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A Brief Glimpse at Who the Victorians Were

Updated on February 23, 2020
Nathanville profile image

I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

George Burgess 1829-1905
George Burgess 1829-1905
Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity (Martin Classical Lectures)
Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity (Martin Classical Lectures)
This hardcover book explores Victorian art, opera, politics, religion and their novels to give insight into how the Victorians sense of antiquity, influenced by the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, helped to shape their rich culture of self-expression.

Victorian Culture (1837-1901)

As Seen Through the Eyes of George Burgess (1829-1905)

My interest in Victorian culture is through my great-great grandfather (George Burgess 1829-1905) who was born and lived in Bristol, England for most of his life during the Victorian era. Albeit he spent many years in his youth in America, going there c1844, shortly after leaving school to complete his apprenticeship in stonemasonry (Stone cutter) with his brother-in-law, finishing the apprenticeship in a marble works in Philadelphia.

It was in America where he developed most of his interests and beliefs, and learnt the art of phrenology, which later became his profession for 40 years, running the business in the shopping Arcades in Bristol, until his retirement in 1901. He also became good friends with the Middleton family of Washington, keeping in touch with Maggie Middleton for the rest of their lives; her husband, Richard Middleton being a Captain in the 50 N.Y. Engineers during the American civil war.

The Copper and wood Phrenology heads used by George Burgess in his trade
The Copper and wood Phrenology heads used by George Burgess in his trade

George Burgess left America for the last time in 1857 to return home to see his mother for Christmas; he never returned to America and in his diary writes that he ‘ever regrets it’. However he did settle down to married life in Bristol, following his chosen career as a phrenologist; and from the time of his early trips to America kept a scrapbook of over 500 newspaper articles in subjects that was of interest to him, including family life, health and education, humour, poetry, politics and history, religion, science and nature, temperance and Victorian Culture.

He also liked reading and writing. He wrote his own poetry reflecting on the humour and life in Victorian Britain and America, particularly (as a teetotaller) on the tragedy drink causes. He also liked ‘Mother’s Last Words’ by Mary Sewell, which after buying his copy he took great pleasure in copying the story by hand into an exercise book. Later in life he wrote his autobiography in his diary, including his family history and family tree going back to his grandfather c1760.

Much of the writings by George Burgess, and his family photos, have been passed down to me through the generation; it is by studying these writings and scrapbook that I have gained an insight and a wealth of knowledge of Victorian Culture, and from his diary inspiration for genealogy,

Visit my genealogy website to view this historic material in full, and more on Victorian Culture

A Victorian Scrapbook and writings by George Burgess 1839-1905
A Victorian Scrapbook and writings by George Burgess 1839-1905
Family home of George Burgess and his daughters, in Latteridge, near Iron Acton, Bristol.
Family home of George Burgess and his daughters, in Latteridge, near Iron Acton, Bristol.

Mother's Last Words

By Mary Sewell (1797 - 1884)

This very moving story of Victorian street life was one of George Burgess’s favourite reads. A touching story typifying Victorian Culture by Mary Sewell, the mother of Anna Sewell (the author of `Black Beauty').

Mary Sewell was born into the Quaker faith in 1797, and lived at the Blue Lodge, Wick from 1858 to 1864.

She had a great love of poetry and wrote `Mother's Last Words' (which sold millions of copies throughout the world) while living at Wick, near Bristol.

Read the full story of Mother's Last Words on my Nathanville genealogy website.

Mother's Last Words by Mary Sewell
Mother's Last Words by Mary Sewell
Understanding the Victorians
Understanding the Victorians
The expansion of democracy, development of education for the masses and the boom in the print culture played key roles in this period of dramatic change during the Victorian era bringing us into the modern world. This book examines these and other key factors, including politics, economics, class, gender in Victorian Britain to gain an understanding of the Victorian Culture and how it shaped the world into what we know today.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) Campaign Against the Slave Trade

His Profound Effect on Victorian Culture

Although William Wilberforce died just four years before the start of the Victorian era his campaign against the slave trade had a very profound sociological and humanitarian effect on it.

William Wilberforce a British politician, philanthropist, abolitionist and leader of the parliamentary campaign against the slave trade was the driving force behind the abolition of the Transatlantic slave trade and the eventual abolition of slavery itself throughout the British Empire of the time.

The Slave Trade Act received royal assent in 1807 and in 1833 the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act to give all slaves in the British Empire their freedom.

Sadly slavery continued to exist for a few decades, notably in the Southern States of America, although the message of Wilberforce must undoubtedly have rung down those decades and assisted the abolition movements in other countries. And in fact slavery has never been totally eradicated from the world and is still a feature of many societies even today.

George Burgess didn’t specifically write about the slave trade in his diary, but his best American friends who he wrote very fondly of, and stayed in close touch with for life after returning home to Bristol, England, were from Washington and the husband was a Captain in the Union Army. He also included clippings from a few newspaper articles of the time that were anti-slavery stories or made references that were anti-slavery. Therefore, I can confidently conclude that being British, George Burgess views were anti-slavery.

Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (American Civilization)
Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (American Civilization)
Featuring five Victorian American furnishings, hallstands, sideboards, embroidered mottoes, parlour organs and seating furniture this book takes a provocative look at the minds of Americans in the 19th century within the context of culture and society of the times and shows the role these furnishings played within the context of class, gender and place in society e.g. as symbols of status.

Clovelly Village

Step Back In Time to a Victorian Village in North Devon

Below is the video of our day trip to this most picturesque village.

Clovelly is the only privately owned village in England, and has been privately owned by the same family since 1738; a living village kept in the style of Victorian Britain.

While on holiday in Devon and Cornwall a few years ago we made a visit to Clovelly, finishing our day trip there with a Devon cream tea (scones with cream and jam) in one of the restaurants at the bottom, by the quay.

There are a few places where I can get a feel for what it may have been like for George Burgess living in Victorian Britain, the shopping Arcades in Bristol where he ran his phrenology profession is very much as it was, as is his home in Iron Action when he was working in the Arcades. So to be able to walk down the streets of a Victorian Village like Clovelly certainly helps you to visualise a glimpse a part of Victorian Culture as George Burgess might have experienced it.

Location Map of Clovelly Village

Clovelly village:
Clovelly, Bideford, Devon EX39, UK

get directions

Only privately owned village in England, kept in the style of a Victorian Village, a great way to step-back-in-time when holidaying in Devon.

The Age of Steam Trains

The First Major Revolution in Transport Since Horse Power

George Burgess was born in 1829 above the railway tunnel in Staple Hill, Bristol. This would have been in the very early days of steam trains in Britain. When I was a child the line was still in use by steam trains; regularly puffing their way along it, with steam billowing up either side of the humpback bridge as I walked to school. I also remember the train station at Staple Hill as I didn’t live far away and my grandparents lived just a couple of streets away.

Now of course, with the cut back in rail transport since the 1960s the line no longer exists; where it once laid is now a cycle track, although the tunnel (above where George Burgess was born) is still there.

Many years ago an artist friend of mine did an artist’s impression (from a photo I took) of what the railway line in Staple Hill would have looked like at the time my great-great grandfather lived above it.

Staple Hill, Bristol c1960s, George Burgess being born in house above the tunnel in 1829.
Staple Hill, Bristol c1960s, George Burgess being born in house above the tunnel in 1829.

Puffing Billy

A Very Early Steam Train by George Stephenson

On holiday in northern England a few years ago we spent two days at Beamish, a living museum of British Culture from Georgian Britain, through the Victorian period and into the Edwardian era.

While visiting Beamish we had the honour and privilege of having a free ride on Puffing Billy, an early steam engine designed and built by George Stephenson; the forerunner to steam trains as we know them, and which became the backbone to public transport in Victoria Britain.

Below is a short video of our joy ride on Puffing Billy, while visiting Beamish.

Location of Beamish Living Museum

Beamish museum:
Beamish Museum, Beamish, County Durham DH9 0RG, UK

get directions

When visiting Beamish you’ll find Puffing Bill at the Pockerley Waggonway; all transport around the site (Edwardian trams and busses) are free.

Polls on People Who Helped Make the Victorian Era What It Was

The Victorian era saw an explosion in culture world-wide. Many people, not all famous, made their contribution. In the polls below are just a few who helped to make the Victorian times what it was?

Which Victorian person of leadership or achievement do you most admire?

See results

Which Victorian writer/author do you most admire?

See results

Which Victorian person of medicine, innovation or science do you most admire?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Arthur Russ

Your Comments

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    • Nathanville profile imageAUTHOR

      Arthur Russ 

      2 years ago from England

      I wish to thank everyone for their comments.

    • jayavi profile image


      7 years ago

      informative lens. great lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • uneasywriter lm profile image

      uneasywriter lm 

      7 years ago

      Great lens on the Victorian era! Thanks!

    • Virginiangare profile image


      7 years ago

      I love Victorian informative lens.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Clovelly is a fascinating place, privately owned. The Victorian age is a wonderful era to explore.

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I love (and collect) Victorian sheet music! :)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      another amazing lens about Victorian times - blessed and pinned onto my history board.

    • theenchantedlan profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens. I really like Victorian Culture. it all started for me by reading Lady Audley's secret :

    • craftycollector profile image


      7 years ago

      Wonderful, far reaching lens, extremy interesting and with useful links.

    • VicPalombo profile image


      7 years ago

      This time always attracted me and do not know why. I love Oscar Wilde.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is so unique, I hope you will keep on developing this lens. :)

    • RobinForlongePa profile image

      Robin Forlonge Patterson 

      10 years ago from New Zealand

      I'd forgotten that my scruffy beard might appear on this great page. I've just created a lens called "Project Charlemagne", describing a wiki mini-project that lists a few thousand descendants of the Father of Europe. Maybe I should write another one concentrating on those who were alive during the reign of their famous not-amused distant cousin?

    • torrydoll profile image


      10 years ago

      I think I found a slice of Nirvana when I arrived at this group! I picked my net name to reflect my Victorian era passions.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      10 years ago from Royalton

      Nice to see that this group made it through the transition to lens. Thank you for including Garner Rix and the Royalton Raid.


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