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LSE Library Exhibition– Charles Booth's London: Mapping Victorian Lives

Charles Booth's London poverty map

Charles Booth's masterwork, Inquiry Into the Life and Labour of the People in London, was an investigation into the social conditions faced by Londoners living in the late-Victorian era.

To mark the centenary of Booth’s death, from 17 September to 17 December 2016, LSE Library is for the first time publicly displaying a selection from the extensive archive holdings of Booth’s survey, telling the remarkable story of its inception, delivery and influence.

Booth's poverty maps, which pioneered the use of colours to detail the street-by-street levels of wealth and poverty in London, are the most famous outputs from the work. The study took 16 years of intense research to complete and remains one of the most ambitious and wide-ranging sociological surveys ever completed.  

The exhibition focuses on the local area around LSE, and on display is one of the original, hand-coloured ‘poverty maps’ of Holborn. Also on display are several of the original, hand-written notebooks which exemplify the work carried out to detail the poverty and key industries of the era.

In the present day, Clare Market is situated at the heart of LSE’s campus, but at the time of Booth’s research, the area was a slum: “The chief poverty [in the area] lies about Clare Market and Drury Lane which is said to be largely due to drink” wrote one of Booth’s assured assistants.

As LSE students prepare for their first lessons of the new term on Houghton Street, they are fortunate the road still exists — half of the street was demolished in order to make way for the grand boulevards of Aldwych and Kingsway, which were built following slum clearances.

Although the concept, principle guidance and funding for the inquiry were provided by Charles Booth, the work itself was carried out with the help of numerous individuals. Among these, Beatrice Webb, co-founder of LSE and the Fabian Society, was involved from the early stages. Her original manuscript diary from April 1886 features in the exhibition and records: “Charles Booth’s first meeting of the Board of Statistical Research … Object of the Committee to get a fair picture of the whole of London society – the 4,000,000!”

One of the most important outcomes from the work was the pressure it brought to bear on issues of poverty and economic inequality. This included the analysis of East End workhouses where the largest single cause of poverty (approximately 30 per cent of cases) was due to old age. One of the original Stepney Union Workhouse casebooks is on display and provides a poignant reminder of a time before government administered social security. In addition, the 1908 passing of the Old Age Pensions Act has been attributed in part to Booth’s campaigning on the issue.

In July 2016 the Booth archive was inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, which recognises culturally significant heritage material from across the UK, joining other material such as the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta. 

LSE Library's exhibition curator Inderbir Bhullar said: “It has been wonderful exploring the Booth archive, it is an important milestone in London’s social and political history and we are so excited to be sharing it with new generations of visitors. A visit to this exhibition will show how shocking the results of the survey really were, first-hand, and the ways in which it changed perceptions of poverty and social security. 

“Discovering the hidden stories of real people in London in the later Victorian era has been fascinating. Peeking out from notebooks are stories from chorus girls on Drury Lane to the pub landlords’ tricks of the trade; there’s a vibrancy and colour here which extends beyond the maps.”

For more information

Peter Carrol, LSE Press Office, telephone: + 44 (0)207 955 6939, email: p.carrol@lse.ac.uk

Notes to editors: 

1. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is one of the foremost social science universities in the world. Its research and teaching span the full breadth of the social sciences, from economics, politics and law to sociology, anthropology, accounting and finance. LSE Library was founded in 1896 and collects material from around the world on the subjects studied by the School.

2. The LSE Public Lecture Programme includes a talk which will be given by Sarah Wise on 7th December 2016, author of The Blackest Streets about the slums in the 'Old Nicol' area using the Booth archive.

3. The exhibition area is located at the entrance to LSE Library. LSE Library is currently developing a learning programme which will allow the Library to widen participation and increase public engagement with its collections. 

4. Entry: Open to all 

17 September – 17 December 2016 

Opening times: Mon to Fri 9am-7pm, Sat and Sun 11 am-6pm 

Address: LSE Library, 10 Portugal Street, London WC2A 2HD 

Tel:  020 7955 7229 

Email: library.enquiries@lse.ac.uk 

Further information: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/exhibitions/home.aspx  

Travel to LSE: (Tube) Holborn, Temple, Charing Cross.

5. Image: Charles Booth Maps available from LSE Library's Flickr account No copyright restrictions