Was Victorian life really so grim?

Rosalind Crone reveals surprising truths about the experiences of the urban poor in 19th-century Britain...

Gustave Doré’s famous engraving

This article was first published in the Christmas 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

The most familiar images of Victorian life are bleak indeed: impoverished children working long hours in factories and mines; blankets of smog suspended above overcrowded cities; frightening workhouses run by cruel governors; violent criminals lurking in the shadows. In black-and-white photos of the period, people both high and low-born are invariably unsmiling – a miserable bunch, surely?

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