Victorian Houses (KS2): Everything You Need To Know

Front of attached Victorian houses with green doors.
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Image © National Trust Birmingham Back to Backs.  

From their amazing inventions to the reign of one of our most famous queens, the Victorian times are always a firm favourite with children.

And if the typical Victorian house features in their history lessons, why not brush up on your knowledge with our handy guide and dive into history alongside them.

Victorian Housing

A Victorian house refers to any house built during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). During the Industrial Revolution, millions of Victorian houses were built to provide cheap, efficient homes for workers and their families. They all largely followed the same layout and design style, and continue to be a defining feature of many British towns and cities.

Outside

Most houses in Victorian times were either terraced housing or detached buildings, although some of the less desirable were 'back to back' (an example of which can still be found in Birmingham) where the only windows were at the front, and there were no back gardens.

Most were a standard Two-up two-down layout (although some were one up, one down) and they were typically built out of bricks, or local stone, and had slate roofs. This consistency in style was achieved thanks to the development of the railways, allowing easy transportation of materials.

They featured sash windows, that opened by sliding the bottom half of the window upwards (instead of outwards like the windows we have today). And, since glass was cheaper than it had been previously and it didn't matter as much if it was smashed, each window comprised either four or six panes.

Exterior woodwork was often painted in dark colours, like green or purple, and the houses had cellars built in to store coal for the winter.

Inside

Victorian houses tended to have fairly large rooms that featured intricate detailing in the reception rooms and bedrooms, such as dado rails on the walls and mouldings and cornices on the ceilings.

They often featured tiled floors in halls and kitchens, with wooden floorboards in the other rooms, and ornate iron fireplaces in every room.

Victorian toilet cubicles with stone walls and green doors.
Image © National Trust Birmingham Back to Backs

Amenities  

The amenities found in Victorian homes differ, depending on whether you're closer to the beginning or the end of the era, and whether you were rich or poor. For example, at the start of Queen Victoria’s’ reign, only the rich had running water and boilers, however, by the end of the Victorian era, they had become fairly common for all. And although you might think of Victorian houses being lit only by candles, gas powered lighting actually developed quickly during Victorian times and, again, became a common feature in most homes.

As the Industrial Revolution advanced, regulations were introduced to ensure cleanliness and access to basic sanitation, including the introduction of proper drainage systems and waste disposal facilities, like an ash pit or dustbin. Toilets were largely just a 'privy' (a small outdoor shed with a hole over either a pit or a bucket), but the more wealthy had an inside water closet.

Living Conditions

An upper-class Victorian bedroom with floral wallpaper and pictures on the walls.
Image © National Trust Cragside Northumberland

The differences between Victorian houses for the rich and the poor were massive.

Generally, poor people couldn't afford their own home, or the new systems to run them, and lived in environments comparable to slums. They often lived in extremely cramped conditions and, just like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you could find a whole family living in one room. In some areas, you could even find several families occupying one Two-up two-down home.

For these people there were no flushing toilets: often an entire street would share one or two outside toilets, and raw sewage would run through the streets. And with no bath, they would wash in metal tubs in the kitchen, and the whole household would share the same water - you'd definitely want to get in first.

There were often no waste disposal facilities, so rubbish was tipped out into the street, and many Victorian homes didn't have running water. Instead, residents shared communal water pumps, but they were often polluted by the combination of sewage and rubbish that ran through the streets.

It was a different world for the rich, who enjoyed spacious homes for themselves and their servants. Most middle to upper-class Victorian homes had a fireplace, with coal fires, in every room, underground sewers for waste disposal and running water in the kitchens. They enjoyed indoor flushing toilets, gas lighting (later even upgrading to electric lighting) and a warmly decorated parlour or drawing room, with curtains, patterned wallpaper, rugs, paintings, ornaments and plants.

Activities

If you want to bring everything you've learnt about Victorian homes to life, why not try out these fun and engaging activities with the kids and see how many Victorian facts they can remember?  

Compare and contrast. Find pictures of a Victorian home and a modern home - can children identify all the differences?

Spot the anachronism. Hide items that would be out of place in a room from each era - for example, a flushing toilet in the Victorian slums, or a water pump in a modern kitchen - will kids spot what shouldn't be there?

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

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