Of all the many, various and diverse periods of British history, perhaps the one that fascinates both Brits and those who come to the country from abroad is the time famed for its industriousness, its innovation, its social conscience and its very specific style and appeal –the Victorian era. To that end, a great deal of surviving Victoriana can be seen and visited in London; here are some ideas on how to do that…
Have a museum day
While many of the capital’s best museums and galleries actually date from the Victorian era – and so their buildings and, indeed, their ethos and culture are marvellous examples of the finest of that period (for instance, the Natural History Museum and the British Museum), others have thoroughly Victorian focuses in their content and attraction for the public. Good examples here are the East End’s Ragged School Museum (which features a reconstructed kitchen and classrooms) and the Geffrye Museum (which is all about presenting British living spaces from throughout history, including a Victorian one), while there are also Dennis Severs’ House (a fascinating ‘still life’ establishment via several dressed rooms) and the William Morris Gallery (a treasure trove of artefacts from the late 19th Century arts and crafts movement).
Trek about town…
Let your feet take over and discover what of Victorian London remains in today’s version of the city – that is, go and out and find some real ‘living history’. The very heart of Central London is terrific for this, what with it being packed full of Victorian architectural landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, Tower Bridge and the Royal Courts of Justice (perfect if you’re staying in one of the hotels near Paddington Station London, like Park Grand Paddington Court hotel). Meanwhile, South Kensington offers the aforementioned Natural History Museum, in addition to the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and, of course, the Royal Albert Hall. You might also want to go om a walking tour; many have a Victorian theme, including those dedicated to the dark legend of Jack the Ripper and the London of both Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
… Or step into a public park
That said, there may not be anywhere better for experiencing real Victorian vibes than in one of the many public parks or gardens originally established during Queen Vic’s reign and whose layout remains pretty much as it was way back when (or has been reconstructed to appear as it once did). It’s hard to beat East London’s Victoria Park in this category because, created in 1845, it was intended specifically for the common people of its area with the aim of helping to improve their health. To wit, you’ll find it still contains a large, gothic drinking fountain that’s stood on the same spot since 1862.
Alternatively, for something a little darker, even more macabre, how about visiting one of the city’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries that were opened in the Victorian era (again as effective and efficient places of burial in a time when public health was first taken seriously)? Perhaps the most essential is North London’s Highgate Cemetery, which is revered for its architectural styles (neoclassical as well as gothic revivalist) and graves and monuments of true icons, including Karl Marx, George Eliot and William Makepeace Thackeray.