8th January 1914. Slums.
Today saw the death in 1914 of Richard A Cross who was twice Tory Home Secretary between 1874-80 and 1885-1886, and particularly noted as the instigator of the Artisans Dwellings Improvement Act 1875, which had allowed clearance of slum areas. It was part of Disraeli’s plan for the ‘Elevation of the Working Classes’.
However lacking compulsion, which was against Disraeli’s thinking, only 10 out of 87 towns took up these powers, except by the Liberal Party’s Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham’s Corporation Street area. indeed many were loath to make compulsorily purchases.
The 19th century saw many Parliamentary Acts to encourage homes for the workers, going back to the 1851 Labouring Classes Lodging Houses Act which permitted-no coercion- the Local Authorities to appoint Commissioners to erect or purchase lodging houses, but a provision little used.
The 1868 Artisans and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement (Torrens’) Act gave Local Authorities compulsory powers to owners to demolish or repair insanitary houses.
In 1885 a Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes revealed the poor state of housing in London and other cities and recommended government loans.
One of the great housing philanthropists was George Peabody at a time when living conditions in London’s St. Giles and Seven-Dials were grim, rife with poverty, disease and crime.(1)
The Rector of St George’s on the Ratcliffe Highway, East London, since 1842 said: ‘the four streets within which my church is situated contained 733 houses of which twenty-seven were public houses, thirteen beer houses and no fewer than 154 were brothels’.
One person who did bring home to the authorities, pictorially, concerning London’s housing was Charles Booth the sociologist, in his twelve maps descriptive of London Poverty, which covered London, from Greenwich to Hammersmith, and Clapham to Hampstead.
He did this by providing a visual image of local conditions on a street by street basis.(2)
Booth devised a seven-colour scheme from Black (lowest class); vicious (semi-criminal), via Pink (fairly comfortable) good ordinary earnings, to Orange (wealthy upper-middle and upper class).
Others such as Seebohm Rowntree were looking at conditions in York and his findings showed that poverty was a major and widespread problem in 19th century Britain.
Not until the London County Council came into being in the 1890s, replacing the archaic local Vestries, was a concerted effort made to clear the slums, including the Old Nichol in the East End, to be replaced by the Boundary Estate.(3)
One result was that greedy landowners, such as The Church of England Commissioners, came out of the woodwork for compensation, and another was that the dispossessed couldn’t afford the new rentals, so moved nearby to create new slums.
(1) As those existing today in Turpentine Lane, London and elsewhere.
(2) Booth did not include the actual City of London.
(3) Opened by Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra 3.3.1900.
Richard Cross later became a Director of the Great Central Railway and had a Class 8D engine named after him.
Charles Booth was the uncle of Alfred Booth the Steamship owner and the first baronet of Allerton Beeches, Liverpool. He is buried at Thringstone near his home of Grace Dieu Priory, Leicestershire.
Ref: Mayhew’s and Charles Booth’s, ‘The Life and Labour of the People in London’.
Ref: pinterest.com/Pic of Whitechapel. 1935.
Ref: skyscraper.com/Pic of Elephant and Castle.
Ref: dailymail.co.uk/news/worst-slums-in-victorian-london. Charles Hudson.10.7.2008.