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Victorians At Leisure
The Growth of Leisure

The class-consciousness of the Victorians, which showed itself in the segregation by class and sub-class in the social zoning of towns and suburbs, in the refined grading of schools, clubs and societies, and in the differential pew rents within the churches and chapels, was nowhere more evident than in their leisure time pursuits.

It was a contradiction in terms of nineteenth century Britain that while work was the bedrock upon which the Victorian vision of progress and improvement was constructed, the years between 1837 and 1901 saw the greatest upsurge in leisure pursuits.

Differences existed in the way in which leisure was (and continues to be) spent not only on a regional basis, but between the classes as well. Although the lower classes often attended the same events as the upper class, they had their own entrances and locations within the halls, restaurants, etc.

These ranged from music hall entertainment, railway excursions and commercial sporting activities to the effects of technological change in making available cheap books, newspapers and musical instruments, including the piano.

The development of suburbs and the greater spending power of most workers at the end of the period similarly created opportunities for new kinds of recreation. Improved transportation enabled excursionists to go on day trips to the seaside or country, for picnics, rambles and boating. In rare instances, some employers even sponsored teas and live musical entertainment for their employees.

The spread of these recreational activities was disproportionate, as these activities were dependent upon the availability of surplus cash and a measure of free time among consumers, as well as a weakening of the dominant work ethic. Even when shorter working hours and extra holidays were introduced, many felt guilty about taking advantage of them.

The 1833 Factory Act cut back on the hours children between the ages of 9 and 18 were permitted to work. Certain holidays such as Christmas Day and Good Friday plus 8 half-days was established.  These same provisions were extended to women in 1844 with shorter working hours on Saturdays and quitting time set at 4:30 P.M. And during the 1870s, efforts were made to reduce the work day to 9 hours. With the changes taking place in the occupational structure of the labor force during the Victorian years, employment shifted towards professional and clerical occupations.

By 1870 more parks, free libraries and public halls were on the rise. All activities however were restricted based upon their "respectability". Admission to parks was free, but activities such as dancing, football, bathing, picking flowers and holding public meetings were forbidden.

So, what types of leisure pursuits do we Victorians engage in?

pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Growth of Leisure pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) The Ashton Pursuits
pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Croquet pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Cricket
pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Victorian Board Games pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Bicycling
pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Victorian Scrapbooks pearlbut.gif (1194 bytes) Other Pastimes

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