I have always hated setting off for work while it was still dark, but for Victorians this was just the way it was. You worked for poor wages and usually six long days a week, that would be everyone including young children, they had to work where they could, street corners, maybe dangerous factories which mean’t crawling under huge machines or maybe back breaking work in a field.
So that left Sunday and on that day the family would get up early, wash, dress in their Sunday best and go off to church. A great number of Victorians were habitual church-goers, at least once and probably twice, every Sunday, I have to say even I have done that.
Well myself and my family go off to church every Sunday morning the same as most Victorians, they like my family were Christians and went to church.
For many this was their community, the local church family which tended to be their main source of friends and entertainment. Time then tended to be measured in the church year, Easter, Whitsun, Advent, Christmas etc..
For me, some of this is still true, the sense of community and being is still there and we have friends and my life does revolve around the church year, we do have some fun but entertainment choices are so vast now days. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year…not for the presents or the over extending of our wallets or waistbands but for the beauty that the church can bring to the birth of Christ.
But I think it is fair to say the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt when it came to the Christian faith, they faced the first time that anyone really called into question institutional Christianity on such a large scale, and yet there were revivals not only in Britain but internationally too: the Baptist Revival at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas in 1841; the Wesleyan Methodist Revival in Cornwall, 1849; the Primitive Methodist Revival in Weardale, County Durham in 1851; the Presbyterian Revival at North Carolina, 1857; the Ferryden Revival, Forfarshire, Scotland in 1859; the Moonta Mines Revival, South Australia in 1874; and the Baptist Nova Scotia Revival, 1880 and it is difficult to guess the impact that these movement had to the big institutions like the Church of England or Roman Catholicism but also on the government and people of the time.
Clearly Christian faith inspired many to help others and to work to improve our society.
The Church brought education for all with schools, they also brought football for all with football teams which started from Church clubs from at least 1857. (We also had the world’s oldest football trophy, the Youdan Cup, the first national competition, the FA Cup founded in 1871, and the first ever association football league 1888 as well as England having the first national football team that hosted the world’s first ever international football match, a 1-1 draw with Scotland on 5 March 1870 at The Oval in London.)
But I think it was the reformers that the Christian faith moved to works of great goodness and charity. William Barnardo founded Dr Barnado and along with George Müller cared for orphans. William Booth formed the Salvation Army and helped the homeless, alcoholics, poor and unemployed.
Evangelical Tory philanthropist Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury made a great deal of difference and fought for the protection of children in factories and mines, and later chimney sweeps, for public health legislation and for the proper treatment of what were then called ‘lunatics’ (Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catherine Arnold is well worth a read)
I believe the ideals of the Christian faith had a profound effect Victorian Britain and to some degree they still underpin many of the moral leaning in this age. Of course that didn’t make it perfect but at least it did some good, something that maybe we could learn from in this age of greed and selfishness.