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Happy days

19 December 2011

The Victorian era is indelibly linked to great British prosperity but also the images of overcrowded slums and the grim spectre of the workhouse. Whether we celebrate our ancestors’ achievements or condemn their wrongdoings, we are very much beholden to the Victorians for affording us more leisure time and fashioning the way we enjoy the festive season.

In 1841, a Baptist missionary named Thomas Cook observed the growth of the railway system and hit upon the idea of cheap day excursions resulting in a deal with the Midland Railway Company to put on special trains for trips to the seaside. But, in those days, leisure time was minimal, there were 54 days in the year – Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday – on which ordinary legal obligations with regard to business were suspended.

The industrious Victorians simply wanted more time off to enjoy their reward for labour. The movement for a change in working practice proved to be fruitful, not destructive; Saturda...

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