Victorian England Occupations in City and Town

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As a preface for this article, it is necessary to state that the British Society was a deeply stratified society. Simplistically, there were the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. Although the distinction has since passed away, the original definition of a Gentleman or a Lady was someone not burdened with the need to work for a living. In most cases, they were expected to be catered for in every way.

This created a tremendous gulf in the society, and, in most cases, the ‘haves’ looked down their noses at everyone else. Heaven help the man from the lower classes who did not touch his forelock or doff his hat, or the woman who did not curtsey, when gentry passed.

In some places, it was so bad that the gentry would talk between themselves of subjects that would be considered private, right in front of servants or the working class, with no awareness of what might be heard. The lower classes simply were not "there".

Less-desirable occupations[edit | edit source]

Leech collector[edit | edit source]

Leeches were used for centuries, both by the medical profession, as well as quacks. These blood sucking creatures were used to supposedly help a number of ailments from headaches to such vague ailments as hysteria. But how were they collected?

Pity the poor leech collector who used his own body as a trap. The job usually fell to poor country women, who would wade into dirty ponds in the hope of attracting a host of leeches. Once the critters attached to the leech collector’s legs, the individual would prize them off and collect them in a box or pot. Leeches can survive for up to a year with no food, so they could be stored at the pharmacy to be dished out as required.

Pure Finder[edit | edit source]

Pity the poor person whose only chance for an income was to be a pure finder. Their job was to scour the streets of large cities, searching for and collecting dog feces that was used in the older formulations for making leather. Leather was in great demand in Victorian times, as it was used not only as tack for horses but for shoes, boots, bags, and in bookbinding.

Pure collectors haunted the streets where stray dogs gathered, scooping up the poop and keeping it in a covered bucket before selling it on to the tanners. Some collectors wore a black glove to protect their scooping hand, but others considered it harder to keep a glove clean than a hand and eschewed the practice altogether. Sickness was rife among these people, usually teenagers who could carry the large buckets, and death was not uncommon.

Tosher[edit | edit source]

In Victorian London, and several major cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, there were huge underground sewer networks for removing and washing away the effluence of the city. Toshers made their living by sorting through the mounds of raw sewage in the sewers, looking for anything valuable they might clean up and take to the local pawn shops.

It was extremely dangerous work: Noxious fumes formed deadly pockets, the tunnels frequently crumbled, there were swarms of rats, and at any moment the sluices might be opened and a tide of filthy water might wash the toshers away. As a result of these dangers, toshers generally worked in groups, instantly recognizable in their canvas trousers, aprons with many large pockets (in which to stash their booty), and lanterns strapped to their chests. Most toshers also carried a long pole with a hoe at the end to investigate piles of human waste for dropped treasures, or with which to steady themselves if they stumbled in the gloom.

After a major Act of Parliament in 1840, it became illegal to enter the sewers without permission. Rather than abandon the trade however, many toshers began working late at night or early in the morning to avoid detection. Despite the stinking and dangerous conditions, it was a lucrative business for the working classes, with many a coin or silver spoon sloshing about in the quagmire.

Mudlark[edit | edit source]

Similar to Toshers; they make their meagre income by sorting through the detritus of other people. However in their case, their territory is exclusively the banks of the River Thames. Considered as a step down from Toshers, these children collected anything that they could find at low tide. This included rags (used for making paper), driftwood (for fires), and any coins or other treasures that might have been washed into the river.

Not only was it a filthy job, but it was also very dangerous, since the tidal nature of the Thames meant it was easy for children to be washed away or become stuck in the soft mud.

Rat Catcher[edit | edit source]

See Vermin Control.

Resurrectionists[edit | edit source]

This occupation had nothing to do with religion. At the start of the nineteenth century, the only cadavers available to medical schools were those of known criminals who had been hanged. As the medical profession grew in number, there developed a sever shortage of cadavers available for the teaching of anatomy. Medical Schools would pay handsomely for the delivery of a body in good condition.

As a result, many wily Victorians saw an opportunity to make money by robbing recently dug graves. The problem became so severe that family members took to guarding the graves of the recently deceased to prevent the “resurrectionists” sneaking in and unearthing their dearly departed.

The "profession" was taken to an extreme by William Burke and William Hare in Scotland, who were thought to have murdered at least 16 unfortunates between 1827 and 1828. The pair enticed victims to their boarding house, plied them with alcohol and then suffocated them, ensuring the body stayed in good enough condition to earn the fee paid by Edinburgh University medical school for corpses. After the crimes of Burke and Hare were discovered, the Anatomy Act of 1832 finally helped bring an end to the grisly resurrectionist trade by giving doctors and anatomists greater access to cadavers and allowing people to leave their bodies to medical science.

Matchstick makers and sellers[edit | edit source]

In Victorian times matches were made by hand, by cutting wood into thin slivers, and then coating the ends with white phosphorous. This is an extremely dangerous and toxic chemical.

One of the worst infections resulted in something they called “Phossy Jaw”: an infection of the jaw itself that usually led to severe disfigurement of the person so affected. The work was primarily the responsibility of teenage girls; 12 – 16 years old. They worked indoors, in terrible conditions, for anywhere from 12 – 18 hours per day. They were required to eat at their work-stations, and thus their food was often contaminated with the dangerous chemistry.

Matchstick sellers were frequently younger female members of the same family, forced to work to keep the family afloat. Tiny tots as young as 6 years old could be seen on street corners in the larger cities, in all kinds of weathers, plying their trade. They would try to keep the matches dry, as, otherwise, the product was useless. Often out on the streets from 5:00 am to 10:00 pm, these tiny children might earn as much as a shilling a week (12 pennies); money that went to keep the family alive.

Chimney Sweep[edit | edit source]

See Chimney Sweeping.

Funeral Mute[edit | edit source]

As identified in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist the reader will remember that one of the orphan’s hated early jobs was as a mute for the undertaker in this story.

A component of the extremely complex (and lucrative) Victorian funeral practices for the upper classes, mutes were children who were required to dress all in black with a sash (usually also black, but white for the funerals of children), while carrying a long cloth-covered stick and standing mournfully and silently at the door of the deceased’s house. The mute was then required to lead the coffin on its processional route to the family graveyard.

Mid-level Occupations[edit | edit source]

Engineers[edit | edit source]

Being an engineer was a relatively new occupation in both the UK and on the Continent. From the mid eighteenth century, right through the nineteenth century, engineering blossomed. From when the canals were first started, through the development of the railroads, and the need for civil engineering, engineers were required to ensure that things worked.

Men such as Brindley, the Dadfords, Outram, and Smeaton blazed trails that had never been seen before in the West. Using crude instrumentation, they were able to determine land slopes and hill and mountain terrains. And plan the first canals and build the first non-stone bridges.

The Sankey Canal was the first British canal of the Industrial revolution, opening in 1757. From that point and through to about 1875, more than 4,000 miles of canals were built in the UK. These required civil engineers for the construction of locks and lock equipment, tunneling engineers for the required tunnels (the longest in the UK was the Standedge tunnel in east Lancashire at a length of more than 3 miles), aqueducts (the Pontcysyllte in Wales, at more than 1,000 feet long, the longest in the UK), and shorter aqueducts to carry the canals over roadways. From these beginnings, civil engineers like Thomas Telford built the first completely iron bridge in Shropshire, England (opened in 1781), and later men like Abraham Darby who developed the ironworking processes required.

Not long after, the railroad was invented, with George Stephenson designing the first steam locomotive, the Rocket, in 1825. The first commercial railway in the world was the Liverpool to Manchester line opened in 1830. From these early beginnings, engineers then designed the looms and spinning machines for the great expansion of the cloth industry, the kilns and casting equipment for the potteries, the first iron and then steel marine vessels, and, finally, the internal combustion engine (in Germany) that initiated the automotive industry.


See also Science and Engineering.

Practitioners of Religion[edit | edit source]

In almost all cases, religious leaders in Britain came from the gentry. There was usually a sequence of occupations for the males in any family, as follows: First Son inherited the title; Second Son went into the military, with a purchased commission; Third Son went into the Ministry; Fourth Son became an educator or teacher.

In Victorian times, the church was the center of the community, as well as the focal point of community life. The church leader (Vicar) was granted a residence, as well as an annual stipend that provided for his temporal support and well being.

To a great extend both the Vicars and Rectors (consider second in command) performed their tasks well. They cared for the parish members, both spiritually and physically, and were active in organizing all the major parish activities. These would include Christmas and Easter, May Day in the Spring, the Harvest Festival in the autumn, as well as fetes, Sunday School, and the Women’s Group.

In many of the smaller towns and village, the original schools were established by the Church, and, frequently, the teacher(s) for the schools would be drawn from the Vicar’s female family members.

Ambitious members of the Clergy would compete for higher offices as they matured, first becoming Bishops, then Archbishops, and, at the peak, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This calling was next in order to the Monarch, who was the titular head of the church.

See also Religious Occupations and Clergy of Church of England.

Educators[edit | edit source]

At the start of the Victorian Era, education was almost always limited to the upper classes. It was felt that educating the lower classes would be a waste of time, as they would never have a need for things learned in school. This concept probably went back to the Middle Ages, when the need for education was limited, and the church specifically limited any chances for such because of the use of Latin in the church.

The Victorian Era yielded great developments in terms of education, and this time period had distinct characteristics in regards to the educational system. Public education evolved significantly at this time primarily because of new laws that were developed to make education compulsory for a wider range of individuals. Though many advancements in the field of education came to fruition in Victorian England, there were still significant gaps between social classes and genders. As a result of all of these multi-faceted aspects of British education, literacy rates among the population increased dramatically by the end of the era.

Thus at the start of the era, the occupation of a teacher or educator was limited to either young women who had not been married, or to older women who, for some reason, had not become married. Except for the field of higher education (University), males tended not to be interested in becoming teachers, and the salaries were particularly low. University Professors will be introduced later.

Shopkeepers (Owners)[edit | edit source]

At the start of the era, most shopkeepers were small, and had only single units. There were an estimated 45,000 such establishments, and the nickname for those so employed were the “Apron Brigade”. It was almost ‘de rigeur’ for everyone, from the owner to the hired help, to come to work in an apron.

However as the century progressed, more and more evidence was seen of ‘brand’ and specialty shops, owned by one person or family, and located in multiple villages and towns.

Toward the end of the century, these coalesced into huge mercantile establishments such as Marks and Spencers, and Lewis’s away from London, and huge establishments such as Harrod’s in London.

Today, the small shop-owners are a dying breed, as specialty stores such as Tesco’s, Morrison’s, Sainsbury, and the Co-op, in the food arena; and Screwfix and B&Q in the Home Repairs arena; have captured the marketplace.

Hotel workers[edit | edit source]

See Lodging for travellers.

Gentlemen's Club staff[edit | edit source]

Especially in London, but also in the major provincial cities, there were always a number of exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs available for the well-to-do. These were social retreats for the males, as females were NEVER allowed past the front door. Areas were set aside for gambling and other activities such as billiards, and cards. Many also had a reading room with a well-stocked library. Most had at least a small area for refreshments, and many had full-service restaurants.

Obviously the staff of these establishments had to be well trained in how to interact with the upper classes. It was never acceptable for the staff to answer back to a client, or to disagree with him in any way except as a recommendation of the choice of a liquor, or a repast. There were never female staff in these Clubs, services such as laundry were sent out, and lower class males were hired for the more menial tasks such as cleaning floors, dusting, etc.

Many of these staff members were retirees from the military, very frequently non-commissioned officers who had been trained for 20+ years until retirement on how to serve senior officers. These senior officers were of the same social class as members of the Gentlemen’s Clubs and frequently members themselves, and so they fit right in. In fact, it was very common for a senior officer who was a member of a club, knowing he had a reliable NCO about to retire, to recommend him to the Club Officers.

Accountants and Clerks[edit | edit source]

In the Victorian age, London became the center for world banking and accounting. Prior to this, Amsterdam was the world center through the 1700’s, but with England’s supremacy in world shipping in the 1800’s, the center moved to London.

Commerce itself drew merchants to the city, and they, in turn, started establishing their own banks. The Bank of England itself was a private bank originally, established in 1694. It was assimilated into Government control in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

Coffee houses, numerous within the City’s walls around this time, were initially used as makeshift offices that would become financial institutions. The London Stock Exchange was started by stockbrokers who conducted business in Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley. Similarly, the insurance market Lloyd’s of London was named after a coffee house on Tower Street that was used by marine underwriters.

There was hardly any question as to which city in the U.K. financial activities would concentrate in. An ancient banking tradition, a major port, the capital seat, the hub of the railroad network built after 1830, all forces were brought to bear on the single locality, itself with a minor ambivalence between the City and the West End. The Irish and Scottish different banking systems reached across their boundaries and linked up with London. It has been estimated that London’s population grew by an average of more than 8,000 per year during the eighteenth century.

As these institutions developed, and grew in size, the requirement for accountants and accounting clerks also grew. Local schools and specialty educational institutions for accounting became dotted through the London boroughs.

Initially conditions were almost unbearable for the lowly clerks, and not much better for the accountants themselves. A normal work week was 6 days a week, and from 12 to 14 hours per day. Desks were most often crammed into unheated and poorly lighted offices, with no real support for the poor creatures working there. Until the middle of the century, when parliament enacted new laws relating to working conditions and working hours, this was the norm. Due to the innate prejudice against having females in the marketplace, more than 99% of these positions were filled by males.

Restaurant/Pub Owners[edit | edit source]

See England Occupations, Lodging, Eating, Coffee Houses.

Middle Class Occupations: Male[edit | edit source]

Indoor, General[edit | edit source]

The upper class Victorian household required a number of domestic helpers. From a simple household that just had a general butler and factotum, to the great country and city mansions / estates, with a range that was enormous. The following list identifies a broad spectrum of those staff members:

  • First Footman: Generally in line to become the Butler should he retire. His main job, and personal requirements were to be tall, handsome, and to visually represent the estate’s grandeur. He always accompanied the lady of the house when she went out on shopping trips, was the person who supervised the service of family meals, and assisted the Butler in his overall duties.
  • Second footman: He was considered to be an apprentice to the First Footman, with the same physical requirements. IN fact, there was the idea that he should be closely approximate in appearance to the First Footman; twin bookends, so to speak. As he developed his skills, he would be allowed to accompany the lady of the house on simple shopping expeditions.
  • Footman: Additional male staff to be available for opening doors, waiting at tables for large gatherings, and assisting male members of the family as required.
  • Page or Tea Boy: He was typically a local lad, normally starting at about 10 years old, and in training to become a footman as he matured.

Outdoor, General[edit | edit source]

The following list identifies the main occupations for those staff members:

  • Head Groom: Responsible for the maintenance and care of the stables, and all the horses stabled there. It also included ensuring that all carriages and cobs were fully maintained and running well. In a strange situation, because he was not part of the indoor staff, he was not considered to be in the upper echelon of domestic help, although he was considered to be extremely important, and paid accordingly.
  • Groom: He was directly responsible for the care of the horses, including their grooming and shoeing. He was responsible for seeing that the saddles and bridles were kept clean and well oiled.
  • Coachman: Most houses, especially those in the country, would have one large covered coach for conveying the gentry to both social and commercial activities. In addition there would be several two wheeled vehicles called cobs for the household to use when visiting acquaintances. The largest estates would also have at least one hay type wagon for removing the grass cuttings, hay, and piles of weeds. His most critical job was to ensure that the wheels and axles were greased properly, so that there was no chance of losing them on a trip.
  • Head Gardener: In all establishments his was a critical position, as the appearance of the gardens reflected immediately upon the household. There was intense competition among the privileged classes to obtain the services of a listed gardener, especially one who did outstanding work in design and plant selection.
  • Grounds Keepers: Worked under the head gardener, and took care of the day-to-day maintenance of the estate. As the larger estates could have gardens as large as 1,000 acres, there was plenty of work to do, especially in the Spring and autumn. They were physically responsible for everything from planting new trees and borders to mowing the lawns. The large estates could have as much as 50 acres in grass alone, and this required cutting with hand mowers, so many days were spent in just mowing.

Middle Class Occupations: Female[edit | edit source]

Indoor, General[edit | edit source]

In Victorian times, there were no outdoor occupations suitable for lady who was considered middle class. Unless she was extremely fortunate and had been given some kind of education, the opportunities were few, and were all indoors. The following list provides some information on the occupations available:

  • General household servants: This category ran the gamut from kitchen helpers, to cleaning ladies, to little girls who were required to run errands for the lady of the house as well as for other staff members. The hours were long, often as much as 14 – 16 hours per day, and with the requirement of working seven days a week. What money was allocated to them was frequently sent to their parents to assist in the operation of the parents’ family home.
  • Housekeepers: Hers was a position relatively high on the social ladder. A housekeeper of the Victorian age was considered as second in the command of the house. The expectation and the duty of a housekeeper were to bring to the management of the household all the qualities like honesty, vigilance, and industry as if she was the head of her own family. She had to be constantly on the watch and check any wrongdoing on the part of any domestic help, she had to make sure that every department is working properly, look after everything that goes on in the household and along with supervising the duties of all of the servants under her, she also took care that every servant is comfortable.
  • Cooks: Except in the most affluent households that could afford a chef, who then controlled all duties and aspects of the kitchen, the cook was one of the most important female personages in the house. Depending on the affluence of the family, her actual work would vary depending on the number of servants working under her as kitchen maids, or “between maids” (one who spent half her time between upstairs and downstairs duties). As well as cooking assistance, she would also have a charwoman to do the major cleaning of the area and the kitchen utensils. There would also be a boot-boy whose job was to also clean and polish the cutlery, fill the coal scuttle, and also to clean the windows as well.
  • Laundry-maids: Probably close to the bottom of desirable occupations for female staff, laundry maids had a thankless job. The process required a large tub called a dolly, and a long-handled apparatus with a metal object shaped like a large upside down bowl with holes in it, called the dolly handle. Hot water was added to the dolly, the best kind of soap available added to the water, and a batch of clothes was loaded. With the dolly handle, the maid would push the clothes up and down in the tub, ensuring that the soapy water passed through the clothes. She would do this for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the water was dirty, remove the clothes, empty the water, and repeat the process 2 – 3 times with clean water to rinse all the dirt out. The clothes were then passed through a machine called a mangle, two rollers opposed to each other and under pressure, to squeeze the excess water out. She was then required to hang the clothes on a line outside, if the weather permitted. Otherwise most houses had an indoor rack on ropes from the kitchen ceiling, to hang the clothes indoors.
  • Nurses: Only the wealthiest houses could afford a nurse. Her function was to take care of the new-born children up to about 2 years six months old. Quite often she was also required to find a ‘wet nurse’ if the lady of the house chose not to breast feed the baby. Because all health services at the time were rudimentary, she was required to have some practical experience in actual health management. Many nurses, as the century progressed, were trained overseas during the Crimean War, working with Florence Nightingale, and taking care of the wounded soldiers. Miss Nightingale was credited with introducing a whole host of improved conditions when treating patients, such as clean bandaging, washing cut or torn flesh with alcohol (the only thing available at the time), and requiring the nurses to frequently was their own hands.
  • Male or female seamstresses: This is the only occupation that was open for both men and women. The bulk of the work was done by girls and women, but streets such as Saville Row, and Jermyn Street in London were the center of men’s bespoke (meaning hand-made, custom) tailoring for suits and shirts. Obviously no upper-class gentleman could be measured and fitted by a lady, and so establishments such as Gieves and Hawkes, Andersen and Sheppard, and W. P. Fields employed male fitters and cutters; and who were tailors to the gentry and royalty. In fact the British customs of ‘Royal Warrants’, given to establishments that were allowed to state “by appointment” that they were purveyors of products to Royalty, first started with tailoring establishments. For the upper-class ladies, the area of Westminster was the haven for the latest in fashions and styles. For the super-rich, it was not uncommon to spend £50 on a dress, and buy 3 or 4 new dresses per season. When it is considered that annual wage for a laborer working a 10 hour day, six days a week was about £120 per year, the gap between rich and poor becomes obvious.

Prestigious Occupations[edit | edit source]

As an introduction to this section, it must be understood that the average UK citizen, and even those of the female sex who were of the aristocracy, could NEVER be admitted to this class of occupations during Victorian times; the class was reserved for only those of the aristocracy.

Especially to residents of North America, it is almost incomprehensible how difficult it was for the middle and lower classes to climb above their allotted station. Right up to WWII, there were almost no scholarships available for University entrance for those classes. The gentry, however, who were able to afford a Public School Education (that’s private schools for American understanding) were automatically eligible for access.

British Universities were not open to anyone who was not educated at a Public School, and during these times there was no such thing as a scholarship based on merit. A middle or working class person just could not be admitted, and therefore could not gain the education required. Nor would he be allowed to sit for the relevant examinations. Given this information, as the various high level occupations are discussed, recognize that they are all closed occupations and societies.

The Law[edit | edit source]

See Lawyers in England and Wales.

Medicine[edit | edit source]

See Doctors: Physicians, Surgeons, Dentists, and Apothecaries in England, England Medical Occupations, and England Occupations, Medicine.

Nurses and Nursing[edit | edit source]

See England Occupations, Nurses, Midwives, Veterinarians.

Politics/Politicians[edit | edit source]

If anything demonstrated the separation of the classes in Victorian England, it was the area of politics, and the individuals who served as politicians. First of all, the vocation was prohibited to all females, and also those of the lower classes. Supposedly a person from the middle classes could serve, but the system was set up such that each poling district had a committee whose major function was to select a suitable candidate (usually when the present candidate either retired, or had failed in a previous election). It was essentially a ”Good Old Boys” committee, and really only added as new members, the sons of older members!

The English government under the rule of Queen Victoria was a monarchy which also included a Parliament. The Parliament was a two-level legislature which consisted of The House of Lords and The House of Commons. The said houses would meet separately and passed a bill as law by majority votes. However, for the bill to passed, it was necessary that both the houses accent to it.

Generally speaking, the House of Lords at that time was composed of hereditary Lords of the Realm, plus Church of England Bishops and Archbishops. While the lower house was called the “House of Commons”, it was for the commoners in name only. Practicing Members of the House of Commons were normally highly educated persons of the masculine sex, who chose politics as something to do instead of sitting idly at home!

To indicate how closed the British Society was at that time, up until the middle 1700’s, no person who wasn’t a landowner could vote! In 1760s William Pitt advocated Parliamentary reform. One of the important political unions which supported the reforms was the Birmingham Political Union headed by Thomas Attwood. The first Reform Act was presented in 1832 by Lord John Russell to the House of Commons. According to this Act, men who owned a house worth more than ten pounds would get the right to vote. It was estimated that this allowed about one in five males to vote for the first time.

Bankers[edit | edit source]

During the Victorian Era, Britain thrived and prospered. The Empire was established during this time as the pre-eminent European Empire, and was said to thrive from sea to shining sea.

Obviously there needed to be a way to transfer and transmit currency throughout the Empire, and a number of major banks were established. Major public and private (catering primarily to the aristocracy) banks that were established include such names as Barclay’s, Coutts, The Imperial, The London and Westminster (eventually becoming just the Westminster), City Bank, and The Union Bank, to name a few.

Whilst the major shareholders were from the Aristocracy, those who worked as bank and regional managers were from the rising upper middle classes, those who had been able to obtain a sufficient education as to be able to read and write. They were some of the few who could afford their own homes, and most were able to also afford at least a house-maid who then would perform the menial and cleaning tasks for the household.

Once a male (no females allowed in Victorian times) had been able to claw himself upward to such a position of authority, he was then able to ensure that his children could be educated, thus adding to a stable upper middle class segment of society. However there was no way he could climb above the ‘glass ceiling’ and enter the level of aristocracy!

Owners of Bespoke Tailoring Establishments[edit | edit source]

During most of the Victorian Era, all clothing was handmade. This was before the invention of the sewing machine by Isaac Merrit Singer in 1851. Although his was by far not the earliest sewing machine invented, his was the first that was simple enough to be practical for the average person to own and use. Prior to that, even the simplest to the most elaborate clothing was sewn by hand by tailors and seamstresses.

Even the wealthy would have clothing that had been damaged mended or repaired, especially to anything considered undergarments. For the males, it was common, even for the rich, to turn frayed collars and cuffs for all but the most expensive men’s clothing. Obviously the gentry would have servants to do this work, but all middle and lower class families had the repairs taken care of by the mother or the older daughters. The driving force of the establishment of Bespoke Tailors was pride; the ability of the major families of the era to demonstrate that they were ‘made’ so to speak. This was demonstrated by the quality and cost of the garments they wore.

It extended to the daughters of these wealthy families, who were involved as debutantes at “coming out” balls. These were elaborate ballroom settings where the young ladies stood lines after being announced by the Master of Ceremonies. Girls as young as 14 and 15 were presented in this fashion, to young men of suitable age and class for them to marry. Remember that these young ladies usually were provided with huge dowries that were part of the wedding conditions.

Obviously the quality and style of the dresses for the young ladies, and the suits for the young men, set the standard for their families. The mothers particularly would also attire themselves in dresses that could cost as much as the income of a working-class family for a year for one dress!

Where were such clothes to be found? Only at bespoke tailoring establishments, and primarily in the City of London. Such streets as Saville Row for men provided handmade and fitted clothes for the gentleman. Women’s wear came from such districts as Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Waterloo.

As the Empire grew, these establishments provided clothing throughout the world; both men and women would make an annual trip to the Capital to purchase the latest in fashions and the latest in materials. Groups of those that could not afford to return to the Capital would pay to have couturiers come to where they lived, such as South Africa, Hong Kong, or Singapore, bringing materials and seamstresses, to make suits and dresses matching pictures from such magazines as ‘Punch’ for them to wear.

For women, even more was required. The best dressed ladies had at home dresses, dresses for the morning until early afternoon; afternoon dresses for later in the day, often with plunging necklines; evening or dinner gowns were different, with high necklines, and plain sleeves so as to avoid damage if food was inadvertently spilled. The crinoline was introduced in the middle of the Victorian era, a huge, hooped, contraption that spread the skirts so wide that they were difficult to walk in. Yards and yards of materials were required for each layer. And all for fashion, and the pride of the Empire!

See also England Occupations, Millinery, Quilting, Patchwork, Smock Making, Staymaking, Tailoring.

University Professors[edit | edit source]

As with other male members of the aristocracy, sons who were not the first born, tended to find their options limited, and, if they were reasonably intelligent, ended up going to a major University for their undergraduate degree, and thence to a selected area for graduate education. They invariably ended up as University Professors (England had nothing similar to the American college, during this time). For those persons who enjoyed the academic life, this was a marvelous opportunity, and many grasped it with both hands. These were the minority, however, and many treaties have been written about life under a difficult tutor.

The problem was that while students attended many general lectures, they were assigned to a specific tutor who was responsible for their progress during their time at University. In many instances, the student was treated almost as a slave, and required to perform the most menial tasks for his tutor. Often when the person finally was awarded the degree required to teach in University (quite often a good first or second class honours degree was sufficient to get started) the tendency was for him to treat new students the same way he had been treated.

Literature and Science[edit | edit source]

Sons of the aristocracy who were really gifted chose for themselves the right to become advanced in both literature and the sciences. Such names as Alfred, Lord Tenneson, William Wordsworth, in literature, and such notables as Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, James Maxwell, and William Thompson (Lord Kelvin) were all notable in the sciences.

The thing that must be remembered, however, was that all these men were really gentlemen who by definition did not need to work, but who succeeded in their chosen spheres due to an innate brilliance. How many other brilliant people, both males and females of the era, could have blossomed had they had the opportunity to think, rather than scrabble for work for a living.

Entrepreneurs[edit | edit source]

At the start of the Victorian Era, the entrepreneurs and leading industrialists were still primarily from the upper classes. Men such as Edmund Cartwright, an English clergyman and inventor, was born to wealth. His invention of the power loom significantly increased the efficiency of weaving, and led to the growth of the Lancashire and Yorkshire mills. Sir Humphry Davy, provided impetus to the safety of the mining industry, inventing the Davy lamp that was not affected by explosive vapors. He was also a keen chemist who discovered several of the alkaline earth metals.

George Stephenson who invented the use of steam to drive the first railways in the world, the first being the Stockton to Darlington rail. All were from wealthy backgrounds, and their inventiveness came from a desire to learn, rather than a need for economic necessity.

As the century progressed, and the need for new ideas and businesses for the Empire grew, many from the middle and lower middle classes were able to start their own enterprises. In many instances an initial injection of capital was needed to get them started and this was provided by a rich benefactor, but once they were capitalized, there was nothing stopping them.

Men such as Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of the steel-making process, and Isamard Brunel, one of the greatest engineers of all times, were from more humble stock. Sir Titus Salt, from Bradford in Yorkshire, was born in better circumstances than his peers, yet built built Salt Mills, a huge woolen mill, but more importantly a model village with good accommodation for his workers.

The Cadbury family of chocolate fame were men of the same cloth. In 1824, John Cadbury started a modest business selling tea, coffee, and chocolate for drinking in the city of Birmingham. The family were Quakers, and very concerned about their workers, and, as the business progressed and grew, built a large model village on 14 acres of land in a suburb of Birmingham called Bourneville. It provided small homes, medical facilities, and some recreational facilities for its employees.

The Upper Class, Landowners[edit | edit source]

(This probably should not be strictly under "Occupations", but their significance cannot be ignored.)

Prior to 1066 and the Norman Invasion, Britain was an extremely advanced and open society for the time. Owning land was not restricted to the few; indeed, it was not uncommon for females to own land after the death of a husband.

While there was still a ruling or upper class, almost anyone above the level of a serf could own his own small piece of land. There was also no evidence of male dominance in the late 900’s and early 1,000’s. That all changed after the Norman conquest.

William let the Anglo-Saxon Earls of Mercia and Northumbria, Edwin and Morcar, keep their lands because they had not fought against William at Hastings. The only condition was that they accepted William’s authority as king and as their feudal lord. William transferred land ownership from the nobles who hadn’t supported him to Norman barons who had. These were men he could trust and rely on.

The greatest change introduced after the conquest of 1066 was the introduction of the feudal system. Norman feudalism was different from the Anglo-Saxon system of ownership in one important way - King William owned all of the land. William could now decide who to lease the land to.

The system of giving land in exchange for duties had existed before the Norman Conquest but William confiscated land from Anglo-Saxons, which created a whole new power structure. Norman feudalism was based on royal strength.

This feudal system resulted in major conflict in England, and the led to the reduction in monarchical power with the signing of the Magna Carta almost 150 years later. However it is important to understand that this document only transferred some powers from the king to the nobles, not the releasing of land to the common people. According to the newspaper, “The Daily Mail”, today more than 35% of the land in the UK is owned by the peerage. The newspaper, “The Independent” claims that 0.6% of the population of the UK own 69% of the land, and that most of these people were owning the same land back through the centuries.

The UK has two major classes of land on which property can be built; freehold and leasehold.

Freehold means that the property is owned directly by the same person who actually built on or who farmed the land. He has the right to leave that property to his descendants or to sell it to anyone else he chooses.

Leasehold means that ownership of the land remains with the original landowner, and the right to build or farm is specified in a number of years. A lessee is allowed to build homes or businesses on the land, and usually pays an annual lease fee. Understand that the lessee can never have title to the land.

Large portions of London, for example, are owned by 4 major Lessors: The Crown, The Grosvenor estate owned by the Duke of Westminster, The Cadogan Estate owned by the Earl of Cadogan, and the Portman Estate owned by the Portman family. They receive huge annual amounts in income from these rental properties.

To most of these titled persons, theirs was given to them by right; and they arrogantly knew they were superior to those who worked for them, including servants, and any person who served the community, such as policemen, the lower strata of civil servants, and certainly any person who was required to work for a living.

So what did these large landowners do to spend their time? To a large extent this was spent at their clubs and in the country. Gambling was a major way to relax, and they would gamble away thousands of pounds on the stupidest things. One well known story was of a group of “toffs” riding on a train in the rain, gambling away thousands on which rain drop would travel from the top of the window to the bottom, first.

It has been estimated that fully 15% of the titled lands held at the start of the century, ended up in bankruptcy and the properties sold off. To a great extent these were snapped up by entrepreneurs who had made it.

Those titled people with a little foresight who were concerned about the perpetuation of the line, hired estate managers and property managers to ensure that things were run properly. As an example, the Crown holds title to almost 2 million acres of farmland, most worked through tenant farmers. The qualified estate managers that were hired, ensured that these properties were managed correctly, and that the titles survived.

References[edit | edit source]