The worst slum in London | Actonbooks

In Victorian London, most of the poor lived in what would be called slum housing. During the 18th century, many ramshackle ‘courts’ had been built as a result of speculative infilling beh…

Source: The worst slum in London | Actonbooks

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20 thoughts on “The worst slum in London | Actonbooks

  1. Very interesting. The author paints a vivid picture of the buildings, and the deplorable conditions a century ago. However, one can’t but wonder if the description of the people (as a whole), is a little unfair. Surely then, as now, the desperately poor put their shoes on in the morning, trudged forth into the world to support themselves in whatever way they could, and, loved their children. Just like the rest of us. Benjamin Franklin once quipped that poverty is not shameful, only being ashamed of it is. Thoughts?

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    • Unlike the 21st century, which lumps all poverty as the fault of others — societal misdeeds if you like being the sole cause of their woe — the Victorians chose to divide them in what is to us an almost offensively un-PC way. They were the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’.While the ‘deserving poor’ had some patronisingly perhaps well intentioned charitable attentions, the undeserving poor were harshly treated. Those that pulled on their shoes in the morning to burglarise, pickpocket, maim or murder got a lot more than the present day community service order or probation officer tut tutting.
      Incidentally the Jennings Rents was demolished in 1873-4 and so its existence began best part of 200 years ago and was gone 150 years ago. However any police service around the world will tell you privately that such ‘rookeries’ or centres of criminality still exist in every town, large or small. It was ever thus.

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    • An afterthought or two.
      Because of high birthrate and awful childhood mortality, both the rich and the poor were inured to early death. Because of that fact, many invested less emotion in their very young offspring than the 21st century does. It’s shocking perhaps, but true.The past really is a foreign country to which we do not have a passport.
      Also, child cruelty and abuse was notably reported as prevalent among the very poor in a way that it is no longer. Bizarre psychotropic additives in beer and porter may have contributed to this aberrant behaviour but abuse did routinely happen.
      Regards,

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        • You name it, beer had it in the early to mid 19th century. Beer was taxed, malt was heavily taxed, so beer shop publican brewers tried to boost profits by diluting their home brew and yet still giving a kick to the punters. In order of toxicity: burnt sugar, salt, alum, hellebore, a berry otherwise used to stun fish called cocculus indicus, a by-product of sulphuric acid production which was otherwise used as shoe blacking and ink, strychnine… the list goes on and on. It’s my contention that the degree of aggressive or self-harming drunkenness and the deterioration into delirium tremens and insanity was caused by the additives in beer. You’d have to drink an awful lot of beer today to get into the same state that poorer men — and women — got into, with very little disposable income. They definitely did not have enough to remain as drunk as often as they were.

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  2. A part of London that I know very well, and I had read something about the slums before. It was very interesting to see a photo and maps though. A similar situation existed in Notting Hill, where there were also slum conditions that carried on into the 1960s. Now it has become one of the most desirable places to live in London.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. Thanks so much for linking to my blog on the Jennings Rents. We have too easily forgotten how far we dragged ourselves from the squalid mire of the 19th century. I sometimes believe in my more ‘glass half full of something undrinkable’ moments that the high watermark of western civilization came during the era when Eisenhower was President and we are slipping slowly back into the mud from whence we came.

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