Victorian Trends That Took Life

The Victorian era is named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This era lasted roughly from 1820 to 1914. However, living in this era wasn’t a piece of cake. Many new inventions took place, things changed substantially, and progress took place. But all these weren’t affordable to all. The ones who could afford it had to pay the price of life. As new inventions took place, few were unsuccessful and resulted in the death of thousands of people.

Let us have a look at the top 20 Victorian trends that were deadly.

1. Makeup Products

Source: Wikipedia

Cosmetic products in Victorian times were more in demand than today. The meaning of beauty changed according to the status in society. The royals and elite class believed in having a natural and delicate-looking face like a rose. On the other hand, it was the opposite for lower-class women.

During that era, pale white face, pink cheeks, and red lips were a fashion statement for the lower class. But, it was difficult for the royals to maintain that fragile look without makeup. Instead, some secretly used these products in less quantity, whereas others began concoction home remedies. Every woman of the town wanted to have that look to gain attention. But the price they had to pay for beauty was much more than money.

These cosmetic products were highly toxic and damaging. They had a very high amount of lead, arsenic, mercury, and ammonia that affected the human body adversely. The women who bought these products were either prostitutes or stage performers. On the other hand, the royals used to bathe in arsenic water and slept with the fats of different animals on their skin. All these products ended up damaging the nervous system and kidney. The mercury products made the skin thin and hence, slowly poisoned them.

2. Photographs With The Dead

Source: pinterest

As strange as it may sound, the truth is that clicking pictures with dead family members was a one of the victorian trends back then. People in Victorian times believed it was necessary to have that one last image with their loved ones. But the problem with this trend was that after the member’s death, they had to keep the body for hours.

Back then, finding photographers was not easy. In such situations, when someone died due to a disease or plague, the body had to be kept in the open for hours, leading to infections and spread of the disease.

3. Toys For Children

Victorian Toys
Source – Harewood

So you must be wondering how can an object made of wood be harmful? But the problem wasn’t the wood, but the paint. The toys back then were made in a variety of colors. Especially during Christmas, a festival of children where they were gifted toys. The demand during this time was the highest. So the problem was, the paint used in these toys had a very high amount of lead and other harmful chemicals.

Lead is a highly poisonous substance, and no amount of lead is safe for the human body. Children are habitual of licking toys, that leads to lead entering their bodies. At such a young age, it damaged their nervous system. It resulted in development problems, behavioral problems, and death in some cases.

The manufacturers’ only reason was that they used lead because it was an excellent chemical to preserve the wood. This resulted in the death of a hundred and fifty-four thousand infants at the age of one every year.

4. Combs And Dresses Made Of Celluloid

Victorian Combs, Jeweler, Collars, cuffs, Billiard balls, made of Celluloid
Source – digital

Back in the Victorian era, Parkesine was the first form of plastic invented in Britain. This material was easy to mold. It is a type of plastic, but it was made of nitrocellulose and camphor. As this material was easily bendable, it was used for almost everything. It looked very rich and similar to ivory. As ivory was costly, and most people could not afford it, celluloid was the best alternative.

Celluloid was used for clothing. Men used to wear collars and cuffs ms like brooches, hair combs, jeweler, lace, and corsets made of this material for women. The Victorian women almost had everything that they wore, made of celluloid.

Celluloid is extremely inflammable material. It burns fiercely, degrades over time, and ends up self-igniting. Women of those times working in kitchens, or even leaning too close to fire with wearing anything made of celluloid could immediately catch fire. There were many cases of women in news burning to death.

According to today’s experts, celluloid is five times more inflammable than plywood. It was an unreliable material. Even billiard balls were eventually replaced from ivory to celluloid. It was observed that with the friction, they would explode.

5. Bathtubs

Source: Candaceinprague

In the Victorian era, the desire to be hygienic had increased the popularity of taking baths in bathtubs. But they were unaware of the significant dangers. There were regular reports of cases where people had got severe sores, skin peeled off and even died in the tub without knowing. In the older period, some tubs were near a burner room, and the servants use to pour hot water in it.

But in Victorian times, the concept changed. There were these huge tubs that had an attached gas burner below them. The guidelines were not clear that came with these bathtubs. There was no mention of how dangerous it could be sitting in the tub with the gas on. It should have been instructed that water should be boiled before you go into the tub. Also, the flame should be not be burning while you are in it. Hence, this caused deaths, and severe skin burns.

6. Bread

Source: british food history

This British staple food in the Victorian trends ended up killing many children. The demand for bread increased with the constantly increasing population. The manufactures took this as an opportunity to earn a profit. Adulteration started with almost all food items, but bread was most harmful. To increase the weight of the bread, they started adding alum and chalk to make it look whiter and heavier.

In those times, the whiter the bread, the better it was considered. But this was the biggest mistake made by the Victorian housewives. The high amount of alum resulted in irregular bowel problems and malnutrition and affected children the most. They started with problems like constipation, chronic diarrhea, and lead to a slow death.

7. Narrow Staircases

Source: Old house online

As the population increased, the size of the house started to shrink. They became narrow. The staircase was overlooked, especially the servant staircases. They were made as narrow as possible and cheap. In the process of cost-cutting, they also overlooked the irregular size and the steepness.

As these servants had to run up and down to serve with big trays and wearing long skirts, it was deadly. There were frequent headlines in the newspaper that read ‘Women broke skull walking down the stairs’ or severely injured.

8. Disinfectants

Source: New york times

As the Victorian era was full of diseases, hygiene was a major concern for all. Consequently, disinfectants were manufactured for the first time. The demand for them was extremely high. Everyone wanted to get their hands on these disinfectants which were made of carbolic acid. The products were heavily advertised in newspapers also.

But the problem with these chemical cleaning products was that, they were packaged in boxes and bottles identical to other household products like caustic soda and baking powder. They were often kept on the same shelf. People were easily mistaken with the same packaging, buying this chemical disinfectant, and using them in their food. There were many cases where people were poisoned and died.

9. Victorian Mangle

Source: Worthpoint

Mangle was a hand crank laundry aid. It was used to squeeze water from the wet clothes. As there were no washing machines, and there used to be a heap of clothes every week, most of the houses had mangles. There were cases where skirts and sleeves would get under these mangles.

Even children ended up with their hands between its wheel. Though there is no such mention of death, there are serious incidents where children and adults have lost their fingers or hands under these machines following this one of the Victorian trends during that era.

10. Baby Milk Bottles

Source: Pinterest

In the Victorian era, corsets were in trend, they also had corsets for pregnant mothers but still, it was a challenge for the mothers to feed the baby. So, these milk bottles were made of glass and had a thin rubber hose, rubber nipple, and porous corks. The inventor of these bottles Mrs. Beeton claimed that the tube and nipples need not be washed as they were disposable.

However, she did not mention after how many uses it should be changed. This lead to bacteria breeding in these tubes and corks and affected the infants. Due to these bottles, the mortality rate was shocking, only two out of ten infants managed to survive to their second birthday. The bottles were later called the ‘killer bottles’.

11.  Bright Floral Wallpapers

Source: smithsonianmag

I am sure everyone has seen these typical wallpaper of Victorian times in either movies or cartoons. They were in a trend and seen in almost all the houses in Britain. They were mostly in floral design and shades of green. The green color was desired by all, was made of arsenic. The wallpaper also had other chemicals which would fake off turning into dust, and easily inflammable.

Researchers have tested this all today, and they there were shocked to see the dangerous content it had. There were cases where children and adults slowly fell ill due to breathing these chemicals. Infants developed lung disease and died breathing this dust.

12. Big Victorian Birds And Animal Fur Hats

Victorian hats made of fur and birds.
Source – Rachelgreenmiller

Victorians were crazy about the fashion of bird feathers or a whole bird sometimes on their hat. The demand for fur and feather hats was increasing day by day. Now you must be wondering that these hats killed birds and animals, but they were not the only ones who were harmed, the makers suffered too.

During the process of separating feathers from the skin or fur from the animals like rabbits, the hat makers used mercury. They believed that the mercury helped the fur to stick together. In this process, when mercury was inhaled, it directly reached the brain and affected it.

13. Corset

Source: Cosplay central

Having a perfectly small waist is a dream of all women, irrespective of the era. Beauty was often defined by the size of a women’s waist. They were so crazy about maintaining their figure that they had a corset for pregnancy also. An hourglass figure is what they all wished for. But the corset was a terrible mistake, and its consequence was ignored.

The long-term effect of wearing these corsets changed the shape of their skeleton. Their ribs compressed and their stomach and liver were cramped. Few physicians believe that these corsets caused tuberculosis, heart damage, liver disease, and much more.

14.  Purified Milk

Source: bhg

Milk being a healthy substance, still was poison for Victorian kids. In today’s time, when milk is tainted, we either throw it away or make cotton cheese out of it. But, as there were no refrigerators back then, there were more chances of milk getting tainted. So to avoid the wastage of milk, there was a rumor that when Boric acid was added to milk, it would purify it and make it last longer.

When tested by researchers today it is proven true. But during that era, it was not specified how much amount of boric acid is safe and how much should be added. People were impressed with the result and noticed that the taste of milk did not change it made it last longer. People started adding this acid on daily basis and hence this resulted in many dangerous side effects. This caused vomiting and diarrhea. Some 500,000 children died in England due to this practice.  

15.  Flushing Water Closet

Source: dkfindout

Washrooms were called flushing water closets back then. But everything about them was wrong. Indoor plumbing was a new concept during this era. They were not very well familiar with the public sewage system. Therefore, often sewers would get full, methane would accumulate and spread in the house. 

As there were gas bathtubs that need to be lighted in the same room, it was dangerous. There have been cases where the whole house was on fire. The Victorians failed to understand the balance between fire, water, and chemicals.

16.  Unorthodox Methods To Treat Women In Asylums

Source – Mail Online

It was mentioned in many Victorian books that there were more women than men in Victorian asylums. The women were sent to asylums for the smallest mistakes. There were some incidents where, if the husband wanted a divorce, and the wife denied it, she would be sent to the asylum.

In the asylums, the physician believed that removing the reproductive organs of a female would improve her mental stability. In this process, several females died due to a lack of expertise of doctors. There are several cases where females became weak and could not move without help.

17.  Unplanned Baby

Source: mimimatthews

Back then, there were no options to have protected sex, resulting in unwanted babies. So the upper class and middle-class ladies started this new trend of giving away their babies to farmers. They would give lump sum money to them and hand over the baby. Some nurses would take care of these babies for money.

Once these parents handed over the baby, they never looked back. However, not all nurses were good. There was a serious case where a nurse named Margaret Waters had a baby farm. She killed a huge number of babies by poisoning them with opiates, suppressed their appetites, and starved them to death. Many babies were found dead in the Thames river.

18.  Victorian Giant Skirts

Big Victorian skirts
Source – The Vintage News

These fancy, giant Victorian skirts were called crinolines. These skirts were absolute fire hazards that may have killed thousands of people. These crinolines wire cages around the women’s waist. Over that, there were layers of fabric that easily caught fire. Some reports claim that over 3000 women died due to the crinoline fire. These hoops were so huge that it was difficult for them to escape the fire.

19.  Corpse Medicine And Dead Human Body Parts For Medicinal Use

Source: aeon

In the Victorian era, it was a common practice of crushing the skull of the dead and making powder for medical purposes. People ate this with chocolates and other food items to avoid the taste. There are also incidents where people have claimed to drink the blood of the dead. People who were hanged or beheaded, their body parts were sold in the market. Women used the fats of these dead people for beauty treatments. This resulted in the spread of infections.

20.  Colors Used In Victorian Dresses

Source: yesterday’s thimble

Emerald green was the most worn color dress by women in the Victorian era. This green dye was made of arsenic. These dresses, when worn, would produce ulcers all over the skin, caused hair fall, blood vomiting, and kidney failure. The women ended up in blisters. The people who produced these dresses were in worse condition than those who wore them. They had to breathe and touch these arsenic-colored dyes daily, resulting in death.

Conclusion

The Victorian era was full of invention and progress. But the number of deaths due to these inventions was more in number. Also, death in this era was very common. If women lived up to the age of 40 years, they would be called old. And the worst part was these inventions did not stop in Britain, they spread in all the western countries and caused death.

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