Palaces of Pleasure

Palaces of Pleasure : From Music Halls to the Seaside to Football, How the Victorians Invented Mass Entertainment

3.55 (73 ratings by Goodreads)
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An energetic and exhilarating account of the Victorian entertainment industry, its extraordinary success and enduring impact

The Victorians invented mass entertainment. As the nineteenth century's growing industrialized class acquired the funds and the free time to pursue leisure activities, their every whim was satisfied by entrepreneurs building new venues for popular amusement. Contrary to their reputation as dour, buttoned-up prudes, the Victorians reveled in these newly created 'palaces of pleasure'.

In this vivid, captivating book, Lee Jackson charts the rise of well-known institutions such as gin palaces, music halls, seaside resorts and football clubs, as well as the more peculiar attractions of the pleasure garden and international exposition, ranging from parachuting monkeys and human zoos to theme park thrill rides. He explores how vibrant mass entertainment came to dominate leisure time and how the attempts of religious groups and secular improvers to curb 'immorality' in the pub, variety theater and dance hall faltered in the face of commercial success.

The Victorians' unbounded love of leisure created a nationally significant and influential economic force: the modern entertainment industry.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 35.56mm | 725.75g
  • United States
  • English
  • 24 color illus.
  • 030022463X
  • 9780300224634
  • 548,956

Review quote

"The author is a serious academic, his researches oceanic and his arguments exhaustive, his subject as much economic as social history [. . .] Readers of this scholarly but intoxicating book will share the author's glee."-John Walsh, The Sunday Times

"Lively and superbly researched history" - Paula Byrne, The Times

"As Lee Jackson demonstrates in his beguiling study of the 19th-century entertainment industry, pleasure is, at bottom, a deeply serious business, and the sharply opposed forces at work in Victorian society were just as apparent on the sea-front of England's south coast as in a House of Commons committee room the great strength of his book lies in its attention to detail."-D. J. Taylor, Wall Street Journal

"This fascinating history shows how . . . new venues flourished, along with music halls and seaside resorts, thanks to a growing middle class, favorable legislation, and shifting morals."-New Yorker

"[An] engaging account of Victorian mass entertainment [. . .] fascinating background on the rise of London's gin palaces, which created panic in middle-class observers when they noticed that the gaudy decor of these working-class venues - all shiny plate glass and flaring gas jets - was hard to distinguish from their own favourite West End shops" -Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Guardian

"A fascinating book exploring the history of light entertainment in this country." - David Leafe, Irish Daily Mail

"[Jackson] is wonderfully comprehensive and engagingly readable"- Andrew Lycett, Spectator

"Jackson creates an unfamiliar picture: gone are the stern, upright, moral men and women of popular imagination. Instead, the Victorians are revealed with all their foibles and desires." - Joanne Cormac, BBC History Magazine

"Lee Jackson's authoritative and fascinating book makes a nonsense of the claim that the 21st century is the age of mass instant gratification."-Alexander Larman, The Observer

"Lee Jackson is an expert on the Victorian era and he brings the pleasure palaces of the title ably and vividly to life, recreating a world that is all too often ignored in favour of the stereotype of covered table legs and unsmiling monarchs." - All About History

"This fascinating book is a guide to the pleasure domes of 19th-century England, most of which would have been closed if campaigners for moral improvement had got their way" -Clive Aslet, Country Life

"This entertaining book provides a valuable insight into just what our Victorian ancestors got up to in their leisure time when they had more free time and money in their pockets" -Karen Clare, Family Tree Magazine

"In this wide-ranging survey of Victorian fun Jackson [. . .] takes the reader on a journey through gin palaces, music halls, seaside resorts and football stadia to counter the narrative that the Victorians were all about moral asceticism and po-faced imperialism." -Charlie Connelly, The New European

"It turns out that the Victorians were very much amused. Lee Jackson's entertaining chronicle of 19th- century entertainment depicts a riot of laughter and hi-jinks."-Oldie

"[A] readable and immensely informative discussion of Victorian popular attractions"-The Victorian Web

"Jackson's focus is predominantly metropolitan but his conclusions about developing London amusements are supported by reference to other towns and cities demonstrating a fascinating overlap of offerings not to mention personnel"- Kathryn Ferry, The Victorian

"[A] readable and immensely informative discussion of Victorian popular attractions and venues" - Jacqueline Banerjee, Cercles

"There is a sense, throughout Jackson's book, of the sheer bustling energy of our nineteenth-century forebears when it came to finding ways to spend their leisure time" - Mark Jones, Albion

"Jackson writes well, has researched widely, has an eye for telling detail, aided by 26 illustrations, and has something new to add on each of his topics."-Hugh Cunningham, Cultural and Social History

"Jackson's narrative is appropriately entertaining, adding much colorful detail to a fairly well-known history."-Robert Snape, Journal of British Studies

"The industrialisation of the modern world is, all too often, described entirely in terms of coal, iron and desperate factory lives. In Palaces of Pleasure, by contrast, Lee Jackson has produced a detailed look at the industrialisation of pleasure: how the Victorians turned enjoyment into Big Business."-Judith Flanders, author of The Victorian City

"A treasure-chest of a book. Queen Victoria may not have been amused - but her subjects certainly knew where and how to party."-Liza Picard, author of Victorian London

"It is a pleasure to stagger (in print, of course) from pub to gin-shop to music hall with Lee Jackson as your companion. This is outstanding scholarship that changes our notions of 19th-century entertainment. It is original, thorough, accessible and fully explains the commercial underpinnings of change in this sector across the century. "-Sarah Wise, author of The Blackest Streets

"Inspired and fascinating. Jackson leads the reader on an incredible journey and breaks new ground in our understanding of the pioneering entrepreneurs who created mass entertainment for the Victorians."-Alex Werner, Lead Curator, Museum of London
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About Lee Jackson

Lee Jackson is a well-known Victorianist and creator of the preeminent website on Victorian London ( He is the author of Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth and Walking Dickens' London.
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Rating details

73 ratings
3.55 out of 5 stars
5 11% (8)
4 47% (34)
3 32% (23)
2 8% (6)
1 3% (2)
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