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Consuming Passionsr

Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain

Judith Flanders

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Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was put up by Thomas Cubitt, the greatest spec builder of the era. He was the son of a carpenter, and started out on small projects before building houses for nobility. After working on country mansions, Cubitt developed 8 hectares of what became Belgravia for Earl Grosvener, most of Pimlico, and more than 100 hectares south of the river in Clapham.

Cubitt rebuilt Osborne House, the royal family's home on the Isle of Wight. Nearly two centuries later, Albert and Victoria's great-great-great-great grandson Charles married Cubitt's descendant Camilla Bowles.

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(Cubitt's son George was a Tory pol who was ennobled as Lord Ashcombe. His grandson, the third baron, was the maternal grandfather of Camilla. She also has a royal descent, from Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond, the illegitimate son of Charles II and his French mistress, Louise de Kerouaille.)

In an age where drinking water came from the same rivers that were used as sewers, small beer was the standard drink for all ages, including children. In traditional beer making, the mash was used three times. Each successive batch of beer was weaker than the one before, as fermentation declined owing to the reduced quantities of sugar in the mash. The third batch, called small beer, had virtually no alcoholic content at all.

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Josiah Wedgewood recognized the power of 'celebrity' endorsement. He gave private advance showings of new designs to social leaders and collectors. "Suppose you shew him some of the Vases & a few other Connoisieurs not only to have their advice, but to have the advantage of their puffing them off against the next Spring, as they will, by being flattered agreeably, as you know how, consider themselves a sort of parties in the affair, & act accordingly". More books on Business

In 1773 Catherine the Great of Russia commissioned a huge service for state dinners - a 680-piece dinner service and a 264-piece dessert service plus sundry tureens and bowls. Each piece was to hae the image of an actual county house or palace. The cost was enormous, not for the manufacture, but for the artists to be sent round the country for the drawings, and then for the 1200 drawings to be worked up so they cd be transferred to the dishes. But Wedgewood had a cunning plan to recoup the cost. He exhibited the service and charged admission. He feared that some nobles might be offended that their homes were only on smaller dishes, but in fact they made repeated visits, bringing their friends to point our their lasting fame.

Wedgewood pioneered sales methods. When his reps called on clients who were slow to pay, they also showed them samples of new wares, to demo what they cd have when they'd paid up. He would show new lines to selected clients, at a discount to the retail price when they reached the showrooms. He introduced inertia selling by sending parcels of his products - some worth £70 - to aristocratic families across Europe (spending &poud;20,000 - the equivalent of several million pounds today) on a slae-or-return basis. Within a couple of years he's received payment from all but three families.

Wedgewood's daughter Susannah became the mother of Charles Darwin. (His father was wealthy society doctor and financier Robert Darwin). Darwin married his first cousin Emma Wedgewood (who was the daughter of Josiah Wedgewood, the son of the original JW, and Susannah's brother).

Gordon Selfidge was a master at promotions. Spent up large on newspaper ads when opened his first dept store. His store windows were little scenarios showing goods in use, rather than usual "stuff the window full of everything you hae". And when Louis Bleriot first flew across the English Channel, Selfidge rushed to buy the aircraft, and had it on display in the store the day after the flight.

Govts suspicious of potential criticism or sedition in newspapers so tried to keep them out of the hands of the lower classes by imposing high taxes (4d on a paper that wdotherwise have sold for a penny). But rather than limiting access, it encouraged communal reading. Newspaper societies were formed with people clubbing together to buy papers and magazines. Or you cd go to a pub or coffee house, which kept books and papers for patrons. And then the papers were sent on the countryside, where a doctor or schoolmaster would pay a discounted rate per paper, and then hand it on to another dozen or so local people.

Early postal service handicapped by a rort. Newspapers had to be carried free, so some wd deliberately leave part of inside blank, so people cd write a message there, then hand in the paper to be carried with the mail.

Unexpected side effect of new railways was demand for books to read. In past, coach journeys short, very poorly lit and with passengers packed together so reading very unlikely. But train journeys long, and you sat by yourself in well lit carriages. And, with a lot of people now travelling, there was suddenly a new market for cheap paperbacks which cd be bought at the station.

WH Smith jumped into the railway trade when saw how profitable it was. For a shilling you cd read a book in the bookshop while you waited for the train; for another 6p you cd take it with you, returning it to another WH Smith shop at your destination.

Periodic publication of novels in monthly chapters (supported by paid advertising) meant stories cd be purchased very cheaply by a mass market. Then the same story was republished in a 3 volume set (almost entirely for the many lending libraries that sprang up in early C19.

The shift from seasonal to factory work changed the nature of leisure.

In the past, the social system was based on the aristocracy being the leisured classes. A leisured working man was an oxymoron; he was just unemployed. If the working classes were idle, they wd obviously just use the time to get drunk or commit crimes. So laws passed controlling what you cd do on the Sabbath, and societies formed to keep people on the straight and narrow. Like the Society For The Rescue of Boys Not Yet Convicted of Any Offence.

Thomas Cook originally started organizing rail trips as a way to keep people out of the pubs on Sundays and public holidays.

He quickly extended to overseas organized tours, not only changing the way people toured, but the way they were received. Inns had to be clean, with running water and tea. And they changed their dinner hour to accomodate the English habit of 5pm meals.

On his first visit to Iona he was so shocked at the poverty of the region that he solicited donations from his passengers, raising enough to buy 24 fishing boats and equipment for the community and books for the village school.

A strange invention for travellers called a Claude glass. It was a convex mirror with a set of filters. The tourist stood with their back to a scene, and looked at it in the mirror glass. This made the scene look more like the landscape paintings they were accustomed to. The different filters could 'show' you the scene as if at different times of the day or of different seasons, so you didn't have to get up too early, or travel to the place in a chilly winter.

Oliver Twist was first published 1837-8 in a weekly edition of twelve weeks at 1 and 1/2p an issue. If you were impatient, you could buy a monthly version for 7p, which meant you were 3 weeks ahead of others. Then in 1838 it appeared in the 3-volume library edition, and a ten-part version in 1845. Finally, in 1846 it came out as a single volume.

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