The summer holidays are almost here! Nowadays, families can enjoy holidays all over the world, limited only by their budgets or perhaps worries about their ‘carbon footprint.’ In Victorian times, the working classes got few opportunities for holidays. Whit Monday was the great workers' playtime, but workers were not necessarily all on holiday at once. Some mill-owners gave their workforce a week’s holiday each year, but others only had one or two days’ annual holiday. Workers scrimped and saved all year for their holidays – if they didn’t work, they didn’t get paid.
Traditionally, workers were limited to local fairs and races during Wakes week. But the advent of the railways meant some lucky workers could now travel much further afield.
One especially grand day out in the summer of 1851 was a visit to the Great Exhibition of Works of Industry of all Nations at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, opened by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on 1 May. At first, its five shilling entrance fee meant only visitors from the upper and middle classes could afford to attend, but on 26 May the fee was reduced to one shilling on Mondays to Thursdays. The lower classes could now join in the fun. The Exhibition was considered educational as well as recreational; railway outings were laid on from the great manufacturing districts such as Manchester and Liverpool.
Lancashire ingenuity was well represented inside. Workers marvelled at the very latest in cotton spinning machinery from firms such as Hibbert, Platt & Sons of Oldham, cotton goods from Manchester, and a scale model of Liverpool Docks.
Image: Nave of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Engraving from Old and New London, Vol. 5, (Edward Walford, c.1894.)