Edwardian era

The Edwardian era or Edwardian period of British history covers the brief reign of King Edward VII, 1901 to 1910, and is sometimes extended in both directions to capture long-term trends from the 1890s to the First World War. The death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 marked the end of the Victorian era. Her successor, Edward VII, was already the leader of a fashionable elite that set a style influenced by the art and fashions of continental Europe. 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".[1]

The Liberals returned to power in 1906 and made significant reforms. Below the upper class, the era was marked by significant shifts in politics among sections of society that had largely been excluded from power, such as common labourers, servants, the industrial working class, and the Irish. Women became increasingly aware of politics.[2]

Edwardian era
Edward VII.-Großbritannien
King Edward VII by Fildes (c. 1901)
Preceded byVictorian era
Followed byFirst World War


The Edwardian period is sometimes portrayed 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.[3] 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.[4] Recent assessments emphasise the great differences between the wealthy and the poor during this period and describe the age as heralding great changes in political and social life.[2][5] Historian Lawrence James has argued that the leaders felt increasingly threatened by rival powers such as Germany, Russia, and the United States.[6] The sudden arrival of world war in summer 1914 was largely unexpected; only the Royal Navy was prepared for war.


There was a growing political awareness among the working class, leading to a rise in trade unions, the Labour movement and demands for better working conditions. The aristocracy remained in control of top government offices.[7]

Conservative Party

The Conservatives – at the time called "Unionists" – were the dominant political party from the 1890s until 1906. The party had many strengths, appealing to voters supportive of imperialism, tariffs, the Church of England, a powerful Royal Navy, and traditional hierarchical society. There was a powerful leadership base in the landed aristocracy and landed gentry in rural England, plus strong support from the Church of England and military interests. Historians have used election returns to demonstrate that Conservatives did surprisingly well in working-class districts.[8][9] They had an appeal as well to the better-off element of traditional working-class Britons in the larger cities.[10] In rural areas, the national headquarters made highly effective use of paid traveling lecturers, with pamphlets, posters, and especially lantern slides, who were able to communicate effectively with rural voters – particularly the newly enfranchised agricultural workers.[11] In the first years of the twentieth century, the Conservative government, with Arthur Balfour as Prime Minister, had numerous successes in foreign policy, defence, and education, as well as solutions for the issues of alcohol licensing and land ownership for the peasants of Ireland.[12]

Nevertheless, the weaknesses were accumulating, and proved so overwhelming in 1906 that they did not return to complete power until 1922.[13] The Conservative Party was losing its drive and enthusiasm, especially after the retirement of the charismatic Joseph Chamberlain. There was a bitter split on "tariff reform" (that is, imposing tariffs or taxes on all imports), that drove many of the free traders over to the Liberal camp. Tariff reform was a losing issue that the Conservative leadership inexplicably clung to.[14] Conservative support weakened among the top tier of the working-class and lower middle-class, and there was dissatisfaction among the intellectuals. The 1906 general election was a landslide victory for the Liberal Party, which saw its total vote share increase by 25%, while the Conservative total vote held steady.[15]

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party lacked a unified ideological base in 1906.[16] It contained numerous contradictory and hostile factions, such as imperialists and supporters of the Boers;[17] near-socialists and laissez-faire classical liberals; suffragettes and opponents of women's suffrage;[18] antiwar elements and supporters of the military alliance with France.[19] Non-Conformist Dissenters – Protestants outside the Anglican fold – were a powerful element, dedicated to opposing the established church in terms of education and taxation. However, the Dissenters were losing support and society at large and played a lesser and lesser role in party affairs after 1900.[20] The Party, furthermore, also included Irish Catholics, and secularists from the labour movement. The middle-class business, professional and intellectual communities were generally strongholds, although some old aristocratic families played important roles as well. The working-class element was moving rapidly toward the newly emerging Labour Party. One uniting element was widespread agreement on the use of politics and Parliament as a device to upgrade and improve society and to reform politics.[21][22]

Labour Party

The Labour Party was emerging from the rapidly growing trade union movement after 1890. In 1903 it entered the Gladstone–MacDonald pact with the Liberals, allowing for cross-party support in elections, and the emergence of a small Labour contingent in Parliament. It was a temporary arrangement until the 1920s, when the Labour Party was strong enough to act on its own, and the Liberals were in an irreversible decline. Subtle social changes in the working-class were producing a younger generation that wanted to act independently. Michael Childs argues that the younger generation had reason to prefer Labour over Liberal political styles. Social factors included secularised elementary education (with a disappearing role for Dissenting schools that inculcated Liberal viewpoints); the "New Unionism" after 1890 brought unskilled workers into a movement previously dominated by the skilled workers;[23] and new leisure activities, especially the music hall and sports, involved youth while repelling the older generation of Liberal voters.[24]

Boer War

The government entered the Second Boer War with great confidence, little expecting that the two small rural Boer republics in southern Africa with a combined White population less than London would hold off the concentrated power of the British Empire for two and half years, and take 400,000 Imperial troops to secure victory.[25] The war split the Liberal Party into anti- and pro-war factions. Great orators, such as Liberal David Lloyd George, who spoke against the war, became increasingly influential. Nevertheless, Liberal Unionist Joseph Chamberlain, who was largely in charge of the war, maintained his hold on power. When General Kitchener took command in 1900, he initiated a scorched earth policy in order to foil Boer guerilla tactics. Captured Boer combatants were transported overseas to other British possessions as prisoners of war. However he relocated noncombatant Boers—mostly women and children—into heavily guarded internment camps. The internment camps were overcrowded with bad sanitation and meagre food rations. Contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery were endemic. Many of the internees died. Emily Hobhouse visited the camps and brought the conditions to the attention of the British public. Public outcry resulted in the Fawcett Commission which corroborated Hobhouse's report and eventually led to improved conditions.[26] The Boers surrendered and the Boer Republics were annexed by the British Empire. Jan Smuts—a leading Boer general—became a senior official of the new government and even became a top British official in the World War.[27]

In 1901, the six British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia united to form the Commonwealth of Australia, with almost complete control of its internal affairs, but with foreign policy and defence handled by London. Edmund Barton was the first prime minister.[28]

The Liberal reforms

Ten Years of Toryism
Liberal poster c.1905–10

The Liberal Party under Henry Campbell-Bannerman rallied Liberals around the traditional platform of free trade and land reform and led them to the greatest electoral victory in Liberal Party history.[29] The Prime Minister was overshadowed by his frontbench, most notably H. H. Asquith at the Exchequer, Edward Grey at the Foreign Office, Richard Burdon Haldane at the War Office and David Lloyd George at the Board of Trade. Campbell-Bannerman retired in 1908 and was succeeded by Asquith. He stepped up the government's radicalism, especially in the "People's Budget" of 1909 that proposed to fund expanded social welfare programmes with new taxes on land and high incomes. It was blocked by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords, but eventually became law in April 1910.

Almost half of the Liberal MPs elected in 1906 were supportive of the 'New Liberalism', which advocated government action to improve people's lives.[30]

Punch cartoon 28 April 1909
"Wild Fare". Cartoonist John Bernard Partridge depicts Lloyd George as a giant with a cudgel labelled "Budget" in reference to his People's Budget; Asquith cowers beneath the table. Punch 28 April 1909

Liberals in 1906–1911 passed major legislation designed to reform politics and society, such as the regulation of working hours, National Insurance and the beginnings of the welfare state, as well as curtailing the power of the House of Lords. Women's suffrage was not on the Liberal agenda.[31] There were numerous major reforms helping labour, typified by the Trade Boards Act 1909 that set minimum wages in certain trades with the history of "sweated" or "sweatshop" rates of especially low wages, because of surplus of available workers, the presence of women workers, or the lack of skills. At first it applied to four industries: chain-making, ready-made tailoring, paper-box making, and the machine-made lace and finishing trade.[32] It was later expanded to coal mining and then to other industries with preponderance of unskilled manual labour by the Trade Boards Act 1918. Under the leadership of David Lloyd George Liberals extended minimum wages to farm workers.[33]

Conservative peers in the House of Lords tried to stop the People's Budget. The Liberals passed the Parliament Act 1911 to sharply reduce the power of the House of Lords to block legislation. The cost was high, however, as the government was required by the king to call two general elections in 1910 to validate its position and ended up frittering away most of its large majority, with the balance of power held by Labour and Irish Parliamentary Party members.

Foreign relations

Diplomatic ties with France and Russia against Germany

Germany's Chancellor Otto von Bismarck dominated European diplomacy from 1872-1890, with the determination to use the balance of power to keep the peace. There were no wars. Bismarck was removed by an aggressive young Kaiser Wilhelm in 1890, effectively decentralizing the Bismarckian Order that had been shrewdly managed and empowering French efforts to isolate Germany. With the formation of the Triple Entente, Germany began to feel encircled: to the West lay France, with whom rivalry was awakening after a generation of dormancy following the Franco-Prussian War, to the East sat Russia, whose rapid industrialization worried leaders across the Continent, and in the seas, British primacy threatened a unified Germany's efforts to develop its ports and maintain its new global empire.[34] Joseph Chamberlain, who played a major role in foreign policy in the late 1890s under the Salisbury government, repeatedly tried to open talks with Germany about some sort of an alliance. Germany was not interested.[35] Meanwhile, Paris went to great pains to woo Russia and Great Britain. Key markers were the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1894, the 1904 Entente Cordiale linking France and Great Britain, and finally the Anglo-Russian Entente in 1907 which became the Triple Entente. France thus had a formal alliance with Russia, and an informal alignment with Britain, against Germany and Austria.[36] By 1903 good relations had been established with the United States and Japan.[37]

Britain abandoned the policy of holding aloof from the continental powers, so called "Splendid Isolation", in the 1900s after being isolated during the Boer War. Britain concluded agreements, limited to colonial affairs, with her two major colonial rivals: the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 and the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907. Britain's alignment a reaction to an assertive German foreign policy and the buildup of its navy from 1898 which led to the Anglo-German naval arms race.[38] British diplomat Arthur Nicolson argued it was "far more disadvantageous to us to have an unfriendly France and Russia than an unfriendly Germany".[39] The impact of the Triple Entente was to improve British relations with France and its ally Russia and to demote the importance to Britain of good relations with Germany. After 1905, foreign policy was tightly controlled by the Liberal Foreign Secretary Edward Grey (1862-1933), who seldom consulted with his party leadership. Grey shared the strong Liberal policy against all wars and against military alliances that would force Britain to take a side in war. However, in the case of the Boer War, Grey held that the Boers had committed an aggression that it was necessary to repulse. The Liberal party split on the issue, with a large faction strongly opposed to the war in Africa [40]

The Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia is often compared to the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria–Hungary and Italy, but historians caution against the comparison. The Entente, in contrast to the Triple Alliance or the Franco-Russian Alliance, was not an alliance of mutual defence and Britain therefore felt free to make her own foreign policy decisions in 1914. The Liberals were highly moralistic, and by 1914 they have been increasingly convinced that German aggression violated international norms, and specifically that its invasion of neutral Belgium was completely unacceptable in terms of morality, Britain and Germany's obligations under the Treaty of London, and in terms of British policy against any one power controlling the continent of Europe.[41]

Until the last few weeks before it started in August 1914, almost no one saw a world war coming. The expectation among the generals was that because of industrial advances any future war would produce a quick victory for the side that was better-prepared, better armed, and faster to move. No one saw that the innovations of recent decades—high explosives, long-range artillery and machine guns—were defensive weapons that practically guaranteed defeat of massed infantry attacks with very high casualties.[42]

Naval race with Germany

HMS Dreadnought 1906 H61017
The British Dreadnought (1906) made all battleships obsolete because it had ten long-range 12-inch big guns, mechanical computer-like range finders, high speed turbine engines that could make 21 knots, and armour plates 11 inches thick.

After 1805 the dominance of Britain's Royal Navy was unchallenged; in the 1890s Germany decided to match it. Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849 – 1930) dominated German naval policy from 1897 until 1916.[43] Before the Germany Empire formed in 1871, Prussia never had a real navy, nor did the other German states. Tirpitz turned the modest little fleet into a world-class force that could threaten the British Royal Navy. The British responded with new technology typified by the Dreadnought revolution. It made every battleship obsolete and, supplemented by the global network of coaling stations and telegraph cables, enabled Britain to stay well in the lead in naval affairs.[44][45]

Apart from a determination to retain a strong naval advantage, the British lacked a military strategy or plans for a major war.[46]


The Edwardian era stands out as a time of peace and prosperity. There were no severe depressions, and prosperity was widespread. Britain's growth rate, manufacturing output and GDP (but not GDP per capita) fell behind its rivals, the United States and Germany, but the nation still led the world in trade, finance and shipping, and had strong bases in manufacturing and mining.[47] The industrial sector was slow to adjust to global changes, and there was a striking preference for leisure over entrepreneurship among the elite. However, major achievements should be underlined. London was the financial centre of the world—far more efficient and wide-ranging than New York, Paris or Berlin. Britain had built up a vast reserve of overseas credits in its formal Empire, as well as in its informal empire in Latin America and other nations. It had huge financial holdings in the United States, especially in railways. These assets proved vital in paying for supplies in the first years of the World War. The amenities, especially in urban life, were accumulating—prosperity was highly visible. The working classes were beginning to protest politically for a greater voice in government, but the level of industrial unrest on economic issues was not high until about 1908.[48]

Social change and improved health

By the late-1880s, the Industrial Revolution had created new technologies that changed the way people lived. The growth of industry shifts in manufacturing factories, special-purpose machinery and technological innovations, which led to increased productivity. Gender roles shifted as women made use of the new technology to upgrade their lifestyle and their career opportunities.

Mortality declined steadily in urban England and Wales 1870–1917. Robert Millward and Frances N. Bell looked statistically at those factors in the physical environment (especially population density and overcrowding) that raised death rates directly, as well as indirect factors such as price and income movements that affected expenditures on sewers, water supplies, food, and medical staff. The statistical data show that increases in the incomes of households and increases in town tax revenues helped cause the decline of mortality. The new money permitted higher spending on food, and also on a wide range of health-enhancing goods and services such as medical care. The major improvement in the physical environment was the quality of the housing stock, which rose faster than the population; its quality was increasingly regulated by central and local government.[49] Infant mortality fell faster in England and Wales than in Scotland. Clive Lee argues that one factor was the continued overcrowding in Scotland's housing.[50] During the First World War, infant mortality fell sharply across the country. J.M. Winter attributes this to the full employment and higher wages paid to war workers.[51]

Rising status of women

For housewives, sewing machines enabled the production of ready made clothing and made it easier for women to sew their own clothes; more generally, argues Barbara Burman, "home dressmaking was sustained as an important aid for women negotiating wider social shifts and tensions in their lives."[52] Increased literacy in the middle-class gave women wider access to information and ideas. Numerous new magazines appealed to her tastes and help define femininity.[53]

The inventions of the typewriter, telephone, and new filing systems offered middle-class women increased employment opportunities.[54][55] So too did the rapid expansion of the school system,[56] and the emergence of the new profession of nursing. Education and status led to demands for female roles in the rapidly expanding world of sports.[57]

Women were very active in church affairs, including attendance at services, Sunday school teaching, fund raising, pastoral care, social work and support for international missionary activities. They quietly submitted to their almost complete exclusion from practically all leadership roles.[58]

Women's suffrage

As middle-class women rose in status they increasingly supported demands for a political voice.[59][60] There was significant support for woman suffrage in all the parties, but the Liberal Party was in control after 1906 and a handful of its leaders, especially H. H. Asquith, blocked it.[61]

There were numerous organisations which did their work quietly. After 1897 they were increasingly linked together by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) led by Millicent Fawcett. However front page publicity was seized by the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Founded in 1903, it was tightly controlled by the three Pankhursts, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), and her daughters Christabel Pankhurst (1880–1958) and Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960).[62] It specialized in highly visible publicity campaigns such as large parades. This had the effect of energizing all dimensions of the suffrage movement. While there was a majority of support for suffrage in parliament, the ruling Liberal Party refused to allow a vote on the issue; the result of which was an escalation in the suffragette campaign. The WSPU, in dramatic contrast to its allies, embarked on a campaign of violence to publicize the issue, even to the detriment of its own aims.[63][64]

Birth control

Although abortion was illegal, it was nevertheless the most widespread form of birth control in use.[65] Used predominantly by working-class women, the procedure was used not only as a means of terminating pregnancy, but also to prevent poverty and unemployment. Those who transported contraceptives could be legally punished. Contraceptives became more expensive over time and had a high failure rate. Unlike contraceptives, abortion did not need any prior planning and was less expensive. Newspaper advertisements were used to promote and sell abortifacients indirectly.[66]

Not all of society was accepting of contraceptives or abortion, and the opposition viewed both as part of one and the same sin. Abortion was much more common among the middle-classes than among those living in rural areas, where the procedure was not readily available. Women were often tricked into purchasing ineffective pills. In addition to fearing legal reprimands, many physicians did not condone abortion because they viewed it as an immoral procedure potentially endangering a woman's life.[66] Because abortion was illegal and physicians refused to perform the procedure, local women acted as abortionists, often using crochet hooks or similar instruments.[65]

Feminists of the era focused on educating and finding jobs for women, leaving aside the controversial issues of contraceptives and abortion, which in popular opinion were often related to promiscuity and prostitution. The Church condemned abortion as immoral and a form of rebellion against the child-bearing role women were expected to assume. Many considered abortion to be a selfish act that allowed a woman to avoid personal responsibility, contributing to a decline in moral values.[65] Abortion was often a solution for women who already had children and did not want more. Consequently, the size of families decreased drastically.[66]

Poverty among working-class women

The 1834 Poor Law defined who could receive monetary relief. The act reflected and perpetuated prevailing gender conditions. In Edwardian society, men were the source of wealth. The law restricted relief for unemployed, able-bodied male workers, due to the prevailing view that they would find work in the absence of financial assistance. However, women were treated differently. After the Poor Law was passed, women and children received most of the aid. The law did not recognise single independent women, and lumped women and children into the same category. If a man was physically disabled, his wife was also treated as disabled under the law. Unmarried mothers were sent to the workhouse, receiving unfair social treatment such as being restricted from attending church on Sundays. During marriage disputes women often lost the rights to their children, even if their husbands were abusive.[67]

At the time, single mothers were the poorest sector in society, disadvantaged for at least four reasons. First, women lived longer, often leaving them widowed with children. Second, women had fewer opportunities to work, and when they did find it, their wages were lower than male workers' wages. Thirdly, women were often less likely to marry or remarry after being widowed, leaving them as the main providers for the remaining family members. Finally, poor women had deficient diets, because their husbands and children received disproportionately large shares of food. Many women were malnourished and had limited access to health care.[67]

Female servants

Edwardian Britain had large numbers of male and female domestic servants, in both urban and rural areas.[68] Middle and upper-class women relied on servants to run their homes smoothly. Servants were provided with food, clothing, housing, and a small wage, and lived in a self-enclosed social system inside the mansion.[69] The number of domestic servants fell in the Edwardian era due to a declining number of young people willing to be employed in this area.[70]


Women dress-1901-1911-Punch
A cartoon in Punch (1911) compares changes in fashion between 1901 and 1911. "The dowdy voluminous clothes of the earlier date, making the grandmother an old lady and the mother seem plain, had been replaced by much simpler looser wear producing a sense of release for all three females."[71]

The upper-classes embraced leisure sports, which resulted in rapid developments in fashion, as more mobile and flexible clothing styles were needed.[72][73] 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".[74]

The 'Tea Gown' was one of the Fashion creations during the Edwardian era and when women starting to stop wearing corsets. More Afternoon and Tea parties were being held and for longer amongst the upper classes, thus the trend of the 'Tea Gown' was created. The Tea Gown was worn to receive guests. The fabric choices are usually sweet pea shades in chiffon, mousse line de sore, tulle with feather boas and lace. Lace was a ‘must-have’ in the Edwardian wardrobe. It represents femininity and wealth. ‘High and boned collars for the day; plugging off shoulder décolleté for the evening’.[75] The Tea Gown's cuttings are relatively loose comparing to the evening gown's. The flow is quite feminine, usually decorated with lace. In which, Irish crochet was the more affordable alternative. Women often wore the tea gown un-corseted in order to create an atmosphere of daring intrigue in the afternoon.[76] Long kid gloves, a flat pancake hat and held laced parasols on hand were always the choice of women's Fashion accessories. Parasols are different than umbrellas. The parasols that were widely use during the Edwardian era are not waterproof, they are made of fabric. It was not designed for functionality, but as a Fashion ornament. Over time, decorative ornaments became heavier, i.e. the hats, sleeves and hem. By the end of the Edwardian era, the hat is bigger in size, with more decorations like feathers and one or more plumes on top.

The Edwardians developed new styles in clothing design.[77] While the Victorian Era is associated with large, ankle-length, heavy, dark velvet gowns and bustles for the classes that could afford them, the Edwardian era favored more tightly fitting skirts and dresses made of lightweight fabrics designed for a more active lifestyle.[78]

  • The 2 pieces dress came into vogue. Skirts hung tight at the hips and flared at the hem, creating a trumpet of lily-like shape.
  • Skirts in 1901 had decorated hems with ruffles of fabric and lace.
  • Some dresses and skirts featured trains.
  • Tailored jackets, first introduced in 1880, increased in popularity and by 1900, tailored suits became popular.[79]
  • By 1904, skirts became fuller and less clingy.
  • In 1905, skirts fell in soft folds that curved in, then flared out near the hemlines.
  • From 1905 – 1907, waistlines rose.
  • In 1901, the hobble skirt was introduced; a tight fitting skirt that restricted a woman's stride.
  • Lingerie dresses, or tea gowns made of soft fabrics, festooned with ruffles and lace were worn indoors.[80]
  • Around 1913 women's dresses acquired a lower and sometimes V-shaped neckline in opposition to the high collars a generation before. This was considered a scandal and caused an outrage among the clergy throughout Europe.[81]


The turn of the century saw the rise of popular journalism aimed at the lower middle class and tending to deemphasise highly detailed political and international news, which remain the focus of a handful of low-circulation prestige newspapers. They were family-owned and operated, and were primarily interested not in profits but in influence on the nation's elite by their control of the news and editorials on serious topics. The new press they reached vastly larger audiences by emphasis on sports, crime, sensationalism, and gossip about famous personalities. Detailed accounts of major speeches and complex international events were not printed. Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe was the chief innovator.[82] He used his Daily Mail and Daily Mirror to transform the media along the American model of "Yellow Journalism". Lord Beaverbrook said he was "the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street".[83] Harmsworth made a great deal of money, but during the First World War he also wanted political power. For that he purchased the highest prestige newspaper, The Times.[84] P. P. Catterall and Colin Seymour-Ure conclude that:

More than anyone [he] ... shaped the modern press. Developments he introduced or harnessed remain central: broad contents, exploitation of advertising revenue to subsidize prices, aggressive marketing, subordinate regional markets, independence from party control.[85]

The arts

The Edwardian era corresponds to the French Belle Époque. 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.

In November 1910, Roger Fry organised the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Galleries, London. This exhibition was the first to prominently feature Gauguin, Manet, Matisse, and Van Gogh in England and brought their art to the public. He followed it up with the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912.

George Frampton's statue of Peter Pan, "erected in Hyde Park in 1912 ... immediately became a source of contention, sparking debate about the role of public statuary and its role in spaces of recreation."[86]


In fiction, some of the best-known names are J. M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, John Galsworthy, Kenneth Grahame, M. R. James, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, A.A. Milne, D. H. Lawrence, Edith Nesbit, Beatrix Potter, Saki, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and P. G. Wodehouse. Apart from these famous writers, this was a period when a great number of novels and short stories were being published, and a significant distinction between "highbrow" literature and popular fiction emerged. Among the most famous works of literary criticism was A. C. Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy (1904).[87]


Live performances, both amateur and professional, were popular. Henry Wood, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Arnold Bax, George Butterworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Thomas Beecham were all active. Military and brass bands often played outside in parks during the summer.[88] The new technology of wax cylinders played on phonographs, made live performances permanently available for repetition at any time.

Performing arts

Cinema was primitive and audiences preferred live performances to picture shows. Music hall was very popular and widespread; influential performers included male impersonator Vesta Tilley and comic Little Tich.[89]

The most successful playwright of the era was W. Somerset Maugham. In 1908, he had four plays running simultaneously in London, and Punch published a cartoon of Shakespeare biting his fingernails nervously as he looked at the billboards. Maugham's plays, like his novels, usually had a conventional plot structure, but the decade also saw the rise of the so-called New Drama, represented in plays by George Bernard Shaw, Harley Granville Barker, and Continental imports by Henrik Ibsen and Gerhardt Hauptmann. The actor/manager system, as managed by Sir Henry Irving, Sir George Alexander, and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, was in decline.


Notable architects included Edwin Lutyens, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Giles Gilbert Scott. In spite of the popularity of Art Nouveau in Europe, the Edwardian Baroque style of architecture was widely favoured for public structures and was a revival of Christopher Wren–inspired designs of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The change or reversal in taste from the Victorian eclectic styles corresponded with the historical revivals of the period, most prominently earlier Georgian and Neoclassical styles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.[90]

White City Stadium for the 1908 Summer Olympics was the first Olympic Stadium in the UK. Built on the site of the Franco-British Exhibition, it had a seating capacity of 68,000 was opened by King Edward VII on 27 April 1908. It was the largest structure of its type in the world, and was designed to be awesome and enhance the love of large-scale spectacle that characterised Edwardian London.[91]


Filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon documented many scenes from Britain and Ireland from 1900–1907, sports, parades, factory exits, parks, city streets, boating and the like. Their films have survived in very good quality restored from the original negatives.[92][93]

Science and technology

The period featured many innovations. Ernest Rutherford published his studies on radioactivity. The first transatlantic wireless signals were sent by Guglielmo Marconi, and the Wright brothers flew for the first time.[94]

By the end of the era, Louis Blériot had crossed the English Channel by air; the largest ship in the world, RMS Olympic, had sailed on its maiden voyage and her larger sister RMS Titanic was under construction; automobiles were common; and the South Pole was reached for the first time by Roald Amundsen's and then Robert Falcon Scott's teams.


London 1908 Steeplechasea
1908 Summer Olympics in London: The water jump in the steeplechase

The 1908 Summer Olympic Games were held in London. Popularity of sports tended to conform to class divisions, with tennis and yachting popular among the very wealthy and football favoured by the working class.[95]


Aston Villa maintained their position as the pre-eminent football team of the era, winning the FA Cup for the fourth time in 1904–05 and their sixth League title in 1909–10. The club colours of claret and sky blue were adopted by Burnley as a tribute to their success in 1910. Sunderland achieved their fourth league title in 1901–02. The era also saw Liverpool (1900–01, 1905–06), Newcastle United (1904–05, 1906–07, 1908–09) and Manchester United (1907–08) winning their first league titles.[96]

See also


  1. ^ "Manor House" PBS
  2. ^ a b Roy Hattersley, The Edwardians (2004).
  3. ^ J. B. Priestley The Edwardians (1970), pp. 55–56, 288–290.
  4. ^ Battiscombe, Georgina (1969). Queen Alexandra. London: Constable. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-09-456560-9.
  5. ^ G. R. Searle, A New England?: peace and war, 1886–1918 (Oxford UP, 2004)
  6. ^ James, Lawrence (1994). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-349-10667-0.
  7. ^ David Brooks, The age of upheaval: Edwardian politics, 1899–1914 (Manchester University Press, 1995).
  8. ^ Jon Lawrence, "Class and gender in the making of urban Toryism, 1880–1914." English Historical Review 108.428 (1993): 629–652.
  9. ^ Matthew Roberts, "Popular Conservatism in Britain, 1832–1914." Parliamentary History 26.3 (2007): 387–410.
  10. ^ Marc Brodie, "Voting in the Victorian and Edwardian East End of London." Parliamentary History 23.2 (2004): 225–248.
  11. ^ Kathryn Rix, "'Go Out into the Highways and the Hedges': The Diary of Michael Sykes, Conservative Political Lecturer, 1895 and 1907–8." Parliamentary History 20#2 (2001): 209–231.
  12. ^ Robert Blake, The Conservative Party: from Peel to Major(2nd ed. 1985) pp 174–75
  13. ^ David Dutton, "Unionist Politics and the aftermath of the General Election of 1906: A Reassessment." Historical Journal 22#4 (1979): 861–876.
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Further reading

  • Black, Mark. Edwardian Britain: A Very Brief History (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Brooks, David. The Age of Upheaval: Edwardian Politics, 1899-1914 (1995)
  • Dangerfield, George. The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935) online free to borrow; Classic account of how the Liberal Party ruined itself in dealing with the House of Lords, woman suffrage, the Irish question, and labour unions, 1906-1914.
  • Delap, Lucy. "The Superwoman: Theories of Gender and Genius in Edwardian Britain", Historical Journal (2004) 47#1 pp. 101–126 in JSTOR
  • Dyhouse, Carol. Girls growing up in late Victorian and Edwardian England (Routledge, 2012).
  • Elton, G.R. Modern Historians on British History 1485–1945: A Critical Bibliography 1945–1969 (1969), annotated guide to 1000 history books on every major topic, plus book reviews and major scholarly articles. online
  • Ensor, R. C. K. England 1870–1914 (1936), scholarly survey.
  • Field, Clive D. "'The Faith Society'? Quantifying Religious Belonging in Edwardian Britain, 1901–1914." Journal of Religious History 37.1 (2013): 39–63.
  • Gray, Anne (2004). The Edwardians: Secrets and Desires. National Gallery of Australia. ISBN 978-0642541499.
  • Halévy, Elie. History of the English People, 1905–1914 (1934), 686pp.
  • Hamlett, Jane. At Home in the Institution: Material Life in Asylums, Lodging Houses and Schools in Victorian and Edwardian England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
  • Hattersley, Roy. The Edwardians (2005), excerpt
  • Hawkins, Alun. "Edwardian Liberalism", History Workshop (1977) #4 pp. 143–61
  • Hearnshaw, F. J. C., ed. Edwardian England AD 1901–1910 (1933) online 294pp; 10 essays by scholars.
  • Heffer, Simon. The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914 (2017), wide-ranging scholarly survey.
  • Heller, Michael. London Clerical Workers, 1880–1914 (Pickering & Chatto, 2011)
  • Holland, Evangeline. Pocket Guide to Edwardian England (2013) excerpt and text search
  • Horrall, Andrew. Popular culture in London c. 1890–1918: The transformation of entertainment (Manchester UP, 2001).
  • Hughes, Michael. "Archbishop Davidson, the 'Edwardian Crisis,' and the Defense of the National Church." Journal of Church and State 57#2 (2015): 217–242.
  • Jenkins, Roy. Asquith: portrait of a man and an era (1964)
  • Liddington, Jill. Rebel Girls: How votes for women changed Edwardian lives (Hachette UK, 2015)
  • Marriott, J.A.R. Modern England, 1885-1945 (1948) pp 169–358. online political narrative.
  • Meacham, Standish. A life apart: The English working class, 1890–1914 (Harvard UP, 1977), scholarly social history.
  • Nowell-Smith, Simon, ed. Edwardian England, 1901–14 (1964), 620pp; 15 wide-ranging essays by scholars.
  • Ottewill, Roger Martin. "Faith and good works: congregationalism in Edwardian Hampshire 1901–1914" (PhD. Diss. University of Birmingham, 2015) online. Bibliography pp 389–417.
  • Prior, Christopher. Edwardian England and the Idea of Racial Decline: An Empire's Future (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
  • Read, Donald. Edwardian England (1972) 288pp; survey by scholar.
  • Roberts, Clayton, and David F. Roberts. A History of England, Volume 2: 1688 to the present (2013) university textbook; 1985 edition online
  • Ross, Ellen. "'Fierce Questions and Taunts': Married Life in Working-Class London, 1870–1914." Feminist Studies 8.3 (1982): 575–602. in JSTOR
  • Russell, A. K. Liberal landslide : the general election of 1906 (1973).
  • Searle, G. R. A new England?: peace and war, 1886–1918 (Oxford University Press, 2004), wide-ranging survey, 952 pp.
  • Spender, J.A. Great Britain: empire and commonwealth, 1886-1935 (1936) pp 159–401, Focus on UK politics
  • Sutherland, Gillian. "Self-education, class and gender in Edwardian Britain: women in lower middle class families." Oxford Review of Education 41#4 (2015): 518–533.
  • Thackeray, David, "Rethinking the Edwardian Crisis of Conservatism", Historical Journal (2011) 54#1 pp. 191–213 in JSTOR
  • Thompson, Paul. The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (2nd ed. 1992) online
  • Trumble, Angus, and Andrea Wolk Rager, eds. Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (2012).
  • Ubbelohde, A. R. "Edwardian Science and Technology: Their Interactions", British Journal for the History of Science (1963) 1#3 pp. 217–226 in JSTOR

Primary sources and year books

Crown, Inverness

Crown (from the Scottish Gaelic: Crùn) is an area situated beside the city centre of Inverness, the capital city of the Scottish Highlands. In general, the area's housing dates back to the Victorian or Edwardian era.

Curtain raiser

A curtain raiser is a performance, stage act, show, actor or performer that opens a show for the main attraction. The term is derived from the act of raising the stage curtain. The first person on stage has "raised the curtain".

The fashion in the late Victorian era and Edwardian era was to present long evenings in the theatre, and so full-length pieces were often presented together with companion pieces. Each full-length work was normally accompanied by one or two short companion pieces. If the piece began the performance, it was called a curtain raiser. One that followed the full-length piece was called an afterpiece. W. J. MacQueen-Pope commented, concerning the curtain raisers:

This was a one-act play, seen only by the early comers. It would play to empty boxes, half-empty upper circle, to a gradually filling stalls and dress circle, but to an attentive, grateful and appreciative pit and gallery. Often these plays were little gems. They deserved much better treatment than they got, but those who saw them delighted in them ... they served to give young actors and actresses a chance to win their spurs ... the stalls and the boxes lost much by missing the curtain-raiser, but to them dinner was more important.

Edwardian Baroque architecture

Edwardian Baroque is the Neo-Baroque architectural style of many public buildings built in the British Empire during the Edwardian era (1901–1910).

Edwardian architecture

Edwardian architecture is an architectural style popular during the reign of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom (1901 to 1910). Architecture up to the year 1914 may also be included in this style.Edwardian architecture is generally less ornate than high or late Victorian architecture, apart from a subset – used for major buildings – known as Edwardian Baroque architecture.

The Victorian Society campaigns to preserve architecture built between 1837 and 1914, and so includes Edwardian as well as Victorian architecture within its remit.

Edwardian musical comedy

Edwardian musical comedy was a form of British musical theatre that extended beyond the reign of King Edward VII in both direction, beginning in the early 1890s, when the Gilbert and Sullivan operas' dominance had ended, until the rise of the American musicals by Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, George Gershwin and Cole Porter following the First World War.

Between In Town in 1892 and The Maid of the Mountains, premiering in 1917, this new style of musical theatre became dominant on the musical stage in Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world. The popularity of In Town and A Gaiety Girl (1893), led to an astonishing number of hits over the next three decades, the most successful of which included The Shop Girl (1894), The Geisha (1896), Florodora (1899), A Chinese Honeymoon (1901), The Earl and the Girl (1903), The Arcadians (1909), Our Miss Gibbs (1909), The Quaker Girl (1910), Betty (1914), Chu Chin Chow (1916) and The Maid of the Mountains (1917).


Eolienne (also spelled aeolian) is a lightweight fabric with a ribbed (corded) surface. Generally made by combining silk and cotton or silk and worsted warp and weft, it is similar to poplin but of an even lighter weight.In common with poplin, it was originally a dress fabric and the weave combining heavier and lighter yarns created a brocade-like surface decoration and lustrous finish. This made it popular for formal gowns such as wedding attire, especially during the Edwardian era. The addition of wool or cotton made it less expensive than pure silk while creating a luxurious effect.Its name is said to derive from Aeolus, ruler of the wind in Greek mythology.

Gaslamp fantasy

Gaslamp fantasy (also known as gaslight fantasy or gaslight romance) is a subgenre of both fantasy and historical fiction. Generally speaking, this particular realm of fantasy employs either a Victorian or Edwardian setting. The gaslamp fantasy genre is not to be confused with steampunk, which usually has more of a super-science edge and uchronic tone. Gaslamp fantasy also differs from classical Victorian/Edwardian faerie or pure fantasy in the J.R.R. Tolkien or Lewis Carroll style or from historical crime-novels in the Anne Perry or June Thomson style by the supernatural elements, themes, and subjects it features. Many of its tropes, themes, and stock characters derive from Gothic literature — a long-established genre composed of both romantic and horrific traits and motivated by the desire to rouse fear, apprehension, and other intense emotions within the reader — and could be described as an attempt to modernize literary Gothicism.

Writer and artist Kaja Foglio originally coined the term in an effort to distinguish her and husband Phil Foglio's comic series, Girl Genius, from "steampunk". Kaja hoped to suggest the work's distinctive style, a medley of alternate history and Victorian-esque "mad science".

Later on, however, fantasy-fans redirected the term to denote a spin-off genre of Holmesian fantasy or Victorian-based Gothic tales. According to fantasy-fans as a whole, the subgenre consists, namely, of contemporary or modern fantasy pieces set in the Victorian "gaslamp" era. However, the subgenre also includes some works with a pre-Victorian setting (Susanna Clarke's Regency novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, for example). More samplings of the genre can be found in publications such as the Gaslight Grimoire anthologies and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.

King Street, Newtown, Sydney

King Street is today the central thoroughfare of the suburb of Newtown in Sydney, Australia. The residents of the area, including a higher-than-average concentration of students, LGBT people and artists, are most visible on this street, sealing Newtown's reputation as Sydney's premier hub of subcultures. The street can be divided geographically into two sections, North and South. King Street is particularly notable for the many picturesque Victorian era and Edwardian era commercial buildings that line the street.


Misalliance is a play written in 1909–1910 by George Bernard Shaw. The play takes place entirely on a single Saturday afternoon in the conservatory of a large country house in Hindhead, Surrey in Edwardian era England.

It is a continuation of some of the ideas on marriage that he expressed in 1908 in his play, Getting Married. It was also a continuation of some of his other ideas on Socialism, physical fitness, the Life Force, and "The New Woman": i.e. women intent on escaping Victorian standards of helplessness, passivity, stuffy propriety, and non-involvement in politics or general affairs.

Shaw subtitled his play A Debate in One Sitting, and in the program of its first presentation in 1910 inserting this program note: "The debate takes place at the house of John Tarleton of Hindhead, Surrey, on 31 May 1909. As the debate is a long one, the curtain will be lowered twice. The audience is requested to excuse these interruptions, which are made solely for its convenience."

Mitchell and Kenyon

The Mitchell & Kenyon film company was a pioneer of early commercial motion pictures based in Blackburn in Lancashire, England at the start of the 20th century. They were originally best known for minor contributions to early fictional narrative film and Boer War dramatisation films, but the discovery in 1994 of a hoard of film negatives led to restoration of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection, the largest surviving collection of early non-fiction actuality films in the world. This collection provides a fresh view of Edwardian era Britain and is an important resource for historians.


Neo-Victorianism is an aesthetic movement which amalgamates Victorian and Edwardian aesthetic sensibilities with modern principles and technologies. A large number of magazines and websites are devoted to Neo-Victorian ideas in dress, family life, interior decoration, morals, and other topics.

A large number of neo-Victorian novels have reinterpreted, reproduced and rewritten Victorian culture. Significant texts include The French Lieutenant’s Woman (John Fowles, 1969), Possession (A. S. Byatt, 1990), Arthur and George (Julian Barnes, 2005), Dorian, An Imitation (Will Self, 2002) Jack Maggs (Peter Carey, 1997), Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966).

Recent neo-Victorian novels have often been adapted to the screen, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Karel Reisz, 1981) to the television adaptations of Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet, BBC2, 2002, Fingersmith , BBC1, 2005, Affinity ITV, 2008) and Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White, BBC 1, 2011). These narratives may indicate a 'sexsation' of neo-Victorianism (Kohlke) and have been called 'in-yer-face' neo-Victorianism (Voigts-Virchow).

Recent productions of neo-Victorianism on screen include Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, the BBC’s Sherlock (2010-), Ripper Street (2012-16), ITV’s Whitechapel (2009–13), CBC's Murdoch Mysteries (2008-present) or the Showtime series Penny Dreadful (2014-2016). The neo-Victorian formula can be expanded to include Edwardian consumer culture (Downton Abbey, ITV 2010-2015, The Paradise, BBC 2012-2013) and Mr Selfridge (ITV 2013-2016).

In September 2007, Exeter University explored the phenomenon in a major international conference titled Neo-Victorianism: The Politics and Aesthetics of Appropriation. Academic studies include Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999–2009.

Other foundational texts of neo-Victorian criticism are Kucich and Sadoff (2000), Kaplan (2007), Kohlke (2008-), Munford and Young (2009), Mitchell (2010), Davies (2012), Whelehan (2012), Kleinecke-Bates (2014), Böhm-Schnitker and Gruss (2014) and others.


Penylan is a district and community in the east of Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, known for its Edwardian era period houses and spacious tree lined roads and avenues.

Situated to both the north and south of the A48 dual carriageway, it is one of the most affluent districts of Cardiff, although subdivision of the large Victorian period properties is starting to occur in the areas at the south end of the ward, mimicking the trend in neighbouring Plasnewydd.

Penylan has a number of large parks, including the southern part of Roath Park, and is one of the greenest areas in Cardiff. It is also known for its very strong sense of community, largely due to the parks, road layouts, churches, and local post offices and newsagents. It is served by Penylan Library.

Penylan Synagogue was opened in 1955, and closed in 2003 when a new synagogue had been built in nearby Cyncoed Gardens.

Shooter's sandwich

The shooter's sandwich is a steak sandwich prepared with cooked steak and mushrooms, salt and pepper that is placed inside a hollowed-out long loaf of bread and then weighed down. It originated in England from the Edwardian era, and is similar to the Beef Wellington.

Tatra 10

The NW type U is an Edwardian era automobile manufactured by Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriks-Gesellschaft A.G. (NW, now known as Tatra). After the success of Type S, models NW T (four-cylinder) and NW U (six-cylinder) were launched. Both types were again OHC design with hemispherical combustion chambers with the cylinders cast in one piece with the engine block.

As the company changed its name the model was renamed to Tatra 10 in 1919. The production version was able to reach 120 kilometres per hour (75 mph).

The Type U was fitted with brakes on all four wheels, probably the first production car in the world with such brake system.

Tripod mast

The tripod mast is a type of mast used on warships from the Edwardian era onwards, replacing the pole and lattice mast. Tripod masts are notable for using three large (usually cylindrical) support columns spread out at angles to brace each other.

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