The Eternal Slum: Housing and Social Policy in Victorian London
- Publish Date: 2001-12-02
- Binding: Paperback
- Author: Anthony Wohl
The problem of how, where, and on what terms to house the urban masses in an industrial society remains unresolved to this day. In nineteenth-century Victorian England, overcrowding was the most obvious characteristic of urban housing and, despite constant agitation, it remained widespread and persistent in London and other great cities such as Manchester, Glasgow, and Liverpool well into the twentieth century.
The Eternal Slum is the first full-length examination of working-class housing issues in a British town. The city investigated not only provided the context for the development of a national policy but also, in scale and variety of response, stood in the vanguard of housing reform. The failure of traditional methods of social amelioration in mid-century, the mounting storm of public protest, the efforts of individual philanthropists, and then the gradual formulation and application of new remedies, constituted a major theme: the need for municipal enterprise and state intervention. Meanwhile, the concept of overcrowding, never precisely defined in law but based on middle-class notions of decency and privacy, slowly gave way to the positive idea of adequate living space, with comfort, as much as health or morals, the criterion.
Not just dwellings but people were at issue. There is little evidence in this period of the attitude of the worker himself to his housing. Wohl has extensively researched local archives and, in particular, drawn on the vestry reports which have been relatively neglected. Profusely illustrated with contemporary photographs and drawings, this book is the definitive study of the housing reform movement in Victorian and Edwardian London and suggests what it was really like to live under such appalling conditions. This important study will be of interest to social historians, British historians, urban planners, and those interested in how social policies developed in previous eras.