1. This is part 3 of a series on the Mt Tambora eruption and how it shaped the world into the Victorian age. Part 1 dealt with the eruption and immediate impact. Part 2 turned to the famines in Ireland, and the near collapse of the British food supply almost leading to a real revolution. If you haven’t listened to those, I would suggest you go back and have a listen to them first.

  2. For the United States, the period after 1812 was a time of reflection and growth. War with Britain had been partially successful. The population was growing and new lands were being brought into production. The political system was becoming increasingly mature and disputes between the Federalists under Hamilton and John Adams, and the Democratic Republicans were at least fading to a more workable level. They were even able to get Congress to establish a Bank of the United States. The population was like most countries, basically agrarian. 80% of the population involved in farming, usually supplemented by home industries like cotton weaving, barrel making, smithing and others similar activities. The main cities were on the east coast and they held only around 7% of the population. None of them were as large as London or Manchester and all had exceptionally primitive sewage disposal systems. There were signs of the growth of domestic manufacturing at a more professional level, and the invention of the steam ship by Sam Fulton in 1807 was beginning to point towards greater industrial progress. American science and education were also beginning to be come well established and respected.

  3. Ironically much early American climate science was about deforestation causing temperature rises; a well understood phenomena today. Some New Englanders even worried that they would lose the brutal winter cold that they felt made them tougher than the Europeans, but temperatures began to decline from 1812 onwards. The growing season in 1815 was not good, and Canada also had some heavy crop losses. This is important as it weakened the resilience of farmers. Still they had a relatively mild winter and all seemed on track for a better 1816. When Mount Tambora erupted in 1815, the fall out devastated climate patterns around the world. The young nation was about to be hit in 1816 with catastrosphic climate change. To the north in Canada, Quebec City was hit by a massive 5 day snow storm on 12 April 1816, and Albany New York was buried. The disruption continued as far as Ohio.

  4. Still, it seemed a freak event. Then May dawned and with it, a polar vortex inspired winter returned. Albany was badly hit and so was New Jersey. Even Virginia and Tennessee were struck by cold fronts, killing cotton and other crops. Ice an inch thick formed in rivers and streams in Maine. Vermont had snow. Settlers heading westwards to Pennsylvania had to dress in their winter clothes.

  5. June brought wild swings in temperature. Dartmouth College recorded a sweltering heat, with some thunder and overnight rain. But it was followed by wild swings in the jet stream. This disrupted the polar vortex. As it swung south it formed a U bend around Eastern America, which let artic cold air to flow down from Northern Canada as far as Carolina. When the cold air hit the warmer New England fronts, powerful storms were produced. This caused on a knock on effect, blocking and disrupting various weather systems, which trapped extreme weather conditions like snow storms in place.

  6. On 06 June 1816 Quebec was hit with a brutal cold, turning the incessant rain storms into snow. Temperatures dropped so low that birds fled from local forests to seek shelter in the warmer cities. Thousands died. Newly sheered sheep froze. In Montreal, the press advised poor farmers to plant potatoes and share spare seed with less fortunate neighbours. Some desperate Vermont famers tried tying the sheered fleeces back onto sheep to protect them, but it was hopeless.

  7. Just as in Britain and Ireland as I explained last episode, the fragile agrarian societies were facing a disaster on an enormous scale, but were too technologically undeveloped and organisationally unsuited to respond effectively.

  8. Even being indoors didn’t mean being warm. At an inaugural address in Concord delegates suffered cold hands and feet even inside. As they left, strong gales and snow nearly overturned carriages on the bridge, and when they reached their hotel, their rooms were freezing despite the fireplaces. Boston was hit with 40oF temperatures and snow. The beautiful Catskill Mountains so beloved of Thomas Cole, finest artist who has ever lived, and whose paintings are the summit of human civilisation, were buried in snow.

  9. The ground froze nearly everywhere and frosts hit crops hard even in Massachusetts. and Manhattan. Near Salem travellers remarked on icicles forming, and forests frozen with frost. Remember this is in June. It might sound normal for winter, and I bet subconsciously a few listeners have forgotten this is summer we are talking about. Some desperate farmers built fires in their fields to keep crops from freezing.

  10. Now I’m giving you a lot of verifiable information here. Plenty of newspapers, official records and diaries all bare this out. These were mostly written by people who will almost never starve in a famine, even if they have to pay much higher prices. Thomas Jefferson, Sir Robert Peel, President Monroe, the Trustees of Dartmouth College, John Quincy Adams were men who bore witness to suffering, but were still some steps removed from it. What we are missing are the lived experiences of those who didn’t write. We can catch glimpses of the desperation, but I’m betting these are nothing compared to the suffering of the most isolated settlers and poorest farmers who didn’t leave us accounts. How many suffered and died alone in the cold. Their farms long since swallowed up into the wilds again. Maybe just a ruined wall sticking up from the forest floor is a final mute testament. Can you imagine the horror? It is like something form Game of Thrones. Seeing Winter coming and knowing you don’t have enough food in the good times, let alone now to survive this. Seeing your children slowly starving to death in front of you as you try to hack some weeds from the frozen ground to boil into a soup. Some turned to faith, but for others well they took the traditional human response. They began to emigrate. Humans in general will always either seek to improve conditions if they can, or leave if they can’t, and if those aren’t possible then they try to tough it out.

  11. One newspaper heart breaking said [QUOTE] the very face of nature still appears to be shrouded in death like gloom, and as she weeps, which well she may, for the barrenness of her fields and for the chilling blasts that whistle through her locks from unpropitious clime, her tears freeze fast to her cheeks as they are seen to flow. [END QUOTE]

  12. Wells froze, crops died. Yields were massively down from highs of up to 40 tons down to around 5 tons on some farms. Most Americans were deeply religious, perhaps more so than the British of the period. Many interpreted prosperity as a sign of God’s favour and his sustaining hand, whilst misfortune, disaster and storms were signs of divine wrath. Layered on top of this were countless local superstitions that were set out in Almanacs, pamphlets and books. Pennsylvanian farmers had often expanded their famrs to meet European demand for grain in the Napoleonic Wars, often going into great debt. It was a situation almost identical to the problems faced by Irish farmers. Religious revivalism on many of the frontier communities intensified as the weather worsened. There was a break in the weather in some area’s in June so farmers decided Spring had finally arrived and tried a planting. This involved using wooden ploughs on water logged fields. Backbreaking work.

  13. As June turned to July, wild swings in temperature left Virginia in a drought much to Jeffersons annoyance. President Madison was still not unduly alarmed. Perhaps if the weather was finally turning, a decent late harvest would see them through. The newspapers in Maine continued to worry, but famine seemed to have been avoided. Attention turned to the bitter political election to replace President Madison, one that was won by James Monroe. He was not a popular choice, with criticism of both his honesty and his intellect in comparison to his predecessor.

  14. By August farmers were planting late crops and planning for a later harvest. They were on the cusp of a recovery. Pennsylvania and New England as a whole we’re optimistic despite a few snap frosts. Most people were actually praying for rain to break high temperatures. Almost as if it was a scene from a film, at noon on 20 August the skies darkened and a massive storm hit Amherst in New Hampshire. In the next few hours temperatures plunged up to 30 degrees. The snows and frosts returned with vengeance. The stormed travelled as a harbinger of more despair. The country froze from Connecticut to Maine, from Kentucky to Ohio. Pumpkins, cucumbers, Indian corn, vines and potatoes died off in droves. For New Hampshire this was dire news indeed. The state was bankrupt with only 100 dollars in reserve. The Governor was reduced to begging banks for loans to tide them over till tax season but he was rejected. Only a federal bail out to fund the militia saved the state. In desperation, the governor was reduced to using the local prison population as slave labour for construction projects to repair lost roads and bridges.

  15. To give you an idea of how dire this really was for people, remember that 80% of the population of New Hampshire were subsistence farmers. These farms weren’t anything like as productive as in the Connecticut river valleys. These were rural farms in hilly country that were hard to work even in the good times. The farmers relied utterly on supplementing their crops with the income from cattle, plus the family would do some piece work for things like textiles to add a little extra income on the side. Farmers were now in a real bind. Their crops were dead, but their cattle needed the hay and grain which had been lost. The industrial revolution hadn’t reached New Hampshire, so if you were a subsistence farmer, that was basically always going to be your life. Like it or not. Subsistence meant subsistence, as food storage options were limited. There weren’t railways and extensive food reserves that could be shuttled around. Costal regions could at least turn more heavily to fishing, but other area’s faced genuine famine. New foods were sort out; porcupine or wild pigeon.

  16. Not that things were much better in the South. Even in South Carolina, frosts returned. Some local people noted that it didn’t matter at this point. There was nothing left to kill off. Wiser observers began to note that the weather would cause emigration. Jefferson was carefully observing the weather and was convinced that famine was inevitable. The bitter Presidential election campaign dragged on.

  17. Perversely though some area’s remained drought hit for months, even suffering forest fires and record low river levels. They finally had their prayers for rain in Virginia answered, only for it to turn into a deluge that continued for days and caused massive flood, sweeping away fields. Costal area’s all received a massive battering from the storms. Other area’s still hadn’t seen any rain, just snow for months.

  18. With brutal inevitability another blast of freezing weather and snow swept in on 10 September. Mountains in North Vermont were again buried in snow. Farmers began pulling up whatever was left in the ground, ready or not. In Quebec, the situation was desperate almost beyond description, almost as bad as in Ireland. Some local famers were reduced to trying to eat wild herbs.

  19. The horror just didn’t end. I could list more and more weather disasters like this throughout the USA in September 1816. Floods, droughts, forest fires, frosts, dry wells, frozen ground, rotten crops, thunderstorms, hail, and snow. Maine farmers faced the awful choice of whether to eat next years seeds to survive, possibly leaving them to starve to death over winter and spring with nothing to plant or feed to cattle. One famer is recorded as having killed all his cattle and then committed suicide. In religious early C19th America this was shocking. Merchants did their best to throw gasoline on the fire by eagerly exporting expensive food supplies to the desperate French and the West Indies, despite the urging of newspapers for them to be patriotic and keep the needed food back to feed starving Americans. Letters crossing the Atlantic made it clear that the whole of Europe was also in the grip of a full blown crisis.

  20. As in Britain the doctrine of free market economics had a powerful grip on the ruling class, who often refused to arrange any kind of aid or intervention. Many Governors thought prayer was the only real remedy.

  21. Now though came the moment were we see the major impact of this climatic event on history. What I’ve described to you has been awful. It has hopefully driven home the impact that climate change can have, and the way a single eruption can affect the world. Now though we are about to see the impact on history. Just as we saw in previous episodes that it had triggered emigration in Ireland and nearly kicked off a revolution in England, in New England the damn was about to burst. Huge numbers of farmers decided enough was enough. The dam was about to burst and the first great migration west was triggered. The cry went up “Ohio or bust.” Illinois was also sparsely populated and advertising for settlers. After the war of 1812 the US had been actively cleansing these area’s of Native Americans, stealing land and selling it to white settlers.

  22. The trickle soon became a desperate flood. By October 1816 40-50 wagons a day were leaving New England for Ohio through Zanesville alone. Several thousand were thought to go through Zanesville and many met with misfortune. Emigrants on the trail passed the wreckage of wagons and saw the corpses of horses and oxen strewn along the way. Imagine just how hard this decision was to take. To take a family with young children into utterly unknown territory. The gender roles of 1816 would have put the main responsibility for the decision, and the success of the venture, on the man’s shoulders. Women would have a say, especially if the couple were a happy and well matched partnership, but ultimately everything would rest on the mans skill and judgement. The psychological pressure on everyone in the family must have been immense. A difficult journey could doom them before they arrived. The man’s death or serious injury would leave the woman and any children in a dire predicament. In an era where physical strength counted immensely, especially when undertaking a hard physical journey, the loss of the man would leave the others with few options. Much employment would be closed to women either due to social prejudice or the resulting lack of experience. There were tough frontier women who were every bit the equal of any man, but they were the exception. In general the women would be faced with giving up, or attaching themselves to other families or taking employment in the nearest town, but this was becoming thin on the ground. Children would add to the heavy weight the adults had to wrestle with. One witness described a settler passing through New York from Maine, who was heading to Tennessee. The witness said he was

  23. [QUOTE] somewhat depressed by fatigue, drawing behind him a hand cart containing all his effects, chattels and provisions, and two children of age too feeble to travel; behind followed the elder children and wife, bearing in her arms a robust infant seven months old. [END QUOTE]

  24. They had covered 400 miles of the journey and still had 800 left to go. Think about what that really means. Put yourself in their shoes if you can. Conditions were desperate enough that a walk of 1,200 miles with at least 5 children from that description, seemed a good idea. The only provisions those that you can physically carry. Your children are utterly dependent on you. No one will really provide help if you live or die. A walk might sound ok, but it is day after day, so none of the family will be earning wages unless they stop to labour or trade, but thousands of others will be doing the same. Every day’s walk requires calories not just to move but to provide the energy to carry the food that provides the calories to carry the food. Some shocked bystanders donated 20 dollars to the struggling man with the hand cart, so this family were lucky for the moment.

  25. Clothes were often highly unsuitable for conditions by todays standards. Thin cotton shirts perhaps with knitted waist coats, a coat and an overcoat of wool or tweed, maybe knitted mittens and a fur hat. The mountain men would be far better off. Skilled hunters and trappers dressed in animal skins and furs with huge bearskin or buffalo skin overcoats and thick fur gloves and hats meant that they could weather the terrible conditions in the Catskill Mountains. Armed with Kentucky Long Rifles they were well equipped and were highly sought after guides for richer emigrant wagon trains. Tough men who would have legendary names on the early frontier learnt their trade from the early mountain men who survived this winter.

  26. Farmers who remained in New England watched starving wolves come closer, taking cattle and perhaps who knew, one day them. Some famers ate the stems of potato plants, wild pigeons or hedgehogs. Vermont switched on mass to surviving on mackerel. The dreadful conditions triggered immense religious revivalism.

  27. Some Native American tribes also suffered. Many sold surplus grain to white settlers in good years. Crop losses of up to 90% reduce them to having to ask churches and charities for help. It is really difficult to know how hard the Natives were hit by this event. They had the advantage of deep local knowledge and immense wilderness skills, plus they had far lower population numbers to support. But they would have found hunting in these conditions extremely hard, especially when combined with the crop losses and not had some of the technologies available to the incoming American settlers. They would also have faced immense racism and violent skirmishes with the newcomers.

  28. Emigration from New England didn’t ease the pressure as boats of desperate Irish immigrants arrived fleeing the human catastrophe unfolding in Ireland that I talked about last episode. Many starved to death in the streets. Not all died though. Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick arrived in 1816 from Ireland, and he would go on to found the famous Rocky Mountain Fur Company and run with legends like Jim Bridger, Jed Smith and even Kit Carson himself. Without the famine, who knows if the great trapping and raiding into Missouri and the other amazing events with the Comanches and the Crows in Utah, Wyoming and so many other places, would have unfolded as they did.

  29. The out going President Madison gave a curiously upbeat final annual speech to congress on the state of the nation. He lauded the government finances running a fiscal surplus, spoke approvingly of the tranquil life on the frontier, encouraged the founding of a national university and the building of more roads, plus paying down the national debt. He did open the speech with remarks about the weather, expressing his disappointment, but confident that the USA as a whole had a varied climate and plenty of food so things would be fine. He mentioned that the lack of food much encourage [QUOTE] an economy of consumption more than usual [END] but that overall [QUOTE] they could give thanks to providence for the remarkable health which has distinguished the present year. [END QUOTE]

  30. In effect the US government had adopted basically the same attitude as the British government under Lord Liverpool, but had actually taken fewer practical steps than the British had in Britain or as Sir Robert Peel had as governor of Ireland despite the far worse situation.

  31. There had been no summer. Soon October passed and winter came. With it came more snow and storms. To some it felt like the end of days had arrived. Conditions worsened and by May 1817 the wave of emigration reached immense levels. 260 wagons travelled west through the Genesse Valley in just 9 days. This means that the eruption of Mt Tambora had triggered a wave of mass migration that would reshape the American colonies into the journey from the east coast to the west.

  32. This was a hugely diverse group of migrants. Families, single farmers, religious communities, displaced southerners and ambitious adventurers, even a few new messiahs. Maine alone lost between 10-15,000 people to the emigrant trains heading west, whilst in Vermont some towns lost nearly their entire young population. The Smith family from Vermont didn’t go all the way west, instead they settled in the Genesse Valley near Palmyra, where a few years later in 1820 Joseph Smith Jnr would, according to him, meet God and Jesus who warned him of Church corruption, and who would later send the Angel Moroni to show him the location of the real gospels written on golden plate. These, the angel said, were buried in nearby hills. Smith recovered them and wrote them as down as The Book of Mormon. He went on to found the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints in 1830, also known as the Mormons. Without the Mt Tambora eruption and climate change it is unlikely his family would have settled in that valley when they did. So the eruption is in part responsible for creating a new religion.

  33. Populations in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana skyrocketed. They went from struggling to attract people to seeing massive population growth, but although the climate was wonderful for agriculture, it was a harsh frontier life. There were no real industries to support settlers. Families might be so isolated they wouldn’t see another human for months. Stone was also scarce so building materials were difficult to find. The frontier life was extremely isolated and hard. Self reliance would be an increasingly needed talent, which would feed into the later mindset of the expansion into what is called the Old West.

  34. Whilst the United States reshaped itself, and Britain and Ireland drowned in excessive rainfall, Europe was suffering. Belgium was underwater. But hardest hit of all was central Europe. Here in the darkness, and the rain, and the starvation would find fullest artist expression with the birth of the truly gothic. The heart of this complex journey in the storm wrecked Switzerland was George Noel Gordon, better known to history as Lord Bryon. In 1816 a group of people were staying in a Chateau on the southern edge of Lake Geneva. They had a terrible journey to get there, and were now basically stuck there because of the weather. If you had to pick a group of people to be stranded together, you really wouldn’t want to pick this particular mix. At its heart was the 28 year old Lord Bryon. Chased out of England, dogged by the incest scandal, debt, a failed marriage, affairs, drug addiction and a reputation as one of the finest poets to ever hold a pen. This included an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, who was married to Lord Lamb better known to Victorian fans as Lord Melbourne or Dear Lord M. Lord Byron did leave a legitimate daughter behind in England; the great Victorian Ada Lovelace – the worlds first computer programmer

  35. Byron was accompanied by Percy Shelly, whose poetry and wit he greatly admired, and Percy’s lover Mary Godwin aka Mary Shelly. There was also the wannabe poet Dr Polodori, who was professionally jealous of Lord Byron’s attachment to Shelly’s work over his own. Thrown into the mix was Claire Clairmont, half sister of Mary Godwin, who was pregnant with Lord Bryons child. Byron and Percy made various trips and visited the local social scene. The weather alternated between driving rain, flooding and damp, depressing fogs. Then came the famous night, where they challenged each other to write a ghost story. Bryon had moments of inspiration and wrote some of his best poetry, but didn’t seem to take the challenge too serious. Mary though was working hard on the definitive Gothic novel, based off her experiences with Galvanism. Dr Polodori was edged out of the company, and wrote a story called The Vampyre, which inspired Bram Stokers Dracula. So whatever his companions thought of him, he did have some talent. It is worth a read – it is free on Project Gutenberg and in pretty good in places; although the ending is frankly dire.

  36. Claire Clairmont was not a welcome presence. She begged Bryon to see her, but he wouldn’t do so alone. She was instead forced to settle for copying drafts of his latest works ready for his publisher. In the background the situation across Europe deteriorated. Switzerland had to ban the export of food, and even forbade baking white bread to save flour. Daylight was sometimes only a few hours a day. Crops rotted, potatoes were ruined in Germany. Unlike in Britain, where the free market was expected to solve problems by the invisible hand, in Prussia and Austria, massive relief efforts were underway. As a side note, relief efforts were also underway for the Prince Regent, whose overeating and overindulgence was causing his bowels to be inflamed.

  37. Eventually the Shelley’s and Claire Clairemonth would return to England in autumn whilst Bryon drifted to Italy, had affairs with an Italian Countess, wrote Don Juan and renewed his friendship with Dr Polodori. Meanwhile Switzerland teetered on the brink of disintegration. It was the worst hit country in Europe. Thousands of beggars roamed the country. The individual cantons began to barricade themselves from their neighbours and prevent the sharing of food. Many of the women and children begging were described as looking like walking corpses. Famine was affecting up to 20% of the population in some areas. Desperate Swiss authorities encouraged people to leave the country, just as Peel had done in Ireland in 1816. Civilisation itself seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Some of the desperate populations of Bavaria were reduced to boiling weeds. As merchants in Laichingen rationed relief supplies and loaned money from the poor relief funds so they could buy cheap property, it seemed like society itself would break down. 26,000 people died of famine in Eastern Hungary alone. Germans often fled to Russian or the United States.

  38. Yet as decay and destruction gathered around them, it was a great time for art and literature. The artist Turner drew great inspiration from the stormy skies and strange sunsets, Jane Austin wrote but her health declined. She would die in July 1817. Schubert produced dark master pieces like Der Konig in Thule. Bryon continued his poetry. The Russian Mystic and Writer Baroness De Krudener predicted the end of days and encourage the people of Switzerland to rise up and take from the rich to survive. Percy Shelley’s estranged wife Harriet committed suicide. Within 3 weeks Percy and Mary married. Claire gave birth to Bryon’s child, but Bryon refused to accept any responsibility. He would drift around Italy, writing the 4th canto of his masterpiece, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, eventually taking custody of his child before having her shut up in a convent where she died. Mary would never forgive him for this. He was eventually swept up in the fight for Greek independence. He died of fever aged only 36. Mary was still inspired by the weather, the bleakness, the death and finished the ultimate Gothic master piece – Frankenstein. She would continue to write, even after Percy was drowned in a storm at sea in 1822. Fortunately before he died, Percy was able to give us the epic Ozymandis. Romanticism was to become a serious cultural theme through the Victorian era, especially in Britain and Germany. Whilst romanticism started in the C18th much of its finest flowering was born as a result of the weather of 1816.

  39. The years of 1816-1817 had rocked the world. I could go country by country and list more and more tragedies, famines, and deaths. It was in a way like the black death. A trigger for change through horror. The vibrant art reflected this, but it wasn’t triumphant or religious. Instead, the Gothic, Romantic and Bryonic do not express heroes or heroines succeeding against the odds. They don’t require nobility, common sense or even morality from the characters. Romanticism is about the relationship with nature and the triumph of passion over reason. The erratic over the sane and the feeling over the intellect. It is a rejection of mere pastoralism or arcadianism. A happy ending is definitely not required. Dr Frankenstein is not in anyway a moral or sympathetic character. He is driven to rebel against the natural order in frantic hubris and obsession. Much of the back drop of the novel is against the dire weather in Switzerland, and you can see why given where and when it was inspired. It includes heavily the motif of fire and Prometheus. Dr Frankstein is a warning against obsession and attempting to challenge the natural order of things. Romanticism might be about connection with nature, but it had a strong strain of doom and catastrophe running through it, alongside it’s inspirational elements. It was in my view a reflection of the authors subconscious feelings of helplessness and doom in the face of the climate. In a way it became part of the DNA of Victorian culture, and a counterweight to the belief in progress and modernity, or increasingly linked to Romantic Nationalism and Ethnic Nationalism. Romanticism would therefore be a huge part of the Victorian world, often blended with the Gothic as Mary Shelly had done in Frankenstein.

  40. Mt Tambora had shaken world. In its art, its literature, its society, its geography and its science. The Victorian age couldn’t have unfolded how it did without this great event. Join me next time as we turn back to England, where if Waterloo was its greatest triumph, a new event was to be its Nadir. It is time to witness the massacre of Peterloo.

MINI0019 Men Getting Dressed 1840’s style

Clothes maketh the man; but how did a gent dress in the 1840s? This episode features;

  • Intro & podcast update.

  • Clothing, class, and mindset.

  • Beauty standards.

  • Aspirational dressing.

  • Wasn’t it cold!

  • Men getting dressed in 1840.

  • Underwear.

  • Shaving – a risky business.

  • Shirts & sewing.

  • Trousers.

  • Waistcoats.

  • A riot of colour & overcoats.

  • Men get pockets; pistols optional.

  • Reviews and spoilers!

Link for the art work is

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.





The upmarket version of Mrs Beetons classic
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Victorian British


  • Mixing bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • muffin tin
  • knife
  • table spoon
  • rolling pin
  • Chopping
  • Sauce pan
  • chopping board


  • 3 Large lemons
  • 3 Large apples
  • 1 lb Stoned raisins
  • 1 lb Currents
  • 1 lb Suet
  • 2 lbs Moist sugar
  • 1 oz Sliced candied citron
  • 1 oz Sliced candied orange peel
  • 1 oz Sliced candied lemon peel
  • 1 teacup Brandy
  • 2 tbsp Orange marmalade
  • Butter (soft) for baking


  • Grate the lemons, set rind aside. Then squeeze the juice into bowl.
  • Boil the lemons in water in the saucepan till soft and then chop them finely.
  • Skin and core the apples. Bake until soft then chop them finely.
  • Mix lemon choppings and apples
  • Now add all the ingredients to the bowl, and mix thoroughly.
  • Store in a clean jar in the fridge for 1 week till ready to bake.
  • Get your pastry (either home made or shop bought), and roll to desired thickness (suggested 4 cm)
  • Grease the muffin trays with butter
  • Cut the pastry into circles and add to muffin tray
  • ⅓ or ¾ fill subject to your taste. Put light pastry lid on top.
  • Bake in oven for 20 mins (or till golden). Sprinkle with ice sugar if desired.


Keyword Christmas, Mince Pies, Traditional, Victorian


Merry Christmas everyone. What a year, so lets round it off in comfort. This special episode features.

  • Thank you’s.

  • Quick chat about Victorian Christmas Cards

  • Introducing Mrs Beeton, and the standardisation of recipes.

  • Why running a household really was difficult.

  • A valet or a butler?

  • Hints of gender conflicts and the danger of left over Turkey.

  • Order above all – Spit Spot.

  • Mince pies, and extraordinary mince pies

  • What would the neighbours say?

  • The birth of sweets

  • Dying for a humbug

  • Pass the arsenic.

  • A Christmas Ghost story.

You can find the full mince pie recipe here

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


Mrs Beetons ordinary mince pies

The classic recipe from Mrs Beetons original Household Management
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Victorian British


  • bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • muffin tin
  • rolling pin
  • knife
  • table spoon
  • chopping board


  • 2 lbs raisins
  • 3 lbs currants
  • 1 ½ lbs lean beef
  • 2 oz citron
  • 2 oz candied lemon peel
  • 2 oz candied orange peel
  • rind of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ pint brandy
  • 1 nutmeg
  • Puff pastry (shop bought or home made), or filo pastry or sweet crust pastry.
  • Butter
  • icing sugar to decorate


  • Stone and cut the raisins once or twice across, but do not chop them; wash, dry, and pick the currants free from stalks and grit. Set aside
  • mince the beef and suet, taking care that the latter is chopped very fine. Set aside.
  • slice the citron and candied peel
  • grate the nutmeg
  • pare, core, and mince the apples
  • mince the lemon-peel, strain the juice
  • when all the ingredients are thus prepared, mix them well together, adding the brandy when the other things are well blended
  • press the whole into a jar, carefully exclude the air, and the mincemeat will be ready for use in a fortnight. (I'd recommend that you store it in a refrigerator for no more than 5 days as it has meat in it, or you properly seal it in a sterilised preserve jar).
  • Roll out the pastry to desired thickeness, allowign for it to expand during cooking.
  • Cut cirles from the pastry.
  • Grease the muffin trays, then insert the circles, being sure to make sure the sides come to the top of the muffin holes.
  • Find willing street urchin to fill the muffin holes with your mince meat. Have them stoke the coals of the oven.
  • Put a layer of pastry on top of the mince pies.
  • Place in the oven and have the urchin watch them to ensure they are not over cooked.
  • After 30 mins remove from the oven and show them to the urchin. Give the urchin a ½ penny and a cup of watered down gruel for their trouble. Then reflect on your lack of Christian charity, given them a crown and two mince pies.
  • Cool and serve with sprinkled icing sugar.


The key to Mrs Beetons ordinary mince pies is the home made mince meat including the beef. You can get fresh beef suet at the butchers, or shop bought pre-packed. She would have made her own pastry of course, and cook would doubtless siphon off a little more brandy than was strictly needed. What sets this recipe apart from modern mince pies is the use of beef.

Be careful with the storage as this recipe contains raw meat; you probably want to be a bit more careful with it than the Victorians were!

If you marinate it over night in the fridge and cook the next day then it is fine. If you want it to last longer, keep in fridge overnight. The next day sterilise one or two air tight preserving jars. Preheat the oven to 110°C. Wash the jars and lids well in hot clean water and place on a baking tray (do not put any plastic or rubber seals in the oven). Put the jars and lids in the hot oven for 10 minutes. After leaving the jars to cool, divide the mincemeat between the jars, seal and label. You can store the mincemeat in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Or try her Extraordinary Mince Pies that don't contain meat.

Keyword Christmas, Mince Pies, Traditional, Victorian


The journey into Empire continues as we look at Tasmania, known as Van Diemen’s Land. Here the European settlers, the indigenous people, the convict system, the bush rangers, the lure of food, the battle for land, resulted in war, conquest and genocide. The birth pang of a new world was one of agony, yet the future of a unique culture and the amazing beauty of the island were in stark contrast to the declared British ambition of making it the ultimate penal hell. Join me for the complex and painful settlement of Tasmania, and its incorporation into the Empire.

  • This episode covers

  • Guest promo and thank you’s.

  • The brief history of Tasmania and the amazing geograph and ecosystem.

  • Settlement and strategic necessity – keeping the French out.

  • First contact goes wrong – the Risdon Cove Massacre.

  • Mad Tom loves a drink.

  • Governor Sorrell vs the outlaws.

  • The sad death of the Tasmanian Whisky Industry – murdered in 1839

  • The Black War begins – the stage is set for genocide.

  • Tools of the trade – muskets & raiding.

  • A terrible place for a soldier – why colonial Van Diemen’s Land was feared.

  • What was left after? A land of possibilities.

  • The forgotten – listening to the descendants.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


The journey into Empire continues as we look more closely at the Australia’s, and the difficult issues of landownership, native rights, and how land can tie to identity. I also cover the culture clash between the Europeans and the Indigenous Peoples. This is part 2, which covers more of the background of Empire in the Australia’s, the First & Second Fleets, the impact of liberalism and the difference in world views between the Europeans and the Indigenous Peoples, the lure of food, the battle for land, the place of science and the timeline leading to the early Victorian Era in the Australia’s. If you haven’t listened to pt1 yet, I suggest you do that before listening to this.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


The journey into Empire continues as we look more closely at the Australia’s, and the difficult issues of landownership, native rights, and how land can tie to identity. I also cover the culture clash between the Europeans and the indigenous aborigines. This episode then breaks and in part 2, it will cover more of the background of Empire in the Australia’s, the impact of liberalism and the difference in world views between the Europeans and the Aborigines, and the timeline leading to the early Victorian Era in the Australia’s.

This part covers

  • Thank you’s to Patrons, and listener reviews.

  • Elaboration on listener feedback/comments.

  • The complexity of ethnic identity in the UK.

  • The idea of conquest as a legitimate means of ownership

  • Indigenous rights as a concept

  • The culture clash between Europeans and the Aborigines at a high level

  • Terra Nulis and settlement.

  • To whom the law applies

  • The first steps to human rights

  • Break for end of part 1.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


To understand the past, sometimes we need to examine our values and subject them to philosophical analysis. The British Empire was a complex, varied entity that stretched across the world and changed over the centuries. How do we understand the mindset of those people in the C19th who created it, or lived in it? This episode is designed to get you thinking and analysing big questions and unpleasant moral problems. Ultimately the answers will be down to your judgements. Be warned some material is upsetting and contains references to genocide, racism, slavery, the holocaust, abortion and critiques of religion. I hope you find it stimulating.

  • Thank you’s to Patrons, and some listener reviews.

  • The complexity of Empire, and the settler empire.

  • How common were empires?

  • Are people innately warlike and violent?

  • Is life important; the need for philosophy.

  • Is life important; what would God do, and does that make it ok?

  • Is life important; building a moral framework for atheists.

  • The worst pub bore ever – drunken philosophy.

  • The economic value of life.

  • If your people are starving, is it immoral not to invade another country?

  • The right to liberty and freedom to do what you want except when you can’t.

  • Heuristics, mental shortcuts, and cognitive biases; how bad decision making affects empires.

  • The power and danger of othering.

  • Look him in the eyes as he dies.

  • Gengis Khan, and how to turn genocides into hero worship.

  • The dangers of anarchy, law and order.

  • Some impacts of Empires; feeding the hungry, and killing other people.

  • Final thoughts.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


How does the Queen of Kingdom and ruler of the Empire choose a husband? This is not a choice to get wrong, so Victoria was under pressure. Was Albert the Romantic Prince and perfect companion of her dreams? Learn about the Prince, his childhood, his music, & his journey from shy intellectual to confident suitor to the Queen.

This show covers

  • Prince Alberts childhood & family scandals.

  • The close relationship between Germany & Britain.

  • The German Romantic movement.

  • Did they really fall in love?

  • Albert had groove.
  • A royal proposal & Lord M’s advice for marriage.

  • What, a German? Tory opposition and financial constraints.

  • Preparing for the wedding.

  • The Bride Wore White.

  • A very, very successful wedding night.

Thanks for your listening. I hope you enjoy. If you want to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, follow me on twitter @ageofvictoria, visit the website at The show also has a facebook page and group. Just search for Age of Victoria. Don’t forget to leave a review on iTunes, it takes less time than making a coffee. If you want to support the show on patreon, just click here, or you can go to Patreon and search for age of victoria podcast or my name.


How was Victoria coping with being Queen? She was intelligent, stubborn, cultured, but sometimes misguided and blinkered. Worse, the nation itself seemed fractured, bitter, and in danger of collapse. Her first two years as monarch showed the need for her to have a partner. Someone who could share the load, act as a lightning rod and shield on shoulder, and make the transition from partisan Queen to Monarch for the whole nation. There were some dangerous rocks in the waters and Victoria would have to learn to tread carefully as she made her steps on the journey to being the monarch that united the nation.

This show covers

  • Reviews and thank you’s

  • Lord Melbourne – brief biography

  • Introduce Sir Robert Peel

  • Situation of UK/Empire in 1830’s.

  • Chartism.

  • Lady Flora Hastings

  • Affair of the Bedchamber

  • Resolution

  • Victoria’s mental/physical state.

  • How Prince Albert helped.

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You can listen on iTunes, Apple Podcasts and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean. Don’t forget to tell your friends.

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EP030 3rd Anniversary Special: Victoria & Albert -a Royal and a Romantic.

The podcast is 3 years old, so time for Victoria and Albert to become a couple. One of histories famous romances and two names that almost define the age. Yet it was a strange road that brought them together. In this show we look at Queen Victoria’s tricky love life, the problems of being a royal celebrity, meet some of Prince Alberts competition, and learn how they finally came to meet. But was it love at first sight?

Gallery of Romanticism Key Works

This show covers

  • Reviews and thank you’s for 3 years

  • The importance of the German Romantic movement.

  • The problems of a royal marriage.

  • A woman? As Queen? What would the Bible say?

  • Immaturity and dynastic tangles.

  • Stalking Victoria.

  • Enter Prince Albert, stage right.

  • Duke Alex, boxes of bling, and heartbreak.

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These are some key works that give a flavour of the range of works in the Romantic movements around Europe. I will add to this gallery from time to time. It is important to remember the impact that paintings had on culture. They were not separate, but far more entwined with mainstream events; Liberty Leading the People was a striking political statement, and has become iconic. The Slave Ship by Turner was just as much a political statement; he painted it to encourage Prince Alberts opposition to the horrors of the slave trade. The Romantic movement transcended borders and allowed a rich cross-fertilisation of ideas in art, poetry, music, science, literature, philosophy, archaeology and government.


EP029 “The Court of King Cholera – the great Victorian plague” explores one of the most famous pandemics in history. There was horror, death, and a little hope. Many bad decisions, anger and mistrust, but also groundbreaking science. When disease strikes it is easy to think humanity is levelled and we all stand together – does history prove this is true?

This show covers

  • Reviews and thank you’s

  • The initial panic of cholera?

  • Mt Tambora and the first pandemic

  • Poverty and failure.

  • Official corruption, murderous doctors and anti science mobs.

  • The dawn of the Victorian era in the time of Cholera.

  • What is the cause? Is it something in the air?

  • The lowest point – horror show at the orphanage.

  • The Doctors Strike Back.

  • Onwards and upwards, or a warning from history?

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You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean. Don’t forget to tell your friends. The sources for this episode are here

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There are a huge number of sources on Cholera and the Victorian response to the great pandemics. It affected everything from science to art to culture to city planning. I used the following sources for episode 029, but there is so much more to discover. This should provide some good jump off points.


MINISODE 018 RAILWAY TIME is here to take a light hearted look at the social etiquette of train travel, and the small matter of how the trains revolutionised time. This show covers

  • Reviews and thank you’s

  • Railways; is this a polite way to travel?

  • “I say, have we met?”

  • The problems with the timetables.

  • The Victorians control time itself.

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EP028 BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? RAILWAY MANIA AND SOCIAL CHANGES is here to count the cost of progress. As railways make men staggeringly rich, people start to fly too close to the sun and get their wings singed. Or fall prey to predators, like George Hudson, the Railway King. This episode covers

  • Reviews, thank you’s and some podcast recommendations

  • Railways; bringing a potential bonanza.

  • The profits of the first line, and tragedy.

  • The cost of doing business; political bribery.

  • A growing mania.

  • Boom time turns bust.

  • George Hudson – rise and fall of the first Great Railway Baron.

  • The end of the mania, and a new normal.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean. Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show on Patreon, and get exclusive patrons only episodes plus other goodies.

EP027 Pt2 “made it run”

Railways were one of the great achievements of the Victorian Era, but they are complicated and hard to build. This show covers the process and the people involved in building these incredible pieces of engineering. Pt 2 of this episode covers;

  • The navigators; hard work for hard men.

  • Drink hard, play hard, fight hard.

  • The riots.

  • Individual lives.

  • The great railway tunnels.

  • The miners – life and death in the dark.

  • Monuments to sacrifice.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean. Don’t forget to tell your friends.

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EP027 Pt1 “Once I built a railroad”

Railway building was a great achievement of the Victorian Age, but railways are complicated and hard to build. This show covers the process and the people involved in building these incredible pieces of engineering. Pt 1 of this episode covers;

  • The kinds of labourer & builders.

  • Surveying and risks to historic sites.

  • Wordsworth and the Lake District.

  • Acts of Parliament and politicians on the take.

  • Equipment troubles

  • The navigators; hard work for hard men.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

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EP026 The railway is coming!

The railway is here. What a change Britain was about to see! A herald of a new age, and new way of life. Something new in human history. This episode covers;

  • The English landscape and the train 1820-1840.

  • Early trains & popular .

  • Economic impacts.

  • Canal and coach monopolies.

  • Slum clearance & Agar Town.

  • A riot in Basingstoke.

  • Triumph of the railways.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

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Bonus episode of The Age of Victoria & The Siècle! Learn about the differences between how France and Britain experienced the years after Waterloo in a conversation between your host Chris Fernandez-Packham and David Montgomery, host of the Siecle Podcast.

We chat about the state of Britain and France after the battle of Waterloo, to around 1830. I really enjoyed this opportunity chat to a fellow history fan. British and French history is deeply entwined and getting perspectives of each was fascinating. If you haven’t listened to the Siecle, please do because it is covering the same period as the Age of Victoria, but for the French. It will increase your understanding of the C19th immensely and is also extremely enjoyable.

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

Support the show on Patreon, and get an exclusive patrons only episode plus other goodies.

MINI017 Great things are done when men and mountains meet

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet; This is not done by jostling in the street.” -William Blake

Join me for this adventurous minisode.

This show has

  • Setting the scene; literature and the quest for adventure.

  • How Victorian masculinity was shaped by adventure literature.

  • How the mountains effect our minds

  • An ordinary boy from Surrey gets a job oversea’s.

  • The philosophy of mountains in the Victorian era.

  • A dangerous climb.

  • A woman’s place is seeking adventure..

Follow the show on Facebook on our Facebook Page or in the Facebook group for Victorian trivia or the latest news.

You can listen on iTunes and subscribe for free to get all the latest episodes, or even leave me a review. The show is also on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean and you can also listen via the website at Don’t forget to tell your friends.

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Details on Queen Victoria’s coronation are available, but the event is often skimmed over in popular histories on the topic. I touched on her coronation in episode 24, and used the following sources to provide a favour of the day. Tracking down the musical and Order of Service was tricky, but luckily some dedicated Circular in 1902 had gone to a lot of trouble to do a detailed reconstruction, and I’m really glad about that. I will add to this list when I do a future deep dive into the coronation.

In addition to those, I consulted the usual general sources on Victoria that are listed in the sources for episodes on Victoria’s early life.



The episode you are about to hear is part 2 on the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815, and its immense effects around the world that lingered long into the Victorian period. If you haven’t listened to pt 1, please listen to that first. The ash and dust from Mt Tambora had spread out around the entire world by winter of 1815. Last episode I described the enormous dust cloud in the pacific. I made a mistake though when I got the location of Pittsburgh wrong, which is in Pennsylvania. Well done to eagle eyed listener Jonathan for spotting that. I apologise to all you lovely listeners who live in either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Both states are lovely, and one day I would love to visit both for beer and burgers. So here’s hoping.

I just wanted to mention before we get going that the show now has a new logo and artwork. Don’t worry, I haven’t been bought out by Disney as a new addition to the Marvel Universe. It is just that I wanted something that was a bit brighter and a bit more focused on Victoria. I’ll miss the Lady of Shallot as she got us on the air, but I love the new look and owe Rob at Totalus Rankium an immense thank you for the amazing design work.

Also a huge thank you for the most recent iTunes reviews by Tigpack, Holh123 and Ms Pod-a-lot. I really love getting these reviews, and they help new listeners find the show. If you want to say a thank to me for making the show, well head to iTunes, make sure you are logged in, search for the Age of Victoria Podcast, and click on Ratings & Reviews. Then click on Write a Review. Then tell the world what you think.

Play show introduction including contact details.

[QUOTE] I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Morn came, and went – and came, and brought no day.

Men forgot their passions in the dread

Of this their desolation; and all hearts

Were chill’d into selfish prayer for light.


Lord Bryon “Doom” 1-9

The climate chaos in Europe in 1816 inspired Bryon to write those chilling words. Now everyone would have to deal with the consequences. They are almost to vast to be believed at first. When talking about climate change, sometimes the small numbers can mislead people into thinking that the impact is also small. The world can seem so vast and immutable that the idea a minor thing like a volcano in South East Asia could change world climates and up end civilisations seems too fantastic. That’s because the human mind is very geared to the immediate, the fight or flight response. We aren’t very good with the idea of system changes and disruption.

Climate science

The year of 1816 is a powerful illustration of the wild effect small changes in climate numbers can have. It was unfortunate that the eruption occurred during a very vulnerable period in Europe. The continent was already experiencing a cold decade since 1810, and previous volcanic eruptions had exacerbated this cooling trend. If these eruptions were like putting too much gasoline or petrol on the BBQ, well the massive Mt Tambora eruption was like having the air force drop napalm on it. The scale of the eruption was cataclysmic. The release of aerosols disrupted the critical North Atlantic Oscillation and the Jet stream changing the weather in Europe immensely.

One immediate impact was to strengthen the polar vortex. This is a common outcome of disruptions to the jet stream. Some listeners might recall in 2017-2018 North American temperatures plummeted as a result of just such a strengthening of the polar vortex caused by disruptions of the jet stream. Likewise a weakened jet stream has been responsible for the incredible hot summer in Europe & the UK in 2018. The model of how changes to the jet stream affect weather is well established and you can see it in both the 1815-1816 event and the more recent polar vortex events caused by climate change.

Now you might be jumping up in your seat saying “come on, how do we know what the volcano did to temperatures.” Well in the first place we are really, really lucky that weather observation was a great passion in the C18th and C19th. Thomas Jefferson was an obsessive observer of weather, even taking observations on 4th Jul 1776, a time when he was rather busy! The Royal Navy kept meticulous air & sea temperature records, along with notes on the weather & cloud formations. Even during battle no interruption to recording was permitted. Their study of the trade winds and climate theory intensified throughout the C19th.

Many, many Americans like Timothy Dwight and many Europeans across the continent religiously recorded temperatures and weather patterns. Ironically there was ongoing debate in New England about whether the climate was warming up and whether deforestation was to blame. Observers noticed the effect of deforestation on the soil and how it increased the problem of drought and water run off, with drier soils expected to be warmer therefore creating a feedback loop. The basics of climate change were being understood in the earl C19th but a lot of the links and main causes were still unknown. The jet stream wouldn’t even be discovered until after WW2. Modern scientists have measured the aerosol remnants of the eruption in ice core samples and lake sediments. They have also recorded the plummeting temperatures in tree ring growth. As solar dimming went into effect around the world, land then sea temperatures dropped. Sunsets became increasingly red or orange and strange, enough to show up in analysis of art work of the period. People became fearful of portents. There is even a popular supposition that the eruption might have influenced the weather the day and night before the Battle of Waterloo, destroying Napoleon’s last fading hope of victory.

Before we look into events on the ground, we need to have a quick think about famine. There’s a fairly fashionable view that famines are only caused by political mismanagement or bad economic decisions, and that there is always enough food to feed people. It is just that bad economics means people can’t afford the higher prices of food in times of scarcity. What you need to remember about this idea, which I am not challenging, is that it is mostly applicable to post industrial societies where human mismanagement is the trigger for most famines. In the pre-industrial world and the Victorian era, absolute food supplies could be wiped out. Excessive rain, flooding, drought, volcanoes, plague, deforestation, desertification and inundation from the sea could mean that absolute food levels declined precipitously.

Mainland Britain

In Britain, the great struggle of the day in 1815 was dealing with the post Napoleonic War economy and the increasingly dysfunctional Royal Family. On a continent wrecked by war, a series of poor harvests had made the populations immensely war weary and fragile. Now millions of soldiers were being discharged and the civilian authorities would have to integrate them back into economies that badly needed rebuilding. This was difficult as the ruling classes mostly had little to no interest in the welfare of the general population provided the overall wealth of the nations territories was maintained. Free market economics was the ruling philosophy in Britain. The market would determine people’s monetary worth. Most educated people thought government interference in the economy would always make things worse.

Britain as a whole enjoyed a good harvest in the Autumn of 1815. It was the calm before the storm. Winter in England seemed colder than usual. March saw some recovery with excessive rain, then April had some snows preventing travel in places. This delayed the growing season, but wasn’t extreme. Scotland had a miserable, freezing winter and lots of storms. Even in May conditions didn’t seem to improve in Scotland. Across Europe in May snows fell. Farm land across the UK remained unproductive and the weather threw great, great lashes of snow, sleet and rain at farmers. The Royal Cornwall Gazette raised concerns about farmers having to give up on some crops Unfortunately the government was led by the mediocre Lord Liverpool, with Lord Castlereagh periodically usurping his meagre authority. King George III descended further into blindness and irreversible madness, whilst the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) became increasingly fat, extravagant and despised. By March 1815 the Prince Regent had wracked up personal debts of over £1,480,600. A sum of money that was simply mind boggling at the time. For comparison, the HMS Caledonian, one of the finest First Rate warships ever built for the Royal Navy in the Age of Sail, cost £96,381 to build and another £6,711 to fit out. In other words, the Prince Regents debts could have covered the cost of a world class battleship and had change to perhaps build a supporting frigate and operate them both. His debts were nothing like as much in the national interest either.

There’s great quote here about the state Britain was in in 1816

[QUOTE] Lord Liverpool entered 1816 facing a host of problems as Britain made the transition from war to a peacetime economy. A trade recession caused in part by the termination of wartime contracts forced numerous businesses to cut wages or lay off workers and others to declare bankruptcy. The ranks of the employed swelled further as the government rapidly demobilised the army, throwing more than a third of a million men into the labour market [END QUOTE]

It was in this atmosphere that debate raged over the corn laws. They were designed to keep grain prices high by preventing imports. They weren’t meant to punish the poor per se; instead the idea was that they kept British farms in production. The corn laws prevented importation of grain unless British grain prices fell below a certain level. Essentially acting as a subsidy for farms that wouldn’t be able to stay afloat without them. The knock on effect was that the poor paid a higher price from grain, and as grain was a huge portion of their entire spending, the high prices were regressive and punitive. Still rural farms were major employers, and the main food source. The British government had to keep them in business. The problem was that the effect was far beyond keeping them in business and far more about lining the pockets of already rich landowners.

Riots broke out in Bridport, Dorset and then in Bury St Edmunds. Demobilised soldiers in East Anglia were hit by the collapse of the old cottage based spinning industry as a result of the industrial revolution, and also a massive collapse in wages, as well as sky rocketing food prices. In Norfolk nearly 1,500 people armed with improvised weapons raised flags saying “Bread or Blood” before looting shops and farms for food, as well as attacking local gentry who had to call out the militia. The town of Ely was also rioting for food. Eventually the local magistrates had to call out not the local militia but the Yeoman Cavalry supported by profession troops from the Royal Dragoons. Ominously for the authorities, the riots barricaded themselves into the tavern and it appeared shades of the French revolution were in danger of sweeping across the country. The troops had to storm the tavern, killing one rioter. 80 were arrested, and 5 were hanged.

Onto this dangerous situation of desperate hunger, unemployment and wage collapse, the government response days before the Bridport riot was to vote to spending tens of thousands of pounds on wedding gifts to the Prince Regents daughter Charlotte. One land owner spoke for many of the ruling class when he grumbled

[QUOTE] The main root of evil is in the taxes. [END QUOTE]

There was no thought really from the establishment of any form of poor relief. Some of the population were getting utterly desperate, roaming the country for support, or hoping the Prince Regent would take up their cause. The Prince Regent was told by Parliament that the government had already done everything it could, and the only real remedy was to give things time to improve. His reply spoke volumes, as he lamented

[QUOTE] the distresses of some classes of the people and trusted that they would bear them with fortitude and energy. [END QUOTE]

That’s a hard message to hear from a man of incredible wealth, immense debts, and who was so fat he had to wheeled in a special chair up a ramp to mount a horse.

It was onto this fragile country with a dysfunctional government and despised monarchy that the climate devastation was about to really bite. As wet, cold spring turned into a wet cold summer, even by English standards, some of the press began to worry about the next harvest. They couldn’t know it, but wild swings were occurring with the jet stream, causing mass climate destabilisation across Europe and Northern America. It rained almost daily, and even in mid July storms brought more rain and hail, and even total darkness in parts of Scotland.

Some of the smarter economists like Thomas Maltheus or David Riccardo knew that the situation was teetering on the brink of disaster throughout the United Kingdom, but couldn’t think of real alternatives to the hands off approach of the government. By the end of July the Anglican Church was officially praying to God for relief from the weather. Rain, hail, landslides and flooding continued to ruin crops across the entire UK and Europe. Shockingly to many English tourists, they found the situation in Europe was even worse than in the UK. France remained under occupation, straining food supplies to breaking point, and it was in post Napoleonic political crisis. Food riots broke outing France and Belgium. This crisis of 1816-1817 has been called the last great substance crisis of the Western World. It was the last real time in Europe when there was an absolute lack of food on a massive scale.

The knock on effect on British trade was catastrophic. 2/3 of jobs were lost on the London docks. 10,000 servants were reported as out of work. If the official response was poor, at least some Dukes, senior churchmen and reform campaigners began meeting to arrange private charity relief. The need was desperate. In one parish alone 800 men queued for meagre relief supplies of bread and cheese.

Remember this kind of suffering can’t be waved away. A person whose farm had been devastated, and whose tenant farmer employer had left him unemployed had no where to turn. The situation for the causal labourers was even worse. There were thousands in this situation. Eventually hunger and starvation will override any kind of obedience to law. Imagine you were a magistrate and you tell a man who is watching his family starving to death in front of him that it is fine because it would be immoral for the government to interfere with the economy or for him to steal money from the rich aristocratic who is spending it on wine and lace. That’s not how humans work. Eventually there comes a snapping point. It had happened in France, and Britain teetered on the brink. Let’s step back and ask why the ruling class responded this way to the crisis. Leave aside the moral consideration of what kind of person would let people starve to death if they could help stop it, especially with little real impact on themselves. Look instead at the incredible shortsightedness of it. What is it that made the ruling class in Britain so secure in the idea they could continue as things were? I think a lot of it comes down to importance society of the time placed on hierarchy. The rigid world view that had been internalised at all social levels. The British establishment world view couldn’t flex to view poverty as anything but a moral failure rather than a result of massive structural inequalities and devastating climate change.

At the end of August more snow was added to the misery of the almost constant rains sweeping mainland Britain. Even the normally chirpy establishment newspaper the Times begin to allow hints that all was not well, but still maintained the line that the wheat harvest had been bountiful. This was either deluded or dishonest. Fake news of the highest order. The government duly attempted a coverup, by suppressing reports into crop yields and conditions as they were so alarming. Crop after crop was lost, and any hope of a good late harvest evaporated. Canterbury alone suffered economic losses of around £70,000.

The philosopher James Mill wrote to the economist Riccardo

[QUOTE] the corn here is absolutely green, nothing whatsoever in the ear; and a perfect continuance of rain and cold. There must now be of necessity a very deficient crop, and very high prices – and these with an unexampled scarcity of work will produce a degree of misery, the thought of which makes the flesh creep on ones bones – one third of the people must die – it would be a blessing to take them into the streets and highways, and cut their throats as we do with pigs.” [END QUOTE]


The effects of Mt Tambora were beginning to be felt in Ireland as early as January 1816, when ferocious storms wrecked the Sea Horse transport ship in Tramore Bay killing 363 people.

Tragically agriculturally fragile Ireland was hit with devastating force. I do want to emphasise that when I’m talking about Ireland now, I’m giving you a really brief skim of the surface. C19th Irish society, geography and economics were very complicated, and are often indulge far too much the subject of historical stereotyping or romanticising about a huge subject.

80% of the rural population of Ireland were incredibly poor tenant farmers and labourers, who even in the best years hovered over the brink of ruin. Marginal farms had been brought in to production by the richer members of the tenant farmer class, and the Anglo Irish gentry during the boom of the Napoleonic Wars, which had now gone bust. Almost all of Ireland was dependent on land wealth in some form; whether rich or poor, everything came back to the land. The gentry owned it, and took out huge loans on it, whilst providing jobs and local spending. The middle class did the day to day tenant farming and the great mass of the population did the labour. A vast gulf existed as the Anglo Irish landowners often only spoke English whilst the main of the population spoke Irish. Each feared and hated the other to a degree.

I want to remind you though not to read back from the Great Famine of 1845, also known as the Irish Potato Famine or the Great Dying, and this event. They were two very different events with very different causes. The Irish potato famine hit an already fragile society on its main crop which had come to be over relied on by the very poorest of the population, whereas the the famine of 1816 hit the entire of Europe across every kind of plant and animal farming, hitting all classes. In normal times, Ireland was prosperous agriculturally and didn’t have an unusual history of famines compared to the rest of Europe. The effect of the Great Famine sometimes distorts the history of Ireland and makes it easy to assume that the whole history of Ireland was one of poverty and starvation. It wasn’t, and was regarded as agriculturally rich.

Still the reliance on the potato meant that populations in Ireland had increased rapidly by 1816, yet society rested on a fragile base. The land, even in good years, could only just support the growing population as land became increasingly subdivided between growing families. The potato allowed a family to live on a small area of land, focusing their diet on potatoes, cows, chickens and pigs. This increased reliance on the potato even more at the bottom of society, and stored up trouble for the future. It wasn’t the primary cause of the famine in 1816. The massive population kept wages low as well. As America became more prosperous, Ireland exported less to the USA, leaving it achingly dependent on trade with Britain. The recent act of Union hadn’t helped. When Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, the Irish Parliament was eventually abolished and Irish MP’s were granted seats in the Westminster Parliament. Whilst some in Ireland were initially excited about this, since it gave them access to the ruling Parliament of one of the most powerful nations in the world, it had some huge draw backs.

Firstly Irish MPs were hugely outnumbered, so although they could now raise Irish issues on a larger stage, they had less voting power to make changes. Secondly the Irish were seen as culturally and socially distinct so they couldn’t operate the power and patronage back channels to circumvent these problems like the English. Thirdly it meant that local understanding and connections were lost. Fourthly, Ireland was now part of the same domestic market as the rest of the UK. Its textile workers and farmers were in direct competition with their fellow workers on mainland England (Scotland and Wales had different economies so they weren’t in the same markets).

Parts of Ireland did have an industrialising urban base similar to England, but it couldn’t easily compete with the established large scale mills in the North of England. There were also substantial numbers of Irish cottage based weavers who were facing the same problems as their English cottage based weaver counter parts.

Also please put to one side the idea that Ireland was overpopulated. The idea of over population is a difficult one. It isn’t a case of having too many people or too many babies. It depends greatly on how much food can be produced, the energy needs of the people, and wider economy. The rural Irish population was considered backwards by many tourists, and standards of housing were dreadful in comparison to more prosperous towns, but it is interesting to note that the Irish population as a whole was regarded as well fed and healthy. Reliance on the potato earlier than in mainland Britain, meant that overall calorie intake was quite high and compared favourably to the rural poor in England. The Irish History podcast has looked at this in a lot of detail, and we will do a deeper dive in our future episodes.

What is striking though is just how fragile the Irish economy was, how dependent it was on a few key area’s, and how dysfunctional the political structures were especially with absentee landlords. This was made worse by poor and repressive government from Westminster. The overall impression of Ireland in 1816 is one of a socially unsettled country that didn’t have the economic and agricultural resilience to cope with major shocks.

The enormous social tensions in Ireland meant that the British authorities were mostly focused on keeping order. Crime and disorder became a self fulfilling prophecy. There had been some recent violent uprisings, and the British viewed them as treasonous or at the very least criminal. It is worth baring in mind that during the Napoleonic Wars, some members of Irish society had formed alliances with the French to assist invasions, so the British viewed the loyalty of some of the Irish as highly suspect. The main establishment authorities, including men like Robert Peel, came expecting to find rampant crime, found it, assumed that this was the cause of the problems in Ireland and then focus on crime. This increased tensions, fuelling the cycle. Innate distrust and prejudice against Catholics only made things worse, whilst Irish gangs rioted for good reasons and bad, often robbing and intimidation the law abiding. British government reprisals could be extremely brutal and occasionally indiscriminate, worsening relations. The British monarchy was in an especially difficult position when it came to Catholic Ireland. The four King George’s and William IV were all from the House of Hanover. The claim of the Hanoverians to the English throne was based on the explicit claim to be protestant monarchs not Catholics. It was linked to the claim that the only other royal house that could have claimed the English throne, the House of Stuart, was illegitimate because it was Catholic. That might sound trivial to us, but it had huge implications. If the Hanoverians supported Catholic rights or emancipation in Ireland they were undermining their own claims to the right to the English and Scottish thrones. After all, if Catholics were entitled to equal treatment and freedoms, then surely there was no basis for the House of Stuart not to have retained the throne and that would make them the ruling house. This was a real bind for the conservative upper classes, including Sir Robert Peel.

In Ireland, men like Sir Robert Peel were too detached from the reality on the ground for the bulk of the rural Irish population. The rain was decimating crops, with over 143 days of rain in row totalling 31 inches. Daniel O’Connell, the nationalist was horrified at conditions, and even the gentry were facing ruin.

The climate disruption triggered one of the great demographic earth quakes in history. Irish people who could began the first major emigration to the United States, but also to Canada. To Peel’s annoyance it was the richer protestants who left. He would have preferred it to have been from the mass of souther rural poor to ease the pressure on food supplies and hopefully reduce death rates. He had no idea of the terrible situation in the USA and nor did the emigrants. Sadly for many of them, fleeing didn’t bring safety. Supplies would sometimes run out on the voyage to America, and many destitute people who did reach New Jersey or Philadelphia starved to death in the streets. The poorest of the population could often only afford the cheap tickets to Liverpool, and the mass emigration of the Irish to the British mainland caused immense tensions as they almost inevitably ended up as labourers, competing for already scarce jobs. (Dr Majorie Bloy

By September and October, full reports of the utter humanitarian crisis in Ireland were beginning to hit home with Peel and the London Press. County Kerry, County Mayo, County Westmeath, CountyFermanagh, County Antrim and County Down all reported massive flooding, wiping out what was left of the crops and potatoes. Some fields near Drogheda, were so flooded, they were colonised by ducks swimming on them.

Ok, if that isn’t shocking enough, think about this. Most of the rural population in Ireland depended on cutting peat and turf for fuel, shelter and building materials. The rain made it sodden and useless. What meagre food there was couldn’t easily be cooked, and there was no fire for warmth. Peel now knew he had a massive disaster on his hands, but as he said

[QUOTE] I fear we have melancholy prospects before us and are threatened with calamities for which it is impossible to suggest a remedy. [END QUOTE]

It is easy to assume that Peel was blind to the problems in Ireland and came with the common hostile attitude held by most of the ruling class, but he actually commented that he regarded the Irish in a positive light, with immense potential for development. His correspondence and replies in Parliament were often extremely positive in around 1816. He said in a reply to Sir J Newport in the House,

[QUOTE] that it is impossible to see them without admiring many of their qualities. [END QUOTE]

he went on to list them as being faithful, honest and chaste in marriage. He always commented on other occasions about the problems of Ireland being what we would call structural; he was scathing about the absentee gentry and felt the lack of them living in Ireland, but collecting rents from estates they owned there, was holding back the economy, taking money out of the country, and weakening the talent pool that would normally be the back bone of the local administrations and court systems. He also attacked the free press in Ireland, which he viewed as the main cause of many of the problems in the country, since it corrupted what he viewed as an honest population in his opinion. His view was wholly paternalistic. He was a Tory after all, but it was based on the assumption that a local land owning gentry should actually be local, bound to the community and incentivised to help it prosper. He wanted greater protection for some key industries to allow them to develop, and he was highly reluctant to sanction military deployments. There’s an interesting quote from him in a debate in Parliament – the Army Estimates Feb 1816

[QUOTE] The house must not suppose that the government listens to every hasty application from magistrates for a military force. Such applications often spring from groundless fears; and the answer invariably returned to them is, that it is impossible to attend to every individual who makes them. [END QUOTE]

I’m telling this so you understand that Peel was a clever, complicated person. He wasn’t a repressive tyrant, nor did he want to commit some kind of genocide in Ireland. He did come to the view that only law and order maintained by the army would keep the country from collapse. This was a dangerous course though. The Protestant army in Ireland had engaged in some brutal repressions of the local population, and had also suffered some brutal reprisals or random attacks. The use of the military in Ireland was never going to help improve social tensions or help with necessary reform. Still put yourself in the shoes of the officials in many rural area’s. There’s no refrigeration, no trains or trucks to move food around. No mass reserves of food, no real canned goods or rations. The main bulk food stuff that was relatively non-perishable and transportable ws grain and perhaps rice. These weren’t going to be available at short notice, and even if they were the expense was huge and there was no real way to distribute the food around the countryside.

Administration remained primitive and used parchment and dipped ink pens. News travelled slowly in rural Ireland, even by the standards of the C19th. Even the best of administrations was slow, but Ireland in 1816 was a society with deep structural problems, rife with social and religious tension, deep issues in its government and suffering periodic repression from the Westminster Government and British army. It is easy to blame the authorities, but as the old saying goes, try walking a mile in their mochasins. When mass climate disruption hits, human societies can suffer seriously. Whilst the easy view is that the authorities are always at fault, the reality of system wide shocks is far more complicated, especially in a country with the difficulties faced by Ireland.

As if Ireland hadn’t suffered enough though, with grim inevitability, disease in the form of Typhus struck in September. It would kill tens of thousands of Irish. Combined with the famine over 100,000 Irish would die. This was tragedy on an enormous scale. The fear and helplessness goes beyond easy understanding. The Typhus epidemic would continue until 1819. It is ironic to note that when the great famine struck Ireland in 1845, Peel was Prime Minister. Again he was responsible for dealing with a colossal crisis in Ireland, and again he was initially unaware of the terrible scale of the humanitarian disaster unfolding, but he would eventually come to destroy his party and government to repel the Corn Laws in part to help the victims of the great famine.

In October northern England was again hit with ferocious floods. East Riding, Berwick, and numerous other towns, were flooded with bridges washed away and fields inundated. Labour was so cheap by now farmers could take their pick of workers, but with no crops to harvest there were no jobs. Cattle couldn’t be fed, so were sold off at rock bottom prices threatening the ability of farmers to keep enough livestock for the following year.

At the very top of society though, Lord Liverpool and his government were feeling fairly happy. They were pleased to see revenue from taxes rising, and in accordance with the classic economic theories of the times assumed this meant people were obviously buying more goods, so the economy was growing and therefore overall the economy was actually healthy and wealthy. Low interest rates, good gold reserves and plenty of credit and relatively low debt levels made him feel even more confident. Any problems with the lower class weren’t the problem of the government; it was for the invisible hand of the market to sort out. Private charity, not government aid was viewed as the only possible response; the job of government was to keep spending and taxes low. Government aid was viewed as encouraging idleness.

It strikes me as strange how these arguments get rehashed and go in endless cycles throughout history. Still, it seems an immense stretch to say in hindsight that the poor were at fault for the massive climate disturbance in 1816. Bread prices were soaring. People across the country were desperate in unimaginable ways. Food riots broke out again and again. In hard hit Wales, strikes and riots broke out. Magistrates called for troops. Eventually as local yeoman were not enough, veteran cavalry from Waterloo were deployed in Newport to crack what seemed to be a rebellion. Still the government did nothing, convinced that this was revolutionary agitation rather than sign of distress. When 8,000 people gathered at Spa fields to talk about petitioning the Prince Regent in November the temperature dropped below freezing. Snow returned. The protesters railed against high taxes and ominously the Tricolour flag of revolution was seen flying, liberty caps were mounted on pikes, and cries went up of marching on “the British Bastille” of Coldbath Fields Prison. American Ambassador John Quincy Adams was shocked to find people starving in the street. Lord Castlereagh, star of our episodes on the Congress of Vienna, had his home stoned. The Prince Regent refused to meet MP’s petitioning for reform and Lord Liverpool refused to assemble Parliament to debate. A mob formed and marched on the Tower of London, but was dispersed.

This was the perfect excuse for Lord Liverpool. He summoned Parliament in January and whipped up fears that there was a revolution, so strong repressive legislation was needed to preserve national security. Spy networks were set up, meetings of more than 50 people were required to obtain prior permission, a gagging act was brought in and ancient rights of Habeas Corpus were effectively suspended. Meetings were broken up. Cavalry were deployed enthusiastically. Quick trials and hangings of suspected rebels became common. Transportation to Australia was increased. With great reluctance though Parliament was forced to enact schemes to provide loans to employers to create jobs usually though public works like road building, canals or land improvements. The response was electric and take up immense. It wasn’t enough to force Lord Liverpool to take the situation in Ireland seriously, despite Peel’s efforts to provide food to the poor and also keep a lid on serious riots. Peels attempts to import grain failed miserably, so he finally tired of waiting on Lord Liverpool. He set up his own distribution system run by 5 protestants, 2 quakers and a Catholic. This was shockingly radical for the time especially from a Tory. He created a small scale financial fund based on the same model as the British schemes. It remained a drop in the ocean, especially against the background of mutual hostility and establishment prejudice.

Gradually the year of 1816 ended and in 1817 the climate, although harsh, began to stabilise enough for a more normal harvest. Times would remain bitterly hard for the bulk of the working population of the United Kingdom and reform would be strongly resisted by the ruling classes. The next 15 years of British history was defined by the war for social reform and democratic reform. This is the backdrop Victoria herself would grow up in, and attitudes to the monarchy were deeply shaped by this disastrous period, especially the immense unpopularity of the Prince Regent (later King George IV). Without Victoria, and more especially without the brilliance of Prince Albert, it is likely the damage to the monarchy done in this period would never have been repaired and perhaps Britain would have joined the continent in the year of revolutions in 1848.

Join me next time as where we turn our attention across the Atlantic and discover that in America there was no escape from the icy grip of the Year without Summer.


Victorian Christmas Time! Mistletoe and Wine; listening to Podcast time.

This is a special episode for Christmas 2019. Learn about the hustle & bustle of the Victorian Christmas, with a focus on the games and entertainments. Find out how much effort people went to, then enjoy the bonus story on a special subject.

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