Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Victorian encounters with India and its influences

Victorian encounters with India and its influences
Victorian history is compiled of numerous encounters with the Middle East and Asia. Whether it was the spices and fine materials of India or the Statues of Nineveh,  Victorian Britain's history was partly sewn with theirs. In today’s society the spoils of the east are easily accessible to the British public, through food, culture and public displays of patriotism, such as coronations, the showing how the influence the east has had on British  culture, history and the growth. In this blog I will be showing you what we brought over from India and how having a this colonial relationship some may consider dictatorship influenced the face of the victorian era.
Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 19.23.49.png
Figure 1: The Kohinoor Diamond
During the 150 years of British rule over India, they attempted to europeanise India, also known as ‘Hindustan’, however my real interests are in those Indian treasures  taken for the crown jewels. Queen Victoria became the empress of India in 1877, even though having never visited India. Ever since. the British way of life has changed dramatically through influences of  Indian materials. Whether it be the Kohinoor diamond “taken from him and placed in Queen Victoria’s crown jewels, never to be returned.”Apter, or the culture and fine materials  and patters of India the British used in their materials.
Indias history and strong worldwide influences date back to the 1400’s. India was one of the richest countries in the world, however the superpower came close to crumbles and ruins, with wages plummeting as much as 10 times below the average English mans. As “... In Asiatic empires we are quite accustomed to see agriculture deteriorating under one government and reviving again under some other government. There the harvests correspond to good or bad government” Marx (pg.2) therefore deterioration of trade materials occur and therefore their economy sunk. Poverty soon led to cheaper trade for the British. Following on from India's poverty, the British filled England with the echoes of India. 
India has been a hit in English Literature, whether it be Jane Eyre’s proposal to move to India with her missionary cousin and learn hindustani (the Indian language)  or “in both Chaucer and Shakespeare” (H.G Rowlinson) people of the Indian origin were being characterized as merchants. Britain before the Victorian era had a high level of correspondence with the Indians however in the Victorian era things took a turn for the way trading occurred, not only did the Brits purchase Indian goods, they later on sold it back to them for a higher price.The prices of trade reducing ment britains business were on the rise as trade was the heart to conquest.
Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 15.35.30.png
Figure 2: The Patheon Bazaar
Bazaars were introduced as a sign of trade brought from India. Bazaars, also known as common shopping centres or markets became a big hit in Britain during the Victorian times. Traditionally brought forward by their encounters with Indian shopping.   Bazaars were introduced in the beginning of the 19th century and became a fascinating new retail space for the British who had never travelled to Middle Eastern countries before. “Unlike arcades, bazaars were defined by their spatial openness and by their multifunctional spaces: many also included winter gardens, picture galleries, tea rooms, and other spaces for other popular entertainments, such as dioramas and panoramas.” Dobraszczyk provides a description about what India offered in an architectural sense. For the reason that the lower and middle class were not able to travel to India; the architectural exploration of the Bazaars as such as the pantheon Bazaar shown above created a sense of excitement and a notion of time travelling.According to The Illustrated London News, was a ‘gem-lighted hall’ with ‘golden and silvery light’ that was even more magical at night when lit by gas lamps. The influence the the Indian decoration had on the middle class was magestic to them as for them a normal Victorian market did not uphold the theme of grandeur. 
Figure 3: A photograph of Tiverton, Market Place.
As shown in the picture above; Victorians had a structural way of life and some may say given limited entertainment. Their idea of a street market seemed dull to many,labelling it as nothing else but a chore.Bazaars and exhibitions, as such as the Great exhibition of 1851, opened by Queen Victoria herself in Hyde park; sparked interest towards the Indian way of life as the British as mentioned before had little insight of what was occurring in India, even though, ironically, they shared a queen .Indias finest fabrics embedded with rich cultural patterns were brought for sale and for the general public to view. Felix Driver spoke about the publishing of the “first of a series of eighteen albums containing 700 mounted samples of indian textiles, together with details of the length, width, weight, and cost of the fabrics”(pg.353). Not only was the guide on textiles (figure 4.) offered, he also included “photographs indicating how they were actually worn.” (pg.353). This shows that the British even adapted to the garments appearance from the Indians.
Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 01.15.35.png
Figure 5: Flat patterns on wallpaper
Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 00.37.37.png
Figure 4: Grammar of Garments
 Flat patterns,flowering plant designs and paisley had a major impact on British business manufacturers,Indian embroidery and paisley soon took over every retailer and most households becoming the “the nucleus of a Museum of Manufactures.” Driver (pg.357) Flat patterns were often used for wallpapers around the house and on furniture created a vibrant and exotic feel for the Brits.
Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 01.27.47.png
Figure 6: Cashmere shawls in fashion plates from Costumes Parisiennes, 1801-1811
Paisley pattern was most common on shawls females adorned themselves with.“The beautiful Indian shawls and scarfs” (pg.7) are mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, North and South. She describes it as a rare item and that people “had set her heart upon an Indian shawl.” The shawl was used as a sign of wealth and showing off amongst women as Gaskell mentions a female character being “quite envious when she hears of Edith having Indian shawls.”. Mirroring Gaskells portrayal of the shawl For many it exhibited their wealth and cast as textiles were very expensive when first introduced. Indigo was an influence from the Indian lands as it was not a colour in Britain at the time. Many females were fascinated and eager to purchase a object of clothing with the new colour from the ‘exotic’ country of India.
   It came as no surprise that these materials were used in such abundance, as the British not only ruled India but also adored the gains that came with it. Thomas Wardle was the son of a silk dryer and soon became one of the famous importers of silk; where then he imprinted designs on them. “He also perfected the dyeing and printing of tusser, the wild silk of India.”(V&A). With the Victorian general public getting their hands in the Indian bowl of discovery, many became influenced by the indian culture; even leading to lifestyle changes as such as Wardle’s.
Yet with all that the British gained from India, the question remained, did India gain much from Britain, where they influenced? The start of the British influence began with a political background therefore the politics had a major impact on the Britishs leading India  and becoming the centre of world politics. The importation of goods were not enough for the British. They also started importing soldiers to fight their battles. On the right the image is of  “Indian troops at Portsmouth in 1882 waiting to be shipped to Egypt to tackle a rebellion against British rule. The British relied heavily on Indian troops to enforce their military power.”(National Archives) The battle for constant power, consisted of the Indians fighting for the Brits for over 60 years; however all this came to an end when the Indians finally stepped up and became an independent government.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.45.17.png
Figure 7: Indian troops at Portsmouth in 1882 waiting to be shipped to Egypt to tackle a rebellion against British rule.

The British Raj plummeted soon after the End of the Victorian era in 1947. However, regardless of the Raj no longer existing; the British have had a severe and lasting influence from their gains of the Indian rule. I hope I have portrayed Victorian Britain's cultural and living shift, as such as their clothing, bazaars and the political aspect of its influenced aspects from India in the 19th century.


Apter, Kelly. “The Mahrajah and The Kohinoor.” The List. The List ltd, 6 August 2013. Web. 4 December 2014.

Driver, Felix. “The Mobile Museum: Collecting and Circulating Indian Textiles in Victorian Britain”  Project Muse. Volume 52. (2010): Print.

Dobraszczyk, Paul. “Victorian Bazaars” Ragpickinghistory. 11 May 2011. Web. 3 December 2014. 

Gaskell, Elizabeth. “North and South.” London: Vintage Classic. 2008. Print.

Hooper, John. “Exuberance of Early Victorian Carpet Design.” Blogger. Google, 2 January 2012. Web. 6 December 2014. <http://thetextileblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/exuberance-of-early-victorian-carpet.html>.


Bronte, C. “Jane Eyre” London: Penguin, 2006. Print

Marx, Karl.”The British rule in India.” Marxists. 10 June 1853. Web. 1 December 2014.

“Living in the British Empire: India.” The National Archives. Web. 2 December 2014.

Rawlinson, H.G. “The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland” Volume 2. (1947): Page(s) 142-150. Print

“Style Guide: Influence of India.” Victoria and Albert Museum. Web. 2 December 2014.
Figure 1: The Kohinoor Diamond.

Figure 2: The Pantheon Bazaar.

Figure 3: A photograph of Tiverton, Market Place. London.

Figure 4: “Indian no. 3” in The Grammar of Ornament, by Owen Jones. London: Day and Sons, 1856. © V&A images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Figure 5: Flat pattern Victorian allpaper

Figure 6: Cashmere shawls in fashion plates from Costumes Parisiennes, 1801-1811

Figure 7: Indian troops at Portsmouth in 1882 waiting to be shipped to Egypt to tackle a rebellion against British rule.


  1. This is really good, very interesting stuff. I never thought that India had such a big influence on England.

    1. Thank you Abdi! After writing this blog; I have noticed the influences much more than before.

  2. Good stuff! It is safe to say that during all the stages of reformation and ruling that we have experienced as a nation we have soaked up influences from other cultures (eg. French from Norman rule) and this is just another testament to that.

    1. Its amazing how different cultures lead to forming another! Thank you Lara.