The Ingenious Victorians: Weird and Wonderful Ideas from the Age of Innovation. That’s the title of my new book, due to be published next month.
Queen Victoria acceded to the throne on 20th June 1837 at the age of eighteen, and there she remained for a record-breaking reign that lasted a little under 64 years, a record which was beaten only recently by Queen Elizabeth II. The Victorian age was one of ingenuity, inventiveness and innovation that saw the birth of many of concepts and inventions that are still with us today.
Included among many successful and various concepts were postage stamps, vacuum cleaners, telephones, radio and photography. Equally ingenious were many great ideas, plans and concepts that became reality. Who but the Victorians would have thought of staging an enormous exhibition of world culture and industry, then building the world’s largest glass structure to house it, before tearing the building down, transporting it piece by piece across London and rebuilding it at the centre of probably the world’s first theme park?
Who else would dream of building an electric railway whose lines ran under the sea with the carriage supported on stilts twenty feet above the waves?
What other age could have given us long lasting electric light bulbs, pneumatic railways, sound recording, plans for an early kind of computer, the first attempt at a tunnel between England and France, the first tunnel to be dug under a navigable river, a gigantic camera that took 15 people to operate it, steam trains under London, life-preserving coffins, four British copies of the Eiffel Tower and the recipe for Coca-Cola?
Of course, not every invention or concept was a success. The Victorian age also had its fair share of failures: the Great Victorian Way, a glass roofed structure planned to run around the perimeter of London; the first traffic lights, which exploded a month after they were erected; a hand grenade type of device designed to work as a fire extinguisher; spectacles for short-sighted horses; bicycles that ran on rails along the tops of walls and fences; electric-powered submarines; and petrol-powered organs that produced musical notes from a series of small explosions.
To belittle, or laugh at, some of these failed ideas is to misunderstand the Victorian urge to continually find amazing and sometimes bizarre ways of carrying out everyday, as well as hitherto impossible, tasks. It’s these amazing achievements and, yes, some of the heroic failures too, that are celebrated in my new book, which is published by Pen & Sword in July.
I’m showing the cover above, but you can see some of the inside pages and details of where to buy the book on my books pages.
To see the book on the publisher's website, click here.