It’s Party Time’.Victorian Style!

Cobalt Fairy

Hello my beautiful Regency/Victorian Era lovers!Let’s just for a moment imagine that you live in the good ol’ Victorian times. And let’s also suppose that you are wealthy, so you don’t have to work 24/7 to make ends meet.Aaand you’re really bored. I mean, you have sewn, read hundreds of novels, walked around your garden a billion times and it’s still noon. Now what?To be honest, I can hardly imagine life without technology and television, as it’s a good pastime when you simply don’t want to go out. But options were limited back in the day and to entertain yourself, you had to socialize… Ugh!Just kidding! What fascinates me the most, is that actually, both rich and poor people managed to find time and money for entertainment. And the possibilities were much more than you might imagine…So let us explore our options and decide how we’ll entertain ourselves!

Penny gaffs and music halls

For just one penny you could enter the back room of a public house thick with tobacco smoke…even if you were a woman! Actually, the audience was mostly female, aged between eight and 20! That seems extreme even by today’s standards! There, a raucous singer delighted the audience with a repertoire of crude ballads, competing with shouts for more gin (whoa ladies!) At least, by the late 1860s, penny gaffs were giving way to more respectable music halls and theatres. There you could sing along to your favourite popular songs, or watch entertainment as diverse as acrobats, trapeze artists or can-can dancers. 

The Freak Shows

Sadly, Victorian audiences had no qualms about staring at humans with disabilities or physical abnormalities. Unfortunately for these poor people, their living conditions were so dire that exhibiting themselves was their only way of making a living. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, waxwork figures were also used in the creepiest of ways! For example, the figures of a murdered woman and her four murdered children, dressed in their own clothes, had the public paying to see them in the very rooms where they had died. I wouldn’t go there if they paid me!From 1843, Madame Tussaud’s ‘Chamber of Horrors’ documented current murders, exhibiting uncanny likenesses of the murderers within a few days of their executions. What more could you want for your family entertainment?


Circuses were a very popular form of entertainment in the past. They usually travelled along the country roads before erecting their ‘Big Top’ wherever they hoped for a profitable audience. In 1884, George Sanger’s successful circus, his Gulliver’s Travels, had a cast of 700 humans, 13 elephants, nine camels and 52 horses, with miscellaneous lions, buffaloes, ostriches and kangaroos thrown in. Wow, that is a lot of people and animals to travel the whole country with! 

Street Artists

One of the cheapest and most ancient forms of entertainment for the whole family! The so-called Punch and Judy men used to perform outside gentlemen’s houses in the West End of London. And if you are having an evening party, you can enliven it by inviting them or the Fantoccini man with his marionettes – a type of puppet show. But there were also companies of street acrobats that could make as much as £100 a year. There were conjurors, fire-eaters and sword-swallowers. Clowns strode high above the streets on stilts, and contortionists writhed on the ground. There were innumerable ballad singers and bands of differing musical abilities, but all able to produce such a noise that they were sometimes paid just to go away. Ouch! That would hurt my feelings as an artist!


The Zoological Society’s collection in Regent’s Park had been open to the public since 1828 (and it still is). The world’s first reptile house opened there in 1843. In 1849 there were nearly 170,000 visitors. There was another zoo, not so grand, on the other side of the river in Walworth, where as well as watching the various feeding times you could enjoy all the usual facilities of a pleasure garden. I suppose this hasn’t changed much ever since. My kids would never say no to a visit even now.

Pleasure Gardens

The London pleasure gardens had been extremely popular in the previous century. The mystery is how they managed to attract such huge crowds, despite the English weather, for they were mostly out of doors. Vauxhall struggled on until 1859 and then shut down.Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea opened in the 1840s, with a thousand flickering gas lights, a theatre, firework displays and an American bowling alley – claimed to be the first in London. The army made soldiers available to perform in massive pageants there. In 1855 they were re-enacting the storming of Sebastopol in the Crimean war. They advanced with their bayonets fixed. The scaffold collapsed, and they fell, impaling themselves on their bayonets. Nine years later in 1864 Goddard, the famous hot air balloonist, rose to 5,000 feet above Cremorne, but he misjudged his descent and his balloon landed fatally on a church spire in Chelsea. Oh my, this happens when there are no safety measures taken! And what is more interesting, is that as soon as people went home by ten o’clock, prostitutes and roguish lords made their appearance!Well…I don’t know about you, but I prefer the normal ways of entertainment offered today.Like reading a novel or watching a period drama! It would be awesome to visit these lush gardens and dance in the moonlight with a handsome lord though!What do you think? Would you choose any of these peculiar activities to pass the time or would you rather stay home?

Written byViolet Hamers!

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