The Great Exhibition, the Crimean War and the first postage stamp
1840: Pimm's invented
James Pimms serves his No 1 Cup as an aid to digestion in his oyster bar in the City of London
1840: Beau Brummel dies of syphilis
Beau Brummel was the most influential dresser of his age, the leader of the fashion movement known as Dandyism. His taste for well-cut, understated clothes marked a move away from the bright colours and high heels favoured by the Prince Regent (the only area for patterns and colour was in the exquisitely tailored waistcoat). He also introduced innovations in the wearing of neck cloths, the Hessian boot and pantaloons rather than breeches that were wrinkle-free, thanks to handy loops that went over your feet. A true pioneer!
1840: Houses of Parliament finished
Architects Barry and Pugin are responsible for the Gothic style of the new Houses of Parliament (built to replace the Palace of Westminster that burned down in 1834). The tower that houses Big Ben was not completed until 1859
1840: RSPCA formed
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gains royal approval (becoming the RSPCA). The English are famous for their love of animals and the RSPCA was the first animal protection society in the world, dedicated to changing public indifference to cruelty against animals, appointing inspectors and prosecuting people guilty of cruelty.
1840: First Penny Black posted
The Penny Black was the first pre-paid self-adhesive stamp. It was printed with black ink and cost 1d - hence the name! This was the beginning of the modern postal service.
10 Feb 1840: Victoria marries Albert
A veritable love match, the young Queen and her German husband were devoted to each other. Albert popularised many German traditions that became English favourites, such as the Christmas tree.
1841: Fox Talbot patents the calotype
William Henry Fox Talbot invents a means of transferring a photographic negative on to another piece of paper as a positive image. He calls this new invention a "calotype". This was one of a few photographic processes that Fox Talbot was working on at this time.
01 Jul 1841: First issue of Punch
Punch was a satirical magazine famous for its political cartoons (they were the first to start using the word in this sense) and high quality of comic writing, poking fun at everything from contemporary fashions to foreign affairs. Many well-known writers worked there, such as PG Wodehouse, Douglas Jerrold and George Grossmith, as well as many artists who you can learn about elsewhere on this site, such as Tenniel. Two famous English books which started by serialisation in Punch were Vanity Fair and 1066 And All That.
1842: Treaty of Nanjing
This treaty opens China to trade with Britain and lends Hong Kong to the British Crown for 150 years. It brings a modest number of Chinese immigrants to England, mostly merchant seamen.
July 1842: Chadwick shocks the nation
Edwin Chadwick's shocking Sanitary Conditions Of The Labouring Poor report is published, detailing the appalling living conditions of the poor in cities. The report sparked an interest in the government in public health issues.
23 Oct 1843: Nelson's Column a dinner venue!
Stonemasons have dinner at the top of Nelson's Column before his statue is put in place
1845: Lear's Book Of Nonsense published
Written by Edward Lear as a diversion for his patron's grandchildren, this was the first book of nonsense poetry, limericks and illustrations. His later collection, Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany And Alphabets (1871), contains The Owl and the Pussy-Cat and The Jumblies.
1845: First brass band competition
Held at Burton Constable stately home.
1846: Hans Christian Andersen frenzy
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales appear in no less than three different English translations this year! Andersen visited London the following year and was delighted to see copies of his books in so many shop windows.
1846: Irish Potato Famine peaks
One million people will have died by 1851. The terrible poverty of Ireland at this time caused a wave of Irish emigration – to England but also further afield, especially America. The response of the British government to this disaster was scandalously slow.
June 1846: Repeal of the Corn Laws
The Corn Laws were a series of measures which banned the importing of wheat or kept its price high. They were aimed at protecting British farmers but made the price of bread too high for many of Britain's poorer citizens. They were therefore a focus of discontent for many. John Bright and Richard Cobden had been campaigning for their abolition since 1839 but it was the effects of the famine in Ireland which were key in their eventual repeal.
1847: Wuthering Heights published
Introducing the ultimate glowering romantic hero, Heathcliff, with his doomed love for Cathy, Emily Bronte's passionate novel is still a fantastically atmospheric evocation of the Yorkshire Moors. It has often been filmed, staged and televised and is the inspiration for Kate Bush's song of the same name.
1847: Jane Eyre published
Only slightly tamer than her sister Emily's novel published in the same year, Jane Eyre follows the fortunes of its heroine from orphan to wife of wealthy Mr Rochester. Another one of the troubled romantic bestsellers of all time and frequently dramatised.
1847: Vanity Fair published
Thackeray's novel was set during the Napoleonic wars but was intended as a satire on his own age
1848: The Communist Manifesto
Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, while living as exiles in London. This book sets out the principles and practices of communism which were then developed by Lenin and others.
1848: Year of Revolutions in Europe
France, Italy and Germany all experience revolutions this year
01 Aug 1848: Cholera outbreak in Broad Street
Some 500 people died in only ten days from drinking infected water from the Broad Street pump in London - but nobody knew it was the drinking water that was spreading the disease until Dr John Snow began to investigate and realised it was a water- rather than an air-born infection. He had the pump sealed up and the deaths ceased. This was a break-through in medicine and was influential on later Public Health legislation.
1849: Sinking of the Royal Adelaide
This ship, carrying immigrants to England from Cork, went down with all hands, highlighting the dangerous journey many Irish people were making at this time.
1850: In Memoriam AHH published
Tennyson's long poem cycle, inspired by premature grief at the death of his friend Arthur Hallam. Tennyson went on to become Poet Laureate and one of the central literary figures of the age. He was photographed on numerous occasions by his friend, Julia Margaret Cameron.
1850: First bowler hat worn
Invented for James Coke, the bowler hat was midway between the formality of a top hat and the soft felt hat worn by the lower middle classes. The hat was hard, to protect the head. It became the traditional accessory of every City gent and only went out of everyday use in the 1960s.
1850: "How Do I Love Thee?…"
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes her sonnet cycle, Sonnets From The Portuguese. A celebration of the love between herself and fellow poet Robert Browning, it contains this famous poem, often read at weddings. The true-life story of their secret love, elopement and happy marriage in Italy is as romantic as the poems themselves.
1851: Dodgson goes up to Oxford
Charles Dodgson arrives at Christ Church to study mathematics. He spends most of his life here, as a student and lecturer. He gave himself the name of Lewis Carroll while writing a student paper.
1851: Ophelia painted by Millais
Lizzie Siddal lies in a bath posing for Sir John Everett Millais' Ophelia showing the death by drowning of this characters in Hamlet by Shakespeare. Lizzie contracted pneumonia and later died but the painting is one of the most famous illustrations of Shakespeare and of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
01 May 1851: Great Exhibition
A celebration of the Empire and advances in technology housed in Joseph Paxton's splendid Crystal Palace, situated in Hyde Park. It was the brainchild of Victoria's husband, Albert, and was hugely well-attended and highly influential. The Crystal Palace itself, having been relocated to south London, burnt down in 1936.
1852: Spiritualism crosses the Atlantic
The paranormal craze hits English society. Interest in communicating with the spirit world remains high for decades. Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll were among those involved in the Society for Psychical Research, examining phenomena such as levitation and ectoplasm in a scientific way.
1852: Roget's Thesaurus first published
Dr Roget was a physician and scholar who had the remarkable idea of producing a book of words classified according to the ideas they express rather than the definitions. The book has been continually revised and updated, until 1953 by a member of the Roget family!
1853: Red pillar boxes introduced
This innovation, which meant you didn't have to walk to the post office with your letters, is introduced by novelist Anthony Trollope.
1854: Champagne Charlie written
Champagne Charlie was a hugely popular song which helped to define a distinct style for the music hall and made the career of George Leybourne, who was forever after associated with that character (he also wrote The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze). Music hall was a variety show mixing risqué songs, comedy and novelty acts which was favoured by the working class. The melody of this song was subsequently adapted by the Salvation Army for their song Bless His Name He Sets Me Free.
31 Mar 1854: Crimean War begins
The war is fought between an alliance of Turkey (the Ottoman Empire), Britain, France and Sardinia against Russia. Russia had invaded Turkish territory, demanding free passage for her warships and claiming to be protecting Christians in Turkish lands.
25 Oct 1854: The Charge of the Light Brigade
Part of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, the Charge of the Light Brigade was a military blunder that saw the English cavalry ordered to charge into a valley surrounded by Russian artillery. The unthinking bravery of the troops and incompetence of the generals captured the public imagination and Tennyson wrote his famous poem, The Charge Of The Light Brigade, celebrating the heroism of the soldiers who took part.
04 Nov 1854: Ms Nightingale arrives in Scutari
Florence Nightingale takes over the running of the military hospital at Scutari and transforms the conditions there. Her pioneering attitude to hygiene and dedication to nursing transformed the profession.
1855: First vulcanised rubber football
Charles Goodyear invents vulcanised rubber, which is harder, more durable and less sticky than previous types of rubber. He patents the very first football made out of vulcanised rubber in 1855.
01 Feb 1855: Cricket played on ice!
In the intense cold of the winter of 1855, a cricket match was played on the ice at Ely - making the best of all weathers!
1856: Path Of Roses by Lewis Carroll
This poem is dedicated to Florence Nightingale, whose dedication to caring for the wounded in Crimea touched the nation.
1857: Barchester Towers published
Part of Anthony Trollope's sweeping Barsetshire novels series
10 May 1857: Indian Mutiny begins
A rebellion by the sepoys (native soldiers) began because they were forced to use pork or cow grease on cartridges for their guns. This was offensive to Muslims and Hindus respectively. The insensitive treatment of this matter by the English authorities precipitated a horrifyingly violent mutiny which spread across much of India. This resulted in the British government taking direct control over the country, whereas previously it had been haphazardly run by the East India Company. Queen Victoria was made Empress of India the following year.
1858: Rothschild admitted to Parliament
Lionel de Rothschild was a member of the extravagantly wealthy European dynasty, the Rothschilds. Lionel finally took his seat as an MP after being elected four times. The delay was caused because Lionel was Jewish and refused to take the Christian oaths necessary for MPs. After the defeat of two Jewish Disabilities Bills to remove the impediments to Jews entering Parliament and other areas of public service, the House of Lords finally agreed to a proposal to allow each House to decide its own oath.
01 Apr 1858: Big Ben cast
Casting a bell that the design specified should be 14 tonnes proved difficult. Big Ben, as cast by the Whitechapel Foundry, is 13.8 tonnes and even that has a crack in it! It is now arguably the most famous recognisable bell chime in the world.
1859: Darwin proposes evolutionary theory
Charles Darwin publishes On The Origin Of Species which sets out his theory of natural selection and evolution
06 Jun 1859: Formation of the Liberal Party
Although the name and thinking had been around for years, the formation of what we now know as the Liberal Party occurs at a meeting of Whigs, Peelites and Radicals at Willis’ Rooms in St James Street, London, to overthrow a minority Conservative government. The Liberals governed Britain for most of the following 30 years - Gladstone, the Liberal Leader, being Prime Minister four times.