Samhain, All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween – whatever you call it; it’s been celebrated throughout history, almost without fail. With roots in both religion and superstition, modern day celebration involves family and communities coming together to dress up and play games.
This year though let Jack the Ripper Walks take you back to the Victorian era in the best way possible. But what would Halloween truly be like in the Ripper’s era?
Set The Scene
Rewind to Jack the Ripper’s time: 19th century England held a changing Victorian landscape that was benign of any real disease or epidemic, and for the first time, upper-class Victorians held higher mortality rates than ever before. Women outnumbered men, and, as a result, many turned to prostitution – the Great Social Evil – when they were unable to find a suitor.
Class was a major factor in entertainment, but largely, the Victorians continued to enjoy the arts – literature, theatre, music, drama, and opera. Mesmerism and ghost conjuring were popular pastimes, as was the study of nature, birds and insects. The more affluent families would eat lavishly and fill their spare time with raucous laughter. The upper class were likely to enjoy days out on the train, whereas the lower class would play street sport and play among their communities.
The London that was once crammed full of sprawling mansions with aristocratic families was now full of slums, and houses crammed with as many bodies as possible. Housing was scarce, and children were forced into work – as chimney sweeps or in factories – so that families could afford rent.
That Fateful Night
So, how exactly would one spend Halloween in the Victorian times? We know that family and community were fundamental, and we know that there was a penchant for dramatics and frivolity. With that in mind… we introduce the Halloween Play Party.
Invites would be miniature Jack O’ Lanterns or crafted invitations in the shape of pumpkins or ghosts, complete with rhyme. Guests would be friends, family and romantic interests.
Quiet harvest celebrations with food and drink, sharing stories of those loved and lost, telling ghost stories and fortunes, singing, dancing around the bonfire and general merriment would be had. Children would take part in scavenger hunts, bob for apples and play games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Some games were geared towards fortune telling and predicting future romantic interest.
Costumes are a big part of Halloween today – in particular, traditional vampires with blood-strewn faces, as well as frills, lace and corsets which are commonplace – but with Classic / Gothic dress, a big part of the Victorian era, costumes were particularly novel and rare. Costumes, if worn, were not scary at all and revolved around clowns and royalty.
Victorians scared easily yet they craved the fear and embraced the world of the undead. Many people attended live medium shows and Ghost Conjurings to contact the dead. Upper-class Victorians would command spirit photographers to demonstrate their haunted abodes.
Not quite the Halloween we know and love today, but still a chilling and spooky time was had by all. If you fancy a bit of the action, and you prefer your celebrations to be more along the lines of true, haunting crime, then join us on our Halloween Special: Jack the Ripper Walk – it’s seriously creepy.