BBC Episode 1 Secret History of Our Streets on BBC iPlayer Episode 1 Deptford High Street

LSE's web resource compares Booth Map with 2000 modern map

In 1886 Charles Booth embarked on an ambitious plan to visit every one of London’s streets to record the social conditions of residents, it took 17 years. It was an astonishing social survey. His motives were good but did his map of poverty start a process that really benefitted the development of the poor areas and what lessons can we learn from what happened susbsequently? New series by BBC takes 6 streets and analyses their subsequent history in detail. The project is a collaboration with OpenLearn from the OU. It is a fascinating watch available for a limited time on BBC iPlayer.

If your history project includes any family members not only living in London but Britain overall then take a look at this series. It is the BBC and OU at it’s best. Here we are looking at resources as well as the programme available online, to support a project which shows just how intriguing and insightful mapping our history can be. Resources links and videos see below.

Charles Booth and his Map of Poverty and how it forms the starting point for the series

Booth was a successful businessman, he created this map in the late 1800s. He had previously believed that social reformers had exaggerated London’s poverty levels. Studies made at the time, estimated that a quarter of the population, lived in unacceptable conditions.

  • In 1886, Booth began work on a new study of London’s poor.
  • His research revealed that the reality was even worse than official figures suggested: as many as one third (33%)  of Londoners lived in poverty.
  • The Maps were colour coded to strikingly highlight concentrations of poverty and social problems such as ‘crime black-spots.’
  • Booth’s study took into account a wide variety of subjects: working conditions, education, wage levels, workhouses, religion, and police, and more.
  •  Booth lived with working-class families for several weeks at a time to inform his research.
  • ” He wrote of the many happy children he met who were, he wrote, free from the swarms of servants, nurses and governesses that overshadowed the lives of wealthier children.”
  •  However, he revealed that for poor families disease, hunger and even death were an ever-present danger, and that many lived in a constant state of fear.
  • This was a very important piece of social research, it is arguable how well it was used and learnt from but the issue here is how the map and the programme provide an excellent framework by which to calibrate and assess the nature and reasons for the changes that have taken place since the early 1900s.
  • Booth’s study was published in 17 volumes under the title ‘Life and Labour of the People in London’.

BBC Series focus what has changed, been transformed, and what has barely changed and most importantly why?

“why certain streets have been transformed from desperate slums to become some of the most desirable and valuable property in the UK, whilst others have barely changed.”

Programme features residents past and present, exploring how what happened on the street in the last 125 years and how it continues to impact on the lives of the people living there now.

It provides a lively and vibrant resource by which to consider the lives of our own family members who will have lived through similar changes during the same period of history.

Resources Links and Videos

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