Food, Glorious Food!


Food in the Victorian era advanced as a result of technology. In 1830, about 90 percent of all food consumed in Britain was grown in Britain. By 1900, the United Kingdom could enjoy food that came from around the globe.

Food preservation became more reliable and more widespread in the Victorian era. In the late 18th century, Emperor Napoleon, concerned about feeding his armies, had offered a prize to anyone who could develop a way of preserving food. The tin can was invented by Nicholas Appert, who realized that if food were sealed tightly enough and then heated, it wouldn’t spoil.

In 1810 Englishman Peter Durand found a way to seal food into unbreakable tin containers. Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, perfecting this technique, set up the first commercial canning factory in England in 1813.By 1839, tin-coated steel cans were widely in use.

Strangely, the can opener wasn’t patented until 1858. It was surely a vast improvement over a hammer and chisel, which was the way people had to open cans before its invention.

Eliza Acton published The English Bread Book in 1852, analyzing all the then-current research on wholesome food and warning against adulteration; she had visited some bakeries where alum was added to bread in almost equal quantities to flour. Acton’s book, Modern Cookery, contained an abundance of recipes using wholesome ingredients. She was the first cookbook writer to list the ingredients needed for the dish in an orderly way, which anyone who’s gotten half-way through an instructions-only recipe and come across an unexpected item will surely appreciate.

The closed range came down in price and became a kitchen staple in the 1850s and 1860s. Originally, an “open range” was an iron box with a flat top that sat beside the open fire in the fireplace (hence the “open” designation) so that a cook could bake something inside the box while cooking something on the flat top, and spit-roasting a joint over the open fire beside it. The closed range drew the heat from the fire through various flues, so the oven part would heat evenly. These new closed ranges were excellent, especially when they had hot-water boilers beside them to produce hot water for bathing, cleaning and laundry.

An Englishman named Grimwade takes out a patent for drying milk in 1855. Dried milk became a basis for infant and baby foods. Glass baby bottles with rubber nipples also became available.

nancy-on-his-kneeIn 1855, canned meat began to be imported into England from North America and Australia.

By the middle of the century, condiments and preserves, pickles and sauces were increasingly purchased from dry-goods grocers rather than being made at home. Worcestershire sauce, curry powders, marmelades, instant soup packets and Bird’s custard powder might all be found in the middle-class pantry by 1870.

Frenchman Hippolyte Mege-Mouries took out a patent in England for his butter substitute, oleomargarine, in 1869.

And continuing in the developments in the area of refrigeration begun by Bostonian Frederic Tudor in the early 1800s, in 1876, the S S Strathleven arrived in London, its refrigerated hold packed with fresh meat from Australia and New Zealand.

And of course, where would Britain be without tea? In 1833, the East India Company lost its monopoly over the China tea trade, and the next year a substantial drop in the tea duty went into effect. This made tea the beverage of choice in England. By 1857, the British people were consuming an average of 2 ½ pounds of tea a year, which averages out to one or two cups of tea a day.



The Victorian Cookbook, by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, c. 1989

Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History, by Andrea Broomfield, c. 2007


*Also, if you’re interested in a recipe for Spotted Dog, check out Lobscouse and Spotted Dog by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas, c. 1997 (it’s not Victorian, because it’s a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, but it’s got some great recipes).



Christmas, Victorian-style

During the Victorian era, Christmas became centered around the family. Celebrating the holiday became a matter of bringing together the whole family to share in the feasting, gift giving, entertainments and parlor games.

victorian-xmas-royalsThis is thanks in large part to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Illustrated London News in 1848 showed a picture of the royal couple and their young family (the couple had had six children by then: Victoria, Albert Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena and Louise) celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, and soon Britons adopted the Germanic tradition of having a tree lit by candles and adorned with home-made decorations including tiny baskets of goodies, fruits, and small wrapped gifts.

Another British tradition that began in the Victorian era was the “Christmas cracker,” a small package filled with treats that made a cracking or snapping sound when opened. The Christmas cracker was created in 1848 by British confectioner Tom Smith after a visit to Paris, where he noticed Parisian confiseries selling sugared almonds wrapped in twists of paper. Nowadays, Christmas crackers usually contain a colored paper hat shaped like a crown, a small toy, a plastic figure or other trinket and a joke or other saying on a small piece of paper. The paper crowns are usually worn while eating Christmas dinner.

The Victorians also gave us the tradition of eating roast turkey at Christmas dinner. Other meats, including roast beef and goose, were common main dishes at the holidays, but upper-class Victorian families began featuring turkey as the centerpiece of their festive meal. The roast turkey soon caught on among the middle classes as well, because its larger size made it a good choice for a large family celebration.

santa-1Gift-giving became more elaborate as the Victorian era progressed. Originally gifts were modest and hand-made, sometimes small enough to be hung on the tree itself, but as the decades passed they became bigger and found a new place under the tree, rather than on it. Handmade gifts were still considered preferable to store-bought, but perhaps a savvy gift-giver could find something handmade for sale! As the leisure of middle- and upper-class women increased, many became more involved in crafts and hobbies, producing large quantities of hand-crafted items that they could either use, give as gifts, or even sell at charity events like Christmas Bazaars sponsored by their churches or other groups.

Christmas carols – and visits from “the waits” or carolers – were also a tradition during Christmastime. A number of carols that we love and sing today originated in the Victorian era, such as

1843 – O Come All Ye Faithful

1848 – Once in Royal David’s City 

1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow

1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

1883 – Away in a Manger 

onlyadancinggirlComposer Arthur S. Sullivan also contributed a few tunes to the Christmas mix. He wrote four carols: “I Sing the Birth” (1868), “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (1871), “Upon the Snow-clad Earth” (1876), and “Hark! What Mean those Holy Voices,” written in 1883.

Our heroine, Lucy Turner, will soon meet Arthur Sullivan as she embarks upon her mystery-solving career. But in 1866, they have barely met — and William S. Gilbert doesn’t meet his musical partner until 1873.

The cold, cold winter of 1866 will see lots of changes in the lives of these three, so I hope you will stay tuned! Until then, have a very happy holiday!




21 Good Books on Art, Crime, Women, and Life in Victorian London

Here are a few favorites from my personal list of reference books. Have I missed any books that you particularly enjoy? Let me know!


1. The Aesthetic Movement, by Lionel Lambourne (2011)
In the second half of the Victorian era, artists of all varieties became inspired by the writings of Baudelaire and Walter Pater to focus more on ornamentation and aesthetic concerns. The pre-Raphaelite artists, Queen Anne architectural styles, blue-and-white china and Japanese influences all were part of the Aesthetic Movement in both fine and decorative arts. The text of this book provides fascinating insights into the historical personages – such as Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Ellen Terry – who led and shaped the Aesthetic Movement and the color photographs are beautiful. Lionel Lambourne was Head of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 1986-1993.


2. The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900, Eds. Lynn Federle Orr and Stephen Calloway (2011)
Lively, interesting essays on various aspects of Victorian life and art, coupled with gorgeous color photographs of art by pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement artists, along with items from other decorative arts: vases, furniture, wallpapers, books and architectural elements, as well as satirical cartoons and drawings.



3. Life in Victorian Britain, by Michael Paterson (2013)
A big subject, but the wealth of material is summarized and presented in a very readable and engaging way. A great introduction.

4. The Victorian Studies Reader, Eds. Kelly Boyd and Rohan McWilliam (2007)
Excellent collection of essays by historians on various aspects of Victorian life, including religion, gender and social mores.

5. Daily life of Victorian Women, by Lydia Murdoch (2013)
A scholarly tome – but still interesting to read – on Victorian women’s life and experiences, covering such areas as family and home, politics and the public arena, health and welfare, and beauty, status and wealth. Interesting insights that present Victorian women as more actively engaged in the culture at large than one might think.

6. Daily Life in Victorian England, by Sally Mitchell (2008)
Another easily readable and engaging text on Victorian life in general, covering how people of all classes lived and celebrated the milestones of life.

7. Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders (2005)
I really enjoyed this book – the topics covered are organized according to the rooms in which those activities might be expected to occur: Cooking and food in the dining room, courtship in the parlor, and so on.

8. Victorian London, by Liza Pickard (2007)
Liza Pickard has authored a number of very interesting and entertaining books on life in London during various periods of history – Elizabethan London, Restoration London, Dr. Johnson’s London – and she brings her trademark wit and insight to the Victorian era. This is about the city, its expansion and development into a modern urban center, as opposed to a domestic view of life.

9. A History of London, Stephen Inwood (1999)
This covers all of London’s 2,000-plus year history from Roman times to the present. But it’s worthwhile reading and helps to get a perspective on the city as a whole.

10. London The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (2003)
A sprawling book covering London’s two millenia of history and development, with lots of anecdotes and perspectives on how the past has left its mark on the present.

11. London Past and Present, by Chiara Libero (2005)
A nice hardcover book with glossy photos of London.

12. London, by Iain Thomson (2000)
Another nice book of photographs of London landmarks.

13. London, by John Russell (1994)
An idiosyncratic memoir of London told through witty anecdotes by a distinguished art critic. Plenty of gorgeous paintings, interesting photographs and other depictions of life in London.

14. Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 (2d Edition), by Clive Emsley (1987)
A densely-written history of crime with statistics and graphs. The second edition has a new chapter on crime and gender.

15. City of Dreadful Delight, by Jane Walkowitz (1992)
A history of gender, exploring the experiences of women in the city. From poor streetwalkers to well-off “shopping ladies,” women have become more visible in the public areas of the city, and that leads to changes in the relationships between men and women.

16. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (2009)
Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is Scotland Yard’s best investigator in their new criminal investigation division, but his conclusions about who committed a shocking murder in 1860 challenged public perceptions so much that it cost him his career. Fascinating true crime story.

17. Scotland Yard Casebook, by Joan Lock (1993)
By the 1870s, Scotland Yard’s Detective Branch was discredited and corrupt, and in 1878 it was replaced by the Criminal Investigation Division. Police officer and historian Joan Lock tells the story behind the change, and the new division’s successes and failures including Ernest Southey’s four murders, the dockland killings of 1869, and the Neill Cream and Jack the Ripper murders.

18. Rise of Scotland Yard, Douglas G. Browne (1956)
Starting with the very beginning of the Metropolis, around about 1050, Browne covers the origins of policing in England – the posse comitatus, the hue and cry, the Bow Street Runner, and on up to the creation of an actual publicly-funded police force. He details the early years of Scotland Yard – the cases and the scandals – and then continues on to the events and dealings of Scotland Yard in the mid-1950s.

19. Calling Scotland Yard, by Arthur Thorp (1954)
Chief Superintendent Arthur Thorp wrote this book about his own career at the Yard, and discusses cases that he personally handled in the 1940s and 1950s. So even though it’s not from the Victorian era, I found it interesting to look at how cases were investigated and solved.

20. The Marlborough House Set, by Anita Leslie (1973)
The author, a great niece of Jenny Jerome Churchill, had a ring-side seat when it came to observing life in the highest echelons of British society – and here she’s collected a wide variety of anecdotes and photographs from her Edwardian-era relatives, who intimately knew the scandalous goings-on of the friends of the Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria’s son, later Edward VII), known as the Marlborough House set. Fun to read.

21. The English Companion, by Godfrey Smith (1984)
I picked this up on a whim at a used book store, because I figured it would help to understand some “Englishisms” that an American might not otherwise learn. It’s a fun and lighthearted look at English culture, circa 1984.

So that’s my list! Make sure to add any suggestions you may have in the comments below.

At Home for a Victorian Breakfast


During the Victorian era, many English people shared the belief that one ought to “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper.”

In those days, most of London had breakfasted by 9:00 am, with the poorest tucking into their bread-and-butter and tea at daybreak, while the middle and working classes enjoyed more substantial fare (whether at home or in a chop-house) in time to be at their jobs by 10:00 am.

However, the “upper ten thousand,” also known as the leisure class – made up of members of the aristocracy, the gentry, officers in the British Army and Navy, members of Parliament, Colonial administrators, and members of the Church of England – might not eat breakfast until even later than that.

Whatever the time, breakfast staples to be found on most British tables included bread-and-butter, tea and some sort of protein: Eggs, sausages, bacon, ham, fish, or kidneys. Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner were a good bet to show up on the breakfast sideboard.

A Victorian gentleman might enjoy eggs, sausages, ham, bacon, or perhaps kedgeree (an Indian dish made of smoked fish and curried rice) with his buttered toast. He might even like to gnaw on some Deviled Bones, which were leftover beef or chicken bones coated with a spicy “devil sauce” like Harvey’s or Worcestershire sauce, and roasted until brown.

A Victorian lady, on the other hand, would most likely be expected to choose lighter, blander dishes. Bread and butter and maybe a coddled egg plus a cup of cocoa would be deemed appropriate for a female. A woman’s supposedly delicate constitution would not be able to tolerate spicy foods, and high protein consumption would have been discouraged, especially during puberty, as meat was held to aggravate the “illnesses” of that developmental stage.

Children also were fed bland foods – porridge, or bread and milk, was considered enough for the little ones.

Fruit was considered problematic. Was it healthy to eat fresh fruit? Mid-Victorian writers on health topics tended to think that fresh fruit caused colic and digestive problems, although the great Mrs. Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management that fresh grapes were an effective cure for constipation (provided one did not eat the skins or the seeds).

However, by 1887, Mrs. Panton, author of From Kitchen to Garret, thought that both adults and children should eat fresh fruit regularly.

In her chapter on Meals and Money, Mrs. Panton warned that “hot buttered toast or hot fresh bread should never be served, as these two items make the butter bill into a nightmare.”

Instead, she suggests that the lady of the house – whom she quaintly refers to as Angelina – offer fruit for breakfast, with honey or marmalade (which Mrs. Panton thought was much more healthy than butter anyway). “Have nice fresh brown bread or Neville’s hot-water bread, the nicest bread made; oat-cake (2 s. a tin at any good grocers, she says); and fresh crisp dry toast,” she instructs, “and then I think neither Edwin nor Angelina can complain.”

Of course, Edwin is the fictitious husband of Angelina. This amused me, because I like to think that Mrs. Panton chose the names “Edwin” and “Angelina” after a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan characters. In the duo’s wonderful “Trial by Jury,” the plaintiff Angelina sues the defendant Edwin for breach of promise. The opera ends with Edwin and Angelina happily un-married – but it seems Mrs. Panton thought the two characters deserved domestic bliss instead!

For further reference, you may want to consult:

Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton
From Kitchen to Garret, by Jane Ellen Panton


Five Great Victorian Studies Reference Sites, plus blogs


If you’re like me, you want to know all the fascinating tidbits and details about life in the Victorian Era. Well, fear not – there are plenty of great reference sites out there on the Internet. I’ve collected five useful general sites here.

1. Victorian Voices – The list of lists. Find articles, websites and blogs on every aspect of Victorian life from America, Gardening, and Country/Village life to Royalty, Women’s Issues, Work, and World Cultures.

2. Victorian Research – Find the libraries and other places where primary sources and archival records are housed. Also, under the heading “Discussion” there are many groups and blogs on Victorian matters.

3. The Victorian Web – Arranged by topic in a diamond shape, the site offers information both about the UK and other nations during the Victorian era on topics including social history, political history and gender matters, philosophy, religion, science and technology, writers, artists, and theater and entertainment as well as much more.

4. Victorian London – The Victorian Dictionary, Lee Jackson’s website, has a wonderful archive of primary sources describing various aspects of London life during the Victorian era.

5. Victorian Literary Studies Archive – Professor Matsuoka of Nagoya University, Japan, has put together a huge collection of links on the Victorian era in London, Manchester, Knutsford, and the U.K., English Department in Japan, English department overseas, Dickens Fellowship, Victorian Studies Society, Victorian authors Dickens, Gaskell and Gissing, Victorian Websites, 19th century authors, English literature, British Authors and American Authors.

You might also want to explore the Victorian-era information on British History Online


I compiled the following list of blogs at random over the course of my previous searches. I have identified the blogger where I could, but I don’t know any of these folks.

The Cat’s Meat Shop (Lee Jackson)
Crime and Insanity in Victorian England (David Vaughan)
The Curious World of Victorian Collecting (Mary Addyman)
Dickens Blog (Gina Dalfonzo)
The Digital Victorianist (Bob Nicholson)
The Floating Academy: A Victorian Studies Blog
The Hoarding (Andrew Stauffer)
The Hour of Mask and Mime (Diane Magras)
Journal of Victorian Culture Online: Editors’ Blog
The Little Professor (Miriam Burstein)
Looking Glasses at Odd Corners (Amber Regis)
Charlotte Mathieson
Neo-Victorian Thoughts (Louisa Yates)
Novel Ideas: Modern Musings on the Long 19th Century (Emily K. Cody and Trey Conatser)
Novel Readings (Rohan Maitzen)
Of Victorian Interest (NAVSA)
Rag-Picking History (Paul Dobraszczyk)
Royal Holloway Victorian MA (Adam Roberts)
Romantic Circles Blog
The Salt Box (Jason Jones)
The Victorian Commons (History of House of Commons Project, 1832-68)
The Victorian Era (Geerte Koeznbasje)
Victorian Geek (Catherine Pope)
Victorian History (Bruce Rosen)
The Victorianist (“Amateur Casual”)
The Victorian Peeper (Kristan Tetens)
The Victorian Poetry Network
Wuthering Expectations

Happy researching!