It’s difficult for us to imagine how things were when Queen Victoria was on the throne (1837 to 1901). Society was very hierarchical and the aristocracy were at the top. Below the aristocracy were the upper classes, below them the middle and the working classes just tried to keep a roof over their head and bread on the table.
Queen Victoria was at the top of the tree – what she and the royal family did set the trend. When the royal family had a tree at Christmas in 1840 it became the thing to do. Up to then, Christmas trees were a German custom. And when they had turkey for the Christmas dinner it was established as the proper form, taking the crown that the goose had held for so long.
Queen Victoria – The Ultimate Poultry Keeper
So when Queen Victoria took an interest in keeping poultry, it was established as a suitable hobby for those below them. The poor, of course, had always kept poultry purely for the benefit of a few eggs and the cockerel for the pot.
Status & The A List
Even within the aristocracy and upper classes there were levels and competition for status. This was the driving force behind the famous Victorian walled gardens supplying the finest of fresh fruit and vegetables for the table, regardless of season or cost.
The dinner parties were designed to impress and maintain status. Serving a pineapple that had cost to grow, in today’s money, £3,000 or more told people you were on the ‘A list’
In the same vein, breeding and showing poultry became a status game with birds that won the top prizes fetching fantastic sums of money. For example: The Poultry Book of 1853 states:
Every one who now directs his thoughts to the subject, at once acknowledges that Poultry are just as capable of improvement as any other kind of farming-stock, by breeding from select specimens; and the consequences of this conviction are apparent in the facts, within our own knowledge, of forty guineas being given for a Shanghae cock, one hundred pounds for twenty Spanish chickens, and five guineas each for Dorking chickens.
Adjusting those figures for today we find that 40 guineas then would be around £4,800 in 2016. £100 in 1850 is roughly £11,400 in 2016 and 5 guineas then would be £600 pounds today! Hence references to the chicken mania or frenzy around the mid 1800s
The breeding and showing fraternity became known as The Fancy, a term which later came to apply to any animal showing society, such as The Cat Fancy.