2014 has been designated a “Georgian Year” in England to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the start of the Georgian period in 1714. This oft overlooked period featured an explosion of romantic poetry, impressive architecture, the emergence of pop culture and brilliant authors such as Mary Shelley and Jane Austen. The British Library is currently hosting a fantastic exhibit to celebrate all things Georgian entitled, “Georgians Revealed”. I had the opportunity to visit the exhibit recently and take in the amazing pieces.
What was it like to live as a Georgian? During this period, as the middle class grew, literacy rose. The novel took on popularity as more people could read. The exhibit displayed eighteenth century newspapers, books and children’s reading materials. It was interesting to learn that the first daily paper in England began in 1702. Newspapers became a pastime to be enjoyed at home and at local coffee houses. Books for children grew in popularity after philosopher John Locke indicted childhood was a distinct stage and books were developed for children with this in mind.
Politically, amongst England’s loftier achievements was the abolition of slavery in 1807. The abolition movement grew in 1780s as consumerism exploded and the dark side of mass produced goods emerged.
The new middle class purchased or let new homes as they reaped the benefits of the economic boom. They bought furniture and styled it to expensive tastes and the latest styles in an attempt to mimic the upper classes. Catalogues like The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754) by Thomas Chippendale debuted as the first furniture catalogue exclusively showcasing furniture styles with details on how to recreate the exquisite pieces. Inside and outside the home, tastes and architecture leaned toward Roman and classical influences.
Ideas about elegance, taste and polite society grew during the period. Tea became popular and was the domain of women. Tea periodicals that told women how to serve tea and furnish polite conversation in higher social circles, flourished. Tea, coffee and sugar changed the diets of Georgians.
Shopping became a pastime during the Georgian period, elegant cards which encourage spending were created. Fashion and the era of the celebrity was born. The explosion of literature for the masses allowed pieces to be written that showed the latest fashions and commented on what famous people were wearing. Those who could afford it paid to keep up with the latest trends.
Leisure activities grew: music, violin, harpsichord, playing cards, painting nature, and gardening were popular activities. Georgians were very social and new entertainments developed such as theatre for all, parties and masquerades to see and “be seen”. Art was suddenly made public and museums and art galleries were born and prospered due to wide spread interest.
This fascinating exhibit, Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain runs at the British Library until March 11, 2014.
Under 18: FREE
Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 18:00 (Tues open until 20:00)
Sat: 10:00 – 17:00
Sun: 11:00 – 17:00
*N.B. Photography is not permitted inside the exhibit.
For more information on Georgians Revealed, please visit click here to visit: The British Library
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