Victorian Slums Revealed: Haunting Photos of Everyday Life in Victorian England


At the end of the 19th century, England was known for its wealth, but not everyone shared in its prosperity.

Even though it was one of the richest countries, many neighborhoods, especially in London, were very poor. By the late 1800s about 35 percent of Londoners lived in poverty.

When Henry Mayhew, a social reformer, visited the slums of Victorian London, he was shocked.

He described how the water in front of the houses was covered with a layer of dirt and grease. He also saw piles of garbage on the shore and said the air smelled like a cemetery.

Life in the slums of London was difficult. Many people became ill and died from diseases such as cholera. The factories where people worked were dangerous and often collapsed, killing everyone inside.

During the period 1800 to 1850, there was a significant increase in population in England, doubling the total population.

This increase in population led many people from rural areas to seek opportunities in London, the country's largest city.

This rapid influx of people put immense pressure on London's housing situation.

The houses of the poor were small, cold and damp, often crawling with lice and insects. They had to fetch water from a dirty pump on the street and shared dirty outdoor toilets with several neighbors.

Since stoves were expensive, many people could not cook hot food. Their diet consisted mainly of bread, cheese and potatoes.

Living in dirty and overcrowded slums puts the poor at risk of many incurable diseases. Death was common, especially among children who often lost siblings or parents early.

Orphans had to fend for themselves, sleeping in doors or dank basements, wherever shelter was available, next to criminals, rats and open drains.

Hungry, dirty, cold and weak, these "gutter-wives" had no one to care for them and little chance of survival.

With only dirty water to drink, polluted air to breathe, and spoiled food to eat, it's no wonder so many people fell ill and died.

The only place for poor children to play was the street. Without expensive toys like bicycles or dolls to play with, their games were simple and often involved making the best of what they could find.

During these decades, suicide rates in the slums were alarmingly high, to such an extent that removing bodies from the Thames became a full-time occupation.

Despite being places of extreme desperation, Victorian slums were often seen by the rich as the sole responsibility of the poor.

One magistrate described the slums as centers of "filth, drunkenness, incontinence, lawlessness, immorality and crime".

These slums were often featured in newspapers, attracting the interest of affluent families who would undertake harrowing journeys to see the conditions firsthand.

If you couldn't afford permanent residence in Victorian London, your alternative was to live in an empty house.

These were cheap lodging houses in slums, similar to dilapidated hotels, often in poor condition.

By the late 1800s, there were approximately 1000 dos houses in London, although the term "hotel" was used loosely, as many of these establishments were converted warehouses or factories.

Some of the beds at the Doss House were nicknamed "four-penny coffins" because they were essentially coffin-like wooden boxes, available for four pennies per night.

Doss Houses typically open around 8 pm and residents are required to move in by 10 am the next day. Accommodation would cost a few pennies per night, which would attract vagrants and beggars.

Given these conditions, it is understandable that many homeless individuals in London chose the harsh conditions of the workplace rather than a life on the streets.

In the 1870s and 1880s, some wealthy Victorians engaged in a practice called "slumming". They would visit slums in disguise, often after dark, and would even pay to stay in kutcha houses for fun.

Many of these individuals would regal their affluent friends with stories of the "unpleasant" characters they encountered and who allegedly faced violence or death. Slumming became a popular form of tourism among the rich.

In some instances, wealthy people hire a "guide" to tour the slums.

This phenomenon was not limited to Britain; It was also prevalent in some American cities such as Boston and New York during the same period.

By the end of the 19th century, social campaigns had begun to improve the conditions of London's poor.

Sanitation plants were set up to get rid of raw sewage, which had spread cholera, and new schools were opened to educate poor children.

Charles Booth, a social reformer, drew attention to the issue with his poverty map, which highlighted the city's poorest streets.

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