Lost films from Victorian Britain revealed by Essex Social Historian

  • Date

    Tue 16 Nov 21

Professor Pamela Cox

Professor Pam Cox joined a team of experts to analyse the footage for a feature-length documentary which screens on Saturday 20 November.

Victorian Britain: The Lost Films offers audiences a unique window into a bygone era when a thrilling new invention, the motion picture camera, first captured a nation on film.

Most of these films have been transformed by being colourised for the first time, allowing Britain to be seen as the Victorians themselves would have seen it. Ordinary life and extraordinary events are recorded on the films from a century and a quarter ago. They offer a rare portrait of a powerful and prosperous nation - and Empire - on the cusp of great change.

Professor Cox from our Department of Sociology, together with other historians, filmmakers, authors and those with direct connections to the films, will explore the intricacies and contradictions of everyday Victorian life depicted in this rare footage, from triumphant events and disasters, to the unveiling of secret desires, from the life of infamous criminals to sporting passions, soldiers at war and children at play.

Professor Cox said: “These moving images of Victorian Britain are incredible. Being able to see the faces of match girls, dockers, shoppers and emigrants, as well as celebrities of the day, brings their stories right into our living rooms and helps us understand that time in a new way.”

Victorian Britain: The Lost Films will tell the tale of the disastrous launch of HMS Albion at Blackwall on the Thames in 1898, which killed 34 spectators, the life of infamous cat-burglar and murderer Charles Peace and the story of William Booth’s Salvation Army tackling safety conditions in the match industry and saving Match Girls from sure death by ‘phossy jaw’.

The programme also features surprising celebrities of the music hall era, such as Little Tich, Annie Oakley, and the world’s first body-builder, Eugen Sandow.

These moving images illuminate a world which feels both eerily familiar and irredeemably lost. They leave us with a sense of a past time that still shapes aspects of our lives today.

Victorian Britain: The Lost Films is screened on Channel 5 on Saturday 20 November at 6.30pm.