The Great Exhibition of 1851

Digital Scholarship from English 480/580 at Oregon State University

Shilling Days

      After much deliberation, The Great Exhibition was opened up to the working class in order to allow everyone to experience and learn from this great fair. Typically, the upper class bought season pass tickets at the price of £3 3s for men and £2 2s for women. On shilling days, ticket prices were lowered to 1s in order to make the event more affordable for the working class. The perception of the separation of social classes was demonstrated through certain media outlets such as illustrations from the Illustrated London News. These illustrations portray the first shilling day as being chaotic, crowded, and unruly through pictures of overcrowded entryways and heavy traffic. These preconceived notions of unruliness led to the doubling of police force and putting up physical barriers around the Crystal Palace in order to prevent riots, according to The Adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Sandboys.  But the reality of the lower class’s actions was that, “Most observers were amazed at how well behaved the lower classes were, and how little crime there was at the exhibition [...] the masses were well dressed, orderly and sedate, earnestly engaged in examining all that interests them, not quarrelsome or obstinate.” The shilling days proved to be a success and exceeded expectation through the civility of the working class despite the negative portrayal in certain news sources.

      The Great Exhibition was one of the first public gatherings in London in which the upper class was cohabitating with the working class. According to Jeffrey Auerbach it was, “reported that on one of the first shilling days there was, mingling among the 37,000 shilling spectators, a considerable portion of so-called respectable society.” To the contrary, according to varying sources, there was a noticeable divide between the upper and working classes at the exhibition. This is illustrated in “The Pound and The Shilling,” where the upper and working classes were on opposite sides of the frame with a blank space between them. This noticeable divide in the frame subtly proposes the idea that the two were not meant to be together. The Adventure of Mr. and Mrs. Sandboys states, “inside the Great Exhibition the scene is equally different from that of the first week or two. The nave is no longer filled with elegant and inert loungers – lolling on seats, and evidently come there to be seen rather than to see. Those who are now to be found there, however, have come to look at the Exhibition, and not to make an exhibition of themselves. […] The shilling folk may be an 'inferior' class of visitors, but at least they know something about the works of industry, and what they do not know, they have come to learn.” In this example, it shows that the upper class was there to attain a certain level of class, whereas the "shilling folk" were there to learn. The mainstream media portrayal of shilling days was that the people in attendance were uneducated and the event itself was chaotic, when in reality the shilling days went better than expected. 

Shilling Days