Grim Realities of Life in London's 19th Century Slums
Grim Realities of Life in London’s 19th Century Slums

Grim Realities of Life in London’s 19th Century Slums

D.G. Hewitt - April 6, 2019

Grim Realities of Life in London’s 19th Century Slums
A mixture of individual campaigners and religious groups finally started making the slums better in the 1890s. Pinterest.

1. Poverty tourism might have been in bad taste but did help bring about improvements for the masses.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a number of individuals, as well as groups, began to take an active interest in poverty and deprivation, not just in London but across England. Despite the risks, a significant number of middle and upper-class women, including aristocrats, went ‘slumming’ in London’s East End, disguising themselves in poor clothes, in order to gather data on the lives of the people living there. Eyewitness accounts by the likes of Lady Constance Battersea helped sway public opinion, with slums increasingly seen as a symptom of what was wrong with society at large.

Alongside these prominent individuals, several notable groups also stepped up their campaigning efforts. Some were Christian, driven on by their faith, though others were driven by just a sense of social justice. Schools and libraries were set up with the aim of helping the working classes escape poverty, while pressure was put on the government to improve sanitation and clamp down on criminality in the city’s worst slums. Though much was still to be done, by the end of the century, slums were no longer seen as a ‘disease’ and something to be ignored, but as social ill to be addressed head-on.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Life in 19th-century slums: Victorian London’s homes from hell,” History Extra, October 2016.

“Slums and Slumming in Late-Victorian London.” Dr. Andrzej Diniejko. Victorian Web.

“Homelessness in Victorian London: exhibition charts life on the streets.” The Guardian, January 2015.

“The 1888 Matchgirls strike: how a group of East End women changed British labour history”. History Extra. October 27, 2021

“Victorian London’s East End: what can a foul murder tell us about life in the city?” History Extra, June 2018.

“Overlaying” in 19th-century England: Infant mortality or infanticide?” Human Ecology, February 1979.

“Dirty Old London: A History of the Victorians’ Infamous Filth.” NPR, May 2015.

“Victorian Slum House.”

“Desolation Row: Victorian Britain’s Sensational Slums”. Nell Darby. History Today. 18 Oct 2017.

Juvenile crime in the 19th century.” The British Library.

Setting the workers alight: the East End Match Girls’ Strike.” BBC.

“Slums.” The British Library, May 2014.