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Ten Scenes of Day to Day Life in the Edwardian Era


Sometimes living, breathing history can sometimes be lost in all the facts. The names and dates quickly become stale and boring and other sources are needed to bring it to life. I personally like looking at paintings and portraits of the period to get a glimpse of the past through the eyes of the artists that lived it. The following paintings are scenes of ordinary, day to day existence during the Edwardian period.

reading a book

Reading Outdoors with Cat (Above) Marcus Stone (British painter, 1840-1921)

Marcus Stone was a painter and illustrator and the son of an associate of Charles Dickens, Frank Stone. Marcus was trained by his father and his work appeared in several famous writers books of the period. The above painting shows a woman enjoying a good book in the outdoors. Due to his ties to Dickens, could she be enjoying ‘Great Expectations’? Perhaps she is enjoying some free verse poetry?

playing cards

Pierce, C.C. (Charles C.), 1861-1946 & Collier, Hon. John (1900). “The Cheat” by Hon. John Collier, a painting depicting four people playing cards, ca.1900. University of Southern California. Libraries

Gambling was a favorite occupation of both the upper classes and the lower classes. Titled ‘The Cheat,’ this painting by John Collier is an insight into the views and moral outlook of the times. A game of cards has been disrupted by the accusation of cheating and it is a woman that has done so. It is meant to show the disintegrating morals of the upper classes and that they do not uphold the manners and etiquette they preach. What is a little cheating at cards between friends?

Archers Frith

The Fair Toxophilites: English Archers, Nineteenth Century

William Powell Frith 1819-1909

William Powell Frith painted scenes from all aspects of Edwardian and Victorian life. This scene shows some upper class ladies practicing their archery skills. The Edwardian period allowed women to indulge in sporting activities which had once been seen as not lady-like. Women began to resist the restraints that had once been on them and began to experiment in areas they had not been seen before. Archery was just one of many sports which had once been men’s exclusive domain to interest women in the period and allow them to show themselves physically and mentally capable to compete in sport.

ChristmasDole_ClarkeA Christmas Dole” oil on Canvas, Joseph Clarke

‘Christmas Dole,’ by Joseph Clarke shows a homey scene around the dinner table and the excitement over a freshly cooked Christmas pudding.

Claxton Marshall Soldier's Return

The Soldiers Return, Marshal Claxton, John Noot Galleries

A pleasant scene painted by Marshall Claxton of a soldier’s reunion with his two little girls. It shows the simple fun of Edwardian childhood, depicting a ball and a pull along horse. The older of the two girls appears to be making a daisy chain, while the younger is being bounced on her daddy’s lap.

Tea Party Wilson

Henry Mitton Wilson’s painting shows simple imaginative play. Playing tea party with the dolls is a common childhood experience which I can share with this Edwardian child. The child politely offers dolly the tea, while the doll sits patiently in its fine, tea party clothes.

Young Friends Holmes

Young Friends] ’76
oil on canvas ?-1911.

George Augustus Holmes’s painting shows the bond between a young girl and her puppy. During Edwardian times animals were slowly being seen more as pets as we view them today and less as the work animals they had been seen as in the past.

The Garden Party. Sir James Guthrie HRA PRSA HRSW HROI (1859–1940). Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 inches; 76.2 x 96.5 cm. Signed and inscribed label verso. Provenance: Sir F.C. Gardiner and thence by descent. Private Collection, Scotland. 

James Guthrie’s painting of an upper class family taking their tea outdoors. I love the broad brushstrokes of this painting and the way the silverware appears to shine.

The Sale of Old Dobbin by John Robertson Reid (1851-1926). Copyright Dudley Museum & Art Gallery

I thought I would include this image of poor village life in Edwardian times. John Robertson Reid depicts the sadness of an old man at the sale of his horse. Horses were a big part of Edwardian life, useful for both farm work and for transport, a loss of a horse was a huge blow.



William Powell Frith, The Railway Station,

To contrast the previous image, this is William Firth’s bustling depiction of city life. Everyone is in a hurry and at some form of work. I can spot a baker, a policeman, a newspaper boy, laborers and pickpockets. There appear to be people from all walks of life and classes, all thrown haphazardly together.

Hope you enjoyed looking over ten paintings of everyday life in the Victorian and Edwardian eras with me. I would love you to share with me your favorite paintings of the era and what you do to find the soul and heart behind your research. 

Punk Rock Edwardians


jennie-churchillI recently flipped through a research book dealing with Edwardian women and was struck by a passage referencing the brief and scandalous craze for nipple piercing which swept the ladies of the aristocracy during the late 1890s. Fortuitously, someone on the Victorian mailing list I am a member of posed a question about the validity of this trend. Research by other members led to an internet article in which two books are cited. Author Stephen Kern, in his book Anatomy and Destiny, writes that “‘bosom ring’ came into fashion briefly and sold in expensive Parisian jewelry shops. These ‘anneaux de sein’ were inserted through the nipple, and some women wore one on either side linked with a delicate chain.” In England, “a single Bond Street jeweler is supposed to have performed the nipple-boring operation on forty English ladies and young girls”, and the lady quoted above also confirmed the spread of this custom among the fashionable women of London. A certain Madame Beaumont performed the procedure in Paris, as a young woman and her sister, visiting the Paris Exhibition of 1889, shared:

…a certain Madame Beaumont, who made the performance of the operation a part of her business. We obtained her address, and made an appointment to visit her. We found her occupying an elegantly-furnished apartment in a street leading from the Rue de Rivoli…Madame B’s business is to minister to the little wants and requirements of ladies, such as hair-dyeing, enamelling, corn doctoring, piercing their ears, and occasionally their nipples. She has quite an assortment of gold rings made expressly for this purpose, and she showed us that both herself and her daughter were at the time wearing them

…Madame B has invented an instrument for the purpose of insuring that the perforation is made in the proper direction through the nipple, and without any chance of failure. It is something like sugar tongs in form, but instead of spoons at the ends of the legs there is a pair of small tubes about 1 inch long, and in a straight line with each other, so that when the nipple is grasped between the inner ends of the tubes by means of a screw in the handle, a piercer can be passed through the whole without any chance of deviating from its proper course…

I partially undressed and seated myself on a couch by the side of Madame B, who passed her arm round my neck and held me steadily. Madame B then bathed my right breast for a few minutes with something which smelt like benzoline, and seemed almost to freeze it. She then adjusted the instrument to the niple, and screwed it up securely, and then, almost before I was aware of her insertion, she plunged the piercer through the tubes…

She then unscrewed and removed the tongs, leaving the piercer still sticking through the nipple, the point of the ring being then put into a hollow in the base of the piercer, the ring was passed through the nipple and closed…we spent the next few hours bathing our breasts with camphorated water, which Madame B had recommended us to use…after a time subsided we were able to dress and go about.

In fact many ladies had small chains, instead of rings, fastened from breast to breast, and a celebrated actress of the Gaiety Theater wore “a pearl chain with a bow at each end.” Interestingly enough, these ladies pierced their nipples not only for its purported improvement to the bustline, but for the titillation factor, as acknowledged by a London modiste in a letter to a magazine:

For a long time could not understand why I should consent to such a painful operation without sufficient reason. I soon, however, came to the conclusion that many ladies are ready to bear the passing pain for the sake of love. I found that the breasts of those who wore rings were incomparably rounder and fuller developed than those who did not. My doubts were now at an end…So I had my nipples pierced, and when the wounds healed, I had rings inserted…With regard to the experience of wearing these rings, I can only say that they are not in the least uncomfortable or painful. On the contrary, the slight rubbing and slipping of the rings causes in me an extremely titillating feeling, and all my colleagues to whom I have spoken on this subject have confirmed my opinion.”

Edwardian tattoo instrumentsAnother craze shared by both ladies and gentlemen alike during the Edwardian era were tattoos. Sparked by the Prince of Wales being inked on a visit to Jerusalem in 1862, the trend reached its height in the 1890s, when a foreign paper remarked upon the craze in “which even gentlemen are having done on the less exposed parts of their bodies” (Corriere della Sera, Milan, April 5, 1901).

The go-to tattoo artist of the era was Mr. Tom Riley, who set up shop at the Earl’s Court Exhibitions, where he had quarters in the Western Arcades. In 1891, he and his American-based cousin S.F. O’Riley shared the patent on a tattoo needle. The needles worked like an electric bell and stylographic pen, and it was  moved by a vibrating strip of metal in a similar way to the hammer of an electric bell. The needle itself worked up and down in a hollow spindle, from the end of which protruded every time the vibrating bar in the head of the machine moving up and down. The speed at which the vibrating bar moved was as nearly  1800 times a minute, so that the needle made about thirty distinct punctures in the skin every second. The hand needles used for “filling in” were made up of from two to eight to ten needles fastened together at the end of the a small wood or bone handle somewhat resembling a pen holder in size and shape.

Tattooed Edwardian ladyThe tattooing process was a set of five to six distinct operations as followed: “the preparation of the ‘canvas.’ Washing and shaving of the arm. The design selected on it with Indian ink and a very fine camel-hair brush, or transferred onto it by means of a drawing made with an aniline dye on tissue paper. The Paper is placed on the arm and damped all over a sponge: a towel is then tightly wound round the arm for a few seconds and when it and the paper and removed the design is left marked on the skin. When once the design is ‘fixed,’ whichever process is used, the work proceeds rapidly Selecting one of his machine needles and dipping the point in the slab of freshly-mixed Chinese ink, Mr. Riley commences the tattooing of the outline of the picture and as soon as this is done the principal dividing lines are worked in. next the small details are done.”

Ladies had their lips and cheeks tattooed with color as well as regular tattoos. Accordingly, Lady Randolph Churchill (nee Jennie Jerome of Brooklyn, NY) was rumored to have a tattoo of a small snake winding around one of her wrists, and the scandalous Princess de Caraman-Chimay sported tattoos up and down both arms. Besides King Edward VII, known royalties with tattoos were the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, Prince George of Greece and Edward’s son, who reigned as George V.

Visit the Tattoo History Source, or read articles here and here for further information on Edwardian tattooing.