The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum
In the Victorian era, the Old Nichol was a notorious slum in London’s East End. Its squalid living conditions became a public scandal. Sarah Wise explores the real lives behind the public outrage, laying bare the social and political conditions of the Old Nichol.
‘An excellent and intelligent investigation of the realities of urban living that respond to no design or directive… This is a book about the nature of London itself’ Peter Ackroyd, The Times
A powerful exploration of the seedy side of Victorian London by one of our most promising young historians.
In 1887 government inspectors were sent to investigate the Old Nichol, a notorious slum on the boundary of Bethnal Green parish, where almost 6,000 inhabitants were crammed into thirty or so streets of rotting dwellings and where the mortality rate ran at nearly twice that of the rest of Bethnal Green. Among much else they discovered that the decaying 100-year-old houses were some of the most lucrative properties in the capital for their absent slumlords, who included peers of the realm, local politicians and churchmen.
The Blackest Streets is set in a turbulent period of London’s history when revolution was in the air. Award-winning historian Sarah Wise skilfully evokes the texture of life at that time, not just for the tenants but for those campaigning for change and others seeking to protect their financial interests. She recovers Old Nichol from the ruins of history and lays bare the social and political conditions that created and sustained this black hole which lay at the very heart of the Empire.
A revelatory and prescient read about cities, class and inequality, the message at the heart of The Blackest Streets still resonates today.