Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The intermingling of Victorian Wealth and Poverty

In today's world, we tend to gather in like minded (and salaried) neighborhoods.

That was not the case in Mid-Victorian times.
Back then, London was a hodgepodge of wealth and extreme poverty side by side. Rigid class segregation wouldn't occur until near the end of century and become more defined in the twentieth century.

That is not to say they didn't have wealthy areas where all aspired to live, but until someone wished to sell their house you just had to endure living somewhere else not quite so prestigious.

The West End was preferred habitat for the wealthy socialites, but even there, those who served the wealthy such as dress makers and tailors by necessity had to live close by, so great & moderate poverty could always be found just a block or two away from great wealth.

Central City was populated with the new merchant class, some of which, were quite rich. And those serving this new class of wealth lived close by.

The manufacturers tended to live on the boarder of the city proper or just outside it.  I imagine this was because land would be cheaper and more available for the construction of large buildings if they were built outside of the old London walls. They also favored areas further out, such as Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, East End and Southwark. Wherever there were manufacturing sites, a community of suppliers to serve the site would develop, as well as laborers needed to run the lines. So again, you ended up with a mixed neighborhood.

Above is an 1888 map of the WhiteChapel area where Jack the Ripper killed his victims. The red marked areas are where the wealthy live while the black and blue are areas of extreme poverty. Right behind many a rich house resides the poorest of poor.

In the map below (1902) the segregation of the classes of wealth and poverty had greatly altered the landscape. For example, in the map below, the light blue area that is cut in two by the Thames is Central City. In mid-Victorian it would have been heavily red with rich merchants. But by the end of the century merchants no longer felt the need to live by their businesses and now the area is strongly made of poor people with employment, but only making 18-21 shillings a week.
                                Central City

BLACK: Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal.
DARK BLUE: Very poor, casual. Chronic want.
LIGHT BLUE: Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family
PURPLE: Mixed. Some comfortable others poor
PINK: Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.
RED: Middle class. Well-to-do.
YELLOW: Upper-middle and Upper classes. Wealthy.

This segregation may have been due to the improved transportation available, both in trains which were economical enough for the moderately poor to afford, and the automobile for the wealthy giving each the ability to reach their place of work without living next to it.

I hoped you enjoyed this assessment of how and why neighborhoods came to segregate by class and wealth.

Liza O'Connor is the author of a 
Humorous, Romantic
Victorian Mystery series, 
The Adventures of Xavier & Vic.

Book 1
The Troublesome Apprentice

Book 2
The Missing Partner

Book 2.5
A Right to Love
Book 3
The Mesmerist 

Book 4
Well Kept Secrets

Book 5
Pack of Trouble

Book 6
The Darkest Days


  1. 18 shillings a week?!?!? Great post.

  2. That's about 47 pounds a year. So this might be a clerk. A senior clerk might make around 150 pounds with living cost about 144,pounds (Thus he could put back about 6 pounds a year in savings.He'd be in the next bracket.

    The junior clerk would always be scrounging for a pence and living in a rented room, possibly with others (since typical rent was 6 shillings a week) He's trying to make something of himself, but one setback and he won't recover.

    Rather like the 'none living wage' jobs many of us work.

  3. Out in the Michigan around the lakes we live this way today. The house next to mine is on blocks that are falling down. But it's been around for 100 years and my house came in later.

    Great post!


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