Daily life in Victorian times was strictly regulated, with rules of etiquette that were not to be breached even during leisure time. In the mid-1800s visits to public parks, libraries and halls increased, with free access to all. However, behavior in the park, such as picking flowers, engaging in any unbecoming conduct or public meetings was strictly forbidden. There were many indoor and outdoor activities that became 'the rage'.
Lawn tennis was a popular sport for middle-class women in Victorian times. At first tennis entailed patting the ball gently back and forth on a well tended lawn outside the home. A score was not kept but the game became far more competitive as time went on with men soon caught up in the competitive spirit of the game, finding it an excellent method of exercise and a useful mental and physical outlet.
Rules and equipment evolved as time went on with rules of lawn tennis formalized in 1874. Today the famous, prestigious Wimbledon tennis matches in England are still played on grass courts.
Croquet is an outdoor game played on a lawn, where the players hit wooden balls with a mallet through hoops that are embedded into the grass. Croquet was one of the most popular of all recreational games during Victorian times and the game spread in popularity to the Americas.
Fishing, game hunting, and fox hunting in Victorian times continued largely unchanged from previous centuries. Sports such as rowing became immensely popular, the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race on the Thames began in 1829 and the tradition continues today.
Cricket, rugby, soccer, and competitive track events became the norm in public schools during the first half of the nineteenth century becoming popular outside of school life as well. The twenty-four volume "Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes" (1885-1895) reminds us of the sheer variety of athletic activities to be encountered during the later Victorian years: cricket, golf, horse-racing, steeplechae, skating, swimming, boating, yachting, cycling, carriage-driving, archery, tennis, football, shooting, hunting, fishing, track and field, falconry, billiards, mountaineering, fencing, curling, ice-hockey, boxing, wrestling, and racket-ball.
Analogously, the Ladies Field reminds us of how many women might be found involved in them, both as spectators and as participants. --Walter L. Arnstein - Victorian sports essay - Victorian Entertainments
Music and Singing
Music was a favorite form of indoor recreation in Victorian times, with many a young lady expected to perform at social gatherings and functions. The piano was an emblem of social status.
A young woman could be judged as to her training and practice by her proficiency in playing the piano before a genteel audience. Among women, the piano was one of the few areas where a woman could express and distinguish herself.
The Victorians delighted in making music themselves, thousands of songs and piano pieces in styles ranging from the highly serious classics to the popular and comic music was composed and published for the amateur market, with pianos becoming more affordable to the middle classes as time went on.
Dancing became a tradition in Victorian and pre-Victorian times. Queen Victoria helped influence its popularity by giving evening concerts. The waltz and polka were quite popular dances at balls, there were also jigs and country dances popular during this time.
At home, music continued to be a polite accomplishment, particularly for young ladies in need of a husband. The Victorian age is associated with musical evenings and no house was complete without a piano, whether a grand piano in the drawing room or an upright piano in the parlour. Also, women were now allowed to play the violin. In 1839 the journal Musical World said, 'we think so highly of ladies and the violin that we rejoice at every opportunity of their being introduced to each other'.
In both private houses and public concerts, the audience was expected to listen in silence, just as it is today. This could be tiresome. Charles William Day, in his Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society (1836), wrote:
'It is generally the misfortune of musical people to be such enthusiasts, that... they seldom know when to leave off ... The listeners get fidgetty [sic] and tired, although they are usually too polite to say so. A song now and then is very desirable, as it is a relief to conversation, but half a dozen consecutively ... would become a bore.'
Day also reminded his readers that the job of the accompanist was to accompany and not to drown out the singer. Fortunately, he wrote, 'when highly gifted musicians are found in private society we have generally observed their delicacy to be in proportion to their excellence.' One such performer was Frederic Chopin, who captivated an audience and delighted in meeting Queen Victoria at Stafford House in 1849. He had a less rewarding evening with the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, particularly when one of the visitors contributed with 'the most dreadful tunes' on a concertina and left him with the impression that they were all mad.
Nevertheless, even if the audiences were not always sophisticated, there was plenty of money to be made by performing in Britain, especially London, with its long tradition for privately financed public concerts.