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Beautiful footage of England in the Edwardian era, ca. 1900s

Ian Smith

The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 and the succession of her son Edward marked the end of the Victorian era. While Victoria had shunned society, Edward was the leader of a fashionable elite that set a style influenced by the art and fashions of Continental Europe—perhaps because of the King’s fondness for travel. The era was marked by significant shifts in politics as sections of society that had been largely excluded from wielding power in the past, such as common labourers and women, became increasingly politicised.

The Edwardian period is frequently extended beyond King Edward’s death in 1910 to include the years up to the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the start of World War I in 1914, the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918, or the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Samuel Hynes described the Edwardian Era as a “leisurely time when women wore picture hats and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag'”

 

The Edwardian period is sometimes imagined as a romantic golden age of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never sets on the British Empire. This perception was created in the 1920s and later by those who remembered the Edwardian age with nostalgia, looking back to their childhoods across the abyss of the Great War.The Edwardian age was also seen as a mediocre period of pleasure between the great achievements of the preceding Victorian age and the catastrophe of the following war. Recent assessments emphasise the great differences between the wealthy and the poor during the Edwardian era and describe the age as heralding great changes in political and social life.Robert Tressell’s popular novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a strong example of the era’s social critique.

The upper classes embraced leisure sports, which resulted in rapid developments in fashion, as more mobile and flexible clothing styles were needed. During the Edwardian era, women wore a very tight corset, or bodice, and dressed in long skirts. The Edwardian era was the last time women wore corsets in everyday life. According to Arthur Marwick, the most striking change of all the developments that occurred during the Great War was the modification in women’s dress, “for, however far politicians were to put the clocks back in other steeples in the years after the war, no one ever put the lost inches back on the hems of women’s skirts.

The Edwardian period corresponds to the French Belle Époque period. Despite its brief pre-eminence, the period is characterised by its own unique architectural style, fashion, and lifestyle. Art Nouveau had a particularly strong influence. Artists were influenced by the development of the automobile and electricity, and a greater awareness of human rights.