Monday, 18 November 2013

The Age of Imagination - Children's Toys in the Victorian Period.

The Age of Imagination - 
Children's Toys in the Victorian Period.

"He consented to play ball with me. We found two in a cupboard, among a heap of old toys, tops, and hoops, and battledores and shuttlecocks." (qtd. in Brontë: 201)

Like many aspects of Victorian society, the divide between the wealthy and the poor children becomes apparent not only in the clothes they wore, or the places that they lived in but also in the toys and gifts that they were given. Children from wealthier Victorian families were lavished with the latest inventions and prettiest versions, while those children living in varying forms of poverty made do with broken cast offs, pieces of wood, scraps of metal  or bits of used paper. One thing remained the same for both sets of children however. Though they had to work hard, either with their lessons or to earn money, time was always given for play. The imagination was deemed an incredibly important part of development and lifestyle within the eighteen hundreds, not only for children but for adults too. A sense of freedom and excitement was associated with having  "had no longer [my] imagination under control" (qtd. in Brontë: 25) Many children were influenced by the new muses of the century like architecture, railways and convoluted mechanics. Both classes of children embraced the indoor and outdoor games that became popular during the century, the only difference was what they were playing with. Browning recalls how "Out came the children running./ All the little boys and girls,/ With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls." (qtd. in Browning: 36) Some of the most popular toys and games of the nineteenth century can be discovered below.

Clockwork Pig and Rider from V&A Museum
The Wealthy Boys Wind-Ups and Whistles
As the industrial revolution reached its peak, toys became ever more intricate and mechanically detailed. Boys born into wealthy families were indulged with a huge variety of clockwork models and fully functioning mini replicas. This clockwork pig and it's rider pictured here were produced on mass in the late eighteen hundreds and were incredibly popular in England. When tuning the key found in the pig's stomach it would rear up, buck and jump forward. Though it is perfect in likeness to a pig,  the imagination is sparked by the naughtiness and obscurity of actually riding one. This particular 'Wind-Up' seems incredibly contradictory to the stern and regulated upbringing that many upper-class boys were subjected to. It appears to encourage some form of bad behaviour. For the inventors of clockwork toys what it inspired was not of great importance; for them the importance lay in how complex but also how realistic they could make them.
Clockwork Boat from V&A Museum.
It was not only the new mechanical influence that young boys imaginations were stimulated by.
Silver Whistle from
 Museum Victoria.
Whistles were also given to boys at their christenings. They were heavily detailed and 
moulded out of silver. This tradition coincided with the invention of the train. It must have been fascinating as train lines and their engines began to spread a web across Great Britain. For those boys who were even lucky enough to ride on one, the whistle became an essential part of their day to day play. Every little boy wanted to direct the trains.

Houses and Horses for Higher Class Girls
Dolls House from the V&A Museum.
As architecture reached new levels in eccentricity and design, dolls houses became increasingly popular among girls with families who could afford one. They were often bespoke to the child and elaborately furnished. Imitations of their own houses or well known places were also fashionable. As the eighteen hundreds progressed they became bigger and more detailed and also more expensive.
Earlier Dolls House from
the V&A Museum.
The two pictured here show the change over fifty years and the influence of architectural design. Perhaps it is worth taking note that both wealthy boys and the wealthy girls toys set to inspire an imagination closely weaved with what they are expected to do when they are older. Playing 'house' and families would have been deemed incredibly important by the parents of young girls, as to marry well and run a household would still have been an expectation. Horses also played a massive part in society at the time. Rocking horses were a must-have nursery and playroom item.  

A Handmade Victorian Styled Kensington Rocking Horse.

Balls and Boats for Boys and The Penny Stall and Paper Dolls for Girls.

"and children, making boats with old tables and chairs, appeared as happy" (qtd. in Darwin: 232)

For children in the poorer parts of society, games had to be played outside and with what they could find. Boats were often made out of wood or metal scraps that they found whilst playing on the streets; the only requirement was that it could float. Football, and other ball games, were also particularly popular with poorer children. It is said that many played with blown up pigs bladders from the local butchers.
Paper Doll from the V&A Museum.
Paper was also accessible for children in the Victorian working. Though the doll pictured here would have been purchased by a wealthier family for their daughter, the paper doll was a simple idea that could be replicated by poorer girls. Though the dolls may not have lasted very long, they were also unique and beautifully patterned and coloured. For most of the lower Victorian society, the majority of toys were homemade or broken cast-offs that have been discovered. In the mid eighteen hundreds however, the 'Penny Stall' was introduced to the streets of London and then copied throughout the rest of Great Britain. Small and new mass produced toys were now available as the occasional treat for those with little money. For the child living in poverty, it must have been incredibly exciting to purchase something brand new and especially for them.
Though class played a huge part in how the child was brought up and the toys and games they had, to the children this would not have mattered. The imagination  sparked by either a piece of wood or an elaborate dolls house would have been much the same. It was the imagination of invention but also the 'make-do' attitude of the Victorian period that truly pushed the boundaries forward for children's toys and games.

Works Cited

Brontë, E. Wuthering Heights. London: The Thames Publishing Co., Undated.
Browning, R.
Selected Poems. Ed. Daniel Karlin. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2004.
Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum of Childhood and Moving Toys Gallery. Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Permanent Exhibition.
Museum Victoria.
Childhood and Youth Collection. Musuem Victoria, Melbourne. Permanent Exhibition.
The Kensington Rocking Horse Company.
Victorian Rocking Horse. 2013. Web Page. 18 Nov 2013 <>

Darwin, C.
Voyage of the Beagle. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1939.
Victorian Britain: Toys and Games. 2013. Web Page. 18 Nov 2013. <>

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