Lasting from 1714 to December 1830, the Georgian era has forever been lauded as a turning point in modern history. With a number of revolutions spanning the globe, philosophy at its peak, and science blasting us into a new and improved era, it is safe to say that a lot was going on. As a number of events wrote themselves into the history books, it was a new and exciting time for the whole world. But, with France entering a revolution inspiring a whole slew of important and poignant literature, and with Peter the Great finding Russia’s new capital of St. Petersburg, it was England that really cemented itself as the true leader, intent on ruling the land and the sea.
However, things were not as rosy as one wants to make out, with the English embroiled in a number of fights and battles around the world. Irritating people from as far away as the USA to their own backyard in Scotland, England was garnering a bad reputation.
The Georgian era, named after the number of George’s that ruled the country, proved ever-lasting, truly making its mark on British history. With Georgian literature enforcing itself among the greats, Georgian architecture still prominent to this day, and politicians emerging with the first Prime Minister taking the top spot, the Georgians were really starting to kick some butt. However, with terrible working conditions and a gigantic divide between the working and upper class at its most prominent, 18th century England was not the beautiful period of British history that we usually tend to believe.
15. You Think You Hate The Dentist Now?
With the dentist being one of the most common phobias among the 21st century movers and shakers, just imagine what it must have been like back in the 18th century. With sugar being such an expensive product back in the Georgian era, the succulent sweetener was only usually available to the upper classes, denouncing that old age stereotype of the poor with black or rotten teeth. Long before pain killers, alcohol was used to ease the pain with no form of numbing gels or anesthesia readily available. As barbers also acted as dentists, conforming to the common practice of ‘killing two birds with one stone’, a trip to the hairdresser’s could also result in a pulled-out tooth. Agonizing to say the least, patients had no choice than to just grin and bear it. So next time you panic over attending that next trip to the dentist, just be thankful that you don’t have to endure the horror that many encountered during the 18th century.
14. Terrible Living Conditions
In the 18th century, the industrial revolution was beginning to take shape, ready to transform Britain into a modern superstar. However, not really making an appearance until the later half of the Georgian era, most of the population was still reeling from the Medieval period, with the rich living it up in the countryside and the poor forced into the ever growing cities and towns. As slum areas grew quickly, cheap housing suddenly became difficult to find. With many families forced to live in single rooms, cellars or even a single bed to themselves, illness and disease became rife. In fact, things were so bad for the working class that drinking water was often contaminated, with left-out garbage and sewage to blame. As cemeteries became completely full, dead bodies left out for all to be seen were a frequent occurrence. Life was certainly not so forgiving, however, at least it wasn’t 17th century England, that’s just another story all together.
13. Will Work For Food
Still as much a problem in today’s world as back then, poverty seemingly never goes away. As the poor got poorer in the Georgian era, the rich most definitely got richer, creating one of the biggest class gaps in British history. To combat this problem, the ‘poor law’ was put into place, designed to give financial assistance to those that most needed it. However, with things not quite going to plan, the poor were often stomped on at any given opportunity.
With the workhouse usually attributed to the Victorian ear, it was during the 18th century that the practice was severely implemented. Designed for those that needed ‘relief’ during the food shortage crisis of the 18th century, the poor were sent to work, with food and shelter as their reward. Often cold, dark and incredibly haunting, workhouses were usually a last resort for many, with strict rules and regulations resulting in the environment being more like a prison than a place of solace. However, with some workhouses providing education and health care, a small number of people did indeed benefit from such ghastly encounters, with a number of religious folk intent on helping those that could not help themselves.
12. Everyone Smelled Awful
Next time you step into your power shower, or reap the benefits of your electric razor, take a moment to reflect on what those poor unfortunate people before you had to disgustingly endure. With the rich able to bathe in hot water by using a large barrel to sit in, the poor unfortunately had to make do with cold water, although this wasn’t as bad as the hot water often caught fire due to the way it was heated.
Typically taken once per week, baths were not the most enjoyable, seen as more of an effort than a chance to relax. With deodorant not entering our lives until the 1880s, it was normal for most people to smell. Women left their body hair untouched, and men doused themselves in perfume to hide the stench, hygiene wasn’t really the top of the agenda in the 18th century, causing a number of unforgiving smells and offending odors. As houses stank of used chamber pots, and women only had a single piece of washable cloth for when Mother Nature turned up, cleanliness in the 18th century was definitely not for the fainthearted.
11. Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite!
Sadly for us, these suckers have been around forever. Festering in our beds and living off humans, the bed bug has become a staple part of civilization, even cementing itself as a well known night time expression. That’s right, we’ve all heard it or at least said it, with the line, “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” becoming a common saying before bed time.
Thankfully not as common now, bed bugs thrived during the 18th century due to the unhygienic living conditions. Though, mostly attributed to the poor, the rich were also infested, due to the heat of their lovely castles and houses being the perfect environment for the blossoming insect. So just how did they get rid of them? With bed bug historians (yes that’s a real thing) claiming that gunpowder was a common tool used to beat the bug, the result often ended in multiple fires— no surprise there. And if you have no gunpowder? Just take a leak all over your bed of course, with the chemicals in urine said to fight off those pesky bugs, this was a common remedy.
Life in the 18th century was difficult for many, with awful living conditions affecting the masses, poverty as rife as it ever was, and hygiene not at its friendliest, it was no surprise to see many turning to the life of drink. Starting as a cure for gout and indigestion, gin was originally sold in pharmacies as a form of medicine. Catching on quickly that as well as curing indigestion, it also got you extremely giddy, gin suddenly became hugely popular. With the added bonus of it being insanely cheap, gin was easily accessible and most importantly affordable. Popping up everywhere from barbers, market stalls to even green grocers, gin became the number one must-have drink, with 10 million gallons of the stuff distilled in London alone.
Taking advantage of its price, factory owners and managers began using gin as a form of payment, instead of giving out a weekly wage, thus becoming known as the ‘poor mans drink’. As its popularity rose, so did the negative connotations, with doctors claiming that it made men impotent and women sterile. Associated with the working class, the drink was seen as the devil’s water, labelled ‘mother’s ruin’ by a number of local scholars and artists of the day.
Painting the now famous ‘Gin Lane’, to represent the atrocities that the readily available drink had caused, artist William Hogarth perfectly captured the rising problems of poverty and crime within the 18th century. Deciding enough was enough, the government finally began taxing the dangerous drink, putting a number of crooked establishments out of business, with sales immediately dropping. However, although the distribution of cheap gin had initially been stopped, it only opened the door for the black market, which thrived just as rapidly as before.
9. Careful What You Put On Your Face
As fashion and beauty suddenly became a dominant pastime in 18th century culture, the need to follow certain trends and traditions suddenly became much more dangerous than originally intended. With makeup and powder a huge part of a woman’s routine, albeit a rich woman, the rise in lead-poisoning suddenly became extremely prominent. Known as the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, 18th century men and women were taking on new trends, often coming from over seas. Caking their faces with red and white makeup, the lead would often cause eyes to swell, teeth to rot, and skin to grow dark and black. With baldness also attributed to the amount of lead used on the top of their heads, lead-related deaths were also a frequent occurrence. Yes, suffering for one’s beauty was quite literal, kick-starting a common theme among women throughout the upcoming centuries. With corsets, eye-lash curlers, and high heels all forcing women everywhere to succumb to their expected beautiful appearance, the importance for a woman to be beautified has seemingly been around forever.
8. Wife Auctions And Beatings
Tolerated and widely accepted throughout the 18th century, domestic violence was as rife as ever. With husbands legally allowed to strike their wives, this act of violence was deemed as necessary in that it ‘corrected’ their behavior. Don’t worry, though, beatings were only allowed in moderation (as if that’s better), unless they were really acting up. With little to no rights, women were forced to just ‘deal with it’, as men went about their business, doing as they wished. In fact, not only were men often beating their wives at will, wife selling also became a standard part of 18th century life, with Thomas Hardy portraying the practice in his novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. With men parading their wives like cattle, the women would be put up for auction, with the highest bidder receiving his prize. Madness.
7. Flushing Toilets Were A Luxury
With the flushing toilet invented in 1596, the idea strangely failed to catch on. Obviously happy with their floating feces, the chamber pot was the preferred way to ‘release’. However, in 1775 the idea was brought up again, this time with a better design and an overall fancy feel to it. Designed for the rich and famous, the flushing toilet was a luxury among those that could afford it. Much more refined than a chamber pot, the wealthy suddenly had access to comfort and most of all, privacy. However, for the poor, relieving yourself was a different matter all together. Again, with the chamber pot the preferred method of relief, it was what they did afterwards that really displayed the differences between the opposing class systems. Forced to dispose of the stuff, either in the local rivers and lakes, or straight out of the window, the poorer side of England was often subjected to walking into or, even worse, under the falling excrements.
6. Dangerous Working Conditions A Plenty
With more and more people moving into factories rather than working from home, the prospect brought with it a more strict and sometimes cruel way of life. As factory owners and wealthy bosses were intent on making as much money as possible, whatever the cause, workers were subjected to shocking working conditions.
With long working hours a normal occurrence, some workers often racked up 16-hour shifts without breaks and no rest, receiving very little in terms of wages for their work. That’s right, with the typical wage per week around $1, women were given half that, and children earning even less. Yes, as children also worked, they were usually forced into the more ghastly forms of employment due to their small and handy size. Usually put into extremely dangerous situations that often ended in death, children were still only paid a minuscule amount. And if they dared complain? With punishments rife, and violence high, workers were often sacked with no warning or help on finding another place to work.
5. A Pirate’s Life For Me
Ahoy! With the golden age of piracy spanning a number of centuries throughout history, it was during the early part of the 1700s that piracy really kicked off, generating a number of myths and legends that still fascinate many today. When a number of seamen from Europe were relieved of their duty after the War of the Spanish Succession, the seas suddenly became filled with trained yet unemployed sailors. Looking for something to do, the majority of them joined together and turned to piracy.
With the slave trade beginning to make its mark across the Atlantic, and the shipping lanes rife with riches from around the globe, the large boats were often huge and expensive targets. As names like Captain Kid, Black Sam and legendary female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, became famous world wide, pirates were not only feared but also strangely admired. Fading away towards to the beginning of the Victorian era, pirates became a thing of the past. However, with recent cases popping up in Asia and the surrounding islands, it seems the practice never really went away at all— just minus the peg-leg and talking parrot.
4. No Thanks, Doctor
Get ready to be seriously freaked out. Notable for a number of medical advances, the 18th century was a marvel in modern medicine. From John Hunter, now named the Father of Modern Surgery, to the availability of a number of hospitals, Georgian medicine was on the up. However, with a variety of diseases making their way into Britain from abroad, medicine was unfortunately not that prepared when it came to curing and treating new and exotic illnesses. With superstitions still rife, and a number of quack doctors still doing the rounds, people ended up much worse than they had originally started. Renowned for the ‘zoo asylums’, in which the mentally ill were confined into chains and gawked at by paying customers, the practice smeared a huge stain on the history of care for mental illness. From smallpox and open soars, to botched amputations and horrifically scary medical equipment, the 18th century wasn’t as progressive as some like to believe.
3. A Very Questionable Justice System
With the Bow Street Runners, a force of authority founded by a group of young men, London’s answer to the police, England had no other organized police force, leaving it open to a number of deviants. As the victims were left in charge of what to do, things often got drastically out of hand, with death the most common outcome.
However, if they were lucky, the criminal would be caught in the act and swiftly brought to justice. With no police force, the punishment was more than often death, with 200 offences in 1799 carrying capital punishment as the end result. Occasionally, cases would go to trial, but defendants rarely had lawyers present, and people rushed to put ‘kangaroo’ courts into place.
With prison readily available, despite no working police force, those that avoided a hanging were often sent to jail. Languishing among the scariest crooks in England, in the worst conditions you could ever imagine, it was a common occurrence for prisoners to lose their mind and end up in an asylum. Famed for its barbarity, the Georgian era often made an example of those that were punished, displaying severed heads as a warning to others. A world away from crime and punishment of the 21st century, the Georgian law and order was a force to be reckoned with.
2. Nasty Bedroom Antics
With love-making a common theme throughout each decade, the Georgian era was certainly no different. Celebrated as a sexual revolution of sorts, the 18th century saw a turn in social perception, especially after the dark and depressing suppressed sexual era of the medieval period. Everyone was definitely thankful that the act became a more common and less frowned upon pastime between married couples as well as the unmarried. However, it wasn’t all a bed of roses, with prostitution extremely prominent especially in the larger cities, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases were rampant, with a number of men and women riddled with just about everything. Women, as discussed before, were also treated as second class citizens, and therefore any man could have his way with any woman without consequence. And, with severe hygiene issues making their rounds, you can just about guarantee that the odors associated with those bedroom romps were not the most pleasant, especially with the unlikeliness that they would have bathed afterwards.
1. Unappetizing Eating Habits
Not particularly famed for food in general, England has a poor reputation when it comes to palatable delicacies. With the 18th century being no different, the Georgian era was mainly focused on big slabs of bad quality meat, transported around from city to city, open to disease and contamination.
As fruit was only really accessible to the rich, the poor had only the rotten leftovers to look forward to, with illness and infection coming soon after. From soups and salads to pastries and fish, the standard of Georgian food was extremely basic, with the customs and traditions for dinner seemingly much more important. That’s right, with women taking as much as an hour to apply that poisonous lead-based makeup to their faces and hair, meal times for the rich and wealthy were more about showing off than the actual taste of the food.