horse races were also popular as was fly-fishing. There were many outdoor sports that members of the upper class enjoyed including lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, skating, yachting and golf. Social gatherings were opportunities for young women to show their talent in singing and playing music. Ballroom dancing and evening concerts became very popular. Queen Victoria encouraged them herself.
Members of the middle class residing in the country enjoyed public amusements like the theatre and the circus during the Victorian Era. They also enjoyed fishing and hunting. Cruel sports like cockfighting and bear baiting were declared illegal, but sports like cricket, boxing and football became popular entertainment. With the invention of the railroad, travelling to the country was often a quiet pastime and, after bicycles were invented in the 1830s, many people took up cycling. Going to the movies became an exciting pastime in the 1890s when motion pictures were invented.
Going to the theatre was a favourite pastime of working class people when doing so became affordable. Although these people did not earn much money in the new industrial society, they came to playhouses in large numbers, so theatres accommodated them and gained profit. Because many lower-class people were illiterate, plays and stage scripts were written with them in mind. Play themes were developed to entertain and get people away from the monotony and difficulties of their daily lives.
Youth and Children
Young people in the northern parts of Great Britain enjoyed skating, sleighing and sledding during the Victorian Era, while in the south they went to picnics. Courting was an activity supervised closely by parents, but young couples got to know each other at dances or at "pound parties," where each guest had to bring a pound of something -- nails, sugar, flour -- depending on the purpose of the party. School boys played marbles, jacks and board games while girls made scrapbooks, learnt needlework, collected pressed flowers and played with dolls.
- A Victorian: Pastimes and Sports
- The National Archives: Past Pleasures: How Did the Victorians Have Fun?
- Victorian Web: Victorian London Theatre; Dickens on the Right to Amusement for the Working Class; Abigail Chance; 2010
- Ancestry.com: Ancestry Daily News; Entertainment in the Victorian Era; March 18, 2003