Victorian Professions

About the project

This three-year research project, beginning in January 2014, will investigate whether during the Victorian period the professions formed a distinct self-sustaining social group with its own mores and values.

With the advent of family history websites and social media it is possible to determine for the first time by studying families across several generations if professional families generally intermarried and whether children entered professions rather than chose careers in enterprise. We have included, unlike some commentators, the army and navy and civil service alongside the old professions of church, law and medicine. We will also seek to discover if the new professions which emerge during the Victorian period, such as accountants, architects, bankers, engineers and teachers, are also colonised by children from professional backgrounds.

A good deal hangs on these arguments as it has become fashionable in contemporary politics to attack the professions as being inimical to economic development because as a group they espouse social welfare values.

The research will focus on a sample of 1,000 professional people drawn from the 1851 census for Alnwick, Brighton, Bristol, Dundee, Greenock, Leeds, Merthyr Tydfil, Morpeth and Winchester. We have chosen these towns because they are geographically far apart and have different characteristics.

You will find lists of the people we have selected on the people page. If you know about the family histories of any of these people, we are keen to hear from you. We are interested in any papers, photographs or memorials you may know of. If your family includes professional people and is from these towns, but not in the sample we would also like to hear from you.

Information about who we are and how we can be contacted can be found on the contact details page. In the near future you will be able to view the database as it is being developed. The research project is funded by the UK Economic & Social Research Council and based at the Universities of Oxford and Northumbria.