Gothic Revival architecture became increasingly significant during the period, leading to the Battle of the Styles between Gothic and Classical ideals. Charles Barry's architecture for the new Palace of Westminster, which had been badly damaged in an 1834 fire, was built in the medieval style of Westminster Hall, the surviving part of the building. It constructed a narrative of cultural continuity, set in opposition to the violent disjunctions of Revolutionary France, a comparison common to the period, as expressed in Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution: A History and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. Gothic was also supported by critic John Ruskin, who argued that it epitomised communal and inclusive social values, as opposed to Classicism, which he considered to epitomise mechanical standardisation.
The middle of the 19th century saw The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first World's Fair, which showcased the greatest innovations of the century. At its centre was the Crystal Palace, a modular glass and iron structure – the first of its kind. It was condemned by Ruskin as the very model of mechanical dehumanisation in design, but later came to be presented as the prototype of Modern architecture. The emergence of photography, showcased at the Great Exhibition, resulted in significant changes in Victorian art with Queen Victoria being the first British monarch to be photographed. John Everett Millais was influenced by photography (notably in his portrait of Ruskin) as were other Pre-Raphaelite artists. It later became associated with the Impressionistic and Social Realist techniques that would dominate the later years of the period in the work of artists such as Walter Sickert and Frank Holl.
Industrialization brought with it a burgeoning middle class whose increase in numbers had a significant effect on the social strata itself: cultural norms, lifestyle, values and morality. Identifiable characteristics came to define, in particular, the middle class home. Previously, in town and city, residential space was adjacent to or incorporated into the work site, virtually occupying the same geographical space. The difference between private life and commerce was a fluid one distinguished by an informal demarcation of function. In the Victorian era, English family life increasingly became compartmentalized, the home a self-contained structure housing a nuclear family extended according to need and circumstance to include blood relations. The concept of “privacy” became a hallmark of the middle class life. “...The English home closed up and darkened over the decade (1850s), the cult of domesticity matched by a cult of privacy.” Bourgeois existence was a world of interior space, heavily curtained off and wary of intrusion, and opened only by invitation for viewing on occasions such as parties or teas. “The essential, unknowablility of each individual, and society’s collaboration in the maintenance of a façade behind which lurked innumerable mysteries, were the themes which preoccupied many mid-century novelists.”
. -Theatre Halls were numerous and performances were regularly given by theatre troupes, ventriloquists, hypnotists, poets, comedians, choirs and orchestras.
-Circuses came to town and set up in parks and public places.
-There were carnivals, art exhibitions and lessons in singing, dancing and cooking to attend.
-Talks were given by visiting notables, scientists, preachers, and people who had been adventuring in different countries.
Depending on your social status, you could join various social groups such as 'The Gleaners of Nature', sewing and craft groups, sporting and church groups, as well as various lodges and friendly societies. Well-to-do ladies would often join committees and organise events such as bazaars and exhibitions to raise money for hospitals, churches and charitable exhibitions. However, in the 19th century, working hours were long and the pay inadequate. Many working people were poor and could not afford to attend the theatre or have the time to join social groups, as they had families and children to look after. Entertainment was yet another area that separated the classes.
Having lunch away from home is one area where the social groups differ.