Pastimes and Leisure

Many Victorian and Edwardian children spent much of their time indoors playing with their toys, board games and reading.

Our late Victorian children have a variety of wooden toys including a rocking horse, a couple of hobby horses, and a railway engine with two trucks. Conrad's most treasured possession is a tin boat with a clockwork engine; in the summer he plays with it in a nearby pond. He also has a few flat lead soldiers. His sisters each have a doll. Their father has made them a wooden Noah's ark.

The children have a few books, including 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and Kate Greenaway's 'Book of Games'. They also have a set of letter bricks, and various puzzles and games.

Once each week, their nanny Mary takes the children to the public library so that they can borrow books. She also encourages them to write letters to their cousins who live a few miles away in the countryside.

The family has a piano, which Constance is learning to play, and so the children sing songs with Mary, and in the evenings with their parents.

Conrad plays football in the street with his friends who live nearby. The girls play hopscotch and similar games.

In the summer, Mary takes the children on a trip to London Zoo. They also go to the cinema.

Children's Parties

For parties where children were present there were games. Blow football was played, as was Pinning the Tail on the Donkey, snakes and ladders, and quoits. Particularly later, in the Edwardian era, there were board games reflecting adult pursuits such as horse-racing, cars and flying machines. Magic was popular too. Edwardian adults and children enjoyed table tennis and the diabolo. The phonograph was available as were Punch and Judy shows. Children also played croquet, leapfrog, tag, hopscotch and blind man's buff. Other games included 'tip the man off the log' with two children on a log on low supports with a bed of straw below. They had soft pillows to bash each other. A 'horse-racing' game involved a row of posts, and one child with a second, blind-folded on reins - like a slalom. The winner was the fastest pair to complete the course.

Party food, like all food at this time, was seasonal and modern tropical fruits were not available. Mrs Beeton does not list 'picnic', 'party' or 'children' in her index so perhaps grown-up food was usual. She mentions croquettes, for example of chicken but no chips, though she does have 'fried potatoes (French fashion)' in which the potatoes are sliced and fried on both sides in hot butter or clarified lard.

A typical Victorian or Edwardian party menu for middle-class children might have been:

  • cold meat
  • cold meat pie
  • salads
  • sandwiches
  • vol-au-vents
  • sausage rolls
  • savoury tarts
  • bread
  • jelly
  • trifle (this had no jelly, just a sweet fruit puree, then custard, with whipped cream on top)
  • blancmange
  • ice cream
  • cakes

To drink, Mrs Beeton mentions lemonade (the type that is cloudy), but the rest of her recipes have alcohol.