Leisure and pleasure


Detail Grand Theatre Blackpool

For many people, the words of ‘Jerusalem’ sum up Victorian Britain: this was the era of the dark satanic mills, imposed upon its green and pleasant land. However, this image does the Victorians a disservice. Rather than sooty grey and depressing, for many life in Victorian Britain was full of colour, especially as leisure opportunities expanded like never before.

In towns and cities across the country, libraries, museums and art galleries were built with civic pride. Public parks appeared, green lungs for the masses to promenade, play sport, or admire nature. By day, town centres were filled with the tempting delights of shops, department stores, and cafes. By night, theatres and music halls offered live entertainment of all kinds. And at the end of the period the first cinemas arrived.  

The railways offered yet more options. Now workers could cheaply escape, for a day or a holiday. They could visit the spectacular Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. They could also visit the new resorts. Select centres for the middle and upper classes, like Bath, Tunbridge Wells and Cheltenham Spa, had long been established. Now it was the turn of the masses. Seaside resorts like Scarborough, Morecambe and Southend catered for all tastes and budgets. And liveliest of all, was Blackpool, as these images suggest.  

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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