Poverty maps and police notebooks

Londonist accepts no responsibility for the hours you’re about to waste; blame Booth and those clever fiends at LSE.”

So wrote Zoe Craig on 02 December 2016, referring to Charles Booth’s London, at


The LSE website informs us:

“Charles Booth was one of those remarkable English Victorians who can justly be described as one of the great and the good. Profoundly concerned by contemporary social problems, and not a pious nor even a religious man, he recognised the limitations of philanthropy and conditional charity in addressing the poverty which scarred British society. Without any commission other than his own he devised, organised, and funded one of the most comprehensive and scientific social surveys of London life that had then been undertaken. Booth also added his voice to the cause of state old age pensions as a practical instrument of social policy to alleviate destitution in old age, established as one of the commonest causes of pauperism. Simultaneously he was a successful businessman, running international interests in the leather industry and a steam shipping line…

…In 1884 he undertook to assist in the allocation of the Lord Mayor of London’s Relief Fund, by analysing census returns. From this he discovered the highly unsatisfactory nature of the censuses, and would later become a member of the official committee in charge of the 1891 census and make a number of recommendations for its improvement. In the autumn of 1885 Henry Hyndman published the results of an inquiry into poverty conducted by the Social Democratic Federation, which claimed to show that up to twenty-five percent of the population of London lived in extreme poverty. In early 1886 Booth visited Hyndman, who records in his autobiography that Booth told him that “in his opinion we had grossly overstated the case” and that he would himself be undertaking an inquiry into the condition of workers in London. The first meeting to organise this inquiry was held on 17 April 1886: the work would last until 1903, resulting in the publication of three editions of the survey, the final edition of Life and Labour of the People in London (London: Macmillan, 1902-1903) running to 17 volumes. The work would absorb both Charles and Mary Booth and employ a team of social investigators including, at various times, Beatrice Webb, Arthur Baxter, Clara Collet, David Schloss, George Duckworth, Hubert Llewllyn Smith, Jesse Argyle, and Ernest Aves…

…One of the most striking products of the inquiry were the maps of London, coloured street by street to indicate the levels of poverty and wealth. The first of these series was produced based on the information gathered from the School Board visitors representing the situation in 1889 and was widely circulated and commented upon. Ten years later, as the inquiry was still progressing, it was thought necessary to revisit the maps and a second series was produced, the Maps Descriptive of London Poverty 1898-99. These were based on the observations made by investigators accompanying policemen on their beats around London…”

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