Here in Northeast Ohio (and most of the rest of the northern half of the US), March is roaring in like a lion. We’re expecting another ten inches of snow today to add to the foot or two already on the ground. The piles of snow on the sides of the streets now exceed the height of my car, and the simple act of pulling out of a driveway or turning a corner is fraught with peril. Ice dams under the eaves are causing water to back up into my house, in places we’ve never seen them before.
Most years I manage to get away from it all and head somewhere warm in March, but sadly, that’s not happening this year. Instead I will hunker down and write about how the Victorians weathered winter.
The weather in England is known for being less than ideal for many months out of the year. For about 400 years from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Britain even experienced a “Little Ice Age.” The annual mean temperatures for central England were below 0°C nearly every year from 1772 to the 1930s. In 1836, fifteen feet of snow fell on Christmas Day. Frost fairs, held on the Thames when it froze over, were common from at least 1608 until 1841.
Although it required trips to the Mediterranean to truly escape Britain’s winter weather–and plenty of wealthy Victorians did–there were also opportunities to holiday in England. Brighton was a favorite destination, as it remained reasonably warm through December.
At the start of the Victorian era, visits to seaside resorts were the province of the wealthy. Only the wealthy could afford the journey, let alone the cost of staying in an inn. But by the end of Victoria’s reign, with the advent of the railway and the rise of the middle class, more and more people began to flock to the seaside. Even the lowest classes, if they saved their pennies long enough, could afford to make the trip. Resorts began to spring up all over the coast from Scotland to Cornwall.
It is, of course, human nature to want to escape one’s life for a while, to go somewhere warmer, or prettier, or cleaner, or simply different. The Victorians were just the same, and advances in technology during the era made it easier for more people to make that escape. They certainly had plenty of snow–more often and in greater quantity than we have now (as difficult as that is to believe).So as you watch the latest inch of snow fall outside your window, think about how much easier it is to escape the snow and cold now than it was then.
Curl up with a good book and think Spring.