Episode 1 The Speed Merchant


What the Victorians Did for Us examines the impact of the Victorian era on modern society. It concentrates primarily on the scientific and social advances of the era which bore the Industrial Revolution and set the standards for polite society today. When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Britain was on the brink of world supremacy in the production of iron, steel, and steam engines, and had seen an explosion of growth and developments that included railways, the electric telegraph, and wool production. The tremendous feeling of national pride was celebrated in the Great Exhibition of 1851. Drawing on his consummate skill as a storyteller, Adam Hart-Davis shows how Victorian movers and shakers changed our world.
Episode 1 Speed Merchants – Focuses on the Victorian obsession with speed, and the impact of steam power on farming. After visiting the last steam-powered mill in the country, Adam experiences the legacy of Brunel’s Great Western Railway, and sees if a project to build a steam-powered plane can ever get off the ground.
Episode 2 Playing God – Looks at science and medicine, including devices designed for waking the dead and the eccentric experimenter who reputedly created life.
Episod 3 Rule Makers – Hart-Davis finds out how the rules for sports such as tennis and football evolved, and discovers how standardisation in manufacturing made new inventions, such as the sewing machine, affordable.
Episode 4 Crime and Punishment – Focusing on the Victorian world of crime and retribution, he experiences life on the beat as an early policeman and looks at the forensic tests developed to catch poisoners. Plus the monotony of prison life, and early home security.
Episode 5 Social Progress – How the opportunities in employment and education created the middle classes and gave them such luxuries as their own toilets, frozen foods, and improved healthcare. The rich, meanwhile, could indulge in new gadgets such as the velocipede shower.
Episode 6 Conquerors – In this edition, he visits Kew Gardens to examine the plants which explorers brought back from abroad and experiences the science of storm prediction. Plus a demonstration of the greatest world-shrinking Victorian technology of all – submarine telegraphy.
Episode 7 Making It Big – The dramatic successes and failures of Victorian entrepreneurs, including William Armstrong, who installed a swing bridge in Newcastle, and Otis whose lift made the skyscraper possible.
Episode 8 Pleasure Seekers – Leisure, the seaside, weekends. They seem natural, but they were all Victorian inventions. The Victorians were freed from the fields and had cash in hand, they were the first mass pleasure seekers.