Photographs Reveal The Depraved Underworld Of Victorian Opium Dens
Photography

Photographs Reveal The Depraved Underworld Of Victorian Opium Dens

Avatar of Maria Suarez

By: Maria Suarez

December 22, 2016

Photography Photographs Reveal The Depraved Underworld Of Victorian Opium Dens
Avatar of Maria Suarez

By: Maria Suarez

December 22, 2016



For he on honey-dew hath fed, 

And drunk the milk of Paradise.
"Kubla Khan"– Coleridge


If, while waiting in line for your prescription at the pharmacy, the guy wearing the tweed suit in front of you asked the pharmacist for some cocaine, you’d think they’re crazy. And if that actually happened, I’ll admit that there might be something weird going on. But if this was nineteenth-century England, nobody would’ve been shocked. The Industrial Revolution came with some heavy drugs being released into the market. Not just cocaine, but also laudanum, and even arsenic.


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victorian opium dens

While in 1868, the government enacted laws restricting the sale of these hard drugs, few actually paid attention. By then the opium dens of East London had become the playground for the elites and working class to go and chill out. San Francisco also boasted a couple of these underground spots full of people lying about in a haze. For such a buttoned up pretentious society they sure had a secret life they didn’t quite keep secret.

victorian opium dens woman

victorian opium dens bed
victorian opium dens man

Several famed authors were users of opium and its derivatives. While many claimed it was for medicinal purposes such as pain killers and sleeping aids, recreational use was not exactly frowned upon either. One of the most noted people who were captivated under the spell of opium was Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was a known fan of the powers of this substance, and it’s assumed that several of his works were done amidst the influence of opium. The most obvious one is “Kubla Khan”, and from this excerpt it’s clear there was something inspiring the wordsmith:

victorian opium dens ladies


   A damsel with a dulcimer 

   In a vision once I saw: 

   It was an Abyssinian maid 

   And on her dulcimer she played, 

   Singing of Mount Abora. 

   Could I revive within me 

   Her symphony and song, 

   To such a deep delight ’twould win me, 

That with music loud and long, 

I would build that dome in air, 

That sunny dome! those caves of ice! 

And all who heard should see them there, 

And all should cry, Beware! Beware! 

His flashing eyes, his floating hair! 

Weave a circle round him thrice, 

And close your eyes with holy dread 

For he on honey-dew hath fed, 

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

victorian opium dens vintage

 
victorian opium dens pinup
victorian opium dens pipe

Opium use was not limited to adults in the Victorian era. It was used in diluted form on children as a way to calm them down or for curing diarrhea, stomach aches, colds, coughs, and even hiccups. It’s unaccounted just how many young ones died or suffered horrible side effects from this medicinal alternative.

victorian opium dens portrait
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victorian opium dens users

Cocaine and opium were not officially banned from the British public until 1920 when an official decree was enacted by the government. But for almost a hundred years, people from all over the social sphere enjoyed a peculiar equality in the form of unfettered access to some of the most illegal drugs out there.



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