The Blackest Streets
The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum

Wise, Sarah
Publisher:  Bodley Head
Year Published:  2008
Pages:  276pp   Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX8103

Sarah Wise's new book looks at "the Nichol" a notorious slum on the outskirts of Bethnal Green, a suburb of London. Originally built in the 1880's the Nichol was a maze of rotting houses, decaying courts, cowsheds and 6000 people crammed into 6 hectares of space. Because of the overcrowding landlords charged rents that were per cubic metre between 4 and 10 times higher than the finest streets in the West End. By the 1887 the slum was considered a national disgrace. The absentee landlords were often Peers of the Realm, the clergy and politicians. In these conditions the new politics of revolution flourished-anarchism, communism and socialism as people refused to believe that poverty was due to moral failings and ill-luck. At the same time the science of eugenics was just beginning and the backlash against the poor was fierce-more than 12,000 poor boys and girls were sent to the colonies and there was talk about selective breeding to end the criminal elements. With her broad range of subjects from the cleric who set up the Holy Trinity men's club and gymnasium to the revolutionaries who despaired of radicalizing the poor. Wise gives an account of the economic, social and political issues of the day and the turbulent times in which they lived.

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