Stories of Victorian Entertainment - Day of Talks

Talk Heritage
  • Venue


  • Time

    10:30 AM

  • Price

    £15.00 - £17.50

  • Book Tickets

Join us at Southwark Cathedral for a day of talks about the Victorian entertainment.

Victorian Great Britain was a nation of startling contrasts. New building and affluent development went hand in hand with horribly overcrowded slums where people lived in the worst conditions imaginable.

The industrial revolution had increased urban populations, while the expanding middle class was newly rich in both time and money. In addition, the growth of the railways meant that travel to holiday resorts and cultural centres became easier than ever. These developments created an unprecedented appetite for entertainment.

This day of talks will look at different aspects of how the Victorians amused themselves.

From newly created Palaces of Pleasure to the astonishing spectacle of freak shows and the birth of celebrity. We will also discover the elegant 'nonsenses' of Edward Lear and the birth of English Operetta.

If you are interested in the Victorian era then we are sure you will enjoy this day.

Your ticket includes entry to all the talks taking place in the Cathedral Library. There will be a one hour lunch break.

Publications by our speakers will also be available to purchase on the day.

So far the following speakers are confirmed and timings are TBC.

Lee Jackson - Palaces of Pleasure: from Music Halls to the Seaside to Football, How the Victorians invented Mass Entertainment

An energetic and exhilarating account of the Victorian entertainment industry, its extraordinary success and enduring impact.

The Victorians invented mass entertainment. As the nineteenth century's growing industrialised class acquired the funds and the free time to pursue leisure activities, their every whim was satisfied by entrepreneurs building new venues for popular amusement. Contrary to their reputation as dour, buttoned-up prudes, the Victorians revelled in these newly created 'palaces of pleasure'.

In this vivid, captivating book, Lee Jackson charts the rise of well-known institutions such as gin palaces, music halls, seaside resorts and football clubs, as well as the more peculiar attractions of the pleasure garden and international exposition, ranging from parachuting monkeys and human zoos to theme park thrill rides. He explores how vibrant mass entertainment came to dominate leisure time and how the attempts of religious groups and secular improvers to curb 'immorality' in the pub, variety theatre and dance hall faltered in the face of commercial success. The Victorians' unbounded love of leisure created a nationally significant and influential economic force: the modern entertainment industry.

Lee Jackson is a Victorian enthusiast, creator of the popular online resource on the social history of Victorian London,, and currently working on a PhD entitled 'Dickensland'. His book 'Dirty Old London' (Yale University Press, 2014) was described by The Times as 'a tightly argued, meticulously researched history of sanitation that reads like a novel' and by the Lancet as 'a triumph of popular scholarship'. His latest book 'Palaces of Pleasure: How the Victorians Invented Mass Entertainment' (Yale University Press, 2019) covers topics as diverse as the origins of modern public house, football, music hall, the Victorian seaside, dance halls and pleasure gardens.

Dr John Woolf - The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age

A radical new history of the Victorian age: meet the forgotten and extraordinary freak performers whose talents and disabilities helped define an era.

On 23 March, 1844, General Tom Thumb, at 25 inches tall, entered the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and bowed low to Queen Victoria. On both sides of the Atlantic, this meeting marked a tipping point in the nineteenth century - the age of the freak was born.

Bewitching all levels of society, it was a world of astonishing spectacle - of dwarfs, giants, bearded ladies, Siamese twins and swaggering showmen - and one that has since inspired countless novels, films and musicals. But the real stories (human dramas that so often eclipsed the fantasy presented on the stage), of the performing men, women and children, have been forgotten or marginalized in the histories of the very people who exploited them.

In this richly evocative account, Dr John Woolf uses a wealth of recently discovered material to bring to life the sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, always extraordinary stories of people who used their (dis)abilities and difference to become some of the first international celebrities. And through their lives we discover afresh some of the great transformations of the age: the birth of showbusiness, of celebrity, of advertising, of 'alternative facts'; while also exploring the tensions, both then and now, between the power of fame, the impact of exploitation and our fascination with 'otherness'.

Dr John Woolf is a historian and researcher. He has recently co-written the bestselling audiobook 'Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets'. Having read history at the University of Cambridge, John went on to obtain a PhD on nineteenth-century freak shows. Since then John has developed the BBC4 series 'The Real Tom Thumb: History’s Smallest Superstar', has featured on the BBC4 documentary 'Dwarfs in Art' and was Assistant Producer for 'Queen Victoria’s Letters: A Monarch Unveiled'. In 2017, The Wonders was awarded the Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Prize for the best proposal for an uncommissioned first biography.

Visit his website here:

Ian Gledhill - The Gilbert and Sullivan Story: The Birth of English Operetta

In the 1860s the British musical stage was dominated by the operettas of Jacques Offenbach and his French contemporaries.

However, French operetta in its original form was considered too risqué for British audiences, and the shows had to be bowdlerised to a considerable extent.

It was the unique partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan that produced a home grown answer to the French which was free of "anything that could give the slightest offence".

Ian Gledhill began his career as an engineer, designing extensions to the London Underground. However, most of his working life has been spent in the theatre, mainly in opera and musical theatre, as a director, set designer and opera translator. Ian has also worked in television, music publishing, travel and tourism.

Ian has over 20 years experience in giving talks on a wide range of subjects, and is a accredited arts society lecturer.

Jenny Uglow - Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

Moving and fascinating’. TLS Books of the Year.

We know Edward Lear as a genius of nonsense, full of shocks and surprises, and as a poet of strange loves: the Owl and the Pussy Cat, the Duck and the Kangaroo. We may know him too, for his astounding paintings of parrots and owls, or for his luminous landscapes. But do we know that he taught Queen Victoria to draw, travelled alone across the wild Albanian mountains, or waded through muddy fields with Tennyson? Lear lived all his life on the borders of rules and structures, of disciplines and desires. Children adored him and adults loved him, yet somehow he was always alone. This beautiful volume, a fresh and joyful appreciation, follows Lear from his troubled childhood to his striving as an artist, tracking his swooping moods, passionate friendships and restless travels. And, as we follow him, his ‘nonsenses’ are elegantly unpicked – without losing any of their fun.

Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, 2018

Shortlisted for Waterstone’s Book of the Year

Longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non Fiction

Jenny Uglow’s books include prize-winning biographies of Elizabeth Gaskell, William Hogarth and Sarah Losh. The Lunar Men, published in 2002, was described by Richard Holmes as ‘an extraordinarily gripping account’, while Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick, won the National Arts Writers Award, and A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 was shortlisted for the 2014 Duff Cooper Prize. Her most recent book, Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense, won the 2018 Hawthornden Prize for Literature.