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Top 10 Disturbing Facts About Victorian England

Written by Kimberley Payne Think you know your Victorian history? Think again. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 most disturbing facts about Victorian England. For this video we’ve oggled the annals of history and heritage to serve you some of the most shocking, eye-watering and downright disturbing facts about Victorian England. Special thanks to our user WordToTheWes for submitting the idea on our interactive suggestion tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Disturbing Facts About Victorian England

Think you know your Victorian history? Think again. Welcome to WatchMojo UK and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 most disturbing facts about Victorian England.

For this video we’ve oggled the annals of history and heritage to serve you some of the most shocking, eye-watering and downright disturbing facts about Victorian England.

#10: Filthy Streets

No matter how factually accurate a film or TV show set in the Victorian era claims to be, chances are it’ll never show us main characters wading through heaps of horse manure. But that was the reality for a lot of people. With hundreds of thousands of horses in London alone, and young children hired to scoop up the dung as best they could, the problem proved perpetually hard to beat. As the streets were also covered in mud and litter, you can only imagine the smell and the sheer horror that walking from one place to another must have triggered.

#9: Meat Face Masks

People have done, and still do, some crazy things in the name of beauty. And in Victorian times, beauty regimes were not for the faint of heart. Strange face masks were a typical part of skincare routines, aiming to maintain a person’s complexion and keep their youthful looks. One mask forced the user’s face to sweat throughout the night, another claimed to let poisonous gases out but, weirdest of all, some wearers would willingly strap raw meat to their face. Even if it didn’t restore youthful skin, it certainly turned heads!

#8: Grave Diggers

Graveyards were kinda cramped in Victorian times, and because so many people were often buried in one place, the most recently buried could be only inches from the ground above. And since they were so easy to get to, grave diggers were often tasked with digging up the bodies, and pinching possessions - even going so far as to break down the coffin and sell it on as firewood. Grave digging was an accepted fact too, with diggers regularly discarding unwanted bones around the burial site they’d just pilfered. They weren’t known for being polite, clearly.

#7: Workhouses

A more infamous fact than others, those in the Victorian era without jobs or a place to live could be housed in workhouses. There, along with orphaned children and anyone deemed physically or mentally ill, they lived in horrible conditions and were forced to work harsh jobs for long hours. And while some film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” do make light of the ruthless reality, living in these places was definitely not a song and dance. And despite various reformations to existing Poor Laws, the houses proved little more than prisons.

#6: Surgery

The thought of having surgery can make lots of us feel uncomfortable. But be thankful for modern medicine, because Victorian surgery was hellish in comparison. First off, there was usually a bunch of students overseeing, but bringing all kinds of dirt and germs to the operating table - as nothing was sterilised. But worst of all, without the invention of anaesthetic until the mid-1800s, procedures were as quick as possible but seriously painful. And even though major operations sometimes took less than a minute to execute, the brutal nature of surgery meant that the chances of making it out alive were slim.

#5: The Racist English Gentleman

By day, the stereotypical Victorian gentleman seemed an upstanding sort, pursuing worthwhile professions in law, medicine and politics. But many also gathered for evening groups like The Cannibal Club, to indulge some outlandish beliefs. In the Cannibal Club’s case, they didn’t actually live up to their name… But they did encourage widespread racism based on the idea that some humans had more superior ancient ancestors than others, and that they should be lauded in the present. They also believed you could deduce whether someone was a criminal by measuring their skull. Which says it all, really.

#4: Child Labour

A child’s childhood throughout the 1800s was quite different to what we might expect today. Wealthy children were predominantly raised by a nanny, while children in poorer families were typically sent out to work as early as possible, even at ages four or five - and especially once the Industrial Revolution kicked in fully. As such, a lot of kids didn’t receive much of an education, instead spending their time employed in dangerous factories, down equally dangerous mines, or as chimney sweeps… The list goes on. The death rate was alarmingly high, meaning life expectancy was despairingly low. Don’t take modern life for granted, kids.

#3: Death Photography

As we’ve already seen, the Victorians are well-remembered for the more macabre elements of their society. The new-fangled art of photography wasn’t particularly common back then, but they did enjoy a nice family portrait - if they could afford it. Only, a lot of these snapshots were taken after someone had died, and the recently deceased would actually be in the picture. Death photography proved an especially gruesome cultural trend, wherein dead bodies were posed and made to look like they were still alive - with their eyes either propped open, or painted on afterwards! Creeped out yet?

#2: Female Hysteria

In a time before the Women’s rights movement gathered serious pace during the late-1800s, if ever a Victorian woman acted in any way unexpectedly, or showed any form of dissatisfaction, they were diagnosed with Female Hysteria. Doctors argued that the stress of female life caused it, and the grounds for diagnosis were so broad that one physician wrote a seventy-five-page list of possible symptoms. The treatment was equally as insane. Female Hysteria sufferers could be kept in mental hospitals, given a hysterectomy, or they might receive a pelvic massage from their doctor, supposedly to speed-up recovery.

#1: Contaminated Food

Clearly, Victorian England wasn’t the cleanest of times. Rivers were often thick with sewage which meant filthy drinking water, leading lots of people, including children, to drink beer instead - because it was cleaner. But contaminated food was an even bigger issue. Chalk was used to make bread whiter, boric acid was added to milk to dull the sour taste, and arsenic was found in far more food products than it should have been. Traders often added inedible ingredients to make food cheaper to buy, and more profitable to sell. Essentially, every meal posed a massive risk. It’s a wonder anyone survived, really.

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