Queen Victoria is known as one of the most powerful rulers to in recent history.
The Victorian age is a period of history as much exemplified by the stoic nature of it’s namesake as the bombastically eclectic selection of grand buildings that were erected during her reign.
During Queen Victoria’s reign, the British Empire was arguably at it’s widest and most profitable. One fifth of the World existed under the rule of Great Britain at the time of her death, with well over a fifth of the World’s population bending the knee to her; she was a ruler obsessed with trade and this obsession led to her commissioning over 600 steamers and nearly 20,000 sailing ships.
These ships, employing hundreds of thousands of men from across the Empire, spent months crossing oceans and baring terrible weather conditions – all for the sake of delivering their precious cargo to other countries of the Empire as well as making the obligatory trip back to London. Although countries like Australia, New Zealand and India benefited greatly from the Free Trade between Empire-ruled states, London remained the centre of Wealth.
The British Empire, during the Victorian age, has often been portrayed as commandeering at best and tyrannical at worst. Despite a string of atrocities that were committed during this time in the name of the Empire, Queen Victoria’s steadfast insistence on expanding her territory was borne out of more than just a hunger for land. England needed resources of it’s own.
Despite England traditionally being an agriculturally focused land, the Industrial Revolution had brought about irrevocable changes to the way that it’s citizens lived and work. As buildings and factories rose out of the ground, thousands migrated away from the verdant green hills of the countryside to the smog-filled mazes of the cities. With the population rising exponentially, it wasn’t long before Britain was beginning to rely on the imported goods from the Commonwealth, in order to feed it’s own people.
Large countries, with small populations, like Canada and Australia soon found that they were producing much more food than they needed. This food, and the profits from the sale of it, eventually found it’s way back to London and would fund building of Britain’s most iconic existing buildings, as well as the grandest of Music Halls that, sadly, did not survive to see the 21st Century.
With the 156-year old Window Tax finally being abolished in 1851, the restrictions that architects and planners alike had to abide by were suddenly not so limiting. An conservatory builder in Manchester could now freely ply his trade out to the rest of the country, without fear of being turned away by building crews – the results of this new found freedom, as well as the wilful creativity of the architects of the time, can still be seen today.
Despite the destruction of such iconic structures as the Bedford Theatre (built in 1899 and demolished in 1969) and The Royal Agricultural Hall (built in 1862 and demolished in 1985), you can still visit superlative examples of Victorian architecture today. Although less associated with the Music Hall tradition than other existing buildings, the Royal Albert Hall remains one of the best examples of the wildly creative architecture that the period has to offer, the National History Museum and the glasshouses found at Kew Gardens are also representative of the period.