Woolwich Arsenal Football Team, 1895

The Virtual Victorian loves football, and with the season about to start again it seemed a good enough reason to look back through the mists of history, with many of our modern teams having had their origins in the early 1800s. 

At this time, a dribbling form of the sport (as opposed to the handling game developed at Rugby school) was played at institutions such as Eton, Shrewsbury and Charterhouse. But the rules of the game were varied (sometimes from one half to the other) and fixtures played by the 'old boys' at university, or in the army, often descended into chaos. 

A Corner Kick by Thomas Hemy. 1892
Sunderland v Aston Villa, the two most successful teams of the decade.

However, with a rapidly growing support base, it soon became a necessity to impart some Victorian discipline, which is why, in 1863, the newly formed Football Association drew up its rules and regulations ~ which also proposed using referees to offer protection against the all too frequent violent tackles. Broken bones were far from rare!

Goal! By Thomas Hemy. 1882

Teams were also encouraged to wear more than coloured caps or scarves to identity themselves. By 1872, at the first FA Cup final, The Wanderers donned what must have been a fetching combination of pale pink, cerise, and black. Meanwhile, the Royal Engineers were somewhat more subdued in a manly dark red and navy blue.

The Wanderers, originally known as Forest, in 1863

In truth, working class players at that time could ill afford to buy their kits. Many were fellow workers, such as the founding members of Arsenal FC, who were all employed at the Woolwich Arsenal Armament factory. 

There the team had been inspired by the arrival of two players who came from Nottingham Forest, and fifteen men then volunteered to pay sixpence each to from a club, playing on Plumstead Common and originally known as Dial Square, after one of the factory workshops. 

Soon after this they changing their name to The Woolwich Arsenal. The team colour was decided when the team at Nottingham Forest donated a set of bright red shirts ~ still Arsenal's colour to this day.

Arsenal FC - a  fine and dashing squad of men!



'Lord' George Sanger ~ portrait by Charles Spencelayh. 
Ramsgate Library.

Recently, while in Margate, the VV visited the Dreamland Funfair resort and learned that in Victorian times the site had been known as ‘The Hall by the Sea’ - being situated as it was just over the road from the beach.

The land on Marine Terrace had first been been acquired and used by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. When this station was moved away to a terminus further from the town the buildings were first rented out to a business called Spiers and Ponds, who planned to run the Hall by the Sea as a concert hall, restaurant, and dance venue. 

When they failed to make a go of things the land was sold to the Mayor of Margate, Alderman Thomas Dalby Reeve. Reeve's son, Arthur, then married Harriet Sanger, the daughter of 'Lord' George Sanger ~ a circus and show business entrepeneur who was always very smartly dressed.

'Lord' George soon had plans for the venue ~ along with the fields that came with it ~ and, in 1874, the Hall on the Sea had been reborn as a zoological gardens.

Born in Newbury in 1825, George belonged to a show business family, with a father who made his living by exhibiting ‘curiosities’ and performing himself in peep shows in town and country fairs.

The showman gene was in George’s blood and he soon set up his own small shows which consisted of animals he’d trained ~ canaries, redpolls, white mice, and hares ~ who walked tightropes or fired mini canons. He was soon to be in much demand and was hired for private parties, but his mastery over the animals also drew accusations of witchcraft.

 Ellen ~ George Sanger's wife

In time, along with two older brothers, William and John, he set up a travelling conjuring show, and while performing at London’s Stepney Green met up with Ellen Chapman, the Lion taming woman who performed as Madame Pauline de Vere, who he then went on to marry in Sheffield in 1850.


As most of the performing fairs took place in the finer summer months, it was around this time that George and his brothers decided to hire permanent venues for Winter Theatrical shows. They rented Enon Chapel, which had been a former Charnel House and hired in actors and actresses to put on elaborate pantomimes. However, the site was forced to close down when human remains were still found to be present in the area. 

Unperturbed, and still thinking to expand in the summer of 1851 the brothers performed in London’s Hyde Park, at the time of the Great Exhibition. Unfortunately bad weather meant that this project ended in failure too. One more stint at Stepney Green, during which they displayed a ‘Tame Oyster’, and the brothers decided to start up a circus and take it on tour around the country.

In addition to this expansion they paid £11,000 to buy Astley’s Ampitheatre, still putting on their London shows until, in 1893, the London County Council ordered this venue to be closed.

Splitting at this time from his brothers, George travelled down to the Kent coast where he’d already established the Hall by the Sea. In addition to this, in Ramsgate, he opened up a new hotel adjoining an ampitheatre which, after his retirement, became the Royal Palace Theatre.


That theatre has now been demolished, but we can still visit the Margate site where he kept his touring menagerie during the quieter winter months, also creating a magnificent tourist lure, as described in this 1903 handbill -

'this mammoth establishment is the largest and most handsomely decorated and fitted place of entertainment out of London, and has accommodation for thousands'.

Inside this gothic structure, with walls designed to look like those of a ruined medieval abbey, lived many kinds of animals, including deer and camels, birds, giraffes and elephants, lions, bears, baboons, and wolves.

One frequent and satisfied visitor was the Rev George John Wood, and details of his experiences, along with more history of the site is to be found within this article made available by the Margate Local History group.

The western wall and cages before restoration

Sadly, all that now remains of the original buildings are parts of the western boundary. However, these have been given a Grade II listed status in the hope of preserving what is left of the brick and stone castellated walls, along with the iron barred cages where some of the animals were shown.

Still under renovation is the adjoining ‘folly’ or Gardener’s Cottage ~ but the cages are on open view for all who visit the Dreamland funfair ground. And the scene is made more attractive due to the glorious new plantings of lavender, agapanthus, olives, and many other shrubs and trees.

The VV thinks that 'Lord' Sanger would be pleased to see this memorial ~ although she is sadder to recall that this Victorian entrepreneur died in tragic circumstances; when murdered with a hatchet by a disgruntled employee while spending his retirement years at his home of Park Farm in East Finchley.

He was buried in Margate beside his wife, and one day the VV hopes to find that grave and pay George her respects ~ but she also hopes to find and read the autobiography he wrote in those last few years before his death: Seventy Years a Showman.

What a dreamland he created!