In Victorian England, there was a significant increase in factory made products. The demand for these products was also increased as the population grew more than 5 times. Their quality of life was measured by the number of items a person or household possessed.
Victorian households became increasingly more dangerous with new materials being introduced. Manufacturers also wanted to adulterate their products – make their products from cheaper materials and sell them for higher prices.
To show wealth, Victorians would clutter their houses. Colour also showed wealth, with wallpaper being introduced, it was the height of fashion. It was so popular that there were manuals and guides as to which wallpaper you should and shouldn’t buy. The darker and more vivid the colour, the wealthier you were, as the introduction of gas lighting meaning you could afford to have dark rooms.
Green was an extremely popular colour, but there was a hidden downside. Scheele’s green was created by a Swedish chemist, and was by far the most popular colour. As many people began to introduce wallpaper into their houses, suddenly people started dropping like flies. It was all due to arsenic in the colour pigments.
It wasn’t just in the wallpaper, traces of copper and arsenic were also found in books, jewellery boxes, toys etc. The thing that made it all the more dangerous is that the symptoms of arsenic poisoning and cholera are extremely similar. The victim would suffer from agonising abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and oesophagal contractions.There were many cases of children dying from chewing on the wallpaper and ingesting the arsenic, which was fatal.
The wallpaper would peel, allowing chemicals to become airborne. People then would have arsenic entering their respiratory system, slowly killing them. With the windows rarely open because of the pollution, there was nowhere you could escape the chemicals.It was found that there was an average of 2.5 kg of arsenic in the average Victorian middle-class drawing room!
There was a story of a family who had recently put wallpaper up in their house, then started complaining of headaches and achy eyes, so they decided to take a holiday to the seaside. Whilst at the holiday house (with no wallpaper), they felt much better.
As soon as people started picking up on little things like this, it wasn’t long before people put it down to the arsenic. Germany banned the use of arsenic in wallpaper, and many countries followed. Many manufacturers offered to eat it to prove that it was safe.
One manufacturer William Morris, was the leader of the biggest arsenic chain in the world, producing enough arsenic-based wallpaper to kill the ENTIRE planet!
Arsenic was never officially banned, people just stopped buying it and arsenic free wallpaper was introduced.
The next deadly household item only affects women. Wives were considered the “Angel of the Household”, and it was their job to make the house a sanctuary for her husband. The same as nowadays, society plays a big role in women’s lives, placing standards of fashion and beauty on women. Corsets are one of the most famous articles of clothing from the Victorian Era.
The corset was designed to cinch women’s waists and accentuate a woman’s figure. Corsets were one of the five garments that came before outer layers.
(Source: Holly Hess)
First, there were the drawers which were a type of long underwear, with scalloped hems. Then there was the chemise, an under-dress that reached the knees. Next, there was the corset made of whale bones or metal, it was laced by a maid at the back. It was used to create the ideal figure.
Second, there was the corset made of whale bones or metal, it was laced by a maid at the back. It was used to create the ideal figure.
Third, there was the starched underskirt that provided warmth as compared to the less comfortable crinoline or hoop skirt. Only one petticoat was required under the crinoline. A woman might wear as many as six under petticoats at once, depending on the season and other garments.
Fourth, there was the crinoline – a garment which was designed to give more shape to the skirts, and decreasing the layers of the petticoat.
Fifth, was the over petticoat, which was worn over the under petticoats or the hoop skirt.
Lastly, there was the overskirt, bodice and sleeves. These were often in nice colours and provided the most coverage. Women also wore bonnets and gloves to protect their skin from sun damage and to keep it soft.
All that aside, the corsets would cause serious damage to a woman’s internal organs, and to her bones. Women would often have broken ribs from having a corset on too tight.
Some autopsies show that livers were squished up, and even had indentations.
(An image of a liver with indentations from ribs due to wearing a corset. Source: Unknown)
Some woman would keep it on day and night, which was extremely unhealthy. There were corsets designed for pregnant women that had a bump for the baby, but it was extremely tight, and caused significant amounts of damage, and could even kill the child. Women who started wearing corsets again immediately after childbirth caused, even more, damage to their bodies, which would most likely cause a prolapsed uterus.
Wearing a corset causes your breathing rate to double, which can cause hyperventilation which can cause dizzy spells, tingling in fingers and toes and unconsciousness.