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

Publication date:
23 Apr 2019
Yale University Press
320 pages: 235 x 156mm
24 color illus.

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.

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. He lives in London.

“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

“[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

“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