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Victorian Pictures

The Victorian era in England saw the printed image, whether as print, poster or photograph, at last produced in quality and quantity and thus available to all.

Our Victorian pictures are also available to all, come in all shapes and sizes, and framed in any way you want. We cover society from top to bottom, from the Royal Family to Jack the Ripper (who may even have been one of the former!) with their entertainments and achievements as seen in Victorian paintings, photographs and graphics.

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'Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.' Queen Victoria

The Victorian period is one of the most clearly defined of British history - the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901 - the longest reign of any British monarch. It followed the Georgian period (which is usually taken to include the reign of William IV) and was itself followed by the Edwardian. The period saw the height of the Industrial Revolution and the climax of the expansion of the British Empire. These factors probably led to a peak of British self-confidence that was not dented until the horrors of The Great War. And this self-confidence shines through in the Victorian era pictures in our collection.

The Industrial Revolution had started in the late 18th Century but really got up a head of steam (ho ho!) in the Victorian era. The rapid development of the railway system facilitated rapid industrial growth and the migration of a substantial part of the rural population to the cities.

To give some idea of population changes during the period 1837 to 1901, the population of Great Britain and Ireland rose from 27 million to 41 million. That of London rose from two million to six-and-a-half million. Glasgow's population grew from under 300,000 to 900,000. Cardiff's grew from a tiny 10,000 to 160,000 - an increase of 1,500%!

Advances in technology and materials science were exploited by great engineers (of whom Isambard Kingdom Brunel must surely have been the greatest) to create previously unimaginable feats (such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge - completed 1864) and step changes in shipping (like the Great Eastern - 1858). Britain's world-leading capabilities and the reach of the Empire were celebrated by the Great Exhibition, opened in 1851 and held in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace.

The broader sciences saw similar progress. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 (by the by, he did not coin the phrase survival of the fittest - that was his contemporary Herbert Spencer in 1864). Michael Faraday did hie later work on electricity and magnetism. James Clerk Maxwell wrote his seminal work on electromagnetic waves. Towards the end of the period (in 1897) JJ Thomson discovered the electron.

Sports saw rapid development, both in the professional game (such as football (soccer) and rugby league) and the overwhelmingly amateur (rugby union and cricket). These latter sports were a demonstration of the unity of the Empire as advances in sea travel enabled touring sides between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Mother Country.

But beside this prosperity and progress there lurked a number of problems facing the the famous politicians of the era - Peel, Gladstone, Disraeli and Salisbury. Domestically the limitations of voting qualification prompted the Reform Acts which widened the suffrage (though not to women). At the start of Queen Victoria's reign there were just 800,000 people entitled to vote; when she died this had risen to six million. The wider rights of women, particularly married women, were scandalously limited and the abject poverty and exploitation of the working classes spurred the establishment of the Labour movement. By 1901 there were 1,300 unions with over two million members. It's no coincidence (and to some extent a tribute to Britain's comparatively liberal acceptance of European immigrants) that Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in London.

Internationally and domestically the Irish problem (the problem being that some people wanted Ireland in the Union while a number of others didn't) remained unresolved. The Crimean War exposed woeful inadequacies in the British Army and how it cared for its wounded, prompting Florence Nightingale's famous action. In South Africa the Boer War was still unresolved as Victoria's reign came to a close. Not exactly Britain's finest hour.

But perhaps the dimension of the Victorian era with which the modern observer struggles most is its hypocrisy. It was a society that purported to have strict moral values (the sight of an ankle was scandalous) while prostitution, destitution and exploitation were commonplace. It sought to impose tight Christian behaviour on the working classes whilst the Prince of Wales was debauching for England.

'We have long passed the Victorian era, when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.' W Somerset Maugham