Viva the Victorians

Hello, friends! When I last posted, I had just arrived in England and was feeling both stunned (about finishing Rivals in the City) and exhausted (by finishing Rivals in the City). But this week, I’m mostly full of glee. If you’ll permit me, I’m going to defer my post on the long-drawn-out writing of Rivals and talk a bit about what I’ve been doing, instead.

I’m on holiday! In northern England! During a heat wave! It’s been gloriously sunny and warm for 3 days in a row, which is outrageous by local standards. I had fish and chips for dinner last night. The news is almost entirely about Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory. And today, we went to a museum that made me shiver with excitement: the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

One of the reasons I love Manchester is because it’s such a Victorian city. Yes, it was founded some 2000 years ago by the Romans, and there are the ancient ruins to prove it. But its period of massive, intensive growth came during the Industrial Revolution. When you walk around the city today, most of the evidence of your eyes is solid, red-brick, Gothic-nostalgic, science-and-engineering driven proof of Manchester’s own belle époque.

Let me hastily acknowledge: much of the social and human history of that belle époque was entirely the reverse of beautiful. But feast your eyes on this!

This is just a small number of the many engines collected in one of the Museum’s several vast buildings. Entirely appropriately, the Museum is located in a former industrial district. It features an historic train station. An 1830 red-brick warehouse. An entire building devoted to airplanes and bicycles. Another dedicated to trains. Underground exhibits about gas and waterworks. And a gruesome recreation of an impoverished man dying, painfully, during the 1830 cholera epidemic. Among other things.

It also has a number of exhibits still being developed. Behind one of the fenced-off areas, I found this first-class carriage from the old Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It’s tiny and lovingly polished, and if you peer inside, you can see six very comfortable-looking plush upholstered seats per compartment:

Now, turn your attention to the next carriage: a second-class car on the same railway, from the same period.

It must have been bitterly cold for most of the year. And look at those bent metal rods, presumably for safety!

I love these hard and shallow wooden benches. They weren’t the least bit subtle about the class difference, were they? And this is an updated version. The second-class carriages didn’t have any overhead shelter, initially, and the third-class carriages remained what were called “open trucks”.

Midway through our visit, I was amused to realize that I was dragging my family around the Museum, exclaiming with delight, agonizing over which exhibits we’d have to miss (entire buildings’ worth!), and what else might be lurking around the corner. We’d originally gone for nostalgic reasons (my husband went as a child) and because we thought the children would enjoy all the vehicles.

But I’m going to have to return for me alone: I may have just finished writing my last Mary Quinn novel, but my obsession with Victorian England shows no sign of abatement.

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6 Responses to “Viva the Victorians”

  1. Love these train cars, Ying.

  2. MelodyJ says:

    Thanks for posting this. It sounds like you and your family are having a great time. I love all the pictures. I want to know more about your trip.It’s really interesting that you mentioned the class differences in transportation. Just yesterday on the news they were talking about the plane that crashed in San Francisco. The people who had the spinal injuries were in economy class. they ones who walked away with little to no injuries were in business class. The difference economy class has lap seat beats only and business class has the across the chest seat belts. I was thinking even today your life’s worth is tied up in how much money you have.

  3. Cass says:

    I agree with Melody. Thanks you for the news and the awesome pictures. I think the difference in the standard of life is just as obvious as it was when those train carriages were in use. The lines are just a little more blurred these days. The transition between the classes is a little easier but the classes are still there. I think when you look at the world, the easiest spot to the three (classes) are in third wold countries. The poor live on the street with little to none means to support themselves and they end up working for an unfair wage, in horrible work conditions, so that they can keep food on the table. The middle, working class work hard every day, they live comfortably but on a budget. They see the injustice around them and do their best to help but if they hit hardship they must focus on keeping their families alive. The first class donate to charity because society says that if you have money you must use it to help other people. But the money they are donating comes from the businesses they that employ and under pay the poor. So really if they payed their employees properly and maintained their workplaces they would not have the money to donate.
    So yes I agree with Melody. To some extent your life’s worth is tied to how much money you own.

  4. Ying says:

    Thanks, Leanne! And Melody, that is fascinating; I hadn’t read the details about the crash. Have you heard any talk about full harnesses for all passengers, or will we all just pretend that detail never emerged? And Cass, I agree with your extension of the comparison. We expect all first-world children to attend school full-time until 16 or 18, but we’re happy to buy clothes made by child labour in an impoverished country.

  5. Harriet says:

    I would recommend ( in Norfolk east anglia England ) Bressingham steam museum- got steam trains and carousel-amazing! And Kentwell hall also suffolk England does Victorian days- and Tudor days out!!

  6. Ying says:

    Oh, these all sound excellent – especially the Victorian and Tudor days out!

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