A Blossoming Cultural Scene

The Crochet Worker by York artist William Etty 1840s - York Art Gallery

The Victorian thirst for self-improvement, allied to the increased leisure time of the middle classes, led to a boom in cultural activity. 

York Choral Society was born in 1833.   Between 1823 and 1835 four Music Festivals took place in York.  The success of the first festival led to the building of the Festival Concert Rooms behind the Assembly Rooms.  Many impressive performances were staged at the concert rooms.  The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray lectured there in 1857 and the following year Charles Dickens read from A Christmas Carol, during the first of his four visits to York.

The success of the Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition in the grounds of Bootham asylum in 1866 led to a similar event on a much larger scale held at the newly built Exhibition Hall in 1879.  More than half a million people attended.  The building was sold to the Corporation in 1891 and became the City Art Gallery in what is still known as Exhibition Square.

In 1822 the Yorkshire Philosophical Society was formed to pursue the study of natural sciences, as well as to combine the private collections of individual members.  Soon afterwards it founded the Yorkshire Museum and Botanical Gardens (now Museum Gardens).

The British Association for the Advancement of Science was founded with the help of the Society and had its inaugural meeting at the Yorkshire Museum in 1831.

The York Mechanics’ Institute, or Institute of Popular Science and Literature, was opened in 1827 and the York Subscription Library moved to larger premises in St. Leonard’s Place in 1836.  York Medical Society established a medical school at the County Hospital in 1834.

This was one of many educational advances made in Victorian York.

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