Tuesday, 18 January 2011

BLACKEST STREETS: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum

Title: BLACKEST STREETS: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum
'Their place knows them no more, and is ours today. Yet they were once as real as we are, and we shall tomorrow be shadows like them.' - G. M. Trevelyan about other ordinary men and women. In 1887 Government inspectors were sent in to explore the 30 or so streets and horrifying, often lethal, living conditions in a notorious 15 acre slum in London's East End. They found rotting 100 year old houses which were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords. Peers of the Realm, local politicians, churchmen and lawyers were making profits on these death-traps of as much as 150 percent per annum. Before long, the Old Nichol slum area became a focus of public attention. Journalists, the clergy, charity workers and others condemned its 6,000 inhabitants for their drunkenness and criminality. The solution to this 'problem' lay in internment camps some said, forced emigration, or even policies designed to prevent breeding. Concentrating on the last 15 years of the 19th century, when revolution was very much in the air, unemployment, agricultural depression and a crackdown on parish relief, the era provided a breeding ground for Communists and Anarchists. Author Sarah Wise looks back on the 'respectable' commentators and explores the real lives behind the statistics of the woodworkers, fish smokers, street hawkers and dog dealers whose tiny rooms doubled as workshops and miniature farmyards. She recovers the Old Nichol from the ruins of history and lays bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire. With coloured map on the frontispiece, our very nearby Bethnal Green Road is at the heart of this area. 333pp with a good many b/w photos and woodcuts including one of an NSPCC inspector delivering a summons to a slum family, obviously posed.
Published Price: £20.00

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