victorian turkey

Cavalry of the Russian Life-Guards Hussar Regiment charge Turkish infantry at Telish, 1877.

Painted by Viktor Mazurovskiy in 1888.

Bizarre Victorian fact of the day...

Although the turkey had been brought to Britain in the 16th century, it did not become the centre of the Christmas Day meal until the mid Victorian period. Traditionally, and for much of the 19th century, the bird of choice was the goose. The reason for this was that before the invention of the railway train and efficient refrigeration the only way to get poultry to market was by walking them (known as driving) from their farm.

While geese were lean and able to make the sometimes long journey without trouble, turkeys were not as well suited for such travel. They had to be fed copiously before and after the walk to ensure they were a decent size for sale, which added extra expense to already financially stretched farmers. Their feet had to be covered with leather bootees or dipped in tar to withstand walking on the rough roads. In Britain, turkeys were bred almost solely in Norfolk, in the East of England, which limited their sale to London and neighbouring counties. When the railways were developed, the need to drive poultry diminished as they could now be easily and quickly transported from place to place. With this new availability turkey quickly became a firm Christmas favourite - a large bird to suit a large Victorian family.