3 Strange Forms of Entertainment (And Remembrance) in the Victorian Era

The Victorian era was a really weird time. We got all sorts of things from that era that still persist

today – even in the industrial areas of our modern life. We also got some amazing clothes

fashion as well that has been seeing a resurgence in recent times.

Not to mention gothic novels were a brand new thing back then, which would later on become

some of the most beloved literary classics of the world. However, none of these really quite

match up to some of just straight up weirdness that was the Victorian era, and some of the

weird things people did to entertain themselves back then.

Here are 3 of the stranger kinds of entertainment that everyone from the lower class to the

higher echelons of society participated in. Just as a forewarning, they are all kind of ridiculous

and also in certain lights (especially the last one) very creepy!

Let us dive into it!

3 Things You Would Never Think for Entertainment that People in the Victorian Era Loved

1 – Freak Shows

We have already talked at length about the popularity of freak shows in the Victorian era. They

were a way for people to explore their fascination with what they considered obscene. Though

he freak shows ended permanently around the 1950s thanks to the advent of the television

technology that had taken of, it was a profession that many freaks actually prospered in.

Some would often make even more than their managers that ran the shows! Not only that, but

they even got trading cards in their honor that people were crazy to collect for some reason or


2 – Vignettes

These were strange pictures taken where a bunch of people would get together and dress up in

weird costumes with each other. Some women would dress up as an angel for example, or men

as a really goofy devil or maybe a goblin of some kind. Then they would strike poses at each


Hey, ipads were not invented yet okay. So this makes a bit of sense from that perspective… I


3 – Death Photography

This is probably the weirdest thing Victorian era people did. When a loved one died, especially a

child, the family would dress that child up in their fanciest clothes and pretend that the child was

still alive. They would take photos of them and their child together, with the child just staring with

literally lifeless eyes often off in the distance.

It is at once incredibly sad and heartbreaking to look at those photos, as much as it is kind of

terrifying. While death photography, I believe, has fallen largely out of style for the obvious

creepiness that is inherent to… you know… death photography.

Would you partake in any of these 3 activities above? While I certainly would not be an instant

no to a sideshow, I would probably detest the exploitation aspect of the experience. I would be a

definite no to the death photography, it just seems too weird.

But vignettes could survive today in the modern age. Grab some cosplay costumes, a nice

table, and load up the Instagram filters for a bit of modern Victorian entertainment fun!


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The Controversial Version of Going to the Moves in the Victorian Era: Freakshows

There is a grittiness to the Victorian era that is often overlooked by movies that just want to

showboat the beautiful blue dresses and pink suits of the time, punctuated by long drawn out

romances of course (looking at you Pride & the Prejudice!).

However, the grittiness is never far from this very thin veneer of the Victorian era. You only need

to look outside of your window after all to encounter the infamous London Fog, the Black Fog

some called it. Or you would only need to walk through a few of the bad areas of town and take

witness to the various atrocities that were the poor houses, pumping out state sponsored

orphans left and right as they were torn from their families by overbearing legal institutions that

sought to punish the guilty poor.


Even in the entertainment world of this era, there is a griminess that is spurred on by our natural

fascination with the morbidity of life and death. Back then, you might take a woman or man out

on a date not to a movie but rather to a freak show, the ultimate activity of visual entertainment

and hilarity for the time.

The freak show concept really began around 1610 with the conjoined twins spectacle. After that,

freak shows (also known as sideshows) became widely popular. By the time the Victorian era

was in full swing, freak shows were traveling en masse around the country entertaining people

with physical mutations and genetic birth defects that plagued the entertainers.

There is one good thing about all of this though, in a society where freaks really had little

opportunity to raise themselves economically, the freak shows provided a route to a somewhat

reasonable level of fame and wealth. In fact, freak shows were so in vogue that the various

Victorian viewers started a new trading card genre – freak cards.

Each card would have a somewhat to super famous freak on it that would travel in the actual

show circuit. Some of these cards would have the freak’s biography and served as a way for

freak show managers and their stable of unfortunate entertainers to make an extra stream of

profit. Freak cards became so popular that owning various freak commodities also became a

real obsession with Victorian fans.

In a sense, the freak shows worked out well for those who were born with these defects that

would have to live their entire lives out as “freaks”. In many cases, because of how the profits

were split at these shows, the freaks would actually make more money than the management

that ran the entire operation making sure everything went off smoothly.

Of course, by the 1950s the freak shows were all but done. A mixture of factors led to this

change of face by the public, one of the two biggest reasonings being that shows were

exploiting the unfortunate biology of their performers. The other biggest reasoning that killed

these strange side shows of fascination came down to the simple entertaining convenience of

the newly made television.

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5 Things You Did Not Know About Victorian Women

There is a lot of myths grown up around Victorian women. It was a strange time in history, and

one of the first real eras of the industrial revolution. It was an exciting time, a time for progress

and mechanical innovation coupled with expansion of several industries that still remain strong

hallmarks in our society today.

Nowadays, between steampunk genres and other mischaracterizations of the Victorian era,

people tend to think of this era with a certain air of mythology. So what are some of the real

facts that were happening back then?

Well… for one women never wore pink. Pink and red were seen as a strong masculine color, so

usually pink clothing was reserved for men. Even children did not really wear pink. Most

children, both boys and girls, would wear white clothing till around ages 6 or 7, mainly because

white clothes could be bleached. After this age, children would be dressed in paler colored

versions of adult clothes. In the days of the Victorian era, this meant young women would be

wearing light pale blue dresses and later would graduate to darker blue. At the time, blue was

considered to be a very dainty, feminine color, something that would not have a role reversal

with the color pink until a little after the 1940s.

Along with the lack of pink in Victorian women, most of them also did not marry their cousins like

so many romantic tales suggest of the day. There were a lot of benefits to marrying your 1st

cousin, and the practice was totally legal. It was a method for the upper class to keep their

families wealth in the hands of their family. However, thanks to the expansion of the railroad and

the lowering cost of transportation it allowed women’s prospects for husbands to expand ever

further. The expansion of transportation also brought about more awareness of birth defects that

could happen between inter family marriages. Despite this, some of the higher upper class

echelons of society still would marry their first cousins, for the aforementioned wealth transfer


You know all those corset scenes in those Victorian era themed movies? Yeah, that did not

really happen back in the day. While corsets were indeed a fashion statement, they are very

overblown in today’s age. Corsets were more than just a fashion piece, they were actually

consider items meant for keeping organs in “proper alignment”, or in other words the corset was

looked at in a similar way someone might look at a back brace.

Comparing corsets to back braces certainly brings about weird associations, yet that is how they

were viewed back then. To add insult to injury, the infamous practice of rib removal so women

could create an even thinner waist, is simply not something that happened. It is almost purely


Finally, women that made it into adulthood did not often die young. Most of them would live well

beyond their fifties during an era when dying at forty was considered the more average number.

Some would even live well into their seventies!

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Check in with us next week as we explore more strange practices of the Victorian era.

The House of Industry and Why the Poor House Haunts Us Today

During a time of prosperity, industrial growth and technological wonder being explored in

earnest for the very first time, Victorian England held a very dark place beneath its London Fog

(if you are unfamiliar with London Fog, sometimes called Pea Soup Fog or the Black Fog, check

out the article I wrote about it on this website).

That place is called the Poor House. In modern days, this term still exists as a fevered warning

to those who make reckless financial decisions with their lives. You have probably heard of

someone saying (maybe to you), “Well if you do that, you might just end up in the poor house”.

For most of us today, when someone says a line like this to us, we just assume lower income

from a job or unable to pay our bills efficiently. Back in Victorian England though, a poor house

had a whole different meaning and was an actual physical place.

For those who were impoverished that could not land good jobs or if they did land a job it might

not pay enough to survive on, they ended up in places called the poor houses. These

ramshackle places with typically awful amenities also had questionable infrastructure and

hygienics to go along with its generally terrible living conditions.

Ironically, the poor houses of Victorian England were often called the Houses of Industry as

well. The name definitely sounds more appealing than poor houses, yet the reality of poor

houses are far worse than even that name suggests.

So how did these rather despicable government housing units get set up?

As with most terrible political decisions, it began with frustration and anger. At the time the poor

were given stipends by the government if they met various requirements, requirements that

were often ever changing. During this time, many men and women would cheat the system in

various ways. One such way, at least according to those who became angry at the poor, were

women that would have children out of wedlock to receive larger income stipends from the

government. The rhetoric against the poor built up to such a feverish pitch that the poor houses

began to be created.

The idea behind the poor houses were to provide housing for the impoverished homeless, but

also to act as a last resort or final measure. The houses were made on purpose to be of the

lowest quality. Because of the raging rhetoric against the “greedy” poor, and the concept and

worse reality of the poor house, people were ashamed on a deep, integral moral level to be


So ashamed were many, that they refused even the service of entering into a poor house.

To enter into a poor house, was similar to entering a prison. You had to be without any

resources, so anything you did have was then confiscated by the government. Medical

examiners would go over your body and decide whether you were able bodied for physical labor

or not. And women and children were often separated from each other, often forced into

separate institutions where they became effectively orphans.

Now you know more about the poor houses, you might think twice before telling someone to go

to one!


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The London Fog of Another Age

Today, when most think about the term London Fog, they think of the classy clothes and coats

business that goes by the very same name. Few people realize there actually was something

once upon a time called the London Fog. Sure, it went by other, less wondrous names too such

as Pea Soup Fog, City Fog, or simply… smog.


From the 1600s and onwards, ending only relatively recently in our modern era, London

became a climate experiment of just what awful things pollution can do to humans and the

places that we live in on a microcosm. The Victorian era was not all wonderful frilly dresses and

men in strange wigs, it was also an era of serious labor issues and yet to be known dangers of

the new world of industrial processes.


The London Fog would swoop down throughout the entire city, blanketing the winding streets in

a smog so thick that you could barely see to the other side of the street. This became known as

the London Peculiar in addition to likely more colorful names the natives had for it.


Where was the London Fog created though? And where did it go? If you go to London today,

this Pea Soup Fog is almost nowhere to be seen. So what exactly happened to it?


The London Fog pollution crisis stems from the burning and usage of sea coal in both industrial

factories which were just hitting their stride during the industrial revolution (which overlaps with

the Victorian era), and residential homes burning the coal for warmth and pumping all that

deadly smoke out of their collective chimneys. (Solar panels and other “clean” forms of energy wouldn’t be around

for a very long time yet…) The pollution would get trapped in London, and as more was added, the thicker it would

become, until the mix became so thick and noticeable there was nothing to be done save give it a name.


King Edward I of England even had advisors on the Pea Soup Fog situation that he sought

advice on what to do. After all, the London Fog was a national threat to his kingdom at the time.

The fog became so powerful, full of arsenic and other pollutants, that it would actually cause

respiratory problems for the people of London. For those who were elderly, sick or otherwise

biologically vulnerable, the London Fog hastened the speed of their illnesses or just killed them

outright from the people breathing in the toxic smog. (Needless to say there was simply not the medical supplies

that we have today, that might have help mitigate some of the damage that this phenomenon caused.)


One of King Edward’s advisors, John Evelyn, recommended as much as moving all the factories

out of London and in the Thames River area. He also suggested planting odiferous flowers to

cover up the stench.


Eventually, through various policies and government regulations, the Black Smog of Victorian

London was slowly defeated. It was a long and arduous process, and one that is still being

fought in many ways in our modern age. This can be seen in various environmental agencies

fighting on the behalf of earth minded people who want to see more restrictions rather than

loose laws on regulating pollution, industrial and residential waste.


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Check back tomorrow for more lovely and surprising content about the Victorian age.

For now, please enjoy this video of the five most ridiculous rules in Victorian Etiquette. And you thought your grandma had weird standards!


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