Monday, January 18, 2016

Changing Victorian London

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.

In the spring of 1896, automobiles are just becoming feasible in England. However, trains within London can be used short durations at a low cost, allowing people to live further out where prices are cheaper and commute to their jobs. Their expanded reach also gave them more opportunities for employment if they possessed wanted skills.

Thus, begins the migration of the lower classes into areas of their own level. For some, it would be an opportunity to rise into the middle class, while others sank deeper into desperate poverty.

When the pot has too many cooks a feast can be ruined, and that’s exactly what happens with Xavier and Vic’s new cases. Each proves more complicated than initially thought with criminals dropping out of the sky, wreaking havoc upon Xavier, Vic, and their excellent employees. By the end, Vic threatens to open a school that teaches criminals how to stay out of each other’s way.

Worse yet, a treasured member of the staff is shot in the heart while attempting to save Vic and the Queen’s cousin. 

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. A fascinating post. Imagine being one of the lowest classes yet having to live so near to such unimaginable wealth.


    1. It does explain why people got so upset with the Jack the Ripper deaths. The Rich and poor and everything in between were all located near the deaths. (London was mostly homogenized at that time).

  2. This type of neighborhood is happening again along the lakes in Michigan. Previously there were cottages where families vacationed but now families have moved out of the suburbs and are looking at building new larger homes. They are ripping down vacation cottages and building mansions. These million dollar lake homes sit next to 100 year old log cabins and vacation cottages. At least until someone buys those homes and tears them down.

    1. That happened nearby around a small lake near me. The rich bought up stone houses that had been beautifully maintained, made them mega mansions. I used to walk there, I don't anymore, it just makes me sad. Some of those houses had been pre-revolutionary war. Now it's just tacky giant mansions without ample parking space and a very narrow road that is deadly in snow.

  3. Trains did make for a great deal of change in Victorian England. Suddenly it was possible to travel in two days, what it would have taken previously a week's travel in a carriage. So many implications--both good and bad. Wonderful post! Tweeted.

    1. And fares were cheap in London, so commuting to work opened up more opportunities when looking for a job. Thus growing the beginnings of a vibrant middle class.


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