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Victorian London: The Tale of a City…

Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840--1870 (2005)

by Liza Picard

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5671027,248 (3.84)21
From rag-gatherers to royalty, from fish knives to Freemasons: everyday life in Victorian London. Like its acclaimed companion volumes, Elizabeth's London, Restoration London and Dr Johnson's London, this book is the product of the author's passionate interest in the realities of everyday life so often left out of history books. This period of mid Victorian London covers a huge span: Victoria's wedding and the place of the royals in popular esteem; how the very poor lived, the underworld, prostitution, crime, prisons and transportation; the public utilities - Bazalgette on sewers and road design, Chadwick on pollution and sanitation; private charities - Peabody, Burdett Coutts - and workhouses; new terraced housing and transport, trains, omnibuses and the Underground; furniture and decor; families and the position of women; the prosperous middle classes and their new shops, such as Peter Jones and Harrods; entertaining and servants, food and drink; unlimited liability and bankruptcy; the rich, the marriage market, taxes and anti-semitism; the Empire, recruitment and press-gangs. The period begins with the closing of the Fleet and Marshalsea prisons and ends with the first (steam-operated) Underground trains and the first Gilbert & Sullivan.… (more)
Recently added bykcrichton23, TonySteele, private library, peberling, padams64, boldnerd, john.19360, ejmw, janetyfair
  1. 20
    Victorian People and Ideas: A Companion for the Modern Reader of Victorian Literature by Richard D. Altick (davidcla)
    davidcla: Picard deliberately does not treat Victorian literature. Altick's fine book explicitly relates Victorian culture to Victorian writers.
  2. 10
    The Victorians by A. N. Wilson (John_Vaughan)

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» See also 21 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Somewhat unfocused, with no logical organization. Each chapter is pretty much self-contained. But entertainingly written and a treasure trove of information. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Liza Picard is working her way through the history of London, with Elizabeth’s London, Restoration London, Dr. Johnson’s London, and now Victorian London. (Since the dear old queen reigned from 1837 to 1901, Ms. Picard has limited her volume to the years 1840-1870).

Alas, I’m a little disappointed in this one, mostly because the book is about general life in Victorian England, not just London; the sections on dress, household management, and so on could just as easily be about New York. Ms. Picard is also highly dependant on her primary sources, quoting long paragraphs verbatim from various diaries and books on household management. Of course, there is considerable London-specific material: discussion of the Thames, the street scene, and the history of London’s railroad stations, plus whole chapters on the Great Exhibition and its reincarnation as The Crystal Palace. And there’s her usual handy table of costs; 2d would buy a “second-class warm bath”, ₤1 10s was a weekly wage for a skilled workman, ₤3 9s 6d would get you an authentic Crapper water closet, ₤25 got you 20 minutes “conversation” with Catherine Walters (although a less famous but still elegant lady would “converse” with you all night for 2-3 guineas), ₤400 was the annual salary of the Governor of the Bank of England, and ₤30000 was Prince Albert’s annual allowance. To aid in putting those numbers in perspective, there’s also a year-by-year Retail Price Index table, with the buying power of a pound ranging from 42.00 to 58.35 in 2006 currency.

Don’t get me wrong; this is not a bad book, it’s just not quite what I was expecting and has a different “feel” from her others.

Ms. Picard is 79 and has announced that this is the last book in the series. That’s a shame; when she speaks in her own voice (mostly in the endnotes) see’s delightful, with little anecdotes about woman’s clubs in the 1950s and her experiences as a pioneer female barrister. I hope she’ll reconsidered and publish a book on, say, London from 1930-1960. ( )
1 vote setnahkt | Jan 1, 2018 |
Liza Picard uses diaries gov,ernment statistics, and other non-fictional contemporary sources to look at different topics such as Food, Clothes, Health, Religion as they were experienced by different social classes in London in the first half of Victoria's reign.

Absolutely fascinating with lots of interesting titbits that show just how different life was then in all sorts of ways we might not realise now. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Sep 13, 2017 |
Liza Picard has achieved what many authors only dream of: to be informative, interesting, and witty. Simultaneously.

Victorian London is split into chapters, each dealing with an aspect of London life, starting with Smells and ending with Death. Each chapter consists, essentially, of a long list of little snippets of information - sometimes with Picard's commentary, which is generally a joke or aside: she tends to let the information, much of which is quoted from original sources such as letters and diaries, speak for itself.

Some of the snippets do appear in more than one chapter, but this should be regarded as a feature rather than a bug: if you are looking for information on Smells, then you only need to read the relevant chapter. You don't have to wonder whether there's some information elsewhere in the book that mentions a smell in passing, even though it's mostly about something else.

Ms Picard also likes detail. This is very much about the minutiae of people's everyday lives, not the big political sweep. She mentions the difficulty of keeping linen clean in London's filthy atmosphere; the 'husbands' boat' taking middle-class husbands down the Thames to Margate to where wives and children were spending the summer; and lady pick-pockets who would sit demurely next to you on the omnibus with two hands (one real and one false) modestly clasped in their lap, while their second real hand was picking your pocket.

By leaving so much of the information in the words of Victorian London's people, the experience is more like speed-dating (in a good way): you spend a few minutes learning about one person, then you're off to the next person for their views on their life and their city. Picard performs the function of master of ceremonies, ushering you from person to person, giving you a few words of explanation where needed, and adding in her own jokes. She sounds like a woman with a great sense of humour as well as an enquiring mind and a deep love for London; I wish I could meet her - apart from anything else, according to Wikipedia, she's got a book on fourteenth-century England coming out later this year (2017). She'll be 90. That is a woman worthy of very great respect. ( )
1 vote T_K_Elliott | Mar 12, 2017 |
I had been enjoying this until the author went on a vicious tirade against MY Queen Victoria. I could just spit. I'd rip the pages out of the book and gleefully burn them but this is a library copy... ( )
  FutureMrsJoshGroban | Jul 26, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Picard is particularly good on the sort of thing that contemporary chroniclers didn't always think to put in: her chapter on "Practicalities" is fascinating, especially with regard to water and gas supplies, refuse collection, postal services and the like.

Thus the book proceeds, by typifying anecdotes, which are well chosen and impeccably annotated, and all linked together by Picard's untroubling, readable prose.
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